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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2087

Mr CHESTER (GippslandParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (16:30): I appreciate the opportunity to make some comments this evening on behalf of the electorate of Gippsland regarding the death of Nelson Mandela. I am sure that the people of Gippsland would like me to extend their condolences to Nelson Mandela's family, his friends and his nation. Mandela spent much of his life standing up against the injustice of apartheid and, as we have already heard this evening, when that fight was won he inspired us again by his capacity to forgive and to reconcile his country. While the world may never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again, he has certainly inspired countless men and women throughout the world to live more courageous and more honest lives. Much has been written and said already about Mandela's legacy. There is little I can add, perhaps, beyond a simple thank you. Thank you to this great man, and thank you for a life well lived.

Naturally, over the past three days we have seen extensive media coverage—and I must commend the Australian media for the way it has covered the death of Nelson Mandela—and that coverage has been exhaustive but it has been very reflective as well. It has taken the time to delve into the intricacies of the issues that Mandela faced and the way he triumphed against great adversity. There has been grief, and there has been a sense of loss, of course, for his family and for the South African nation, as the world mourns a father, grandfather, a great-grandfather, a husband and simply an extraordinary individual. But there has also been a sense of celebration, to commemorate 95 years of an extraordinary life which, by any standards, has been well lived.

We have already heard in this place many moving tributes—from the Acting Prime Minister, the member for Wide Bay; from the acting opposition leader; and from the member for Berowra and the member for Gorton—both of whom had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela. Even in his death, Mandela has been a great unifier; he has managed to unify this place—which in many ways would probably be one of his greatest miracles!

At his trial in 1964, Mandela spoke of his determination to achieve a free and harmonious society, saying:

It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

The courage contained in that statement alone is stark. Mandela remained true to those words during his long and arduous 27 years in prison. I believe his passing serves as a challenge to us all here in this place. His inspirational leadership can guide us as we make decisions and as we make the most of the opportunities that have been afforded to us as leaders of our own communities. I was particularly taken by the comments from Mandela's biographer, Richard Stengel, which appeared in The Weekend Australian, and I want to quote from them:

Deep in his bones was a basic sense of fairness: he simply could not abide injustice. If he, Mandela, the son of a chief, handsome and educated, could be treated as subhuman, what about the millions who had nothing like his advantages? "That is not right," he would say to me about something as mundane as a flight being cancelled or as large as a world leader's policies, but this phrase - that is not right - underlay everything he did.

To see something that is wrong and to take action to make it right must surely underpin our actions as members of this place.

As Mandela himself remarked, he was not a saint; he was just a man. Surely, he was an extraordinary man. But he was just a man. As was reported in The Age over the weekend, both Verne Harris, project leader at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, and Adam Roberts, a former correspondent from The Economist, say that Mandela had his flaws. He led an armed struggle which, by some definitions, could be seen as terrorism. Some have spoken about his stubbornness, his tendency to be aloof, and some other less attractive qualities. But in those failings, flaws or traits, we see Mandela as more of a complete human being. That should serve as further inspiration to us all and to our communities. He was just a man; he was not a saint. This man was able to achieve some remarkable things for his nation—but not through some mystical qualities. If one human being can achieve so much, why can't others rise to greatness? His life, including any faults or failings, whether they are perceived or otherwise, can inspire us all—men and women, black and white—to protect the legacy of Nelson Mandela and to reach within ourselves to find our better selves.

The resilience and the capacity to never give up even in the face of oppression are enduring qualities and values that can achieve change everywhere, including in our wonderful nation of Australia. To see something that is wrong and to take action is to take responsibility for that situation. To never give up, to remain determined in the face of adversity and to ultimately triumph are lessons that every generation can learn from. I believe they are the fundamental lessons that Nelson Mandela taught his nation and the world.

Many quotes from Mandela have appeared in the press over the last few days and they have been inspirational. I have taken perhaps greatest inspiration from two of them, and I would like to quote them now. One is: 'What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is the difference we have made to the lives of others.' And another is: 'There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one that you are capable of living.' I was taken by those quotes because they are the types of messages that I try to convey to school students when I visit them in my electorate of Gippsland—when I meet them to discuss civics or citizenship or their future and the opportunities that might lie ahead for them. I must say that Mandela put them far more eloquently than I ever could, but the intent is the same.

Mandela demonstrated through his life the values and principles behind the words 'respect' and 'responsibility'. It is the same message that I like to give to students in my community when I meet with them. It is about respecting others and treating them in the same way you expect to be treated. As MPs, we have a long way to go in that regard. We can do better on the lesson of respect and the way we treat each other in this place. It is also about self-respect, and in his quote, 'There is no passion to be found playing small,' Mandela is saying to me: 'Let yourself achieve your absolute best with the skills and the abilities and the lessons you have learnt in life. You owe it to yourself to achieve whatever you possibly can in your life, and there is folly in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.'

The lessons for all of us in Nelson Mandela's life are the values of hard work, of determination, of humility, of respect and of taking responsibility when you see something is wrong and trying to make it right. I know that taking responsibility these days is not always a popular course of action—it may not be so fashionable—and there always seems to be someone else to blame when we do make mistakes. And we do make mistakes as members in this place—we all make mistakes, some on a daily basis, some more regularly than that. When we make a mistake, we have to take responsibility. If we see a fault or if we make a mistake, we have to act in the best interest of our nation and try to correct it. They are the lessons that I have taken from Nelson Mandela's life and from reading more about his experiences over the past few days. In Mandela's example, it is to recognise what is not right and try to do something about it.

Finally, as I mentioned before, even in death Nelson Mandela has continued to achieve greatness. He has unified what is an often troubled and divided world. The speeches we have heard here today have demonstrated that unity, as members from both sides have recognised Mandela's contribution to the world. We have had tributes from world leaders, both black and white; from European leaders and Asian leaders; and from celebrities and mums and dads. We have seen people in the street crying and people in the streets celebrating. He has that enormous capacity to bring the world together to recognise a person who did in fact change the world. The lessons are there for us to see in his writings, in his speeches and, more importantly, in his deeds. As we in this place seek inspiration, and search for wisdom to see what is wrong and help make it right, I believe many of us would benefit from taking guidance from Mandela's struggles and his extraordinary achievements. My last words this evening are from Mandela himself: 'I learnt that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.' In years to come I think we will all do well to reflect on the words and the life of Nelson Mandela.