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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26672


Mr McMULLAN (2:31 PM) —I rise to support the motion moved by the Prime Minister and supported by my leader. The three people who have already spoken have put the facts on the record and have spoken well and strongly of the range and strength of Peter Nugent's role in this parliament, both as a local member and as an ardent advocate of issues of profound importance to him and to the nation. I want to speak principally in my capacity as shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs, because it is in that way that I had my most recent and most affecting conversations with Peter Nugent—although I had of course known him for a long time before that, and our paths had crossed on a number of occasions socially around this building and on a number of issues on which we had spoken.

Before I do that, I want to speak about a couple of circumstances in which Peter's role in the parliament came, in a very human way, to be brought to my attention within the last month—in particular, about a function I attended here in my own constituency shortly after his death, and which a large number of young people who are working for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as trainees attended, but not in that capacity; it was a function of an entirely different character, but they were there. One of them worked in the human rights section of the department and spoke quite passionately of the representations they had received from Peter Nugent about a whole range of human rights issues. I said to him that of course I was aware of that, because Peter had been chairman of the Amnesty group, of which I was a member, and there was a longstanding tradition that foreign affairs ministers of all political persuasions had taken those representations from the parliamentary group seriously and had given them high priority. The officer said yes, that was true, but that he wanted to make it clear to me that a large number of the representations were made by Peter in his own capacity, beyond those which he had made officially. In a sense, that had made a bigger impact on the individual because there are the official duties that we perform—still with, in the case of Amnesty and many other issues, passion and commitment—but then there are the extra things you do because they are important to you as an individual. That clearly had moved this young officer, but it had a big impact on me too; and I think it speaks very highly of Peter.

The other thing I want to refer to is a conversation I had a little further ago than that, shortly after I became the shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs. I will not go into the detail, because I am not sure that it is appropriate to disclose that sort of conversation, but I was very encouraged by the comments he made to me about his experiences, however brief, as shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs and about his longstanding previous and subsequent interest in those issues. He gave me good advice and much encouragement, and I greatly appreciated it. It was just one of those casual conversations you can have in the parliament when you meet people not in any prearranged way but with an opportunity to have a brief private conversation about issues of shared concern. I was impressed and gratified that he took the opportunity to do that and I thought it reinforced in a private, undemonstrative way, the points that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the National Party have made about the public record.

I would like mainly to direct my remarks to the advocacy that Peter Nugent made on behalf of indigenous Australians on issues that affected them. A large number of both leaders and other people in indigenous communities have spoken to me of this in the last month. It could be, of course, a very controversial policy area—it has been over the years, in the years since 1990 in particular, in that period in which Peter Nugent has been in the parliament—and he took a brave role within that controversial area. I do not want to pursue the partisan elements of it today—that would not be appropriate—but I want to indicate some of the attitudes that were articulated in this place by the member for Aston, as he then was, and to reinforce the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition about some of those attitudes.

It was for just over 12 months that Peter Nugent was the shadow minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, from April 1993 to May 1994, but he made a very significant impact for someone who held that position for such a short time and he was outspoken in his support for many aspects of the Mabo decision. I will not go into those details, because the Leader of the Opposition has done that. I think there was a significant contribution for him to make had he stayed on the front bench; but it is to his credit that, having gone to the back bench, he continued to make that contribution.

I want to reinforce the comments that the leader made about the brave speech which the member for Aston made as the first person—not only the first person on the coalition side but the first person on any side of the parliament—to speak in response to the then member for Oxley, Pauline Hanson, and he said—and he was right:

I think it is important that somebody in this place is seen to be prepared to stand up and point out what I believe is the error of many of her statements.

Many people followed, but he was the first and he deserves credit for that.

I also want to give credit to a speech he made in parliament on 18 March 1997 in speaking on Sir Ronald Wilson and on the report on the stolen generation. He expressed views which many on this side of the House—and certainly I—shared. He said:

I would have to say that Sir Ronald Wilson has been one of the outstanding Australians of our generation ...

I think that is right. He went on to say a large amount more about him. In particular, I want to refer to what he said about the Bringing them home report. He said:

... his report in that area is before the government and we look forward to a positive response from the government ...

He then went on to say:

I think that HREOC report is a very important report because, if you do not understand the significance of the impact on many indigenous people of having been taken away from their parents or having had their children taken away from them, then you do not understand the root cause of many of the problems of disadvantage today. If you do not understand the causes, then you cannot fix the problems that are manifest today. So I think that is a very important report.

He was, once again, one of the first in this parliament—on this occasion not the first, but one of the first—to make those connections, to speak powerfully in support of that matter and to participate actively in the committee report into that Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report which came before the parliament and which led to that debate.

He also spoke eloquently and effectively in 1998 on the Native Title Amendment Bill and said some things which I think history will judge as prescient. I will not quote them today; it would lead us into some controversies that would be better addressed on another occasion. He also won my respect and the respect of many on this side for his principled stand on the issue of mandatory sentencing in more recent times. Those things are to his credit.

We all stand with our party on many occasions and do things that are difficult and go back to our electorates and argue for them. It is doubly hard when you do things that are difficult and you are a little more isolated, and I think that is a matter for which he deserves our recognition and support. I think we all share the view that the parliament was very well served by Peter Nugent. I outlined a number of things on which I agreed with him; I certainly disagreed with him about a number of other things, but I and many of my colleagues respected his stands, particularly on the issue of race. I join with the other speakers in extending my sympathies to his family.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!