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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12535

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (14:07): I rise to add my words of condolence to those of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, to pay tribute to Gordon Bilney's service both as a former Labor federal member for Kingston and also as a minister in both the Hawke and Keating federal Labor governments. I have had the honour of knowing Gordon for some years now, and it was with great sadness that I learned of his recent passing. While Gordon had been unwell for some time, his partner, Sandy, tells me that his passing came as quite a shock, and my thoughts are with his family at this very sad time. Gordon will be truly missed by his family and friends in the local southern suburbs of Adelaide and in the wider community.

Gordon served in this parliament as the member for Kingston from 1983 until 1996. The local community in southern Adelaide will remember his commitment to fight against injustice wherever he saw it. He often put it that he would stand up for the underdog. In his maiden speech, Gordon spoke about the things that mattered most to ordinary Australians. He spoke about the importance of ensuring access to quality health care for everyone in this country. He spoke about ensuring that housing security was available for those most vulnerable. And he spoke about the struggles of women and the importance of affordable and accessible child care.

People may not be aware that Gordon actually trained as a dentist. According to his partner, Sandy, it was this experience that ultimately led him to pursue a career in politics. He could not stand by and watch while so many Australians suffered from poor oral health because they could not afford a visit to a dentist. He felt compelled to do something to change this injustice. Gordon was never known to back down from a fight. There is no better example than his fight against the development of the open space of Glenthorne Farm, in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. Gordon led this lengthy fight by the local community over some years to prevent this land being developed for housing, and it was one that was ultimately successful. Today the land still remains undeveloped. I know that Gordon was very passionate about the history and character of the southern suburbs of Adelaide, and he stood against a number of development proposals that threatened the character of our beautiful suburbs.

Equally, Gordon never backed down from a fight during an election campaign. There was no better demonstration of this than during the 1990 election, where he faced a formidable opponent in the high-profile candidate and leader of the Australian Democrats, Janine Haines. The Australian Democrats mounted an unprecedented campaign in an attempt to win the seat of Kingston. Never one to be easily rattled, Gordon held his ground against his opponent and ultimately was victorious.

During the Hawke and Keating governments he served as Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and also as Minister for Development Co-operation and Pacific Island Affairs. Before his life in politics, Gordon also had a distinguished career as a foreign diplomat. In his ministerial roles, Gordon's achievements included fostering our deeper constructive engagement with the Pacific region, particularly focused on improving the status of women in areas of social and economic life where inequalities persisted. Through Australian aid programs he was committed to enhancing opportunities for women in the region, particularly in the area of family planning. It was under the watch of Gordon Bilney, in his role as Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, that the recruitment policies of the Australian Defence Force were reviewed and the ban was lifted so that gay soldiers could openly serve in the defence of our nation. These achievements, again, demonstrated his commitment to eliminating injustice where he saw it.

Gordon was a man of tremendous wit and kindness. He was a man who detested pretension and was approachable and well loved in the community. At times he could be a little mischievous. In Sandy's words, he loved to stir the pot. Gordon never suffered those he believed to be fools. One of the stories that has been often recounted in recent days is that he did continue to respond to correspondence after he lost in 1996, but signing off with a new flavour. I quote one of his letters:

One of the greatest privileges of private life is that I no longer need to be polite to nincompoops, bigots, curmudgeons or twerps ...

Gordon clearly demonstrated that he had a way with words, and in his student days at Adelaide University Gordon was an active member of the Playwright for the Footlights club dramatic society. In life after politics he continued to pursue his avid interest in the use of words, including being a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald's word watch column.

Gordon will be remembered as a remarkable man of high intellect and wit, but also as an ordinary man who told it like it was and rejected self-importance. After life in politics, Gordon spent a great time enjoying activities such as fishing and reading, and at times could be seen in these corridors spruiking a McLaren Vale shiraz or offering a piece of advice. I am personally grateful for Gordon's advice, support and kind words that he provided to me over the years. My thoughts and sympathies are with Gordon's family at this sad time: his partner, Sandy; his daughters, Caroline and Sarah; his son, Nicholas; and his four granddaughters and one grandson, who I know he was very proud of. Gordon will be remembered for many years to come for the significant contribution he made to his local community, to the country and to our region.

Honourable members standing in their places.

Debate adjourned.