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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2426

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Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (15:37): by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 14 April 2014, of Brian Harradine, former senator for Tasmania, places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Mr President, the Australian Senate was graced for 30 years by the presence of Senator Brian Harradine, a man of conviction, a man of principle, a man of integrity, a man of humility, dedication and self-giving love, a man of immense talent who committed his life to the service of others through his faith, through his family, through his many elected positions as a union man and a parliamentary representative for the state of Tasmania. He was rightly described by His Grace Archbishop Julian Porteous at the state funeral as a just man as described in chapter 4 of the Book of Wisdom.

Richard William Brian Harradine was born in Quorn, South Australia, in 1935, into what might be described as a typical Catholic Labor family with strong union links. Brian initially embarked on a religious career before working with the Commonwealth Railways and then the Postmaster-General's Department in Adelaide. Then, like his father, uncles and brothers, Brian became a union official. He joined the Federated Clerks Union and became a protege of John Maynes, who, during the 1950s played a leading role in the Australian Labor Party's industrial group known as Groupers, who took on the Left and especially the communists in a battle that resulted in a split in the ALP in Hobart in 1955 and which led to the formation of the Democratic Labor Party.

In 1959 Brian came to our home state of Tasmania as a union secretary. He first lived with the Noonan family, with Mick Noonan becoming a close friend and later Brian's campaign manager for each of his Senate election campaigns and, might I add, a very good and successful record. It was a period of struggle, suspicion and bitterness between the Left and Right factions of the ALP. In the 1950s Cold War atmosphere there were strong fears that communists were securing a significant foothold in the trade union movement to the detriment of Australia's national interest—a fear that history has shown was very well founded. Brian set up the shoppies union in Tasmania and was its president for many years even while a senator. They supported him and I noted that Joe de Bruyn, the national secretary of the shoppies, amongst many other luminaries from that union attended his funeral.

In 1964 Brian Harradine, who was regarded as a very capable right-wing union organiser, was elected secretary of the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council and to the ACTU executive, positions he held up until his election to the Senate in 1975. Brian Harradine served on the ACTU executive for 12 years, representing the Australian trade union movement overseas on many occasions. His election to these bodies was achieved against strong communist and left-wing opposition and came at a time when those forces were stepping up their campaign to capture control of vulnerable state branches of the ACTU. The political attacks made against him from those within the ALP were vicious, sustained and disingenuous and need to be seen within the Cold War context.

When he topped a poll in 1968 to represent the Tasmanian ALP on the federal executive there was an immediate negative and nasty reaction amongst communist and left-wing forces. Brian's views and beliefs inevitably conflicted with those on the Left. So between 1968 and 1975 he was prevented from taking his seat on the federal executive of the ALP, whose factional composition was becoming more and more critical to Gough Whitlam's internal reform agenda. He stated at the time that he was prevented from taking his seat by that now very famous quote 'friends of the communists'. Brian Harradine sent a long statement to the then state president of the ALP, the late former Tasmanian Premier Bill Nielsen, alleging that, amongst other things: 'Friends of the communists intend to try and silence me. They know that on the federal executive I will support Gough Whitlam if he seeks an inquiry into the Victorian ALP executive.' When this statement was published it became the subject of debate on the ALP federal executive, leading to a showdown for the ALP parliamentary leadership between Gough Whitlam and Jim Cairns. Can I just say, as an aside, that if that was the choice facing me I too would have supported Gough Whitlam.

But despite strong campaigns against him between 1968 and 1975 by left-wing forces, Brian Harradine and his supporters consolidated their hold on the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council. Brian was even spied on from a cupboard by private investigators engaged by Ray Gietzelt and subsequently accused of attending a National Civic Council meeting in Sydney, a claim subsequently proven to be false. It was in fact an official ACTU subcommittee meeting and the official minutes proved Harradine right and his accusers wrong. Nevertheless, and in the face of the undisputed contradictory evidence, on 2 August 1975, on a motion moved by Bill Hartley, Brian Harradine was expelled from the ALP by a 9-8 vote, a decision described by the New South Wales delegate and a predecessor of yours, Mr President, Labor Senate President Kerry Sibraa, as a kangaroo court. His expulsion was reconfirmed at a subsequent federal ALP executive special meeting on 22 September 1975. The Prime Minister at the time, Gough Whitlam, stated that 'Harradine is a victim of perjured evidence'. The former Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, described it in these terms: 'Brian Harradine did not leave the ALP; the ALP left him.'

The federal executive decided that Harradine's appeal against expulsion would be heard at the ALP federal conference in July 1977, but Harradine wanted to avoid any further damage to the state ALP, the party which he had been a member of since 1961. He decided that, in order to effectively continue his work on behalf of the people of Tasmania, he would stand for the Senate at the December 1975 election. Running as an Independent for the Brian Harradine Group he won 12.8 per cent of the primary vote and went on to be re-elected at the 1980, 1983, 1987, 1993 and 1998 elections—an unsurpassed record; the highest vote ever for a truly Independent candidate; and the longest stay of an Independent in this place. In his maiden speech in 1976, the now Senator Brian Harradine said:

Never have I had a desire to enter this place. But I am a trade unionist. I have been a full-time union official for over 17 years. That is my love; that was my life. I was committed to uplifting the poor, to championing the cause of the underprivileged …

…   …   …

Why, then, am I here? I am here because, after years of constant, unremitting, relentless pressure being directed at me by the extreme Left coalition forces—

and I stress for Hansard here: small 'l' coalition—

It required a detour to be taken and it may be—I hope I am right—that I have found the highway upon which I can advance the objectives of the people that I represent; namely, the people of Tasmania.

And, as they say, the rest is history. His hopes were, without doubt, fully realised.

Brian holds the dual titles of being the longest-serving senator and longest-serving Independent senator in the Australian Senate. He was a senator for about 30 years, holding the balance of power on a number of occasions. He never abused this power and, in its exercise, was always guided by deeply held principles. Perhaps the greatest testament to Brian's integrity and achievement is that his exercise of this responsibility enhanced the respect in which he was held. Brian was the joint» «Father» «of» «the» «Senate from 1993 to 1999 and then singularly held that title from 1999 until his retirement in June 2005. Brian Harradine became identified with this title of Father of the Senate not just because of his fatherly demeanour but also, I am sure, because of the paternal role he personified in relation to the affairs of the nation.

He never compromised on his principles when dealing with legislation. His labour roots and his loyalty to the working class guided his decisions on industrial relations. He maintained a principled stand on issues such as the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and same-sex marriage because of his commitment to the welfare of children. He strongly opposed stem cell research, pornography, the use of foreign aid for so-called family planning, as well as the Northern Territory's euthanasia legislation.

He demonstrated his political and negotiating skill during the 1998 Wik native title debate in the Senate, maintaining as best he could in that poisonous political atmosphere his strong commitment to Aboriginal rights and his care for Australia's Indigenous community. He wanted to avoid a race-based election in 1998 and his political judgement was demonstrated in arriving at an agreement with the Howard government which history will show was the best that could have been secured at that time.

Brian Harradine was intensely loyal to Tasmanians and he used his position in the Senate when the opportunity arose to benefit Tasmania. The partial sale of Telstra presented such an opportunity, and on two occasions—in 1996 and 1999—he was able to negotiate financial benefits for his home state without compromising his firmly held principle of majority public ownership.

To the introduction of a GST in 1999, despite a mandate from the people at the 1998 election, he famously said that two-word sentence 'I cannot' to the Howard government, based on the loyalty he felt to working people. I confess I may or may not have entertained uncharitable thoughts about the good senator at that time but yet recognised his sincerity and that there was no hint of populism or cynicism in his decision; it was just pure sincerity. It helped imprint on me that men and women of good faith can come to differing conclusions on the issues of the day. Indeed, after he uttered those words 'I cannot', he said in the next paragraph in Hansard:

I know my name will be mud, whichever way it goes, but it has been mud before today, and it will be mud again later on.

Today I can assure his family that his name is most definitely not mud; in fact, it is held in very high regard.

He was a great friend and champion of the Baltic states and the people from those countries. He supported their rights and independence—a role acknowledged by the Baltic community on his passing. Gough Whitlam's disastrous de jure recognition of the incorporation of the Baltic states into that evil empire of the USSR—as he did, might I add, with East Timor and Indonesia—left Brian Harradine very cold and a champion for the Baltic communities, especially in Tasmania.

Brian Harradine has been variously described as humble, intelligent, just, canny, wily, principled, complex, honourable, anticommunist, politically savvy, a fine orator and debater, the silver fox and one of the most capable and effective politicians of our time. I would not demur from any of those descriptions. In 2004 he was awarded the Papal distinction of Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great for his contribution to public life and public debate over many years.

The humility of the man was shown by the fact that he left instructions with his family that he was not to be eulogised at his funeral. I think his son Bede would make an exceptionally good black-letter lawyer because, in the order of service that we were given at the funeral service, there were some words of remembrance published, and his son Bede, with whom I contested student political elections at the University of Tasmania more years ago than both of us would care to remember, said this: 'He most certainly had no desire to be eulogised.' But then he went on to say: 'To my knowledge, however, the words "Do not print any words of remembrance" never passed Dad's lips.' And, therefore, he thought he could have a written eulogy without offending his father's wishes. But this is what he wrote about his father:

Brian Harradine, my father, was a humble man. Throughout his life he never sought the praise of others. In death, he most certainly had no desire to be eulogised. As a family we are honouring his wish that the focus of the Mass of Christian Burial to be not on his life and legacy but, in the ancient Christian tradition, on prayer for his soul as it passes into eternity.

On the back of the Order of Service was a wonderful contemplative photo of Brian Harradine on one of his beloved bushwalks—a man who understood that you can actually support forestry, wilderness and bushwalking all at the same time. The verse that was under that contemplative picture was: 'What return can we make to the Lord for all His goodness to us?' And I have no doubt that that was one of the driving factors in Senator Brian Harradine's life.

But, above all, his commitment to his family was legendary. In 1962, Brian married Barbara Ward with whom he had six children: Bede, Gemma, Mary, Richard, David and Ann. He had only been a senator for five years when Barbara tragically passed away in 1980. In 1982, he married Marian, a widow and mother of seven children: Anthony, Paul, Fiona, Phillip, Nicola, Cushla and Benjamin—which of course made a great campaign team of 13 children.

So Brian Harradine leaves his wife Marian, 13 children and 38 grandchildren. Our condolences go to all of them. They are his legacy and a true reflection of all that he worked so hard for during his long and productive life. Allow me to again quote his son Bede: 'For family, he was far more than a man with a three-song piano repertoire who loved a game of cards and who once had a fifth share in a sixth-rate racehorse. He was a practical witness to self-giving love.' If anyone deserves eternal rest after this life of unrelenting principled battle, it is in fact Brian Harradine. So the card we were all handed at the state funeral was most apt when it said, under a picture of a smiling Brian Harradine: 'Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord,' and to that the coalition says, 'Amen.'