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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4742

Senator BARTLETT (4:07 PM) —I would like to speak on behalf of the Australian Democrats on this condolence motion. On behalf of our party, I pass on our condolences to George Georges's family. I think it is something that all of us would be proud of if we managed, after 82 years of life, to achieve even half of what George Georges managed to achieve. Looking back at aspects of his life that I am aware of, one can have only admiration for all his activities, all his commitment and all his achievements. He was, as has been said, a child of a migrant and a great example of the contribution that migrant families have made and continue to make in Australia. He was a child during the Depression years and that obviously had a big impact—as it did for many other Australians who grew up during that period—on his beliefs and his concerns for injustice.

Apart from being born in Darwin, he lived most of his life in Queensland—indeed in Brisbane. He went to school at Brisbane State High and Queensland University and, of course, was a senator for Queensland for nearly 20 years. He was someone who I was certainly well aware of, growing up as a young person interested in social issues in Brisbane. He, as has been stated, was one of those early supporters for the campaign against the Vietnam War. He was the figurehead of the long and difficult campaign in Queensland in favour of the right to march. It is often easy to forget, 15 or 20 years down the track, what different places Brisbane and Queensland were in those days.

At the time when I was growing up through the 1980s, there were regular confrontations over the oppressive laws preventing public demonstrations and the right to march, and George Georges and others were frequently at the head of those marches. It is a reminder of the extreme level of oppression that was inflicted on anybody with progressive views in Queensland in those days. As a symbol or an indication of that— looking back through some of the clippings that the Parliamentary Library kindly provided in relation to former Senator Georges—those laws involved the arrests of more than 1,000 people in their first 12 months of operation. An enormous number of people were repeatedly trying to express a basic civil liberty in the face of what has subsequently been recognised as extreme police oppression.

George Georges had a strong interest in the peace movement and was heavily involved in the days when there were thousands and thousands of people involved in the Palm Sunday rallies for peace. His legacy lives on with the continuation of those Palm Sunday events. The number of people that have attended over the years has fluctuated, but in recent years it is attracting a greater number of people. If I am correct, Joan Shears, who is still involved in organising those rallies, was on his staff for a long period. She certainly continues to work, carrying the flame in that area of activity.

He was a strong campaigner against Australia's involvement with the US military machine and the use of facilities such as Pine Gap. Of course, we are now seeing again the legacy of that policy with the current situation where Australian facilities will undoubtedly be utilised as part of any US involvement in any war in Iraq. He was involved in the heated campaign in relation to the SEQEB strikes—again, an area of strong oppression by the Bjelke-Petersen government at the time, involving the arrests of many people. He was strongly involved in the anti-uranium movement and some big fights in his own party in relation to the Labor Party's policy on uranium mining. I recall, even back in the 1980s, the Democrats' strong support for an anti-uranium policy. One of the examples that would continually be pointed to was the terrible situation of people in other parties who were forced to vote against absolutely, deeply and passionately held beliefs, such as George Georges was required to do a number of times.

I know he had an ongoing interest in the Paddington Workers Club, which is still a fabulous venue—part of the inner city of Brisbane—and one that is used by many organisations, including, from time to time, the Australian Democrats. They have let us in the doors a couple of times and have been very polite to us, as well as other organisations. It is a venue that serves an important role.

It is particularly poignant, given George Georges's strong support for the peace movement and his battles with his own party that have been detailed a bit here today, that Australia is now considering again whether or not to engage in supporting a war and considering whether or not there should be a conscience vote, a matter which I have just spoken about in a previous debate. I noted an article in the Canberra Times from 1986 where the then secretary of the ALP, Mr Bob McMullan, criticised the ALP for requiring too much discipline from its members and suggested that perhaps they need to be a little bit more flexible. He said, `They should give people more chance to express their views.' I would like to support Bob McMullan's views from 16 years ago. I invite him to express those views again today and encourage his leader, Mr Crean, to adopt them in relation to the fundamental issue of the war on Iraq to enable more flexibility for parliamentarians to express their views by virtue of them being able to vote according to their beliefs.

I note for the record—it may or may not be in my interests to note this—that, when George Georges quit the Labor Party and ran as an Independent in the double dissolution election in 1987, it was the last time that I did not vote for a Democrat in the Senate. My apologies to Michael Macklin at the time, but I was one of those 26,000-odd Queenslanders who voted for George Georges. He did not get elected, obviously. He polled a bit under two per cent, but that was still more than the Nuclear Disarmament Party at a time when they were polling fairly well. He was still in the count when the 12th senator was elected on that particular occasion.

Again, as a reminder of how much things have changed since then, those were the days when the National Party elected four senators from Queensland, instead of one, and significantly outpolled the Liberal Party in Queensland. I am sure that Senator Ian Macdonald would happily note how different things are these days. Looking at some of the names from those days, I see that there is a lot of history there as well. The only one from those 12 who were elected in 1987 who is still here is Ron Boswell but there were some other great and not so great contributors such as Margaret Reynolds and Michael Macklin; and David MacGibbon, Mal Colston and John Stone, to use the second category. It was a different world back then in many ways but George Georges's commitment to his beliefs continued on throughout the rest of his life and it was because of his ongoing interest and support for many causes that I met him a couple of times.

I would like specifically to note his ongoing support for and legacy to animal welfare. People have touched on that very briefly in terms of his role as Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare. He was the founding chair of that committee which was set up at the initiative of Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats back in 1983. He is still remembered very strongly by people in the animal welfare movement for his contribution in that role and for his ongoing support. It was not just something he had an interest in whilst he was on the committee; he maintained his interest in and support for that issue after he was out of the parliament. He has left an important legacy there. If you try to raise animal welfare issues in committee forums today, you still meet hostility from people who ask, `Why the hell are we wasting our time with this stuff?' But George Georges was one of those, along with the Democrats, who first gave animal welfare the seriousness that it deserved.

I would like to take the opportunity to pass on some comments from one of the peak animal welfare bodies in Australia that have noted George Georges's passing. He was well respected by animal welfare and animal rights people. He understood and took seriously the animal cause. The establishment of that Senate committee, together with his appointment as its chair, was one of the first things that the Australian Federation of Animal Societies, as it then was—I was previously on its executive—was involved in getting under way. The select committee ended up operating for some nine years and it produced 10 reports and hundreds of recommendations. It was the first time that animal welfare had been given adequate attention nationally. George Georges was the chair for the first two reports on dolphins and whales in captivity and the export of live sheep from Australia and he was heavily involved in most of the inquiry into kangaroo issues.

I think his success can be noted particularly in the area of dolphins and whales in captivity. Again, it was a very different world back then. There were a number of oceanariums around Australia that were very small, very inadequate and very inappropriate facilities for animals such as whales and dolphins. The committee recommended that those oceanariums be allowed to continue for the time being but that the keeping of cetaceans should ultimately be phased out, unless further research justified the existence of such oceanariums. Most of those facilities have disappeared and the few that remain are of infinitely better quality than those that were around at the time. That is a lasting legacy—one that he copped a lot of flak for at the time—and probably one of the areas where there has been most success. Whilst we still have a few facilities, and I and others can be critical of them, the improvement in those facilities is beyond belief compared to what was around in the 1980s.

He raised with the kangaroo industry the concerns and flaws that he mentioned back in those early committee reports and said that if the industry was not fixed up there would be continuing campaigns against it and there would be boycotts. That situation continues today because the industry has not been fixed up and, as we have seen from recent reports from the RSPCA, uncontrolled cruelty continues. Similarly, with the live sheep and live export trade, we have seen regular and ongoing instances of inappropriate facilities. As that report at the time pointed out, if it were simply a matter of making a judgment on welfare grounds then live sheep and live cattle exports would be ended tomorrow, but of course we all know that there are economic issues involved.

Partly because I know that others will not focus as much on George Georges's contribution to animal welfare I thought it was appropriate to emphasise it. It is a part of his record that is often glossed over and it is a part of his achievements that is often not recognised. He is often seen, quite appropriately, as a very left-wing agitator on some of those core civil liberties issues. People often do not remember his strong record of achievement in animal welfare, but it is a strong one. Even though it is 15 years since he left this place, his record is still widely remembered and respected in the animal rights movement. I pay tribute to his contribution in that regard as well as to all the other achievements he attained through what was an incredibly valuable and well-lived life.