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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6850


Senator CHAPMAN (4:09 PM) —It is also my privilege to join in this motion of condolence for the late former senator Gordon Davidson CBE, who died last Monday aged nearly 88. I had the privilege of undertaking some part-time research projects for former Senator Davidson during 1975, in the months prior to my own election to the House of Representatives as the member for Kingston as a result of the December 1975 election. After that, of course, we became parliamentary colleagues until former Senator Davidson's retirement in June 1981. While I came to know him much better during that particular period, I had already known him for some years prior to that through our mutual involvement in the Liberal Party and in his role as a senator. Indeed, he and his wife, Pat, were well known to my parents through their mutual interest in farming and church related activities, as well as through the Liberal Party and through being residents of Glenelg.

It would be accurate to characterise former Senator Davidson's life as one of continuous community service. That has already been alluded to by Senator Reid, Senator Hill and other speakers today. I think that encapsulates former Senator Davidson's life: continuous community service. From 1942 to 1950 he was a councillor on the Strathalbyn District Council—Strathalbyn being the area in which he farmed—and from 1948 to 1950 he was deputy chairman of that council. From 1952 to 1964 he was Organising Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in South Australia, a full-time position with the Presbyterian Church. This involved extensive work right around the state on behalf of the church and was a keen expression of Gordon's Christian faith. Of course, it was from there that he was elected for a 16-year period as a senator in 1964, taking his seat in July 1965. It is significant, as I mentioned, having already been Organising Secretary of the Presbyterian Church, that he was one of the founders of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, which was established in the parliament in, I think, 1966.

Before becoming a long-term senator in 1965, he had already served 2½ months in the Senate, having been appointed to replace the late Senator Rex Pearson in September 1961 but defeated at the December 1961 general election under the earlier different rules for Senate replacements at that time. He served in the Senate again—this time for five months, from February to June 1962— replacing former Senator Nancy Buttfield. Senator Reid mentioned that perhaps Gordon wondered whether he might ever have a long-term parliamentary career. I recall when I was a member of the Liberal Senate team for the 1974 double dissolution election— and I was No. 6 in a team of six at the time when the Liberal Party was expecting to win four or five of the seats—Gordon relating this earlier experience he had as a senator for a few months at a time and saying that it did not hurt to be first reserve in the early days; it could always lead to better things. And it certainly did—those few months of service for Gordon eventually led to, as I have said, 16 years of service, from 1965 to 1981.

During that long period he gave extended service as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. Over that time, the committee tabled a number of significant reports on education issues. They have been referred to by other speakers today. Certainly, education was a major priority for Gordon Davidson in his service in the Senate. He was also especially notable in his role as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution, in the late 1960s.

As I said, Gordon's life can be characterised as one of community service. His retirement from the Senate in 1981 did not mean that he retired from community service. He served on the South Australian Libraries Board standing committee from 1984 to 1989 and on the Council of the National Library as well, again reinforcing the interest that he had in education and the spread of knowledge through the facilities that libraries can offer. He also served until 1988 on the Council of Scotch College, as well as being involved with other community organisations through the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

It has been my pleasure to have been able to maintain my friendship with the late Gordon Davidson and his wife, Pat, in the years following his retirement from the Senate. I have seen them both regularly at community functions—notably the annual Carl Linger Memorial Australia Day service, with which he maintained a close association over the years—and also at Liberal Party events, and here in Canberra when he regularly attended the retired members association functions. It has been said that Gordon was a gentle man, but he was also a powerful orator who commanded the attention of his audience. As a resident of the Kingston electorate, he was of great assistance to me in my campaigns as a candidate and subsequently member for Kingston in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I certainly appreciated his support in those days. He was a kindly and courteous man with whom it has been a privilege to share a friendship. I therefore offer my condolences to his wife, Pat, with whom he shared 50 years and who was a wonderful supporter for him in his parliamentary and other community activities.