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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 307

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (11:49): The Gietzelt family—Arthur, Ray and the broader family—represent the great success of migration in this country. He was born in San Francisco in 1920, the family having earlier been to Australia. Ironically, this is one year before another great Czechoslovakian was born. Alexander Dubcek was born in 1921, his family having fled to America earlier for political reasons. Their histories in a sense were fated to cross. Arthur played a very significant role in the broader left in this country by strongly denouncing the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which overthrew Dubceck.

Arthur was very much a product of his upbringing. Whilst his family might not have been as deprived as many others, their small business collapsed and in the Depression he was to see the huge unemployment lines in this country, people being given very minimal amounts of money and actually having to collect food on a weekly basis, depending on public works whenever they were available. He was also very much a person of the period of the Spanish Civil War at a time when BA Santamaria, the lodestone, the philosophical inspiration of some people in this House, was supporting the Franco overthrow of the Spanish Republican government and Franco's complicity with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in the lead-up to the Second World War. That was when the Germans tried out their aerial bombardments on urban areas and utilised tank strategies that were later used against Australia and other allies during the Second World War. Arthur was formed by that need to take on the international advent of fascism.

Arthur, of course, became very involved in Labor Party affairs and the series of Labor parties that stood up against Lang in the late 30s and early 40s. As many speakers have mentioned, he was later in alliance with the Australian Workers Union and other elements who at first cooperated with the infiltration of the Labor Party by extremist elements around the industrial groups but who then found themselves the next victims. From there, he went on to form the broad left steering committee grouping.

I became involved in the Labor Party in 1967 with a group of people in the early 70s who took over Young Labor and became involved in the steering committee. It is very gender biased in a way, but I think of Rodney Cavalier, John Faulkner, John Overall, Jeff Shaw, Peter Crawford, Peter Baldwin, Sandra Nori, John Whitehouse and Pam Allan. Those people were very much welcomed by Arthur. It was not characteristic of those generations to actually welcome younger people, involve them, give them responsibility and listen to their point of view. It was typical of Arthur's influence, and I guess the era that we were dealing with, that three people I can think of—Greg Barder, Peter Crawford and John Overall—gave up university et cetera and went into the workforce to work in the shop industry to try to take over the union. It was at Arthur's instigation. That was the kind of influence he had. It was our belief that the shop assistants union was too compliant and too controlled by employers.

I do not want to go through the areas that other speakers have traversed. Obviously there was Arthur's massive contribution to the veterans' affairs in this country. But if you look at the broad range of issues that he was involved with, he was very much before his time. He was involved in women's issues long before many others in the Labor movement were. He has been mentioned with regard to homosexual reform.

I want to particularly stress the anti-war movement and Indochina. People forget that the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party supported the war and tried to prescribe the Association for International Co-operation and Disarmament which eventually became the moratorium. They tried to expel from the party anybody remotely part of that organisation. It was a massive struggle to overcome that and eventually change the policies of the Labor Party under the leadership of Cairns and to change Australian public opinion. Arthur played a big role in that.

On the question of urban development, we talk about Gough Whitlam, but at a local level Arthur was providing the same delivery mechanisms in Sutherland. On anti-apartheid, we forget that many people on the other side of politics were not quite as good as Malcolm Fraser on these issues. There were huge fights in the coalition about resistance to apartheid. They agreed with Margaret Thatcher, 'Let's be nice to them and they will change.' Arthur played a legendary role in that issue. In the Labor Party, he was an unremitting campaigner for democratisation of the party and played a seminal role in the 1970s intervention in the Labor Party, which did accomplish a few things in regard to democratisation. He always wanted the rank and file to have control of the selection of candidates. He was unrelenting in those efforts. I also note comments, particularly by Senator John Faulkner, that Arthur was boundlessly optimistic. No matter how defeated the left were, no matter how poor the vote was, he would see these possibilities—somebody was seen talking to somebody in the Transport Workers Union; somebody was not talking to somebody at head office. Whatever the dire situation in the New South Wales Left, we were basically going to go ahead and win through. Arthur was endless in his optimism. It was quite surprising. When you connect that, as Senator Faulkner did, with the kind of degree of wariness about talking on the phone, it is quite strange that he was so optimistic at the same time as thinking his phone was being tapped all the time!

One of the things people referred to at the funeral was the bombing of his house. I did not appreciate at the time just how close that was to causing the death of the family. If you see the photographs from the time, it was a very serious attempt to kill him.

As people have said, at some stages he played a very major role in progressive politics in New South Wales and the accession of Neville Wran. People have tried to rewrite history and say that John Ducker and the New South Wales Right were the geniuses who put Neville Wran in power. In actual fact it was the New South Wales Left and a few mavericks such as Breretonwho actually got the numbers for Neville Wran. It was against the New South Wales Right that Neville Wran became Premier and brought in that period of both electoral success and progressive politics in New South Wales. And, of course, as we have heard on many occasions, his brother, Ray, played a decisive role in the elevation of Bob Hawke both to the ACTU and thereby to the prime ministership of this country.

I want to also note his family—Dawn, Lee, Dale and Adam. Dawn herself was very politically active. I happened to walk into the Sydney Museum of Crime and Justice, down near Circular Quay, and on the wall was an interview with Dawn and Arthur Gietzelt. The display was about the Depression and policing of public dissent and protest. I saw Dawn being interviewed and she talked about herself as a child at Parramatta after the council banned all public meetings—any public meeting whatsoever was banned in Parramatta. She talked of being a child and watching this person run around on top of a building at Parramatta. There is a statue of a horse there—no-one ever notices it—and the person was chained to the statue and then was eventually chased around the top of the building by the police. I knew that that was my grandfather and I rang her up to ask her to clarify whether that was my grandfather, Jock, who was in the Communist Party at that time—my father used to say, in his usual cynical fashion, that he was into the Communist Party because it was the best racket going at the time. But that was a symbol of Dawn: she was there as a child. Her family were involved in politics et cetera.

I want to mention one thing that was very moving. The last time I met Arthur was at a social event we just happened to be at, at his comrade and friend Bruce Child's home. I had not agreed with Arthur on everything over the last decade or so, but he actually physically ran from the function to grab me as I left. I had endured a rather bizarre redistribution—people should actually look at this—where the seat of Reid was abolished in name and then magically, after I was not able to contest three preselections, restored after that. There was conjecture about needing a seat. Arthur rushed to say, 'Look, Laurie, I know you won't believe this but I really hope you get a seat out there at Werriwa.' So I want to put on record Arthur's leadership role in the New South Wales Left but also his more broad struggle on behalf of so many people, on so many broad and national issues, and in regards to domestic policies.

Finally, because a particular person was thwarted in his rather delusional ambitions to be a councillor in Sutherland, we have seen Arthur attacked by a journalist in the Australianover the last few months because of the alleged reports of some paid informer. I want to say that my memories of Arthur are his trenchant opposition to both to the invasion of Czechoslovakia, but also the invasion of Afghanistan when he had to drag some Neanderthals in the New South Wales Left to taking that position against the war. Arthur Gietzelt had a fine parliamentary career—and, more importantly to me, a fine tradition inside the Labor Party in fighting for rank-and-file democracy.

As a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased all Members present stood, in silence.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the Federation Chamber.

Mr Sukkar: by leave—I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.