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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1307

Senator SHORT —I want to say a few words on this condolence motion to the honourable Sir David Fairbairn, KBE, DFC and MA. I had the pleasure of knowing David Fairbairn just a little in the 1960s when he was a senior member of the Menzies government, subsequently of the Holt and Gorton governments, and then when he was back again in the McMahon government. In the mid-1960s I spent a couple of years working with the late Harold Holt and it was mainly in that connection that I came into contact with David Fairbairn.

  Most of his career has been outlined today by other speakers. I do not wish to go into those details again other than to say that he was, I think, a very underrated man in many ways. He was an influential politician and a person who, apart from politics, made a significant contribution to Australia.

  It is not generally known that Sir David was a very talented farmer who won awards for farming through his work in developing his property. He was also, as has been said, a distinguished service person during the Second World War. He served with the RAAF for several years, and fought and flew in England and New Guinea. He was badly wounded towards the end of the war, was discharged in 1945 with the rank of flight lieutenant, and was awarded a DFC for his war service.

  He was obviously a person who enjoyed flying. In fact, in his early parliamentary days he used to fly himself to and from parliament. Reports of that time record that, as he flew home at the end the parliamentary week, on occasions he would fly his plane over and buzz the old Parliament House. Some of us would think that perhaps he should have done more than that, but he was a person who obviously enjoyed flying.

  When we look at the record, at the descriptions of David Fairbairn by those who knew him and at the reports that one reads of him, certain words seem to come through very regularly. He was a quiet, earnest and courteous man; a man of complete and never-questioned integrity, and a man who was widely respected by friends, acquaintances and the wider community alike, including in particular his political opponents which is, I think, a good mark of the assessment and judgment of people.

  Some of Sir David's ministerial work was notable. He is credited with having pushed through the Menzies cabinet the decision to institute the Ord River scheme. The Fairbairn Dam has been mentioned. He was also, as I think Senator Bourne mentioned, a strong advocate of the development of nuclear power stations in Australia. Indeed, at the time he was talking about them in the late 1960s nuclear power was seen as something that would probably be necessary and desirable for Australia. It was for that reason that he was responsible for putting to the government, and the government of the day imposing, restrictions on the export of uranium so that it could be retained for our own domestic purposes.

  David Fairbairn was obviously a very hard working minister and a man of wide interests. He was a low profile minister but nonetheless a very influential minister at a time of great development in Australia. To his widow Ruth Fairbairn, who I believe was a driving force behind him in his parliamentary career and a great support to him, and to her family, I join my party and all representatives here in extending my deep sympathy at the loss of David Fairbairn. Australia is very much the poorer for his passing.