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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 8423


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:50): The Hon. Gordon Neil Bilney represented the seat of Kingston for our political opponents in the Australian Labor Party from the election of the Hawke Labor government in 1983 to the defeat of the Keating Labor government in 1996. In many ways, arriving and departing with a Labor government, Mr Bilney was an exemplary Hawke-Keating minister. I am not one who is often given to quoting Alan Ramsey, but allow me to do so on this occasion. He described him as 'a free spirit of great style and wit'. The coalition members who knew him and who have spoken to me, and my own chief of staff, who recalls him from working in the office next door, would vouch for that description by Mr Ramsey.

There is no doubt that Mr Bilney's abiding calling was foreign affairs. He was in the Australian diplomatic service from 1966 to 1982, being stationed in Jakarta, Manila and Geneva. Previously he had served as private secretary to Prime Minister Whitlam with responsibility for foreign affairs. Prior to entering parliament he served as High Commissioner to the West Indies from 1980 to 1982. In 1993 he was made the Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs—the first time a minister had been appointed to this role and a role he took to with great gusto.

Prior to entering parliament, he served as High Commissioner to the West Indies from 1980 to 1982. From 1990 to 1993, he was Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. In 1993 he was made the Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs—the first time a minister had been appointed to this role, one he took to with gusto.

He has been described to me as person of ruddy complexion, a tousle-haired fellow for whom coalition members had a deep and abiding affection. He clearly had great diplomatic skills. For a start, he managed to hold the marginal South Australian seat of Kingston for 13 years until swept out by the Howard landslide in 1996. For his 13 years in parliament he was aided by assiduous fundraising with sales of his Kingston shiraz.

Even more impressively, it is the view of some of the old timers in the coalition that much of the funds raised was money out of the wallets of Liberal Party and National Party members and staffers. In the temporary parliamentary annex built into the old House of Representatives rose garden, Mr Bilney plied a strong trade in Kingston shiraz. Many members and staffers eagerly awaited the arrival of each vintage.

My staff member has described Mr Bilney as having a most endearing quality—that he was completely without cant. He spoke with a disarming honesty, directness and joviality, which made one instantly feel one was talking to an old and trusted friend. He was always good for a yarn and always offered his views on Labor colleagues and the Labor Party, but because of his disarming manner, nobody ever took advantage of Mr Bilney's forthright expression of his views.

Many members on both sides of the parliament and former members will sadly miss Mr Bilney. Despite his Labor membership, he brought panache and warmth to this parliament. On behalf of the coalition, I extend our condolences on his passing to his partner and his two daughters.