Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2816


Senator VALLENTINE —I am honoured to support this condolence motion regarding former Senator Lawrie Wilkinson. He was the first Quaker to serve in Federal Parliament; so for that reason, among others, I have felt a special link with Lawrie and his family. I must admit that it was the late Nancy Wilkinson, Lawrie's lifelong partner, who gave me very strong encouragement to get increasingly involved in community lobbying for disarmament and justice. Unfortunately, she died some months before I began campaigning for the Senate, but I know she would have been delighted in my being here arguing the issues so dear to her heart. Lawrie was always supportive of my role here, although different from his role as a Labor senator, and I certainly appreciated that support.

  I first met Lawrie Wilkinson in 1972 when I started attending Quaker meetings in Perth. He was a Western Australian senator at that stage. His parliamentary career may have been much longer than the 1966 to 1974 period had it not been for a new ruling within the Labor Party at the time of the double dissolution in 1974 to the effect that any candidate who turned 65 years of age in the sitting period beyond that election had to be endorsed by three-quarters of the State executive, and Lawrie was just one vote short of that endorsement.

  Maybe time out of parliament proved more fruitful for Lawrie's lobbying on the issues which were of fundamental importance to him. When I first landed in the Quaker circles in Perth, Lawrie and Nancy and another Quaker couple, Cyril and Elsie Gare, provided very important role models for me. One thing that had attracted me to Quakerism was that this group seemed to be very active in the moratorium movement opposing Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war. The peace testimony is something to which Lawrie was absolutely committed, and I admired that steadfastness.

  The Wilkinsons worked tirelessly for the Quaker movement throughout Australia and internationally, always challenging people's beliefs and commitments in a positive way. In fact, they were great planetarians, not bound by the confines of nationalism or parochialism. Consequently, they were strong advocates of the United Nations organisation as a vehicle for social change towards a more equitable society. It is highly appropriate that one of their offspring, Harold Wilkinson, is now national President of the United Nations Association of Australia.

  I am referring to the pair of Wilkinsons in these remarks. It is important for me to include Nancy in this condolence motion because this was an unusually strong partnership. This is not to say that each was not a strong individual; but they made an amazingly effective team as catalysts for change. They understood well that without justice there can be no peace, and were prepared themselves to live simply in order to share resources.

  Working through the United Nations provided them with a platform to argue for a new social order—and not, I hasten to add, along the lines of President Bush's new world order. No, this was to be a world with a just, participatory and sustainable society. Many of the issues are much more acceptable nowadays but were quite radical when I was first aware of them through the Wilkinsons espousing such visions in the early 1970s; and they had probably already been on that track for some time prior to that. They were indeed ahead of their time. For such consistent and generous work, Lawrie was honoured with life membership of the United Nations Organisation.

  Support for budding peace workers and other activists for change was important to the Wilkinsons. Many a weekend planning meeting took place in the shack on the Wilkinsons' farm at Wooroloo outside Perth. One that I knew a lot about in the early 1980s was the Pacific Peacemaker Project, where the Ethell family of Perth were strongly supported by the Wilkinsons to embark on their ambitious project to sail right across the Pacific in protest against Trident submarines. It was a tremendous voyage which would be as relevant now as it was then—despite the welcome cuts in tactical nuclear weapons recently announced but which do not cover the long range ballistic missiles carried by the deadly Trident.

  Another community group which received Wilkinson support, and in which I was involved, was Project Iceberg. This was a group of people prepared to undergo direct action to the point of committing civil disobedience in relation to the intrusion into our ports of nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered warships. Many useful actions were undertaken and, as long as they were absolutely non-violent, these were supported by the Wilkinsons. That kind of backing from experienced campaigners such as the Wilkinsons and the Gares was much appreciated.

  Being people very concerned about the future, the Wilkinsons carefully planned two foundations to ensure that, after their time had passed, others could follow on their work and they would continue to be supported. The Oikumene Foundation continues to fund research and action oriented projects directed towards justice and equity issues. The Glenburnie program is a fund affiliated with the Australian Council of Churches, giving tangible support towards ecumenical work, particularly in the context of liberation theology; that is, encouraging people of any Christian persuasion to actually live the message of the gospels. That is what I saw the Wilkinsons attempting to do, to their credit.

  Lawrie Wilkinson will be missed by his friends—especially Quakers and United Nations members, for whom I can speak to some degree—and by people who respect his hard work. His contribution towards making the world a better place was substantial. It is so good that the tasks undertaken by Lawrie and Nancy Wilkinson live on through the Oikumene Foundation and the Glenburnie programs which they instituted.

  His family, too, will sorely miss Lawrie's gentility, his compassion and his good humour. He was a very funny man who could always do a good turn in entertaining people gathered together either for celebration or for heavy deliberations. If some light relief were needed, Lawrie could provide it. I support all of Lawrie's family in honouring him and in giving thanks for the life of Lawrie Wilkinson.