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Tuesday, 21 August 1984
Page: 20


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition) —On behalf of the Opposition I support the motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button). Like Senator Button, I came to the Senate after Senator Sir Alister McMullin had resigned-indeed, some three years after that time. I must say that Sir Alister's reputation was still great in the Senate when I arrived. He cast a very long shadow. Indeed, I was told that he cast a very large shadow. I am told he was a man of great stature, both physically and as a senator. Not having known him and having merely heard of his record as the longest serving President of this place, I went back to the time of his departure from the Senate to see what was said about him by his peers. It was interesting to find a consistency of comment from the different representatives who spoke on that occasion. I refer to what was said by then Senator Wright, a senator who, I think we all know, spoke his mind, and spoke with great force and who had a great and a warm regard for the institution of the Senate. Senator Wright prefaced his remarks about the departure of Sir Alister in terms of his regard for the Parliament. Senator Wright said:

It is no accident that today this--

he meant the Senate-

is the only place where the voice of Parliament is being heard in this Australian Capital Territory, and that today the voice of this chamber is often heard with great effect.

I think there is still some truth in that statement. Given the situation of the parties, this is the institution which has retained a peculiarly parliamentary flavour in Australia. People like Sir Alister McMullin have been very important in contributing to that continuing reality.

Senator Wright went on to refer to the great service given by Sir Alister to the parliaments of the Commonwealth through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It is clear from the record that Sir Alister made a great contribution to those bodies. Senator Wright also referred to Sir Alister's enthusiasm for a new and permanent Parliament House. It must have been a matter of some satisfaction to Sir Alister to know that the cause he pursued with such vigour in this Parliament was at last coming to fruition. I know that Sir Alister felt great regret that matters financial always seemed to stand in the way of a proper parliament being built. I am sure it was a matter of great pleasure to him that subsequent to his leaving this place governments finally grasped the nettle and proceeded with that project.

The other major point made by Senator Wright related to Sir Alister's contribution to the Parliamentary Library and the fostering of the research service which serve us all so well, and to the fostering of a committee system of this Parliament. Whilst many senators contributed to that end, it was during the presidency of Sir Alister that major developments in the Senate Committee system occurred which have persisted to this day.

The performances of all Presidents in this place-and I am sure you, Mr President, are aware of this-are judged not just by the view of the governing party. Presidents are judged also by the attitude of the minorities in the Senate, be they Independents, minor parties, or indeed the official Opposition. That attitude tells one something of the quality of the man in the office. I note with great satisfaction the way in which then Senator Byrne, on behalf of the Australian Democratic Labour Party, spoke of Sir Alister. In a sense, what was said by Senator Byrne carried much of the flavour of what I heard about Sir Alister McMullin when I arrived in this place. Senator Byrne said:

I know, Mr President, that you have, and always have had, a certain style as President. After all, the Standing Orders are always before you on your bench but I think it could be said that you have never regarded the Standing Orders as an iron discipline to be exercised over honourable senators. You have regarded them as guidelines to be generally observed, but no more than that. Therefore your attitude in the chair has been one of liberality and understanding.

Senator Byrne went on to refer to the fact that that type of attitude can be effective only if the President has great personal stature. Senator Byrne said that that was a quality that Sir Alister had brought to the presidency.

The then Leader of the Opposition in this place, Senator Murphy, made the references that I would have expected, judging from his reputation when I became a senator in 1974. Senator Murphy referred to Senator Sir Alister McMullin's dignity in the way in which he had presided over the Senate. He spoke of the great and valuable changes that had been made in the Parliament during that time . Senator Murphy referred to the fact that Senator Sir Alister McMullin had had a record period in the Chair and that his flexible handling of the Senate's procedures would be greatly missed.

Senator Sir Alister McMullin's presidency was unusual in its length. He was President during a period when major changes were made to this place which are of continuing benefit to Australia. I record that point at this time as we express our appreciation of Senator Sir Alister McMullin's work and our sympathy to his family.

I was touched by Senator Sir Alister McMullin's final words as President. When he left he said:

I say to all honourable senators: Thank you very much. I have enjoyed being with you. I will miss you when I go away from you. It has been good fun.

As a boy I thought that Parliament was more fun than it appears to me now-that may be true or it may be just part of the aging process. However, it was my view of Parliament at that time that members brought to it a straightforward zest and enthusiasm, which I found attractive. I welcome the late Senator Sir Alister McMullin's acknowledgment of that fact. I hope that in remembering him we shall remember the spirit of those times and recall more of that spirit to this place.