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Thursday, 21 October 1999
Page: 12192

Mr BEAZLEY (5:45 PM) —I rise today to express on behalf of the Australian Labor Party our deep sorrow as we learnt today of the death of Mr Ron Castan AM, QC. Mr Castan was a great philanthropist, jurist, civil libertarian, campaigner for human rights and contributor to the life of the Australian nation—a contributor always to the good of it; to the good of our character and culture as a society.

He was a member of the Victorian Bar for over 30 years. He had undertaken postgraduate studies at Harvard Law School as a Fulbright scholar, after completing degrees in Arts and Law at Melbourne University. He was a member of the Smorgon family and maintained a close involvement with the business affairs of that family and its legal practice. He was of course associated with the philanthropic trusts of one of the most generous families in this nation.

His civil libertarian commitments, apart from being reflected in his legal activities, were also manifest in his work for the federal government. He was a member of the Constitutional Commission in its work towards the Bicentennial in 1988 and he co-chaired the National Inquiry into Racist Violence. He was also a founding Honorary Secretary of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Mr Castan and his wife, Nellie, have been benefactors of the National Gallery of Victoria. He was on the board of the Australian Foundation for Culture and the Humanities and, through his philanthropic activities, the trusts—the Nordia Foundation and the Nelron Foundation—have made substantial contributions to community and arts related activities in diverse fields, including the Gilgul Theatre Company, the AMA scholarships for Aboriginal medical undergraduates, and organisations such as the Royal Melbourne Hospital Neurological Sciences Foundation. He was an active member of the board of trustees of that foundation.

His passing leaves an enormous hole not only in the Victorian Bar but in the hearts of many who have appreciated the work he has done—particularly in recent times but also over a lengthy period of time—in areas of great significance to this nation. He appeared, for example, for the plaintiffs in Mabo 1 and for two of the plaintiffs in Mabo 2. That started what has been an active involvement with a whole range of native title issues. We in the Labor Party of course have known him for many years and have appreciated the contribution he has made. His help was invaluable in discussion of the native title amendment bills in 1997 and 1998 when he was one of our advisers. He brought not only a keen and far-sighted legal mind to consideration of the issues but also a great heart and a great concern and empathy for the people whose rights he was speaking for as he helped us devise our responses to that legislation.

His expertise in that had grown out of many of the legal cases in which he appeared. I have already mentioned the Mabo cases, but he also appeared for the Waanyi People in a case of North Ganalanja Aboriginal Corporation v. Queensland in 1996. In the case of my home state, he appeared for two Aboriginal groups in Western Australia v. the Commonwealth, his clients arguing that the Western Australian government's legislation was invalid due to the existence of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Five minutes cannot do justice to the life of this great man and to the sorrow that many of us feel. He was a most active member of the Australian Jewish community and I think many of his humanitarian and charitable commitments were expressed in association with that community. There will be deep sorrow in that community tonight, just as there is deep sorrow in the hearts of all members of the Australian Labor Party.