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Monday, 4 September 2006
Page: 55

Senator CHAPMAN (4:38 PM) —I speak in support of this condolence motion as the only current senator to have served with Don Chipp while he was a member of the parliamentary Liberal Party, during the first year or so of the Fraser government when we were both members of the House of Representatives.

It is a fond memory of mine that Don Chipp—as the Minister for Social Security and with responsibility for a couple of other portfolios in the caretaker government established under Malcolm Fraser between the dismissal of the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975 and the resulting federal election on 13 December 1975—was one of three caretaker cabinet ministers, along with Bill Snedden and Andrew Peacock, who came to support my election campaign in the southern suburbs seat of Kingston. The highlight of each minister’s visit was a public rally in the evening. In the case of Don Chipp, there was an open-air rally on the Morphett Vale Oval where about 1,000 people gathered, not to maintain their rage—as Mr Whitlam had pleaded following his dismissal—but to express their rage at the devastating impact of the mismanagement of the Whitlam government on the southern suburbs and to show their support for the election of a Liberal government.

Our stage for this open-air rally was the back of a truck, and Don was as much at home speaking from there to the gathered throng as he was at a more erudite gathering. Don’s passion, commitment and sense of humour were as much in evidence on that night as on many other occasions. The crowd warmed to his message and responded with enthusiasm. A few days later they responded with similar enthusiasm at the ballot box, delivering a 12 per cent electorate-wide swing in Kingston to defeat the sitting Labor member and elect me. There were swings as high as 20 per cent in some of those southern suburbs in which Don Chipp campaigned.

Sadly—and, I believe, in an error of political judgement—Don Chipp was excluded from the post-1975 election Fraser ministry. It was no secret, and I think it has been alluded to in earlier remarks, that the two did not get on. How different history might have been had this not been the case. It is unlikely that the Australian Democrats would ever have got off the ground. It would seem that Mr Chipp’s legacy will long outlive the Democrats. Don Chipp was arguably the nation’s most popular politician and one of Australia’s most liked public figures.

With the passing of time, our political paths diverged. He left the Liberal Party in March 1977 to become an Independent MP and subsequently, in May 1977, established the Australian Democrats. He then retired from the House of Representatives to stand successfully for the Senate at the December 1977 federal election, taking his seat in the Senate in July 1978. Meanwhile, I departed the House of Representatives in 1983 and by the time I returned as a senator in 1987 Don Chipp had retired. Nonetheless, we continued to interact through our common love of sport.

Don was a passionate and committed sportsman. While I recall him primarily as an enthusiastic and tough cricketer, his sporting prowess was wide and varied. After playing Australian Rules football for Heidelberg in the Victorian Football Association, he played briefly in the higher grade Victorian Football League with the Fitzroy Football Club, for whom he played three games in 1947, kicking one goal. He was also a finalist in the Stawell Gift, losing his heat by a whisker to the eventual winner of the Stawell Gift. He also won a senior position administering the 1956 Olympic Games. I am told that a visit to a travelling boxing tent in Benalla gave him the chance to fight, and win, a bout against an old pro.

Don Chipp will also always hold a place in history as the last batsman to partner Sir Donald Bradman. It was in February 1963, just up the road here in Canberra at Manuka Oval, and Sir Robert Menzies had coaxed the Don out of retirement to play in the Prime Minister’s XI against England. Then test greats, including Richie Benaud and Neil Harvey, comprised the PM’s team—and, unlike today, it also always included a couple of MPs. As a reasonably competent cricket player Mr Chipp found himself batting No. 4. That game saw Don Chipp recorded as being the non-striker when Don Bradman, aged 54, was dismissed for the last time—for four runs.

As I said, it was our mutual love of cricket that kept us associated after Don Chipp left the Liberal Party, because in the latter half of the 1970s Mr Chipp convened and captained the parliamentary cricket team in its several games against the press, the parliamentary staff and several other teams, including in latter years the Melbourne Crusaders. In later years I inherited the role. It was easier to get a team together in those days with parliament not sitting on Mondays. Don Chipp was vigorous and competitive, a hard man on the cricket field. When he captained parliament against the press gallery he sledged as ferociously as he played, though it must be said he sledged his own team mates as much as he did his opponents.

I do not doubt that Don Chipp’s qualities of passion, single-mindedness and the killer instinct aided both his sporting and political success. They are reflected in his commitment to the causes in which he believed. I offer my condolences to his widow, Idun, and to his family.