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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 306


Mr CONROY (Charlton) (11:43): I am very proud to join my parliamentary colleagues in paying tribute to a true giant of Australian politics, the labour movement and the Labor Party—Arthur Gietzelt AO. Firstly, may I associate myself with the fine remarks of the members for Grayndler and Sydney, who covered every important point of Arthur's tremendous contribution. I was particularly taken by the member of Grayndler's contribution about Arthur fighting the good fight and never letting go and also winning those good fights, which is very important. I think the member for Sydney's point about Arthur being on the right side of history should also never be forgotten in this place.

Arthur's service to Australia and the Labor Party has been acknowledged since his passing. He served in the Army in New Guinea during World War II, he served in local government on the Sutherland Shire Council for 15 years and he served in the Australian Senate for nearly two decades—during this period, he was Minister for Veterans' Affairs in the Hawke government.

Arthur, like many of his generation, was shaped by the Great Depression. He was a fine example of a policymaker who fought for an economy which served the needs of the people rather than one where the people served the needs of the economy. I think that this is a lesson that we all need to hold on to. Arthur was a leading activist in the Australian Labor Party at a time of great internal upheaval, during the 1950s and 1960s. I think it is very important to note that, without his important contribution to the ALP's Combined Branches' and Unions' Steering Committee, the Labor Party would be a very different party today. Arthur was instrumental in defeating the industrial groups led by BA Santamaria, and the steering committee was crucial to ensuring that the trade union movement and the Labor Party remained progressive forces for good rather than puppets for groups with very different agendas. He was definitely on the right side of history in that debate. It was during his time on the Sutherland Shire Council that Arthur demonstrated his passion for equality and sustainability. The members for Grayndler and Sydney have illustrated this point very, very deeply.

We were debating a condolence motion for Nelson Mandela late last year in this place. The member for Sydney made the point that Arthur led the response to apartheid. His council was the first government body to impose sanctions to fight the practice of racially selecting competitors in surf-lifesaving. It was tremendously controversial. Arthur was called many names and suffered one of the few acts of political terrorism in this country, when his house was blown up. We should never forget the fact that Arthur kept fighting after this gross act of intimidation.

As shire president, Arthur successfully protected the Towra Point wetlands from development. This is one of the many examples of his deep commitment to sustainability. Arthur also developed some very innovative methods for financing council development. The member for Sydney commented on enjoying those amenities growing up in the shire. It is incredible to think that Arthur pioneered developments such as when the council established a land projects committee to develop land and then sell it. The projects gained revenue to develop the wonderful amenities the shire enjoys today such as pools, sporting fields, libraries and childcare centres. It is true to say that Arthur's legacy in the Sutherland shire is there for all people to see in bricks and mortar and open playing fields.

When Arthur entered the Senate, he joined with another champion of the left and World War II veteran, Tom Uren, to pursue a very progressive agenda. They were joined by another in Bruce Childs. They represented a very formidable trio within the Labor caucus of progressive voices—voices that lived through the Depression and through World War II, which gave them such power and legitimacy. After the election of the Hawke government, Arthur became Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I want to acknowledge Arthur's service on behalf of the many wonderful veterans groups in the electorate of Charlton, particularly the very strong Vietnam veterans community, who have talked to me about their gratitude for Arthur's contribution as Minister for Veterans' Affairs.

Among his many achievements that have been recognised include introducing home care for veterans, formally recognising the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' work in patrolling northern Australia's coast during World War II, and establishing the Evatt royal commission into Agent Orange during Vietnam. As the members for Grayndler and Sydney commented, you can be opposed to a war but be very committed to honouring the sacrifice of those who fought in that war and ensuring that the returning veterans are looked after. There is no greater example of this than Arthur Gietzelt. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke described Arthur as the best veterans affairs minister in Australian history. I think that is a view that a lot of us share.

Arthur was a leader of the left in the Australian Labor Party over a significant period of time. Those of us who share his values and beliefs pay tribute to his legacy and pledge to continue to be a voice for social justice, equity and fairness in the Labor Party, the Australian parliament and beyond. Arthur's legacy truly is one of being on the right side of history, of fighting the good fight and of being a great mentor for activists. His passing is, indeed, a great and sad occasion for the parliament of Australia.