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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1306

Senator BOURNE —I wish to associate the Australian Democrats with the condolence motion before the Senate today. Sir David Fairbairn was by all accounts a much admired man and a politician who commanded respect from many quarters. His contributions to public life extended over many years and involved service in a number of senior ministries in both the Menzies and the McMahon coalition governments. Although he is probably most remembered for his 1969 leadership challenge to the then Liberal Party leader, John Gorton, and for his subsequent decision not to serve as a minister in the Gorton government, he nevertheless remained absolutely committed to the Liberal Party and to the promotion of the government's policies.

  David Fairbairn came from one of those families which is steeped in a long tradition of involvement in government. Both his grandfathers, Edmund Jowett and Sir George Fairbairn, served in the first Australian federal parliament. His uncle, James Fairbairn, also entered politics and served as Minister for Air in the Menzies administration. It was this uncle, of course, who was killed in that most unfortunate circumstance when, in 1940, he died in an aeroplane crash here in the Canberra region.

  David Fairbairn entered politics at the 1949 general election when he was elected as the member for the federal seat of Farrer in New South Wales. He represented his electorate until his retirement in 1975. During his long career in parliament, Sir David distinguished himself by service in a great number of areas, including as Minister for Air, Minister for National Development, Minister for Education and Science, and Minister for Defence.

  It is clear from a number of sources that Sir David was an active minister who ensured an ongoing and vigorous contribution to the decision making process in his time in government. It has been noted, for instance, that he played a central role in the standardisation of the rail gauge on the Sydney, Melbourne, Albury and Adelaide train routes. As Minister for Education and Science, Sir David was also involved in the decision surrounding Australia's conversion from the imperial to the metric system in the early 1970s. In this regard, Sir David displayed a remarkable ability to foresee the debate on future public policy options.

  Sir David was a vocal advocate for the teaching of Asian studies in Australian schools, and he was clearly ahead of his time

in this debate at a time when such notions were still fairly unconventional. I should note that the Australian Democrats would probably have differed a little with his endorsement and active promotion of nuclear power as a future energy source. Nevertheless, Sir David's long service to the community deserves to be recognised today.

  Throughout his political career he displayed a strong commitment to his country and a determination to further those policies which he believed would better Australian society. Even after his retirement from politics, Sir David continued to serve his country in the capacity of Australia's ambassador to the Hague in the late 1970s. On behalf of the Australian Democrats, I offer his family our deepest sympathy at this time.