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Tuesday, 7 May 1985
Page: 1725


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Attorney-General) —I, too, wish to join in supporting the motion of condolence to the family of the late Sir Percy Spender, who was one of the most significant Australians to have been a member of this Parliament. I do so in the context of his being a distinguished member of the legal profession and also a very worthy representative of Australia in foreign policy. In foreign affairs and defence, he foresaw threats and dangers that nobody else did at that time. He was the first to alert Australians to the fact that they were virtually on their own should any aggression take place in the Pacific-which it did. He foreshadowed that aggression.

Coming from a very poor beginning, Sir Percy was a man who had no special advantages but achieved eminence in the fields of politics, law and international statesmanship. Obviously, he will long be remembered, as has already been said, because of his efforts in respect of the Colombo Plan and the ANZUS Treaty, but also for his efforts on behalf of Australia in times of war.

It is said with some humour that he never really supported Labor, and that he admitted that he was elected to Parliament on Australian Labor Party preferences. He endeared himself to Labor members of Parliament because they were very mindful of his nationalism. He was a great colleague and friend of the late Dr Evatt, because they were at Fort Street High School at the same time and had much in common. Also, he was a great friend and colleague of the late John Curtin of famous memory, and Sir Percy supported Curtin in his most anxious moments of ensuring that Australia might survive in that period of World War II.

Apart from those particular matters, however, Sir Percy had a broader vision that would bring Australia to the achievement of its identity as a nation. Not only was he the President of the International Court of Justice, in which he performed outstanding work on an international basis, but, subsequent to his retirement, he continued to take a keen interest in international affairs. He delivered an historic paper on the Great Barrier Reef and its legal aspects at the Australian Conservation Foundation Symposium on 3 May 1969. The submissions made in that paper by Sir Percy were subsequently approved in toto by the High Court of Australia in what is called the seas and submerged lands case, decided in 1973, in which the High Court recognised and declared that sovereignty and sovereign rights in the off-shore areas lie with the national government.

Sir Percy was a man much before his time, who was much loved by those who opposed him but who respected his humanity and skill. I place on record my support for the motion which expresses condolences to his widow and to his family-particularly to John, who is with us today.