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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 930


Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) (2:00 PM) —I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death on 17 October 2010, of The Honourable Kenneth Shaw Wriedt, former Federal Minister and Senator for Tasmania, and place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Ken Wriedt was a member of the greatest generation, the generation that was born into hardship, served the cause of freedom in war and came home to build a better peace. Ken Wriedt was born in Melbourne’s Fitzroy on 11 July 1927, sharing a birthday with a gangly 11-year-old then growing up in Canberra named Gough Whitlam, who came to figure so greatly in Ken’s life in the decades to come. Ken grew up in the tough years of the Depression and saw wartime service as a sailor in the merchant marine, sparking a lifelong love of the ocean.

The searing experiences of the Depression and the poverty seen on his foreign travels guided Ken towards the Labor cause. He joined the party in 1959, the same year he married Helga, who shared his life’s journey for five decades. After three attempts at preselection he was elected to the Senate as part of the new Whitlam team in 1967 and five years later became Minister for Primary Industry. Ken was an outstanding minister regarded by John Button as ‘a most distinguished member of the Whitlam government’. He was a reformist who understood the competitive realities that Australia’s agriculture sector and industry more generally had to face. In fact, there is a great Alan Moir cartoon from 1974 showing Ken cresting a huge wave with his sailor’s hat all askew desperately fighting against the tide, trying to drag Australia from reliance on the sheep’s back towards a stronger future based on mining. I am sure that the current minerals boom must have given Ken the satisfaction of knowing that his thinking had been far in front of its time.

Ken’s Commonwealth ministerial tenure ended on 11 November 1975, as did so many other great careers. But Ken felt he had more to offer and reinvented himself in state politics, winning a Tasmania House of Assembly seat in 1982 and going on to become Leader of the Opposition and a minister in the Field Labor government, where he came to have a high regard for the Greens and their emerging leader, Bob Brown, of whom he predicted great things.

Through 83 years Ken had many loves: the ocean and the magnificent Tasmanian landscape, classical music and poetry, and a fierce appreciation of the ABC’s role as a force for culture and learning. He was an internationalist who decried the enormity of injustice and sought fairness for the people of East Timor. He cultivated the virtues of calmness and tranquillity based on a lifelong interest in Buddhism and the practice of meditation.

Foremost in his affections, of course, were his wife, Helga, his daughters, Paula and Sonia, and his four grandchildren, who this week mourned the end of Ken’s long and purposeful life just a month after their beloved Helga also passed away.

Ken will be long remembered in this place and beyond as one of the true gentlemen of Australian politics, an excellent minister and a fine human being praised on all sides of politics for his decency and his integrity. With his family we say goodbye to a great servant of his party, the parliament and our nation. Our country is a better place because Ken devoted his life to public service.