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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4738

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:42 PM) —On behalf of the opposition, I support the condolence motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and associate the opposition with it on the death of former Senator George Georges. George Georges was born George Georgouras in Darwin on 15 April 1920. His family moved to Queensland not long after. As the son of recent migrants—his father had emigrated from Greece in 1916, his mother following a few years later—George had early first-hand experience of the difficulties that underdogs can suffer. As his father struggled to find work during the Depression, George acted as his interpreter. He always said that his dedication to the trade union movement came from seeing his father exploited by employers during that period.

He joined the Australian Labor Party in 1944, in a branch in the state electorate that was represented by Vince Gair, who of course later became Labor Premier of Queensland and later had political incarnations. However, Gair and the young Georges—by this time not merely a budding but a positively blossoming socialist—were not destined to become friends and allies. Nonetheless, George Georges established a solid reputation in the Queensland Labor Party, most particularly for his work with and on behalf of a variety of cooperative organisations, including Queensland's Workers Co-operative Credit Union.

He won preselection for a Senate seat before the 1967 election, and he commenced his Senate term on 1 July 1968. George's first speech was to draw a contrast between the affluence of Canberra, the advantages enjoyed by politicians and the difficulties faced by pensioners. Mocking the idea that imposing hardship on the disadvantaged would encourage them to be more responsible, he thundered that this was `a thrift imposed upon the needy by a Treasurer who has no vision or no foresight or no humanity'. I feel that those words are just as applicable to this year's budget as they were to the budget in 1968. George remained an active campaigner for the underdog throughout his time as a senator and, it is fair to say, beyond his time as a senator. Perhaps most famous for being repeatedly arrested during civil rights marches, George continued his stubborn resistance by refusing to give the military salute to prison officials.

For many within the Labor Party, George Georges will be best remembered for his dedicated work in the cause of party reform in the Queensland branch in the late 1970s and early 1980s. George was part of the ALP reform group in Queensland which saw drastic change as the only solution to Queensland Labor's poor electoral showing. He was one of the 400 present in February 1978 at the first big meeting, which was chaired by a young man who would go on to be a figure of some significance in Queensland politics: Peter Beattie. It was a long and bruising fight but it was ultimately successful. At the same time, George Georges was actively involved in the equally bruising struggle against Bjelke-Petersen's police-state laws.

Any one of these causes would have been enough for most people, but George Georges was not able to turn his back on a cause he believed in, no matter how many calls on his attention there were. To those who knew him, George Georges was a quietly-spoken person, but his manner seemed to give little warning of the volcanic passions that could erupt. Senator John Button once said to him, `The trouble with you, George, is that you go off like a bomb but no-one knows when to expect it.'

George was well known for his idiosyncrasies. Former colleagues recall that when he was whip—in the Old Parliament House, of course, and in the days before monitors brought the proceedings of the chamber into every office—he found it inconvenient to be running down to the chamber constantly to find out what was going on. So George arranged for a hole to be cut into the wall that separated the then whip's office from the chamber, and for a glass panel to be installed. In order to see through the new window, he had to get up from behind his desk. This became more difficult as his health deteriorated and as he got a little older, and it was not long, I am told, before a large cupboard was installed to block the window.

Many of us were disappointed when George Georges crossed the floor and voted against deregistration of the BLF. In the Labor Party, as many know, the principle of solidarity is paramount, and George was suspended from the federal parliamentary Labor Party at that time. It is true that in 1986 he resigned from the ALP over the Australia Card issue and then unsuccessfully pursued re-election as an Independent in the 1987 election. But I think I can speak on behalf of my colleagues when I say that we were all very pleased indeed when, in 1994, George rejoined the Labor Party. He was very much welcomed back into the fold.

When George Georges left the Senate, former Senator Arthur Geitzelt said:

Senator Georges is possibly one of the most honest men in the Senate. He has principles that he will abide by through thick and thin.

I think that that was a very fair and appropriate comment from former Senator Arthur Geitzelt. Many in the Labor Party found George to be occasionally infuriating, but I think those occasional frustrations were a small price to pay for George's steadfastness in defence of those principles he fought for throughout his political life.

While I did not share a time with him as a senator in this chamber, I knew him well through the forums of the Australian Labor Party and of the Left of the Australian Labor Party. I had a good relationship with him through those years and particularly in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of us will miss him. On behalf of the opposition, I express sincere and deep regret at the passing of George Georges. Our condolences go to his wife and family and to his comrades and friends.