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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6848

Senator REID (3:58 PM) —I wish to join in supporting the motion put to the Senate by Senator Hill to mark the passing of Gordon Sinclair Davidson. I knew him well. I knew him first when I was a Young Liberal in South Australia and he was an active member of the Liberal Country League, as was his wife, Pat, who has been referred to. Other than at Liberal activities, I saw her because she had attended the same school as I had—the Methodist Ladies College in Adelaide—and throughout her life she remained an active supporter of the school and an active member of the Old Scholars Association. My association at the school, while I was a student and subsequently with Pat, was quite close as well.

It is interesting to reflect upon the lives of Gordon and Pat—lives of total service to their community at all times and certainly not just in the 20 years that Gordon was a member of the Senate. It started long before that and it continued after he served in the Senate. Gordon was 87 last January and the whole of his life was devoted to his community. He and Pat did not themselves have children, and they took a great interest in young people. Gordon was, as has been mentioned, very committed to the issue of education, to libraries, to learning. He himself was a learned man and very well read.

There were very many organisations that Gordon Davidson belonged to. Reference has been made to the fact that he was a farmer at Strathalbyn in South Australia until 1952 and had in that area served on the district council from 1942 to 1950 and was deputy chairman of the Strathalbyn council from 1948 to 1950. Gordon Davidson was educated at Scotch College and throughout his life was an active member of the Presbyterian Church. It was very important to him. He was the organising secretary and administrator of the Presbyterian Church of South Australia from 1952 until 1964 and was editor of the SA Presbyterian.

Gordon Davidson was a member of the board of the Australian Inland Mission for some years from 1957 and put a great deal of his effort and expertise into the work of that mission. He was on the United Church board from 1959 until 1970. He served on the council of his old school, Scotch College, in Adelaide—as Senator Ferguson, an old scholar of the same school, would know— from 1955. Gordon Davidson was on the board of St Andrew's Presbyterian Hospital from 1953 until 1971. I think mention has been made that he was on the South Australian council of the Royal Flying Doctor Service from 1958 to 1970 and was president from 1965 to 1967. He was the foundation chairman of the Dunbar Presbyterian Homes for the Aged. All of these tasks he really committed himself to and was active on. These were not things he did just to have them on his CV so that it looked good. After Gordon Davidson left the Senate, he was very pleased to be able to attend the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches that took place in Evanston in the United States of America in 1954. Gordon Davidson had a very full life throughout the whole of his 87 years.

Mention has been made of Gordon Davidson's committee service in the Senate. Talking about his Senate career, let us go back a bit. He first stood on a Senate ticket in 1958, but he was No. 3 on the ticket at that time and it did not quite get him there. He must have had doubts at times as to whether he would ever have a parliamentary career, having not been successful in 1958. In 1961, he was appointed to replace and serve the balance of the term of Senator Pearson, who had died. He then was selected to serve the balance of the term of Senator Buttfield when she retired from the Senate. He finally was elected in his own right in 1964 and took his place here, from that election, on 1 July 1965 and then was re-elected in 1970, 1974 and 1975, retiring on 30 June 1981.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, I knew Gordon Davidson when I was a Young Liberal. He was extremely supportive of all of the young people in the party who were participating during that time. Nothing was ever too much trouble: he would attend Young Liberal meetings, talk to people and advise. Certainly I knew him well during those years. In 1961, I was the Liberal candidate for Bonython in South Australia. He was extremely helpful to, and supportive of, me in that campaign, and I learnt a great deal. Gordon Davidson was very much a grassroots politician. He knew where the votes came from, and he knew that one managed to get votes by relating to people and by being concerned about the interests of those who were voting. I certainly enjoyed campaigning with him during that election.

I want to refer to Gordon Davidson's committee service. He was very committed to the role of the Senate—he spoke of that, on occasions—and had a very strong feeling for the concept of a second chamber and the role that it could play. His commitment to committee service was with a view to actually achieving something. As he had put it to me, it was a question of committees working together to find those things on which there was a common interest between those on the committee and to at least achieve that much. He did not have much time for the concept of extremes finishing up with dissenting reports that really achieved nothing at all out of the process. His view was that the basis should be committees working together to achieve something for the electorate. That is what I came to the Senate believing, from the way that he had spoken to me about committee service, in which he believed. He did chair committees. He was involved with the education committee for a long time, and Senator Hill referred to his being chairman of the Senator Select Committee on Water Pollution from 1968 to 1970.

Others have referred to Gordon Davidson's maiden speech, and it is interesting to read it, especially at a time like this, when the country is covered with drought to the extent that it is, when the River Murray's mouth has been blocked recently and has had to be artificially opened for water to flow through. His speech referred to the Chowilla dam project in South Australia and the role of the Murrumbidgee. It bears re-reading at this time in these circumstances. Going on a fraction from the part that Senator Harradine read out—and others have referred to other parts of the speech that he gave—the speech read:

Water is always topical, water is always urgent, and its provision, its storage, and its distribution are very much matters of moment and very much matters of struggle.

It continues:

... if there is any one factor that has limited our development or limited us in any way, it is this position regarding water.

Others have referred to other parts of the speech that he gave. When I was elected to the Senate by a joint sitting of the Senate on 5 May 1981 there were no other South Australian senators to escort me to my place. That was done by Gordon Davidson, who was to retire from the Senate some seven weeks later, and by former Senator Peter Sim from Western Australia, whom I had also known for a long time through the Young Liberal movement. They were the two who escorted me to my seat at the back on the government side of the chamber in the old building, where I then sat for some time with John Martyr from Western Australia on one side of me and David MacGibbon on the other side. Every time I came into the chamber I would push the seat forward so that I could reach my desk and when they came in they would put their feet on the board underneath and push it back so that they were comfortable. But I learnt a bit from them as well.

Certainly for me it was a great privilege and a pleasure to be, if only for a short time, serving in the same chamber as a man of the integrity of Gordon Davidson. He was very committed, as has been mentioned, to the Parliamentary Library. He served on the Library Committee for, I think, the whole of his term in the Senate, and after that time he continued his involvement in that area through roles with the National Library and the South Australian Libraries Board.

After John Knight died in early 1981 there was of course a gap before a replacement could be appointed. I know that Gordon Davidson liaised with and contacted staff who were still maintaining former Senator Knight's office and was unobtrusively helpful to them with the things that still needed to be done. He was always available to talk about any issues that might be helpful. He was that sort of person. If something needed to be done, he would do it. He certainly was a gentleman. Someone used the word `elegant', and I think that is right. There were times when he wore his flamboyant Scottish bow ties and looked extremely elegant doing that. He was friendly to those around him. He did have firm views, as Senator Harradine has mentioned, but never pushed them at people. He worked towards achieving the things that he believed in. He was an outstanding senator, and as a senator on the back bench he fulfilled the role of the Senate relating to the community in representing his community. I join with other senators in expressing my condolences—and those of my husband, Tom—to Pat and other members of the family and their friends.