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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26683

Dr THEOPHANOUS (3:27 PM) —I was very moved to attend the funeral of Peter Nugent. It was a very emotional occasion but it did him great honour, from all the people who attended and also the expressions of grief and the things that were said about him, especially those things said about him by his children. We have talked a lot about his parliamentary life, but I was moved to hear so much about his commitment to his family and the way he spent so much time with his family and had such dedication for them. Indeed, I could not imagine how he managed all that and the massive parliamentary load that he took on in the human rights area. Carol has been mentioned. She was a friend of me and my wife, Kathryn, and so was Peter. He showed that the many dimensions of his interest in world affairs were not only of this period when he used to engage Kathryn, who is an archaeologist, in discussions about her work and the things that happened in the ancient world.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs said that Peter had an intellectual interest in foreign affairs, and that is correct. His interest in human rights was not simply fighting on a narrow agenda. It was an interest in human rights, but also looking at how we can organise the world so that there could be a better respect for human rights. In other words, he tried to have an international vision of a world in which human rights could be respected, notwithstanding the diversity of the world and the current problems of globalisation.

I discussed this matter with him, in fact, on a number of occasions because he wanted on each occasion to try to ensure that human rights could be achieved in a concrete way. This was exemplified in relation to China: he had this apparently contradictory position of being chairman of the Australia-China Parliamentary Friendship Group while at the same time insisting on human rights with respect to China. The reason he did that was that he believed that, in discourse and discussion with the authorities in China, some progress could be made on human rights. His vision in these areas needs to be commended.

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs mentioned his concern about refugee humanitarian issues and about asylum seekers. As is well known, I do not entirely agree with the minister on these matters, but Mr Nugent, the honourable member for Aston, did discuss these matters with the minister and me, and with many others, and did try to ensure that we moved along in a humanitarian way on these critical issues. The same is true for Aboriginal reconciliation, and much has been said about his work in that area.

Peter Nugent was an example of a member of parliament who had the courage of his convictions. What he also illustrated was the need for this parliament to allow more latitude and freedom for people to express such views without the party whip being too strong. It would be a very good thing if there were more people like Peter Nugent in the parliament who not only privately express views but are ready to stand up in this House and in public and pursue those views even if they may not at that time be the views of their own party, because there will come a time when they will be the views of their party.

I believe that Peter Nugent was an optimist. He believed in the evolution of human rights, not only here in Australia but throughout the world. He believed that it could be achieved. I hope that all members of the House will somehow contribute to that optimism and that we in Australia and in the Australian parliament can respect the memory of Peter Nugent by actually doing more to promote human rights not only here but also internationally. My fellow member, Independent Peter Andren, who is not here at the moment, also shares these views and wants to express his deep respect for the courageous and principled views of Peter Nugent. Finally, to Carol and her family, I say that they can be very proud of the life of Peter Nugent and what he has contributed to Australia and to the international human rights movement.