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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26696

Ms BURKE (4:33 PM) —I also would like to add to the comments of those who have spoken on this condolence motion for Peter Nugent. On the day of Peter's death, I had a call from one of our local papers to ask what comment I would like to make about Peter. Whilst I did not know Peter very well, I could answer the question very easily. He was a thoroughly decent bloke. Peter was one of those characters who give this place a good name. He was a man of principle, a hardworking local member, an individual dedicated to the role of the parliament and a committed family man. I would run into Peter on numerous occasions at functions around the traps of Whitehorse, one of our local councils. Whilst Whitehorse formed only a small part of Peter's seat, he always took the time to go to these functions.

Peter was a passionate Australian citizen. We were always together at numerous citizenship ceremonies, and he always spoke of his fondness for the day he took out his Australian citizenship. He always spoke about how he received his native plant and how he had watched that plant grow and flourish, like his life had in Australia. Peter often spoke on these occasions of the immense pride he had in being present when his children also became members of this great country of ours. I was pleased to see that Deirdre also made that reference at the funeral, as he was absolutely, immensely proud of that occasion.

Peter's commitment to the plight of Aboriginals and his drive for reconciliation have been spoken of often. His passionate stance was well known, and he demonstrated this commitment on numerous occasions—often to his own detriment. At an evening when we were both addressing a Whitehorse friends of reconciliation group, Peter impressed the crowd immensely with his wide knowledge of Aboriginal issues and his absolute commitment to finding a resolution. I would like to read from one of our local papers:

Reconciliation loses activist

Wurundjeri elder Joy Murphy-Wandin has talked of her sadness at the passing of Aston MP Peter Nugent and highlighted his contribution in helping Aboriginal people.

`It's not been a good couple of years for us. We lost Charles Perkins and Bob Maza. Now we've lost Peter Nugent,' she said.

`He had a strong passion for helping disadvantaged people. He saw that people should be acknowledged and recognised for their differences.'

Ms Murphy-Wandin said she and Mr Nugent had the same aspirations for human rights.

She said they could see the difficulties facing Aboriginal people.

`When on traditional land he always observed protocol and showed respect,' she said.

I do not think we can add any higher praise than that praise from one of our Victorian Aboriginal elders.

Peter was an internationalist, as many have said. One has only to look at the speeches he made in the House of Representatives to see how important he considered foreign policy. A quick flick through his parliamentary speeches since only 1998 and you find mention of the Pacific islands, Korea, Fiji and East Timor, which he visited twice after the intervention of the peacekeeping force, as part of a parliamentary delegation. Not only did Peter show an abiding interest in the development of countries in our region but he was also keen to explore issues affecting the fate of people living in countries far from our shores—issues such as the destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, the Middle East peace process, persecution of the Baha'i community in Iran and famine and war in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Peter believed strongly in the sanctity of human rights and was never content to just sit back and accept the word of so-called voices of authority. Peter was an advocate of the oppressed whenever persecution, prejudice or conflict reared their heads. Peter's obvious interest in international affairs was coupled with a keen interest in local matters. He was able to keep on top of all the pressing issues in his electorate, while still maintaining a very studious interest in matters abroad. He maintained a dedicated balance in concerns for those near and far right up to the time of his passing.

Peter's stance on human rights was well known. This and his keen interest in the region where we live have been demonstrated through his words in this House, through his actions in his electorate and through his committee work. I last saw Peter at a function at the Chinese consul's home in Melbourne where we had a dinner prior to Peter going on his last trip to China. Peter again demonstrated his friendship with China. His understanding of Chinese customs was well demonstrated through his knowledge of mai-tai. It was an unfortunate experience for me to learn what mai-tai was and Peter took great delight in demonstrating how he could toast anybody under the table. As always, Carol was by Peter's side on that occasion. Today I pass on to her my sympathies for her great loss. Peter often spoke with pride of his children and the joys and worries of his teenage stepchildren. To them I also pass on my sympathies. The parliament has lost a decent bloke who gave this place and those in it a better name.