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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2095

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (17:20): I join with other members here today in expressing my condolences and those of the people of Fremantle on the passing of Nelson Mandela, a man who embodied through great suffering the greatest human qualities; a man who showed unwavering strength of purpose in the service of moral and humanitarian principle; a man who displayed courage and endurance—quite unbelievable endurance—in the face of violence and oppression; a simple, noble man who lived by the values of leadership, camaraderie, humility, forgiveness and love.

I am sure there has not been another death felt around the world like the passing of Nelson Mandela. His departure leaves hundreds of millions of people in nations across the globe feeling his loss but feeling at the same time enormous gratitude for what he gave and enormous sadness at this subtraction from the world of wisdom, goodness and the will for peace. Those of us in Australia who celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela and who mourn his death can imagine what it must be like for his nation, South Africa, for his family and for his friends. We extend our condolences to them at this time.

The West Australian newspaper said it well in its editorial on the weekend when it stated that Mandela's achievements:

… rank him alongside Mahatma Gandhi in the pantheon of statesman who have led their nations through turbulent times and whose towering moral authority helped to avoid bloodshed on a terrifying scale.

There are two precepts of Mahatma Gandhi's that come to mind when one reflects on the life of Nelson Mandela. The first is: 'Be the change that you want to see in the world.' The second is: 'Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.'

There is no better example of the power of those ideas than in the life of Nelson Mandela. He had more than enough reason to give up his personal struggle to be and bring about the change that he knew was required in South Africa, and he had 27 years of incarceration and mistreatment in which to give himself up to the claims of hate and bitterness. Yet his commitment to justice did not falter and his capacity to forgive and to love was not overcome.

It is hard to grasp and hold the full weight of those 27 years in prison. All I can do is pick out some of the details that drive home to me the kind of suffering he experienced: the fact that when first imprisoned he was allowed one visit and one letter every six months; the fact that when his mother and then his first-born son died—in 1968 and 1969 respectively—he was not allowed to attend either funeral; the fact that his daughters were not able to visit him until 1975, 11 years after he was first taken to Robben Island; the fact that when he worked in the prison's lime quarry he was forbidden from wearing sunglasses and as a result suffered permanent eye damage. All these cruelties, punishments, denials of freedom—and many, many more—took place across a length of time that is itself hard to fathom, yet Nelson Mandela emerged from prison to both lead and heal his nation. I believe the best way of honouring a great soul like Mandela is to recognise that the way he lived and the principles he lived by are available to everyone—and, indeed, that they are exemplified, in small and large ways, by many people.

There was a time, when Mandela was beginning his journey, that he was hardly known in South Africa, let alone in the wider world. There was a time when people in Australia second-guessed the need to oppose apartheid and failed to support those in our community who did recognise and share the fight against that evil. There are forms of racial injustice now—including in this country—that require more of us to make a greater effort to say, 'That is not right', as Mandela said, and to do something about it.

As the world honours and celebrates the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela, let us not fall into the historical fiction that would regard the triumph of his cause as inevitable. It took the outside world too long to act in concert against the apartheid regime and there have been in the recent past, and there are even now, instances of tyranny and systemic inequality that the world should not ignore but does. The last thing we should do in remembering Mandela is to put his example on a pedestal where no-one can reach it. The first thing we should do is to look around us a little more keenly to see those among us who are seeking to deliver justice, to promote peace and equality and to ensure the observance of human rights for all our fellow men and women.

I love the fact that Mandela's tribal name, Rolihlahla, means troublemaker. In the pursuit of freedom and equality and in the face of structured and entrenched oppression, you need to be prepared to make a certain amount of trouble; to be a firebrand in the cause of change. Nelson Mandela lived nearly a century and in his 95 years he came to represent all that was possible and good in people, in us. That will be his legacy. Through the century that has passed, 100 years of substantial horror and darkness as well as progress, Mandela achieved the miracle of transforming an entire nation from a deeply racist, cruel and oppressive past to a free and democratic future through reconciliation without significant bloodshed. His death is a great loss but his life and his example have been the greatest gift. We will remember him and be inspired by him, and shape our conduct by the light of his leadership, humility and love.