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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 303

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:30): I want to support the comments made by my colleague the member for Grayndler in his very moving tribute today, and also the words that he spoke at the Sutherland Entertainment Centre at the memorial service for Arthur Gietzelt. It was a very moving memorial service, and I am certainly sorry that I missed the wake at the Tradies, because I know that they always put on a very good function there.

I want to start my remarks today by giving my condolences to Arthur's wife, Dawn, and to his children Lee, Dale and Adam, and their families. Dawn and Arthur were a couple who loved each other very much and raised a family together in the Sutherland shire. They supported one another in every possible way. I know that Dawn and Arthur's family will feel his loss very keenly as a husband and a father; as we feel his loss as a political stalwart. Dawn was always Arthur's greatest partner in politics. She was the first person he consulted, his closest confidant and a formidable political force in her own right. I truly want to extend my deepest sympathies to her.

Arthur spent his whole life in service of his country: in military service, in service to his local community in the Sutherland shire, and later on the federal stage as a senator from New South Wales. In all of his involvement in public life, he demonstrated a deeply principled position, and he demonstrated foresight and the ability to think long term about what would be the best for the community that he represented.

Arthur was a councillor on Sutherland Shire Council for 15 years, from 1956 to 1971. He spent nine of these years as shire president, effectively the mayor. I grew up in the Sutherland Shire and—as my husband occasionally says—you can take the girl out of the Shire but you can't take the Shire out of the girl. The place that I grew up in was deeply impacted by the decisions that Arthur Gietzelt made when he led the council. When my parents first bought a block of land in Carvers Road in Oyster Bay, there was an open dump at the bottom of the hill. There was no kerbing, no guttering. There were few public facilities. My dad used to carry his toolbox to the railway station every morning. On the weekends, they were blessed to be able to go to the beach and visit the National Park and so on; but the public amenity of the area was not great in those days. Arthur saw that investment by local government could make the Sutherland Shire a place where ordinary people could enjoy the beauty that surrounded them for free in a way that contributed every day to their quality of life. The investments that he made in those local facilities—the beach facilities that made it possible to go for a swim, and to sit and have a picnic and enjoy the natural surroundings; the sporting fields that meant that the young families who moved to the Sutherland Shire had a place to recreate on the weekends; paved roads; sewerage; street lighting; all of those things that we absolutely take for granted now—were delivered because of the foresight of Arthur.

At the same time, there was always the idea that development should be sensitive and long term and for the benefit of all the residents of the Sutherland Shire, that development should not be just for the short-term profit of local developers. Senator Faulkner spoke at Arthur Gietzelt's memorial about Arthur's time on council and the contribution that his foresight made to the quality of life that residents still enjoy today, a quality of life that has made the Sutherland Shire a very sought-after place to live. As someone who grew up in the shire, I will always be grateful for the vision that he had.

In many ways Arthur Gietzelt was a man ahead of his time. We saw last December an outpouring internationally of grief for Nelson Mandela, who I think is now universally acknowledged as a great man and a great leader and a great champion of peace. But people forget that support for an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa was not always bipartisan and that at one time it was very controversial. Indeed, support for Nelson Mandela was very controversial. Arthur Gietzelt always knew the right side of the argument to be on when it came to ending apartheid. After Nelson Mandela's death people spoke about the way the international community engaged in sanctions against South Africa and the impact that had had on bringing an end to the apartheid regime. But the decision to engage in the sanctions against South Africa was extremely controversial at the time. I am proud to point out that it was in fact Sutherland Shire, with Arthur as councillor, which became the first Australian government body to ban competitors from apartheid South Africa that were selected on a racial basis from a national sporting event, in this case the Cronulla Surf Lifesaving Carnival. He suffered greatly for that principled decision at the time. Indeed, I should mention at this stage that in the mists of history we forget about how pitched some of these battles were. Arthur's home was bombed and he was a target of a great deal of threat and animosity.

Before his time as a councillor and as a parliamentarian, a senator, Arthur served his country with distinction between 1941 and 1945 in the Second World War. He served in New Guinea for nearly two years. Alongside his brother, Ray, his company helped build a track over the Owen Stanley Range. I think that it is very important for people to remember Arthur's war service because it was a defining part of his character, as it was defining part of the character of a generation of men who fought at that time and went on to play a role in public life, people like Tom Uren, and others. Bruce Childs also did war service.

I think that those people who have seen fit to question Arthur's loyalty in some way really need to think very hard about the things they are saying about a man who spent years working in the mud in malaria-infested forests, and with the sweat of his body built a road through a most inhospitable landscape to create a secure supply line to the front, a track which was all that separated Australia from invasion at that time. As I say, there have been people who have questioned Arthur's politics and I think that, taking into account not just his war service but the fact that he has been on the right side of many of the great historic battles of the 20th century, might be instructive for those people. Arthur was a staunch opponent of the fascist takeover of Spain, of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, of the appeasement of Hitler and of the sale of pig iron to Japan. In all of these positions and in his early opposition to apartheid, I think that people can see that despite the criticism of Arthur at the time, history has proved him right in each of these conflicts.

As someone who had seen the difficulties and horrors of war firsthand, he went on to become a vehement opponent of the Vietnam War and an effective organiser of the moratorium marches. His opposition to the Vietnam War meant that when he became veterans' affairs minister in the Hawke government some of the veterans groups—including, in particular, the Vietnam veterans—were worried that they would not have a strong advocate in Arthur. They very quickly changed their minds. As the member for Grayndler said, the fact that Arthur opposed the war did not mean that he opposed the soldiers who were sent there by their government and who responded to the call from their government.

Arthur became a notable Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Bob Hawke pointed out that Arthur was such a committed advocate for veterans that, when there was talk of a ministerial reshuffle, it was the veterans groups that contacted him, saying, 'Whatever you do, don't move Arthur Gietzelt; we love him.' Indeed, it was the veterans groups that lobbied Prime Minister Hawke to keep Arthur in the portfolio.

In his time as minister, Arthur Gietzelt introduced a number of key reforms that Minister Ronaldson very generously spoke about in his statement after Arthur's death: he extended pensions and medical entitlements to veterans and their dependents; he played an integral role in the implementation of a major construction and re-equipment program in repatriation hospitals; and he introduced an in-home care scheme for veterans so that they could spend longer in their own homes as they got older. The member for Grayndler also mentioned the investigation into Agent Orange. When we went to Arthur's memorial service last week, John Schumann was there and played that notable song I was only 19. John Schumann spoke about the continuing affection that Vietnam veterans have for Arthur Gietzelt.

As I have said, Arthur has been on the right side of many of the great battles of history. There were many times that he was ahead of the pack and he suffered for it. In 1976, he served on the Tribunal on Homosexuals and Discrimination. Over his decades of public life, he has consistently raised issues about quality of life for women and protection of our natural environment. For this service to the nation, in 1992 he was awarded an Order of Australia.

Arthur's life was long and his life was rich. He was a loyal Australian and a generous and committed Labor man, and at every time in his political career he sought to make this country a better place. He was deeply honourable, he was hardworking, he was decent and he was serious-minded. We will miss him and I know that his family and in particular his wife, Dawn, will miss him a great deal too.