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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26684

Mr CHARLES (3:33 PM) —I rise to support this motion of condolence, and I do so on both my behalf and that of my partner Rosie. Let me say in the beginning that Peter Nugent and I were mates. Peter, Carol, Rosie and I became good friends. That is not an easy word to use in this place. I think we all know that it is very difficult to form friendships in this rather hostile environment. There is nothing about the parliament environment or the political environment that is `normal'. Most of us recognise that. We have colleagues, comrades and neighbours, and we come together in loose and tight coalitions of one form or another, but we make very few friendships. I was honoured to have Peter Nugent as a friend, and to call him a friend. We actually had much in common. Firstly, we were both immigrants—we were both new Australians—and both proud of our adopted country. Despite misgivings in coming into this place in 1990, colleagues on both sides accepted both of us and many others who have come from other lands as Australians, as bringing to this place ideas from our constituency and as representing Australia, not some overseas interest. Peter was proud to be a new Australian. For a time, he and I went to citizenship ceremonies together and then we used to trade off for a while—one at a time—but both of us very much looked forward to those occasions when we could talk to other new Australians about our experiences and about what a great country it is and how it has so welcomed people from all the lands on earth. It has become truly the great melting pot of the world.

Both of us stood for election in La Trobe, unsuccessfully—Peter in 1983 and I in 1987. We still seem to have made it here, but we both did stand for La Trobe unsuccessfully. We both won Labor seats in 1990—Peter in Aston and I in La Trobe. We instantly became part of that infamous class of 1990. That was a great bunch of people, may I tell you. That was big historic stuff. We won nine seats from Labor in Victoria in 1990, and the Treasurer and the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs also won seats as new members. We had senators as well, and Alex Somlyay from Queensland and others around the joint, but the class of 1990 was very close. We were. It was one of those institutions which, unfortunately, the member for Bruce has described as declining in numbers. I regret that.

Peter and I both had a strong belief in Liberalism, in the value of this great party, which the Prime Minister describes as being a broad church and which I would describe as being a melting pot of ideas, of conflicting interests and of resolution to drive towards the better human experience. Peter and I held adjoining electorates. He talked about Aston as his patch, and you did not want to violate Peter's patch—that was his patch and he grew his constituents well, because they liked and respected him. You cannot ask a whole lot more than that out of this job and this place.

We were not always friends and we were not always close. In fact, from our election in 1990 until the election in 1996, Peter and I were competitors. People listening to this broadcast and reading the Hansard may find that somewhat difficult to understand, since we both belonged to the same Liberal Party of Australia. Certainly my colleagues on the other side of the House well understand that because we all compete for a frontbench position. We all want to be on the treasury bench, we all want to be in the ministry, in the executive, and we are not all going to make it. In fact, none of the infamous class of 1990 made it. In 1996, after Peter and I realised that we were not going to be ministers, we gave up and became friends—that is a fact. In 1997, Rosie and I got to know Peter and Carol really well, and some of my colleagues on the other side as well, when Bruce Reid, the former member for Bendigo, led the Australia-China Parliamentary Friendship Group on a two-week semi-official visit to China very shortly on the heels of the Prime Minister's visit with a number of formidable Australian business people. Peter was the secretary of that group. I say semi-official in that we were guests of the Chinese government for two weeks.

In 1999, I went back with Peter and Carol—a lot of us went again—and on this occasion Peter was chairman and I was secretary. There was one commonality about both of those experiences: that is, the Chinese treated us magnificently. We stayed in five-star hotels, we ate magnificently, they took us to see the treasures and beauties of China, including five days in Tibet, and we met many PRC officials including, twice, Zhu Rongji, the Premier of China, with whom we held long discussions and who is a great friend of Australia. Some have talked about a conflict of interest for Peter between human rights and a close friendship with China. It did not destroy his friendship with China or with the Chinese; it was very important to him and a very important part of his life. Those were great trips. Another commonality between the two trips was the fact that Carol was the one behind the scenes who did all the work— that, absolutely, is a fact.

Peter was a champion of social justice. Others have talked about his expertise in this area. He believed in human rights and fought hard for them. He knew a lot about international affairs and used his expertise to good advantage in this place and when he was overseas. He and I walked together in the Melbourne march for reconciliation. I appreciated that opportunity. There were many things on which we did not see eye to eye. We were not exactly soul mates on some social policy issues, but that is hardly surprising. It did not stop us being friends or having the greatest respect for each other. He was a compassionate, loving and warm human being. Since his passing, I have not found anyone who has had an unkind word to say about Peter Nugent.

On the night of Peter's passing, Peter and Carol had a fundraising function in his electorate at Nelson's Restaurant in Knox. Rosie and I joined them to support Peter and also Hurtle Lupton, member for Knox, and his wife Dawn. The Minister for Financial Services and Regulation was our guest speaker on that night. We spoke only briefly with Peter, unfortunately. He had returned just the night before from a trip to China resulting from a meeting we had had here with mayors from a number of provinces. I asked him how the trip went and he said, `Bob, we'll have to wait until we both have an hour to spare. I want to tell you about it, but it was terrible. It was really awful. I think it was because of the arrangements—little sleep and poor organisation.' I also said, `How are you? You have just got back and here you are in the maelstrom again at a fundraising function immediately the next night.' He said, `To tell you the truth, I don't feel too well.' We parted at about 11 o'clock and at 2 o'clock in the morning, very suddenly, he left us and left his lovely wife, Carol. May I say to Carol and to her children, Nicholas, Victoria and Sarah, to Peter's children, Deirdre, Barry and Greg, to his sister, Janet, to his nephew, Christopher, to his staff, to all those who were dear and precious to him: you have our greatest sympathy.