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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4428

Mr McCLELLAND (Barton) (11:43): Lionel Bowen was one of the great parliamentarians, not only of the last century but since Federation. He was a man of enormous ability but always remained unpretentious and a genuine true believer in the principles of the Labor movement, and it is most fitting that the Australian parliament is honouring his memory in this motion. I am certainly proud of the fact that the Bowens—Lionel and his wife, Claire—and my parents, Doug and Lorna, were very good friends. In fact, Lionel and my father, Doug, virtually shared their political careers in the Labor Party together. When they joined the party Ben Chifley was its leader. Lionel entered the New South Wales parliament in 1962, and that was the year my father was elected to the Senate. Lionel came to Canberra in 1969. Just three years later—in December 1972, as we can remember, with the election of the Whitlam government—both of them became ministers. Lionel was the Postmaster-General and my father was Minister for the Media. In fact, in those early stages of the Whitlam ministry, they shared the one secretary of their respective departments, and Lionel and Doug sat next to each other in that first cabinet and remained good mates throughout.

In mid-1975, my father followed Lionel as Special Minister of State and he recalls Lionel as being someone who was always on top of his brief, as a good lawyer, not only in terms of detail but also in terms of tactics. For example, not long after Malcolm Fraser deposed Bill Snedden as Leader of the Opposition, Lionel warned those more complacent members of the Senate to watch it, because he would not be in the least surprised if Mr Fraser moved to block supply later in that year, and political history tells us that that is in fact what happened, leading to the dismissal of the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975. Lionel was one of the first members of the government who predicted that course of action.

Labor of course then went into opposition, but eight years later, in 1983, Bob Hawke won government. Lionel became his Deputy Prime Minister, and was probably one of the most loyal deputy prime ministers, in terms of riding shotgun for the Prime Minister, that Australia has ever seen. He also held the office of Attorney-General. At that time, my father was President of the Senate. They had a number of close mates, including Bob Hawke, Mick Young, Clyde Holding, John Brown and Ben Humphreys. My father tells me that they frequently dined together and that, if the walls of the Old Parliament House could speak, they would indeed tell quite a few stories, all of those men being larrikins in their own right. They kept in touch after parliament but, just as an indication of the personalities, my father recalls going around to see Prime Minister Hawke. In the small corridors of Old Parliament House, there outside the Prime Minister's office were Prime Minister Hawke, Minister Howe, John Brown, Mick Young and Lionel, all in deep concentrated thought and serious conversation. My father thought we were about to confront a national crisis, given the intensity of this conversation. But as he got closer to them he heard them say, 'Yeah, but who d'you think's going to win in the sixth?'

In the late 1980s, my father went to London as high commissioner and he speaks of the tremendous standing of Lionel on both sides of the British parliament. My father related to me one visit which I am sure Lionel's wife, Claire, will remember, where Claire and Lionel accompanied my father and mother to the town of Lyndhurst in Hampshire, where Lionel unveiled a wall mural depicting the early life of Arthur Phillip, who became Australia's first governor. Arthur Phillip had undertaken farming for a brief period when he retired as a captain of the Navy before being reappointed to captain the First Fleet to Australia.

From my point of view, I was greatly honoured to serve in the office of Attorney-General, an office that Lionel held with distinction. Indeed, in many ways I tried to emulate Lionel's principled and balanced style, and I can assure Lionel's family that respect for his legacy endures to this day in the Attorney-General's Department. But for time constraints, one could list Lionel's remarkable achievements and recall many humorous anecdotes about him. Lionel Bowen was indeed unique, modest, self-effacing and a devoted family man, a loyal and reliable friend, a proud representative of his country and a truly magnificent Australian. I also join my colleagues in paying my respects and indeed those of my family to the memory of such a great and distinguished man. Claire and her family must be very proud of him indeed.

Debate adjourned.