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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26697

Dr STONE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (4:38 PM) —I also want to strongly support the remarks of all of the speakers who have gone before in offering profound sympathy to Carol and her family for what was a life too short, a life that would have been long and full of love if of course Peter had lived to the 80-plus years usually expected for Australian men. I first met Peter in 1990 when I was very keen to win preselection for the then state Labor seat of Bayswater and that was part of Peter's patch. He was very generous and straight speaking in his advice to me then. Unfortunately I did not succeed, but that was the beginning of dialogue with Peter on many things.

As a number of people have said before me now, Peter will be particularly remembered for his contribution to public life in the areas of foreign affairs, human rights, indigenous affairs and immigration. I once said to Peter, `What about adding regional Australians to your list of the disadvantaged you care so much about?' He suggested his plate was full, and of course it really was full in the sense that he cared profoundly about those who could not help themselves. He was always absolutely thorough and professional in the way that he prepared his cases of advocacy, and perhaps that is why he was so effective.

In particular I want to refer to Peter's contribution to indigenous affairs as a Liberal and as part of our government. I had the honour of succeeding Peter on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 1997. I remember, soon after our Prime Minister nominated me to replace Peter, I was very proud and went around to Peter and he said, `Look, here are all my files.' And he had a collection of nearly seven years of every piece of paper, every report and every interaction that had gone on in that council over those years. He was able to be absolutely thorough and full of information about what had gone on in that period of time.

Peter's understanding of indigenous affairs was such that to him the symbolic aspect of reconciliation was of critical importance—the welcoming protocols and the recognition that some indigenous peoples are concerned about a treaty. But he also understood that it was a mockery and a nonsense if all they had were empty protocols—if they still had two-year-old indigenous children suffering profound deafness. Practical reconciliation—that is, the issues of housing, health, unemployment and poverty—was for him equally significant and absolutely essential. He of course played an important part in the formation of Howard government policy, which is both symbolic and practical when it comes to indigenous affairs in this country.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was very difficult to belong to in terms of the energy required. It involved work on most weekends for year after year. I know the member for Banks also remembers the time commitment, energy and emotion required to work in what was for me one of the most important councils I have been associated with. As the member for Banks, one of the other reconciliation council members, said, Peter was and is profoundly missed as a past member of that council. His legacy has been one of making sure that our government has the right policies when it comes to indigenous affairs. He was very much a part of the march in both Sydney and Melbourne when with other Liberals he expressed concern for and understanding of the needs of future indigenous Australians and improved race relations in this country.

My leaving parliament each night often seemed to coincide with Carol and Peter's leaving. I used to observe them in tracksuits and feel a little envious of Carol sharing so much of Peter's time since, as members of parliament, most of us have to leave our spouses and life partners behind. On the other hand, Carol has now been left with too short a time to remember Peter. We all express our sincere regret for the loss of Peter. He was an important Australian. As a member of parliament, he made a real mark, and his legacy is the policies that we now want to ensure will make a difference in the life of all Australians.