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Thursday, 21 February 1985
Page: 22


Mr MACPHEE —I add briefly my support to the remarks of previous speakers. I had the privilege of having several long discussions with Mrs Gandhi, both in her office in New Delhi and in Melbourne during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In New Delhi, we discussed the agenda for that meeting. That discussion inevitably roamed far and wide in terms of the world's problems and the North-South dialogue which was then in focus and which should still be so.

In Melbourne, I was assigned to escort Mrs Gandhi daily during her stay in Australia. That enabled me to get to know her quite well and to see not only all the characteristics mentioned by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) and other speakers, but also her warmth, her simplicity, her humility and in many ways her great frailty. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, she was a strong character but she was such a physically frail person and she had a great gentle quality. I accompanied her to one particular gathering of Australians of Indian extraction, which was most moving. One could picture her in her own garden, making herself available to her countrymen as she did frequently. On this occasion people of all ages and backgrounds mixed with her freely as if with a mother figure who was very much their equal, their friend and former compatriot. On the occasion of her death, as with the death of Lord Mountbatten, I saw the real tragedy and the real cowardice and cruelty of those who take the course of assassinating such a person.

Her political opponents found her an uncompromising person and had some harsh things to say about her. She understood politics, democracy and India, but her loss is not just to India but to the world because of the vast experience she had stored up. Her knowledge of the Middle East and other parts of the world would be so valuable today in the international conferences and fora of which she was so sceptical. She was rightly sceptical of them, but she also recognised that they were the most sensible means towards the ends of world peace and equality for which she strove. Her loss is that of India, even though her son is well entrenched and has made a good beginning. Her loss is also a loss to the world. I join other members in mourning her passing.