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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4561

Senator CAMERON (10:18 PM) —I rise tonight to honour the memory of a dear friend and comrade, John Parkin. John was a big man. John had a big physical presence, but he also had a fantastic sense of humour, a commitment to social justice and a desire to change things for the better. The most common description I have heard of John is that he was ‘a larger than life character’. He really was one of a kind.

John passed away early on Monday morning after a lengthy and courageous battle with an extremely aggressive brain tumour. John was only 53 when he died. He had still much to offer his adopted country. John leaves behind a loving and caring wife, Wendy, who devoted herself to supporting and looking after him as he battled this cruel twist of fate.

I have known John for over 25 years. We met as activists and officers of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. We had a lot in common. We were both Scotsmen who moved to Australia to make a new life. We were both fitters and we were both committed trade unionists. We were also both supporters of Glasgow Rangers Football Club during the good times and the bad times. John was fiercely proud of being a Scot and he was equally proud of being an Australian citizen. John was a Brandane, the name for those born in Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute, a beautiful part of Scotland.

John was looked after a lot of the time by his Aunty Joan, who has travelled with her husband Jim to be with John in the final days of his titanic struggle with the brain tumour. His Aunty Joan recounted to me how John hated school, how he was always in trouble and how he, in her words, was ‘quite a handful’. John started his commitment to caring for the community by taking his father’s fire gear to the local volunteer fire brigade and for this, he received two bob for each call-out. Aunty Joan tells me that much of John’s earnings were spent at the famous Zavaroni’s fish and chip shop, where John nurtured his love of good food.

John moved with his family to Corby, in England, where his father had a job in the local steel mill. John was apprenticed as a fitter and turner at the Corby Steelworks. After serving his apprenticeship John emigrated to Australia and worked at Weir Engineering Brookvale and at Avon cosmetics at Frenchs Forest. Like many Scots, John was determined to stand up for himself and his fellow workers.

This resulted in John being elected as the union delegate for the workers at Avon. John was absolutely committed to ensuring that workers could come to work and go home uninjured. The priority for John was occupational health and safety and as the delegate at Avon he developed an induction video for training purposes. This was one of the first site induction training videos used in the manufacturing industry.

John’s commitment and talent were quickly recognised and he was offered employment with the AMWU as an acting organiser. John quickly concentrated on health and safety issues and became one of the union’s two health and safety officers, providing advice and support to workers in New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. Following a period as the union’s health and safety officer, John was asked to head the New South Wales branch’s research centre. John’s commitment and talents were further recognised when he was appointed to the position of national education officer. During this period John, who had hated school, completed a master’s degree in adult education and training at the University of Technology, Sydney. It was also during this time that John met and married the love of his life, Wendy Hamilton, who was also employed by the AMWU.

As the national education coordinator, John was so well respected that he was given the responsibility to assist the Vietnamese Metal Workers Union to establish an education and training program, including a system of national occupational health and safety training for that country. John also travelled to Canada to meet with the Canadian Auto Workers, the CAW, union, where he contributed to the work of a high-level international working group on union organising.

In 2004, John’s talent and commitment were recognised when he was appointed by the New South Wales government as the Chair of the New South Wales Transport Appeals Board, a position he held with great distinction and in which he was held in enormous regard and respect. In his role as chairman of the appeals board, John had a reputation for diligence and fairness. John earned the respect and trust of both employer and union advocates and, importantly, the respect and trust of the individuals who appeared before him. John had a reputation for being tremendously fair. However, he always demanded and gained the respect of those appearing before him. Everyone who worked with John respected him. John reorganised the work of the appeals board and, with a combination of good humour, teamwork and commitment, improved the operation of the appeals board significantly.

It was just over 12 months ago that the first symptoms of John’s brain tumour appeared. In July 2008, he simply fell off his chair to the floor for no apparent reason. This occurred on two further occasions on the same day. John went to his doctor the next day and after visiting a specialist he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. John underwent brain surgery and the initial prognosis was that the tumour was not very aggressive. Unfortunately, following further analysis the tumour was diagnosed as extremely aggressive. After the first operation, John was told he may have nine months to live.

Each time I visited John he was good humoured and brave. He was unrelenting and determined in his fight for life. Following his first operation, John was committed to get back to the work that he loved doing. He actually went back to work as the chair, but after his return to work John found that the aggressive tumour forced him to make another choice: to have another operation to extend his life expectancy or to simply let the tumour take its course. John chose to have another brain operation. Unfortunately, despite the skill and dedication of his surgeon and medical carers, the tumour could not be controlled.

I visited John last Thursday as he neared the end of his courageous battle. John was surrounded by his friends and family. His aunt and uncle were with him to the end, along with his mother-in-law, Dot, and his father-in-law, Ted, who both cared for him along with his wife, Wendy. His great friends Brett and Sue Carswell were also there. Brett and Sue were a tower of strength and support to Wendy, John and their family. John was heavily sedated but he never gave up communicating with his old friend, Jock Blair, and me, even correcting me when I said something wrong—which I do not normally do!

John led a full life, a life full of fun, hard work, achievements and love. John was brave and courageous to the end and he never lost his sense of humour. The love between John and Wendy was there for everyone to see. John was loved, and he was respected. John had a life worth celebrating. Vale, dear friend, and thank you for your contribution to the trade union movement, to the workers of Australia and to your adopted country, Australia.