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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2091


Mr CONROY (Charlton) (16:48): I am very proud to be able to join colleagues in paying tribute to a true giant of humanity, Nelson Mandela. Mandela's story is well known all around the world: the freedom fighter against the apartheid regime who became the most famous prisoner in the world and who subsequently was able to unite his nation as the first democratically elected President of South Africa.

Over the last few days, so many people have recognised his enormous and total commitment to reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. A shining example of this was his meeting with Percy Yutar upon his election as President. Yutar had been the state prosecutor at the trial which resulted in Mandela's 27-year imprisonment and had demanded during that trial the death penalty for Mandela and his comrades, and yet here was the newly elected President not exerting retribution or punishment but meeting the gentleman who had sent him to prison.

As a Labor member of parliament I am very proud that the Australian Labor Party was one of the few political parties that provided assistance to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in the first democratic election in South Africa, in 1994. This assistance had a broader base than just the parliamentary Labor Party; the combined trade union movement was also involved. I remember working in a building in Granville which had framed in its foyer a reproduction—I hope it was a reproduction—of a ballot paper, with a note of thanks from the ANC written on it, from the first democratic election in 1994.

I pay tribute to the remarks of people from across the chamber. The passing of Mandela is the passing of a giant who unites everyone, and I think many countries can learn from his approach to power. I was very interested in the comments from the member for Berowra, the Chief Government Whip, on the contrast between South Africa and other countries in its region, and I think that is very important. Being from an Irish background, I know that Northern Ireland is also dealing with reconciliation. So it is a good time to pause and reflect on the passing of a true giant.

It is also important at this stage to recognise the efforts of people in Australia who supported Nelson's activities and those of the ANC in general. It is widely acknowledged that economic sanctions imposed by the international community, led in part by Australia, played a significant role in ending apartheid. Australians should be very proud of the role we played and grateful that we were led by successive prime ministers who were vocal advocates of ending apartheid. History shows that Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating were right. I pay tribute in particular to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser for his efforts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which were continued by Prime Minister Hawke.

Of course, not all former leaders can lay claim to having taken part in such efforts. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former president of the United States Ronald Reagan and Australia's very own former Prime Minister John Howard were all opposed to Australia's efforts to end apartheid in various forms. Prime Minister Howard is on the record as having opposed economic and sporting sanctions. In fact, in 1975, Prime Minister Howard rose in parliament to oppose the Whitlam Labor government's prevention of the Australian cricket team from touring South Africa. His attempt to trivialise apartheid by suggesting that Australia should only compete with countries whose sporting teams were democratically selected was shameful. Apartheid was not a joke; when John Howard made his suggestion, Mandela had been in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison for 11 years whilst the black South African population was being systemically denied its human rights.

I raise this point because, when we reflect on the passing of a giant—a statesman who was certainly on the highest tier of statespeople—we should not take it as an opportunity to rewrite history. We should acknowledge Mandela's contributions and the circumstances surrounding them. I also note that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher labelled the ANC a terrorist organisation and vehemently opposed efforts by Commonwealth nations to end apartheid and that president Reagan used his presidential powers to veto the United States' efforts to end apartheid. We are here acknowledging the passing of a giant who was convicted of terrorism and condemned by various governments around the world in the past, and we remember Mandela as a truly unique individual whose unwavering commitment to social justice and human rights leaves a legacy which will be held up as an example for generations to come. However, in remembering him we must also remember that some share a shameful legacy of opposing efforts to end apartheid.

As a keen rugby follower I acknowledge Mandela's support of the South African national rugby team, the Springboks—once a symbol of white domination and apartheid—in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. His embrace of the Springboks is another shining example of his commitment to reconciliation. The captain of the 1995 World Cup winning team, Francois Pienaar, said over the weekend that in post-apartheid South Africa:

… where there was real tension, he gave us all hope. There will never be another like him.

I agree with him.