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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 2

Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:08): I rise to support the fine words of the Prime Minister and to observe that Sir Zelman Cowen's life was one of remarkable achievement and enduring benefit to our country. He was, in turn, a Rhodes Scholar, a naval officer and survivor of the bombing of Darwin, an academic, a vice chancellor, a viceroy, the head of an Oxford college, the head of an important regulator and the chairman of one of our most important public companies. He was truly great and he was truly good, and our country is deeply in his debt.

Sir Zelman appreciated the continuities of our culture but he well understood that often things have to change in order to last. To give just one example, he found Oriel College, Oxford to be the last bastion of single-sex education and he left it as part of the 20th century as a mixed college. Sir Zelman knew when to speak and he knew when to hold his peace. As Governor-General he delivered literally thousands of elegant speeches on almost every subject, but not once did he comment on the dismissal of a prime minister by his predecessor, famously saying that no good purpose would come of answering questions on that subject. It was indeed through his judicious silences that he successfully brought about this vital touch of healing to the highest office in our land.

Sir Zelman was very conscious of his Jewish heritage, although he was not especially religious, as his son Shimon so eloquently pointed out at his funeral service in Melbourne. Sir Zelman was a seeker after truth rather than an expounder of dogma. Perhaps one way in which we could further honour his memory is by seeking the ethical principles which might be regarded as common to all cultures and to all people—principles such as keeping commitments, respecting human life and caring for the vulnerable. Sir Zelman sought always the things men and women had in common and hoped always that they might be their best selves. We miss him, we honour him, we seek to be worthy of him and we extend our condolences to Lady Anna and his family.