Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 66


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahPrime Minister) (14:04): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death on 26 January 2015 of the Honourable Thomas Uren AC, a former Minister and Member of this House for the Division of Reid from 1958 to 1990, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Tom Uren was a prisoner of war, a member of this parliament, a minister and a deputy leader of his party. Tom was born in Balmain, but then his family moved to Harbord, on the Northern Beaches, when he was at the age of five. He attended Manly Boys' Intermediate High School, he was a surf lifesaving champion at Freshwater and he played for Manly-Warringah in the Presidents Cup Rugby League competition. While it is true to say that Tom Uren grew up in my own electorate, I suspect his heart was always in Balmain.

He was an aspiring boxer, he was an outstanding athlete and he joined the Army at the age of 20 and subsequently deployed to Timor. He spent his 21st birthday, and the following three birthdays, as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He lived through the brutality of the Burma-Thai railway, through daily extremes of suffering and privation, but he took from that experience the principle of Weary Dunlop: the fit looking after the sick, the young looking after the old and the rich looking after the poor. On one occasion while he was a prisoner of war, a Japanese guard was about to throw a prisoner from a bridge. Tom Uren risked the rage of the guards and their rifle butts. He confronted the guard and saved his comrade's life. After being transferred to Japan, he saw from a distance the sky turn crimson with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

Despite experiencing humanity at its worst, Tom Uren rejected hatred because, he said, hatred scars the soul. In word and in deed, he was anti-war. It was not a belief he developed in a coffee shop or in a lecture theatre; it was a belief he came to because of his own bitter experience. It was a sincere, passionate and lifelong belief. I first met Tom Uren at a Palm Sunday peace march in the mid-1980s. Once, as a minister, he was addressing an audience at Sydney university; he intervened to break up a fight between two students. The former boxer said: 'The only thing I fight for now is peace.'

He served our country all his days. In 1958 he entered federal parliament as the member for Reid and represented the electorate for 31 years, leaving as Father of the House. He became Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the Whitlam government and pioneered the protection of Australia's historic and natural heritage. He also served as a minister in the first two Hawke governments. When he retired, he was the Father of the House and he remained, long into his retirement, an active conservationist. He was indeed a strong supporter of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and, in the lead-up to the formation of that trust under the Howard government, I joined him at some protest rallies in my electorate which he had come back to, at least to visit—against the policies of the government which he had earlier served, at least in that respect.

Tom Uren once reflected: 'I am a much gentler man than most people believe. There are two sides to me. I've got a gentler side and a harder side and as I've got older I've got much gentler.' This, of course, was his way of saying that he cared about and felt for people, but nevertheless he always fought for principle. He was a warrior in this House; but above all else, in war and in peace, he was a warrior for a better Australia. In his life and through his actions we saw valour, sacrifice, service to country and a love of others over self.

It is right that his party has extensively honoured him, but Tom Uren will always be remembered as more than simply a son of his party. He will be remembered as a great son of Australia. On behalf of everyone on this side of the House—and I am sure on behalf of all Australians—I extend to his widow, Christine, and to his family the deepest condolences of the government and of the Australian people.