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Tuesday, 21 August 1984
Page: 22


Senator PETER RAE —As one who served here for three years under the presidency of Sir Alister McMullin, I would like to add that he was fondly known to many of us as Big Al, a reference to his size. He was a very large man; a very distinguished presence; and a man whose gruffness at times hid a generosity of heart and spirit which was made known particularly to the new boys in this place during his presidency who were helped in many way by Sir Alister. I well recall the manner of his management of affairs. When an absolute riot broke out in this place one day during Question Time, he sat unperturbed and said, 'Come on, it is a bit early in the day for that sort of nonsense', and the whole thing subsided. It was the calming of the waters. That sort of manner which he brought to this place was memorable and I think played an important part, as has been said by others, in the development of the institution we have today, he having presided over it for such a long period, including the period of the development of the committee system. I add my words of tribute, condolence and sympathy to his family.


The PRESIDENT —I would like to say something on this motion, both in my capacity as a senator for New South Wales at the same time as the late Sir Alister McMullin represented that State and as one of his successors in this office. Sir Alister McMullin served as President for a record term of almost 18 years from 1953 to 1971. I was very privileged to be a member of the Senate during the last nine years of his occupancy of this office. As Senator Chaney said, he was a very big man. He was a great Australian, a strong and dignified President, and certainly during his period of office the Senate grew in prestige and influence. As has already been said, a significant development during the term of his presidency was the development of the Senate's comprehensive committee system which I think it is fair to say has become a model for parliaments throughout the world which are based on the Westminster system.

He was also a strong supporter of the Parliamentary Library. Under his chairmanship of the Library Committee there took place a major reorganisation of the Library that serves this Parliament. We saw during his chairmanship of that Committee the establishment of the National Library of Australia. The National Library took over the national public functions of the then Parliamentary Library, thus leaving the Parliamentary Library to concentrate on the specific and specialised services to the Parliament. This was followed, under his chairmanship, by the establishment within the Parliamentary Library of the Legislative Research Service, giving the Library its present strong structure and responsible functions which remain to this day.

He was a strong supporter of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and was Chairman of the Commonwealth of Australia branch from 1953 to 1971. He attended numerous Commonwealth parliamentary conferences overseas during the period 1959 to 1969, and was Chairman of the Association during its conference in Australia in 1970. At the time of his death I, with others, was in Papua New Guinea attending the opening of the new Parliament House. Sir Robin Vanderfelt, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, who was also present, flew to Australia after his attendance in Papua New Guinea to meet Lady McMullin because of the great admiration and respect he held for our former President.

Sir Alister was also instrumental in initiating the Australasian Presiding Officers Conferences and had the honour of hosting the first of these in Canberra in July 1968. The late President was the first of the joint chairmen of the New Parliament House Committee. He worked hard to ensure that Parliament and governments took a continuing interest in building a new national Parliament House, and I am sure that but for his tremendous enthusiasm for that task in those early days we would not be seeing the progress that is now taking place. Besides the great dignity and dedication that Sir Alister brought to the position as President, he also possessed a fine sense of humour. Senator Peter Rae has already recalled the incident when he said: 'Order, order! It's too early in the morning for all this nonsense'. I well remember in the early days of the committee system of this Parliament when Sir Alister was presenting the Estimates of the Senate before an early Estimates Committee. The then Senator Murphy was asking questions about the independence of Parliament in its relationship to the Executive. Senator Murphy was trying to show that the Parliament was completely dependent on the Executive for its funding. Senator Murphy asked Sir Alister McMullin what he would do if he had to get a typewriter . Sir Alister said that he would seek the advice of the Clerk. He was then asked whether it would be necessary for him to seek funds from the Treasurer's Advance . He said, 'No, I would go out and buy the typewriter and get the money from petty cash'.

In paying my tribute to Sir Alister, I remind the Senate of other words expressed upon his retirement from this place. Speaking on a motion in honour of retiring senators in May 1971, both the then Leader of the Government in the Senate, Sir Kenneth Anderson, and the then Leader of the Opposition, Senator Murphy, paid great tribute to Sir Alister. Speaking to the motion, Sir Kenneth said:

In appreciation of 'the wonderful service you have given the national Parliament and to us senators', that 'your dignity and your ability to control the Senate have been an inspiration to all who will follow you'.

Senator Murphy, in speaking, also said:

You have always carried a great part of the burden of promoting and encouraging a better understanding and appreciation of the Senate and its role in our parliamentary system. Your own conduct has done much to uphold and strengthen the traditions of the Senate as an institution.

People of all political persuasions had a great respect for him. Speaking on a personal basis, I know that he and my own late father were fairly close personal friends. I have conveyed to Sir Alister's wife, Lady McMullin, and to his daughter Katherine, the sympathy of all honourable senators.

Question resolved in the affirmative.