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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26680

Ms WORTH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs) (3:10 PM) —I am pleased to speak on this condolence motion today, particularly because duty called and I was not able to join Carol, whom I acknowledge today, and the Nugent family at Peter Nugent's funeral, where I would very much have liked to have been. Peter's life, as we have heard, was cut short. It is like having a member of the family die when one of us, a sitting member, passes away in such circumstances.

We have already heard how Peter was born on 1 April 1938 in the UK and how he left school at 15 to serve in the British Royal Air Force in the UK, Singapore and Cyprus, a career which would span 24 years. In 1977 Peter retired from the Air Force as a squadron leader and migrated to Australia that same year. In 1980 he showed very good choice in joining the Liberal Party, and in 1983 he stood unsuccessfully as the Liberal Party's candidate in the federal seat of La Trobe in Victoria, a seat which was of course then won by the Labor Party and eventually won by his friend and colleague—who I know will be back—Bob Charles. But Peter Nugent did not give up, and in 1990, as we have already heard, he was elected to the House of Representatives as the member for Aston. He successfully defended Aston—always a marginal seat—in 1993, 1996 and 1998. After the last election he held that seat by a margin of 4.2 per cent, and I noted that Michael Harvey, writing in the Sun Herald last month, said:

He forged a reputation as a strong campaigner whose hard work defined the essence of a good member.

You have also heard today what a hardworking and committed member of parliament Peter Nugent was, demonstrated by his record of participation in parliamentary committee work, policy development and all that goes into the debates that we have in this place. He was passionate about helping the indigenous people of Australia. He was a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation from 1991 to 1997, and from April 1993 to May 1994 served as the shadow minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. Peter was a vocal opponent of mandatory sentencing and was one of us who argued against the race debate heralded by the politics of Pauline Hanson and One Nation, saying it caused `damage and hurt'. Peter was also a strong advocate of a national apology to the indigenous people. However, it should be noted that, despite his well-known views in this area, he was critical of Peter Garrett and his group, who wore `sorry' outfits during their performance at the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, accusing them of introducing domestic politics into the Olympics.

I would particularly like to associate my remarks with those already made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, because Peter had a strong interest in these areas. He has been described by the foreign minister as decent, kind, principled and courageous, and I certainly agree with all those descriptions. From 1996 Peter was a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and chaired the Human Rights Subcommittee. At that time he also took over from Minister Ruddock as the chair of the Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International. This is where I really got to know Peter Nugent, because I too was a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and Amnesty International at that time. He and I were the only two Liberals on the Human Rights Subcommittee, which I left when I became a parliamentary secretary in mid-1997. That is certainly where I got to know Peter Nugent very well and came to admire him greatly.

The committee system that works across the parliament is very good for giving people an opportunity to work hard in areas where they have great interest, and Peter certainly did that. It was, of course, with the foreign affairs committee that Peter visited East Timor in December 1999 and again this year. After his first visit he told the parliament:

We met with the United Nations human rights team, who were conducting an investigation of abuses of human rights. There is no question that there have been human rights abuses on a huge scale. We must support the United Nations in its investigations, and also Indonesia in its investigations, and pursue those who are responsible for those abuses.

In his maiden speech, back in 1990, Peter talked about the environment. He said:

When we talk about the environment, let me make it quite clear that the environment is not the prerogative of extremists. It is the concern of middle Australia. The environment needs to be addressed in the context of action that is complementary to other activity, a necessity if this country is to survive. We have to address the real environmental problems and not just the symptoms. The vast bulk of our community, of course, most certainly rates the environment as a key issue. However, the people rank it below the economy by a significant factor. This is because most of them have the commonsense to understand that if we are broke we do not have the wherewithal to address the environmental issues properly. The costs of some environmental policies that have been suggested are prohibitive.

Apart from his well known passion for indigenous, human rights and justice issues, Peter was also interested in other issues, such as technology and taxation. I am interested to learn, for instance, that he argued against the superannuation surcharge. Prior to entering parliament, Peter worked in marketing and sales in a computing and information technology company. In his maiden speech he spoke of Australia's need to embrace technology in order to prosper. Interestingly, in the late 1970s, before coming to this place, Peter worked for a company called International Computer Ltd and moved to Canberra to install the first computerised Hansard system in the Old Parliament House.

I express my great sympathy to Carol and to the extended Nugent family. While I know that you will have been grieving and miss him greatly, I am sure that you will be comforted by such headlines as `Liberals lose decent and honourable man' and `Nugent an MP of “conscience and courage”'. As the Treasurer said:

In the years to come they will have the satisfaction, like all those who knew and loved Peter Nugent, that he lived a life of purpose and achievement and he made a difference.

The Treasurer also said:

He was intensely concerned about human rights in China and East Timor.

... ... ...

He was somebody that was passionately devoted to reconciliation issues and from the moment he set foot in this Parliament until he left it, he had a sense of commitment to human rights and social justice and I pay tribute to him.

My colleague Michael Ronaldson said that he was just a thoroughly decent bloke. The Prime Minister said:

I remember the difficulties and the conflicts and the agony he felt over aspects of the native title debate in 1997.

... ... ...

In relation to that, Peter felt very deeply. He expressed his views with feeling and precision and passion within the party room, but he remained loyal to the party to which he was so devotedly attached.

I agree with all of that, and I also agree with Ross Peake and particularly identify with what he wrote in the Canberra Times:

If you've never heard of him it's probably because he was not given to shrill language and grandiose self-promotion. He made his points courteously but forcefully and he stood by them.

Today I honour Peter Nugent's memory. We all understand that every politician's greatest strength and support come from their family, and Peter's wife, Carol, was his constant companion. Again, I express my deepest sympathy to Carol and her family.