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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2082

Mr RUDDOCK (BerowraChief Government Whip) (16:07): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this condolence motion. I do so, I suspect, as one of the few members of this parliament, or perhaps the only member of this parliament, who had the privilege of knowing Nelson Mandela. For me, it was a unique and very special privilege, and I want to recount why.

In my very early years, before I came to this parliament, I participated in debates in my own political party, which were sometimes difficult and divisive, over both South Africa, with its apartheid system, and Zimbabwe. There were two leaders of significance that we came to support: in South Africa, Mandela, and, in Zimbabwe, Mugabe. I think they have taken very different paths. For me, the magnanimity of Nelson Mandela is what has really distinguished him from his fellow continental leaders, if I might put it in that way.

Just think about it. Australia, for a time, supported the apartheid regime. Many were anxious about it and sought to see change. I can remember when members of this parliament in my very early years would receive invitations from the South African government to go and see for themselves firsthand the apartheid regime and why it should be supported. I could never bring myself to accept that offer of hospitality. For me, the system was so insidious that it was something that I could not bring myself in any way, shape or form to support.

I had a unique opportunity to go to South Africa in 1994 as one of the five Commonwealth observers of the elections—the first democratic elections for South Africa. It included John Cain, a former Premier of Victoria; Janine Haines, the former leader of the Australian Democrats in the Senate; Dr Duncan Chappell; and the chief electoral commissioner. It was a unique experience for me. I have never been an election observer before. I did not think the elections were faultless, but it earned me the enmity of many of my colleagues when I raised some of the faults who were of the view that it should be supported unequivocally. But the moments that I remember and are etched forever with me were to see Mandela at the Athlone Stadium in Cape Town, where he addressed one of the largest crowds of people that I have ever seen. I still have photographs in my office of Mandela on a vehicle being driven around the perimeter of the stadium before he spoke.

He was a man of enormous presence. Of course the election outcome was quite decisive. I often remind school parties visiting parliament of the first democratic elections in South Africa. Why do I do that? It is because I want to emphasise the importance of democracy and what it means, and what a privilege it is to be able to participate in elections. What etched it in my memory was standing beside some people of South Africa waiting to vote on that day, sometimes all day, in queues outside their polling booths. Their patience and their willingness to participate in those first democratic elections was something unique and something special.

When I first rose, I compared the results in South Africa with the results in Zimbabwe. Only two years ago, I had the opportunity of visiting South Africa again and Zimbabwe. The results are very, very different. The suffering of the people of Zimbabwe, the reduction in their collective standard of living and the nature of the administration of the Mugabe regime have, I think, left that country greatly diminished. Mandela's leadership has had quite a different outcome, an inclusive outcome—the rainbow society, as it has been called, a situation in which they have not deprived themselves of the economic opportunities that can be gained by retaining the skills and capacities of their people. I am not saying it is perfect, but I think Mandela played a unique and very special role in uniting the people of South Africa. For that, not only should South Africa be grateful but the world should be grateful for his very effective leadership.

Having witnessed that, it was a great privilege for me to meet him here in Australia at Kirribilli House with John Howard and on other occasions when he came to these premises. I had seen a man who had suffered a great deal. Interestingly, I recall the condolence motion only a little while ago when we spoke about the late Michael Hodgman. He, as one of the early members of the parliamentary Amnesty group here in Canberra, lamented that because Mandela would not eschew the use of violence initially in relation to the ANC as it sought a change, he was never adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty—quite remarkable.

I visited Robben Island. I saw where he was held. I saw the way in which he endured so many years imprisonment, unjustly. But here was a man, after all he had endured, who was still able to forgive, to seek reconciliation and to build a nation. I do not think any of us will see a man of this ilk in our lifetime again. It is a remarkable story. He has been a great person of the world, one we should justly celebrate, as they are in South Africa, for his life and all that he was able to achieve.