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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3076

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:45): I rise on behalf of the Labor opposition to acknowledge the passing of former senator and minister the Hon. Sir John Leslie Carrick AC, KCMG, who passed away on 18 May 2018 at the age of 99. I commence by conveying our deepest condolences to his relatives and to his friends. I also recognise those on the opposite side of the chamber who knew him and learnt from him and who benefited from his mentoring and legacy.

There have been only a handful of real giants in the Liberal Party in its history, according to many observers of Australian politics. Some are well-known former Prime Ministers: Sir Robert Menzies, Malcolm Fraser and John Howard. Another may be less readily identifiable in the public consciousness but no less deserving of this description, and that is Sir John Carrick. As Mr Shorten told the House:

… giants of our movement across the generations knew and admired John Carrick not just as a worthy foe and an opponent of great civility and courtesy but also as a person of substance …

As a party official and then as senator and minister, Sir John served our nation at the highest levels of our democracy. But of course it was in service first in uniform, as an Army officer and prisoner of war, that his enduring values and philosophies were forged. These principles, grounded in the faith, in the ability of individuals educated and knowledgeable to flourish under the umbrella of the right democratic political structures, would guide the work of the next eight decades of his life. A modest individual, humbled by profound experiences early in his life, he was a man of unimpeachable integrity and extraordinary humanity.

Sir John Carrick grew up in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. He was an employee of the Australian Gas Light Company. He undertook study in economics at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1941. From 1946 his association with the newly formed Liberal Party began, firstly as a research officer in the New South Wales division and then as its general secretary. He held this position for a lengthy period, from 1948 until he commenced in this place in 1971. Sir John led policy development based on having long-term plans and trusting voters to embrace positions that enhanced distinctions and contrasts between opposing political parties. He gained respect amongst his own colleagues as well as his political opponents. He ran the party in its earliest years in financially constrained circumstances, but this did not limit his capacity to forge ahead. He made a direct contribution to the ideas debate by publishing his own thoughts about party systems and Liberal philosophy early in his tenure.

Basing great value on accessibility and electability, Sir John sought out quality candidates wherever he could, with great success. He saw the need to campaign more than just at election time, astutely recognising opportunities for growth as postwar Australia diversified and released itself from some of the shackles that characterised the first 50 years of the federated nation. In particular, his lifelong interest in education came to the fore as he identified increased government assistance for independent and parochial schools as beneficial and also as a potential election strategy. Mooted to replace the New South Wales division president Bill Spooner in the Senate, it was the retirement of Alister McMullin that eventually paved the way for Sir John to go from party official to parliamentarian.

But first a step back. As for many of his generation, Sir John's life was interrupted by the onset of World War II, and in December 1940 he joined the Australian Imperial Force, serving in West Timor. His capture by the Japanese in 1942 meant it would not be until October 1945 that he would return to Australia. As a POW, he endured the brutal conditions of forced labour on the infamous Thai-Burma Railway, where he served, in addition to detention in Timor, Java and Malaya.

Of course, also captured at this time was his future federal parliamentary colleague Tom Uren, who would later become a Labor member of the House of Representatives. Many senators would be aware of the close relationship Tom Uren shared with our colleague in the House Anthony Albanese, and through this relationship Mr Albanese was able to meet and converse with Sir John, whose friendship with Mr Uren was forged in the most horrific and testing of circumstances, and which continued through their further service to the nation in the parliament, and endured throughout their lives. I would encourage anyone who has not yet done so to read Mr Albanese's contribution to the condolence motion, which he delivered last month. In it he tells of meeting Sir John and learning much, not just of his war service but of his family and political life. Mr Albanese spoke not only of Sir John's capacity as a thinker, an intellectual, but also of the way his philosophy and character were shaped by his experience in captivity. He had witnessed great acts of personal strength and moral courage; he had also witnessed fierce brutality and mistreatment. It is a demonstration of his own values that he refused to give evidence against his Japanese captors in trials for war crimes, demonstrating forgiveness for a people that Sir John saw as having been tortured by a political system that had held them captive. Instead, he resolved to engage in the conflict of political ideas in support of the strength of the individual and, of course, parliamentary democracy.

Sir John Carrick entered the federal parliament at the tail end of the unbroken period of over two decades of federal Liberal government that he had done so much to create and sustain. Taking up his place in the Senate in 1971, after being elected in the previous year, he would go on to win re-election four times prior to retiring in 1987. Senator Cormann has already described Sir John's appreciation of the importance of Senate debate and, of course, the Senate committee system. Sir John was also successful in getting under the skin of his opponents, both in opposition and, later, in government, which was admired by one such adversary in the form of John Button. It did, however, mean his speeches were apparently frequently interrupted by interjections. Labor senator Harry Cant, a miner and union official before his election in 1959, was eloquent in his description of Sir John's political philosophies in the wake of Sir John's first speech. The Western Australian pronounced it 'a masterpiece of presentation' that he regretted:

… was that it was not made in 1900 because it contained all the conservative shibboleths that one could possibly collect.

Senator Cant went on to express his aspiration that the new Senator Carrick would 'educate himself to the standard of the necessities of 1971'.

But his Liberal opponent would come to demonstrate he was a man suited to the times. Sir John's service as shadow minister was brief, commencing in 1974 and ending with the elevation of Malcolm Fraser to the position of Prime Minister, a role Sir John had encouraged. He then held a number of portfolios as minister in the Fraser government. The most substantive of these were divided in almost equal portions: Education from 1975 to 1979 and then National Development and Energy until 1983. Education was an area of longstanding interest for Sir John. If one returns to his first speech, he says:

I have one great hope. I believe that in the vision of the future to meet the challenges of the future, the great solutions and the great motivations not being created by economic instruments will be created by a new philosophy of education.

He saw education as critical to the strength of our democracy, balancing the need for people to be stimulated in mind and spirit with preparation for vocation. As minister, he built structures to coordinate Commonwealth involvement in tertiary education and bolster federal assistance to the state-run tertiary and further education institutes. There were further substantial assessments and reforms directed at the effectiveness of Commonwealth investment in university and vocational education. As my colleague Senator Cormann said, in recognition of this and other contributions in this area, in 2004 the Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education was named in his honour.

Halfway through the life of the Fraser government, Sir John gained the National Development and Energy portfolio and sought to promote exploration and the development of alternative fuels, alongside full import parity pricing for domestic food oil, as a cornerstone of the government's policy. He also became an advocate for nuclear energy. After a little over five months as the deputy leader, in 1978 he became Leader of the Government in the Senate, a position he held until the election of the Labor government of Bob Hawke in 1983.

He retired from the Senate in 1987, after spending four years in opposition, holding the Hawke government to account, and being a vigorous contributor to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. This opened the door for him to contribute to public life in a variety of new ways, including to the Gas Council of New South Wales, and in aged care, but it was to education which he returned most substantively. He was appointed by the newly-elected Greiner government to embark on an extensive review of and consultation on its education system and he went on to serve in several other education-related roles, including teacher education, early childhood education and the Advisory Committee of the Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre at UNSW.

Whilst he was not someone who sought honours or tributes, in 2008 Sir John was appointed Companion of the Order of Australia for distinguished service in the area of education reform in Australia. He was also himself a great educator, mentoring multiple generations of Liberal politicians. First among those was one who sits alongside Sir John in the upper echelons of the Liberal Party's history—that is, John Howard. Mr Howard cut his political teeth in the New South Wales division led by Sir John before serving alongside him in the Fraser cabinet and later going on to become Prime Minister. Mr Howard said simply:

I learned more about politics from John than from any other person I have known.

Sir John Carrick's entire life was devoted to public service in the national interest. He served his country at war, returning from imprisonment at the hands of Japanese forces to be at the coalface of the Liberal Party in its first three decades. He served as a minister and as a government leader in this chamber under Malcolm Fraser before becoming a mentor to future generations of Liberal leaders. He consistently promoted education as the pathway to advancement for individuals and, therefore, society. Many have and will associate themselves with Sir John's legacy, but I finish with these words of the man himself from his first speech:

Over my lifetime I have had an abiding faith in the parliamentary institution. I believe that it is the most effective mechanism yet invented by man to express man's hopes, to ensure his security and to create the free society which, as his servant and not as his master, enables him to fulfil himself both spiritually and materially.

I therefore find myself a particularly willing servant of the Parliament and, through it, of the Parliament's mainspring, the people of Australia.

At a time when sometimes this institution, the parliament we serve, is seen in lesser lights than we would like, one thing we must take away from the life of Sir John Carrick is this expression of confidence in the institution in which all of us serve together. We again extend our sympathies to his family and friends at this time.