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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6845

Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (3:37 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 25 November 2002, of Gordon Sinclair Davidson, CBE, a former Liberal Party senator for South Australia, and places on record its appreciation of his meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Gordon Sinclair Davidson was born on 17 January 1915 at Adelaide in South Australia. He was from a farming family in the Strathalbyn area and his early working life was on the family farm, as a farmer and grazier. At a reasonably early age, he became interested in politics and he was elected to and served on the Strathalbyn district council from 1942 to 1950. That fostered further interest in politics and he first came to the Senate in September 1961, filling a vacancy for a three-month period. He came to the Senate again in February 1962 for a period of five months. He was elected as a senator in his own right in 1964, and served from 1965 until 30 June 1981.

In his first speech, former Senator Davidson spoke of water as being the lifeblood of any country, and of the need for water storage facilities and water management practices, particularly in relation to the River Murray in South Australia. Presumably, his interest in these issues would have resulted from his experience on the land not far from the River Murray. He served on several parliamentary delegations and committees in this place, and one of them particularly related to water matters: he was chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution, whose inquiry was largely responsible for the introduction of a range of water management programs. I am not sure whether it was that committee or another committee which he also chaired that recommended a water commission for Australia, which, as I understand it, would have given the Commonwealth greater powers over management of waters such as the River Murray. Some of us think that there may still be a worthwhile case for that position, many years after it was suggested by the late Gordon Davidson.

He was vitally interested in education matters and he also served as chairman of the Education, Science and the Arts Committee of this place. In particular, he examined the need for a multicultural and multilingual broadcasting service. His role on many committees earned him the reputation of being one of the pioneers and one of the champions of the Senate committee system. He served as a Temporary Chairman of Committees and was an active member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. In addition to his parliamentary work, he served as president of the South Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service from 1965 to 1967. He was an active member and in fact a leader of the Freemasons in our state.

In his valedictory speech he referred to the motto of the Davidson clan, which when translated is `wisely if sincerely'. I think that very much reflects the way in which he carried out his functions as a senator for South Australia. In January 1981 he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire, for service to the parliament. Other matters that affected him greatly during his life included his Scottish heritage, to which he was totally committed—one could see it in his costume as he stood at the airport for his planes to Canberra. Another matter that affected him greatly was his Christian faith. He was a committed Presbyterian—in fact a leader of the lay church in South Australia. For many years—as I learned from his funeral last Friday—he had a radio program, known as Presbyterian Corner, which he used to educate and inform the South Australian community on Presbyterian matters. I mentioned his very deep commitment to his lodge and, as has been demonstrated by his public career, his commitment to the parliament through 20 years in this place. He was a member of the council of the National Library of Australia, which I think further demonstrates his commitment to education and to public information. He was also a member of the committee for South Australian libraries.

I took his place in the Senate, so I guess that in that way we had a special relationship and I have a special responsibility. He was a gentle, well spoken, elegant man. He gave a lifetime to public service and the community. He is survived by his widow, Patricia, to whom he was married for some 50 years. On behalf of the government I therefore wish to extend to Patricia and his other family members and friends our most sincere sympathy in their bereavement.