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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21356

Mr RUDD (6:49 PM) —I would like to begin by agreeing with both the member for Fraser and the member for Melbourne, who have been rightly critical of the government's management of the condolence motion for a former Deputy Prime Minister of this country. Deputy prime ministers are not a dime a dozen, and for the current Deputy Prime Minister to treat this condolence motion as if they were is just dead wrong—just as it was wrong for Dr Cairns to be referred to so disrespectfully by the Manager of Opposition Business earlier today. This place should respect its gods. We should not despise them, for the simple reason that there are so few of them—

Mr Leo McLeay —I think you mean the Leader of the House.

Mr RUDD —sorry, it was not the Manager of Opposition Business; I meant the Leader of the House—in the 100 years of our Federation. I have been kicking around the Labor movement for about 20 years. Some call it a broad church; others call it a great tradition. It certainly covers the full spectrum of progressive policy reform in this country. Jim Cairns is one of the gods of this tradition. In my 20 years or more in this movement, while coming from a different internal tradition within it, he was—I think all people would agree—an inspiration to our entire movement.

Jim Cairns was an unabashed economic interventionist, as demonstrated by his first speech in this place. While we may not subscribe today to that orthodoxy, his tradition keeps alive the notion that we are not just a party that is a creature of markets. We are not captured by markets. We do not just believe that we are regulators of markets but that, where markets to do not properly exist and where public goods must be delivered, there is a robust interventionist role alive still for the state—in health, education, employment, critical infrastructure—for which we should never apologise and for which Jim Cairns himself certainly never apologised.

On foreign policy Jim Cairns was totally ahead of his time. It was in this capacity that he engaged my mind as a kid in the 1970s, and it has a lot to do with my lifelong professional interest in Asia and my lifelong personal involvement in the ALP. Vietnam has been spoken about by a lot of people today; Asian engagement has also been spoken about. Dr Cairns said in this place in 1959:

We still have very little relationship with Asian countries, very little understanding of them and very little information and knowledge of them. Similarly, those countries have very little knowledge of us. It seems to me that the amount spent in fostering diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with Asia is far too small.

That was Jim Cairns in September of 1959. His critique of the Menzies government applies equally to our critique of the Howard government almost half a century later. Some things in politics do not change. Beyond that, Paul Strangio writes in his biography of Jim Cairns, Keeper of the Faith, that Dr Cairns said in a speech to the parliament in 1957 that:

... he lamented the fact that the policy of the Western powers and the Soviet Union was `almost exclusively to increase their power and their strength in the view that this will intimidate them into safety'. Rather than meekly accept this situation, he urged the government to take the initiative by promoting a ban on nuclear weapons tests, the control and inspection of existing stockpiles, and the prevention of further nuclear proliferation. Anticipating that his suggestion would be condemned as idealistic, he stated: `I think that a little idealism in this world is entirely called for.'

When you think of that—not just Vietnam, not just Asian engagement but nuclear disarmament—at virtually the height of the Cold War, these ideas were revolutionary. It gives us some confidence that ideas and ideals way beyond the current space of our immediate experience and our current imagination have their place still. This is Jim Cairns's central contribution to this age, and I think it is of the type referred to earlier by the member for Melbourne and also by the member for Holt, who has just spoken. It is the continued place for ideals, in private life and in public politics; that we can imagine an Australia that is greater than the collectivity of our self-interest—an Australia where community is seen as a strength; an Australia where compassion is seen as a strength, not a weakness; an Australia where conflict is not seen as simply the natural condition of all humankind.

We should have the imagination, the personal courage and the personal fortitude to paint such a canvas for the Australian people which inspires their hopes rather than ignites their fears. The history of this country is the history of these two great narratives. Ours, on our side of the shop, has always been the narrative of hope. Jim Cairns leaves this life as an apostle of hope, and we salute his life.