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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 5

Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (14:19): I commend those who have spoken before me for their very wise and well-chosen words. I believe I am the only member of this House who served while Sir Zelman was Governor-General of Australia. I had the opportunity of meeting with him on numerous occasions but I also had the opportunity of meeting with him afterwards at Oriel College, when he had retired from the role of Governor-General and had taken up a fresh academic appointment. I was there quite uniquely, in a sense, with members of the parliament at that time but also with George Brandis of the Senate, Don Markwell and Tom Harley—all distinguished Liberals who have written on that topic and were at Sir Zelman's feet.

He has been regaled as the great healer. I think it is important to recognise the nature of the events in 1975 for the potential they had to do the Australian democracy enormous harm. We came from those events, notwithstanding those challenges, in a cohesive way. It is by no accident that Sir Zelman Cowen is regaled as the healer, the person who was able to provide very considered leadership in addressing those important issues.

For my own part, I want to simply record that I saw Sir Zelman Cowen as a great Australian, regardless of whether he had been Governor-General or not. To be appointed as a professor of public law and Dean of the Melbourne Law School at the age of 31 years was remarkable in itself. He had been a visiting professor at American universities. Before that time he played a very significant role in modernising legal education. He focused on assimilating legal education with practice. He advised the British Colonial Office on constitutional matters as a dominion liaison officer. He advised governments of Hong Kong and China on legal affairs. It can be seen that even before his leadership roles at the University of New England and as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Queensland his achievements were very considerable.

One matter that has not been noted was that between 1976 and 1977 he was appointed a Law Reform Commissioner and was active in the areas of addressing the need for the law to keep up to date with the times during mass globalisation and of updating law to deal with rapid development in science and technology sectors such as bioethics and, specifically, human transplants and privacy. Later his activities led to the introduction of the federal Privacy Act. I thought it was particularly germane that Michael Kirby wrote of him:

While still Vice Chancellor of the University of Queensland, he agreed to serve with me in the Australian Law Reform Commission. And he did so between 1976 and 1977. What exciting days they were. Two of our projects have grown out his own academic interests. One of them, for the protection of privacy, led to the federal Privacy Act and resulted in my own introduction to the international activities of committees of the OECD. The other concerned bioethics, specifically human tissue transplants. Zelman had also written on the topic. He once let me into his intellectual secret. He urged me to read American law reviews which, he said, would put me ten years ahead of most Australian lawyers.

Michael Kirby said he took his advice. Others may not comment as positively on those matters, but I thought it was of interest.

I conclude my remarks by picking up one of the observations of an earlier speaker, the member for Isaacs. He commented on Sir Zelman having some observations to make about an Australian republic. I conclude with what he had to say about that matter in 1999 when speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra.

He went on to take issue with those who argued for a direct election of a President. He preferred the method offered in a referendum beginning with a public nomination process and ending with a person put forward by the Prime Minister receiving bipartisan support from two-thirds of the parliament.

I might say his comments were particularly perspicacious then and they may at another time be perspicacious again. I am pleased to be associated with this motion of condolence. I regard Sir Zelman as one of the greatest Australians that I have had the pleasure of knowing.