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Monday, 4 September 2006
Page: 60


Senator MILNE (5:04 PM) —I, too, rise to offer my condolences to the family of the late Don Chipp. I did not know Don Chipp, so my comments relate to his contribution as a public figure in Australian political life. My first real awareness of Don Chipp was through the campaign to save the Franklin River in south-west Tasmania. His name will always be associated with that enormous contribution to conservation in Australia and to world heritage, because in 1981 it was Senator Don Chipp who initiated a Senate inquiry into the natural values of south-west Tasmania to Australia and the world and federal responsibility in assisting Tasmania to preserve its wilderness areas of national and international importance. He also drew up a private member’s bill which was later taken over by the Hawke government. His contribution to the saving of the Franklin River is outstanding and was enlightened for its time—and I want to put that on the record. As that river flows free to the sea, as Senator Stott Despoja has just said, there is a little bit of Don in that fantastic ecosystem.

I also want to note in relation to Don Chipp that, having had many years in the parliament and having been involved in party politics, he was very critical of and opposed to the rigidity of party politics. When asked in an interview in 1983 about whether, because of his policies on the environment and his humanitarian policies, he might have sat more comfortably in the Labor party, he said:

... I couldn’t hack having to kowtow to a policy established by a Federal executive—a policy which demands blind allegiance or expulsion if you buck it or cross the floor to vote. I’d rather go out and dig a good, honest hole because that is an anathema to everything I believe. Let me give you an example. In May 1977, after I’d resigned from the Liberal Party, I moved as an independent that there be a moratorium on all uranium mining. It almost lapsed for want of a seconder, but Jim Cairns mumbled something and the Speaker accepted that as seconding my motion. He was almost expelled from the ALP for that mumble because, at that point, he was going against his party policy. We had a vote and every member of both the Liberal and Labor parties voted against me.

It is interesting that back in 1977 he recognised the problems with uranium mining and then, when he could, after he had resigned from the Liberal Party and was an independent, moved on that. He went on to say:

Four months later, every member of the Labor Party voted for an almost identical motion. We’re not talking about the price of butter or some penny-ante thing here—we are talking about the future of the human race.

He did have a conceptual framework that went beyond elections. He did have a commitment to a vision for the future which was an expansive vision, one about humanitarianism and liberalism. The party that he formed, the Democrats, was really born out of his strong commitment to small ‘l’ liberalism. That was apparent back in his years in the Liberal Party when, as a minister, he adopted what was quite a radical approach to censorship at that time. He said himself that his approach to censorship ‘began from the fundamental premise that censorship is an evil thing’. He went on to say:

But I haven’t any doubt at this stage that an overwhelming majority of Australians want it in some form. So I, as the hapless Minister, have to administer a necessary evil.

However, we should note that his policy in opposing the narrow strictures of the day and speaking about the need for embracing ideas—all ideas—and opening society was something that we can be grateful for because it set a legacy in place that we can all benefit from in the political process.

I want to also note Don Chipp’s contribution in forming the Democrats. When he was disaffected with Liberal politics, went into his period as an independent and met up with other people—the Australia Party and others who had ideas about a small ‘l’ liberal party, if you like, with a commitment to the environment and social justice—he established the Democrats. He said at the time:

The three tenets I introduced when forming the Democrats were honesty, tolerance and compassion. Everybody thought that it was very funny to try and introduce one of those, let alone three. After my 17 years in the House, it was clear that dishonesty, intolerance and a total lack of compassion had been integral features of politics for many years. I’d been there and clearly it was not the system to cure Australia of its ills. Instead of confrontation and points scoring, why not introduce tolerance and honesty, to, say, industrial relations? Surely it would open up a whole vista of new possibilities.

That is what he was trying to do when he established the Democrats. It is a view that he brought to balance-of-power politics in the Senate—that attempt to ‘open up a whole vista of new possibilities’ in the way that people relate to one another and achieve outcomes through legislation. At that time he said:

But it all boils down to a question of what Australians want of their politicians. I’ll tell you what you want: you don’t want anything because you regard them as sons of bitches interested only in either feathering their own nests or self-aggrandisement. I believe that until we get back to the basic concepts of understanding what the problems facing mankind are, and how best we can solve them, then we may as well go through the motions of me drawing my parliamentary salary, making a few speeches and not really giving a stuff about anything.

That really demonstrates the passion that Don Chipp had for a better society. It demonstrates that he wanted to get into politics and stay in politics because he had a conviction about the way Australia ought to be. He tried very hard to bring those tenets of honesty, tolerance and compassion and a different way of doing things to political life in Australia, and to the Senate in particular.

In recent years I was saddened when Don Chipp was asked about his pledge to keep the bastards honest and he asked if he had got his promise to keep the bastards honest wrong by oversimplifying the problem and concentrating on the politicians. He went on to say that the real bastards:

... were the millions who reacted to a problem with another beer and a hateful ‘She’ll be right, mate’; the shareholders who supported uranium mining because of the profits; the bankers who welcomed foreign takeovers because they were good for profits; the unions who encouraged forest destruction because it pleased their members; lawyers who opposed simplifying workers’ compensation because that would threaten their holiday homes.

These are the real bastards, and they are represented in Canberra with sickening fidelity by members of the Liberal, National and Labor parties ...

That is what he wrote after quitting politics. As the journalist Don Woolford noted: ‘That’s vintage Chipp.’

In concluding, I would like to acknowledge that, in his 81-year life, Don Chipp’s contribution was enormous. He was a great athlete, as has been noted. He played AFL football; he ran in the Stawell Gift; he was very significant in helping Melbourne get ready for the 1956 Olympics. His language was always coloured by sporting imagery. He talked cricket a good deal of the time. When you read his speeches, you see that he talks in images of cricket. In fact, when he lost his ministry, he used a reference to having always played with a straight bat and said that he would accept the decision.

One of Don Chipp’s strengths was to also admit when he had got something wrong. He did that in relation to the Vietnam War. He had served in the RAAF and he had supported the second Voyager inquiry. He originally supported the Vietnam War. Later he regretted that decision and he put in train a real effort to address the issue of landmines in Vietnam and Cambodia. He and Idun made a documentary about the devastation that was caused. He tried not only to point out where the thinking had been wrong but also to draw attention to what had occurred and increase public awareness and public support for overcoming the use of landmines. That is a great tribute to the man and his way of thinking.

In conclusion, Australia has lost one of its great political characters. It has lost a person who was passionate about issues and causes. But his legacy lives on because he set a standard for Australian politicians by making it his hallmark to say that politics is not there just to take the pay cheque; politics is there to make a difference. And he moved on in making a difference in all sorts of ways throughout his life, right until the end.

I pay tribute to that and to his contribution to Australian politics, his work in the Liberal Party, and later the Democrats, and his community service. There are so many aspects of that of which I was unaware. For example, I was not aware that he was one of the first people to start public awareness and fundraising for cancer causes in Australia, years before people really understood the severity of the problem. Again, I offer my condolences on behalf of the Greens to his family and pay tribute to his great contribution to Australian life.