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Monday, 16 September 2019
Page: 3069

Mr ANDREWS (Menzies) (19:50): Tonight I was reminded that one of the most significant speeches made last century—indeed, one of the most significant political speeches made last century—was the inaugural address of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, delivered on the steps of Congress on 20 January 1961. Kennedy delivered an amazing address. There are a few lines of that address which I always remember. Two of them are: civility is not a sign of weakness; and sincerity is always subject to proof. He was talking in a different context and in a different world about the global situation—the then Cold War which was facing the United States—but there was that sentiment, that understanding: being civil with each other in debate doesn't mean that we are weak about our positions, and being sincere or appearing to be sincere or seemingly being sincere doesn't necessarily mean that we are.

I was reminded of that tonight at a very memorable occasion in this place—a conversation which occurred between Heather Henderson, the daughter of Sir Robert Menzies, and Mary Elizabeth Calwell, the daughter of the Rt Hon. Arthur Calwell. Menzies was the one-time Prime Minister of Australia, and Calwell was equally a long-term leader of the Labor Party and the opposition in this place. This conversation, moderated by Michelle Grattan, was about the relationship between two not only very significant leaders of their own political parties, their own partisan sides—not in this place but the old place down the hill, the equivalent—but also very significant leaders of this country.

The premise of the conversation tonight was that, outside of the chamber, Menzies and Calwell were friends. Menzies and Calwell could sit down and have a cup of tea together and could have a discussion, whether it was at the Kurrajong Hotel, where most Labor members of that era stayed, or what was then the Canberra Hotel, now the Hyatt, where many members of the Liberal Party and the then Country Party stayed. They could sit down and talk to each other over a cup of tea—and, I suspect, late at night in the Old Parliament House, something stronger than that, like a brandy or a whiskey or whatever it was. They could have a conversation about the future of this country and where they should go, without rancorous party and partisan politics, and could talk to each other as ordinary Australians—as fathers, as family members, as people who lived in suburbs in different parts of Australia. As I listened to that conversation tonight, I thought: there's something we're missing in this place. I suppose I've been as guilty as anybody of the rancorous discussion that occurs in this place, but, perhaps because I've been here for a bit longer and am now the father of not only this chamber but the parliament generally, I was reminded tonight that there is something beyond the partisan politics that we engage in.

I believe that we all come here with the most noble of intentions. We all come here because, from our own perspective, we want to make Australia the best place that it can be. We have an aspiration to hand on to the next generation of Australians, to our children and their children, an even better country than we inherited, and I came from a fairly humble background. But I think we can do better if we have those conversations with each other. I committed myself tonight to try and do that with all in this chamber, and I hope we can all do that in the future.