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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12533

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:00): I move:

That the House express its deep regret at the death on 28 October 2012 of the Honourable Gordon Neil Bilney, a former Minister and Member of this House for the Division of Kingston from 1983 to 1996, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Today we farewell a good friend and honoured colleague, Gordon Bilney, who died in Adelaide on Sunday aged 73. His was a life of opportunity, built in the optimistic days of postwar Australia, and he turned his share of that opportunity to the common good through a life dedicated to public service. Gordon Bilney grew up in Adelaide and originally trained as a dentist. But he soon traded the drill for new horizons as a diplomat, joining the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1966. He held postings all around the world and served as an adviser to Gough Whitlam and Senator Don Willesee in their capacity as Foreign Affairs Minister. He returned to the diplomatic service in 1975, reaching ambassadorial rank five years later.

In 1983 Gordon Bilney entered parliament as the member for Kingston, one of the 28 members of the class of 1983 who so greatly defined the Hawke era. Gordon lived the perilous life of a marginal seat MP and was re-elected four times, including the remarkable contest against Janine Haines in 1990 and the sweetest victory of all in 1993. In 1990 he was elected as a minister, serving for two terms in the portfolios of Defence Science and Personnel and Development Co-Operation and Pacific Island Affairs. Gordon believed in our foreign aid program and its power to do good. He recognised the need for engagement with the Pacific and he understood Australia's potential as a creative middle power in a changing world.

But today Gordon Bilney's friends will dwell as much on his personality as on his long record in public life. Alan Ramsey once described Gordon Bilney as 'a free and roly-poly spirit with considerable style and acerbic wit'. He loved language and words and had a waspish sense of humour. He enjoyed a lifelong love of football, AFL, that started in the 1940s after his dad returned from the war, and he had a great gift for friendship. If the people you choose as friends are a test of your character then Gordon Bilney passed with flying colours, because he counted remarkable individuals like John Button and Alan Ramsey amongst his friends.

Gordon Bilney's knife-edge political career was brought to an end by the voters of Kingston on 2 March 1996. Not long after, the journalist Deborah Hope did a sympathetic piece on former MPs for the Australian. She began with this description of Gordon Bilney:

Gordon Bilney is standing by the window of his Adelaide home, a gorgeous glass of red in his hand, taking in the ocean view and thinking about cooking the fish he had caught the day before.

That is Gordon Bilney as so many will remember him—witty, cultured, a good book close at hand, and very much at home in the city that he loved. Although his work took him all around the world, it was to Adelaide that Gordon Bilney returned. It was that great city that he represented in this House and it was in that great city that he breathed his last on Sunday. On behalf of the government and the people of Australia, and also on behalf of our Labor family, I extend the nation's condolences to Gordon Bilney's widow, Sandra; his three children, Carolyn, Sarah and Nicky; his five grandchildren and all who loved this brilliant man who placed his gifts at the service of Australia and has earned the best accolade any of us could hope for. He left the nation a better place and we are saddened by his passing.