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Tuesday, 21 August 1984
Page: 36


Senator HARRADINE —I join in this condolence motion as a member of the Joint Library Committee, as a Tasmanian and as one of Kevin's mates.

Much has been said about Kevin Cairns's voracious capacity to devour books. In the late 1960s a parliamentary librarian once said of Kevin that he read more books than any three parliamentarians put together. On one occasion a story went around Brisbane to the effect that Kevin had told his wife one Saturday morning to have a sleep-in while he got up and prepared the breakfast for the seven kids . Kevin started off, but then saw a recently borrowed book on an esoteric subject dealing with economics, and he started to read it. When Tonia started to smell the smell of burnt toast wafting into her bedroom she came out-there was Kevin, thoroughly engrossed in his economic tome and totally ignoring the hints that were vigorously put by his children. It was appropriate therefore, that when the Parliamentary Library first brought out its booklet as a guide to the services of the Parliamentary Library it selected Kevin, for the illustrative photograph, as the typical member of parliament who made use of the Library's services.

As a Tasmanian, I place on record my appreciation, and I am sure the appreciation of those from less populous States, for the incisive nature of Kevin's analysis of Commonwealth grants and the various schemes of assistance to the States to prove the thesis that, when dealing with the apparently generous grants to the smaller States, one must consider a multitude of indirect subsidies enjoyed by the larger States and not available to the smaller States with smaller manufacturing bases. Mind you, I was not always able to follow Kevin's arguments, but I am sure that, in the end, he had all the facts and figures and that he was right.

As a mate, I pay tribute to Kevin. I can do no better than quote a couple of excerpts from the panegyric delivered at Kevin's requiem mass by the Reverend Doctor John Eddy, SJ, who is a senior fellow in history at the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. He said:

He tried consistently, in all his incredibly busy and often effective doings, to clarify the moral and spiritual issues of the business which engaged him, to purify his own motives, and to activate as well as he could the consciences as well as the intellects of his colleagues. His pennant as a practical and believing Australian Catholic family man was always clearly displayed, boldly but without rashness or bigotry, and he suffered gravely from the prejudice of enemies and the misunderstanding of friends as well as the apathy and half- hearted support of those from whom he could justly have expected encouragement and backing. He detested humbug, or snobbery, especially the sort which he found too prevalent in public life and which he thought tended to smooth out untractable problems merely on the surface without facing the often unpleasant reality lying underneath. He respected and liked opponents who stood to their principles more than the wishy-washy, confused 'allies' who adapted too easily to morally unacceptable or facile solutions.

He was a man of great intensity and passion, who could not and would not be fobbed off by dishonest compromise-though his grasp of political and social reality and his leadership qualities surely made him a suitable candidate for higher and more responsible office than the mediocrity and shallowness of the times allowed him to attain.

Far from being a man out of touch with humanity and the needs and aspirations of ordinary citizens, Kevin had a great feeling for humanity. The Reverend Doctor John Eddy said:

How can one forget the romantic fellow who saw his future wife's picture in a girlish snapshot and followed her relentlessly for years until he had his heart' s ease; who brought with him at first marriage 17 shirts, not one of which had the same neck size; who had to be restrained frequently from wearing odd socks and even odd shoes, who could always be identified at the beach as the only towel-hatted middle aged man absorbed in conquering the art of riding a child's surfboard; whose legendary barbecues could bring in twenty-seven strangers all intent on discussing privately with 'Dad' some absorbing topic or theory of their own or his choosing until he had to slip out of the back-door with Tonia to drive 'to the tip' for a moment's peace and quiet; who could whiz to a halt in the car at the middle of peak traffic in Albion Fiveways to take down a thought which had suddenly struck him as relevant; who could be so absorbed in reading such a tome as 'Equality and Diversity' or 'Science and Ethics' at the beach that he would not notice it had become pitch-dark; who would go to any lengths to meet any fellow-man and discuss any topic as long as it was fruitful and interesting.

This was the Kevin Cairns that I knew. In fact, very close to his death, about a month before he actually died, although he and I did not know that, I visited him in hospital. He wanted to discuss with me the economic burdens on the family and people economically not well off. He said: 'How do you determine this?' I said: 'How do you, Kevin?' He said: 'You have to determine who in this day and age is least likely to be able to exercise an economic choice as to disposable income'. I said: 'That might be right, but how would you do it?' He said: 'I have a lot to do with the travel industry and I have analysed a survey within the travel industry as to who in the current economic climate has decided not to travel as much as previously, particularly interstate for holidays'. With figures he showed that the area of greatest decline was singles under 20 years of age and families. He said: 'There it is, Brian. If you are feeling the pinch you will stop your annual holidays interstate and cut out your travel, and there is the proof of it'. At that time I asked whether he would provide me with this detailed information, and his family has done so. I am sure that at some future and more appropriate stage the Senate would be interested in that.

Finally, Kevin was in the forefront of alerting the public to various items of social engineering legislation which he could see would find their way into Australia. He was concerned about the future ramifications of the family law legislation. He served on the Joint Committee on Family Law. He had grave misgivings about what was being done and, sad to say, his misgivings have proven correct. I join with the Senate in conveying sympathy to Tonia and to her and Kevin's family. I am sure that in the darkness they may experience they will not forget what they and Kevin learned in the light.