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Tuesday, 11 August 2015
Page: 4953

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:42): I rise to speak on this motion of condolence on the passing of John Peter Sim CBE, a senator for Western Australia from 1964 to 1981, on behalf of the opposition. At the outset, I convey our sympathy to Mr Sim's relatives and friends.

Peter Sim came to the Senate in 1964 to fill a casual vacancy and was subsequently re-elected to complete the remainder of the term in 1966. He was re-elected in 1967, 1974 and 1975. As with many of his generation, his early adult years were dominated by World War II. He served from 1941 to 1946, remaining in Papua New Guinea following the end of hostilities, the 70th anniversary of which we mark this week. In light of this history, it is conspicuous that in 2006 he was bestowed with the second-highest award given by the Japanese Emperor, in recognition of his actions in parliament and afterwards to foster friendly and constructive relations between Australia and Japan. This included heading what was described as an 'influential inquiry' in 1972 that resulted in closer economic and cultural ties with Japan. In addition, following his departure from the Australian Senate, he helped to establish Japanese language courses and promote academic exchanges between the two countries as a member of another senate, that of Murdoch University, and later of the board of its Asia Research Centre.

Having worked on his family's rural properties in Victoria prior to the outbreak of war, following his return to Australia Mr Sim moved to Western Australia with his brother, keen to take advantage of cheap farmland in the Great Southern region. At the same time, he joined the Liberal Party and, after being unsuccessful in a bid for election from the third place on the Senate ticket in 1958, was selected over future Liberal Senate leader Reg Withers to fill the casual vacancy I referenced, in 1964. As the party was seeking a candidate who could speak for rural and regional Western Australia—The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate records—Sim was preferred over Withers 'by a wide margin'.

The decision to join the Liberal Party and not the Country Party is a significant one because it provides a frame through which to understand Peter Sim's approach to issues of concern to rural constituents. Like others from both sides of politics with a farming background, such as Liberal Bert Kelly from South Australia and Labor's Peter Walsh, also from Western Australia and whom we farewelled earlier this year, Peter Sim recognised the damage that the Country Party's inward-looking policies and reliance on protection and subsidies were doing to agricultural industry in Australia. Mr Sim disliked the system of high tariff protection that was virtually unchallenged in Australia until the 1970s and supported attempts to liberalise trade. He praised the Whitlam government's efforts in this area.

Mr Sim served on a number of parliamentary committees at a time before the current system of standing committees was put into place, and his committee work was well regarded. I particularly note his work on the Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs. This committee recommended increases to Commonwealth payments to hospitals for beds occupied by uninsured patients, which led to Labor moving an amendment to the National Health Bill 1970. Peter Sim crossed the floor with two of his colleagues to support the successful Labor amendment.

Peter Sim's interest in foreign affairs and defence has been well documented, and he chaired the Senate standing committee from 1971 to 1973 and again from 1976 until his retirement. Building on his war experience in Papua New Guinea, Mr Sim expanded his horizons and took a particular interest in policy in Asia and the Pacific. He worked assiduously to ensure the reports presented were bipartisan and, on at least one occasion, joined with Labor members to deliver a minority report. He was not afraid to speak against the policies of his own government in the areas of foreign affairs and defence.

Delivering remarks on the valedictory in 1981, Labor's Senate leader, John Button, noted:

Senator Sim will be remembered particularly for his thoughtful and courageous contributions over some period to foreign affairs debates and the committees concerned with foreign affairs.

In a lighter moment, Senator Button also apologised for continually referring to Sim as 'Senator Slim' one night during debate.

In his own valedictory remarks, then Senator Sim was generous enough to state:

I have enjoyed the friendship of many people from all walks of life, but, above all, I mention my political opponents. I will not name them all, but I look across and see perhaps some of my closest friends sitting on the opposite side of the chamber.

Peter Sim died on 29 July 2015 at the age of 98.

Again we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and former colleagues at this time, and we honour his service.