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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26688


Mr MELHAM (3:57 PM) —I rise to associate myself with the remarks that have been made in respect of Peter Nugent. I was elected to this place at the same election as Peter—the election of 24 March 1990. Whilst I have not served on parliamentary committees with Peter, I had the privilege of basically having the same portfolio as he had for a brief period, that of Aboriginal affairs. For a short period he was also on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation when I was a member and he was subsequently replaced by the honourable member for Murray.

You do not have to be a minister to have made a contribution in this place. If anything, I think the fact that Peter Nugent was not a minister in this government says more about the government than it does about Peter Nugent himself. It actually shows—and I think it is a demonstration—that he stood for principle, he stood up for what he believed in. There is a theory that it might have cost him. That is a matter of speculation. Instead of lying down and being embittered or whatever, he made a contribution in other forms. He was active in the committee system. He never really held grudges.

I can remember that time and again in this place he made wonderful principled speeches. When I was shadow minister we often attempted to put forward amendments in a number of difficult debates to try to entice him over to our side of the House in the debate. He certainly made strident speeches, and he was a party loyalist. The best that we were able to do was when, on an odd occasion, he would go missing when a vote was taken. I respected him deeply for that. In many respects we are all party loyalists and it is a big thing to cross the floor or even to go missing. But he took that step. That is not to say necessarily that his party was wrong or whatever; it is a question of where you need to take your party with you.

On many of these issues, he was in a minority in his party, but history will treat him kindly. It is true that he was one of the first to rise and attack the member for Oxley for what was probably the lowest speech ever delivered in this place, and he deserves tribute for that, and so I salute him. More importantly, I know that as politicians we tend sometimes to score off one another. But to me the real testimony of Peter was that when he was shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs he actually went in to bat for the Aborigines and that he also went into bat for them when he was in government in a very difficult period. I do not want to sit in judgment one way or the other: history will record it, but sometimes it is not accurately recorded. I know how Patrick Dodson and the indigenous community felt about him: they loved him, they respected him and they held him in very, very high regard.

It is not easy to win the trust of the indigenous community, especially if you are a politician in this place—given this nation's history over 200 years—but he did have their respect throughout his period in this place and he was someone whom I know that Patrick Dodson, Lowitja O'Donoghue and others would want to be remembered with, in terms of this condolence motion. So on their behalf I say to his family that they loved him: he made a contribution and he remains with them. Physically he is not with us, but he is with us in spirit, and decisions that he took will come back time and time again so that, when we have to make difficult decisions as well—and politics is not easy at times—he will be a benchmark. I salute him, I pay tribute to him, and I think you have a lot to be proud of.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!