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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26706

Mr BARRESI (5:24 PM) —I would like to join my colleagues on both sides of the House in supporting the condolence motion moved by the Prime Minister in respect of my colleague and electoral neighbour, Peter Nugent. At the same time, I offer my sincere condolences to Carol and her family. His passing away early in the morning of Tuesday, 24 April came as a shock to all of us. I know that the people of Aston and supporters of Peter were extremely saddened by his sudden death. I received a phone call at 6.30 that morning from a state colleague which left me in a state of shock for some time. Knowing the fitness regime that Peter put himself through, I should have thought he was one of the last people who would have passed away in the manner that he did.

Many in this House had come to know Peter as a colleague and friend since his election in 1990. I knew Peter for a relatively short time—since my preselection in October 1994—but I have particularly fond memories of my initial encounter with him. As many would know, I won preselection from a sitting member. That does not always endear you to the supporters and friends of the deposed member. But, from the very first day, Peter stretched out his hand of friendship and support. He took me into the confines of his immaculate office and introduced me to his staff. He acquainted me with the office and the procedures of the office and then proceeded to give me some wise counsel on how to go about my campaign. He did so not in a gratuitous fashion but in a fatherly, mentoring type manner. He gave me every encouragement and support where possible. That mentoring role, while less prevalent in later years, nevertheless continued as we represented communities and shared a common border—areas such as Ringwood, Bayswater, Heathmont and Vermont.

There are a number of things which I initiated in my electorate on becoming a member which I have taken on from Peter. One of them, which often brought us into contact with each other, was a citizenship award which is given to one student in every school. In my case it is called the Deakin Shield and in Peter's the Aston Shield. He would get up in front of the students and speak with great pride about Tilly Aston and her work. I am sure that in years to come subsequent members for Aston will speak with great fondness about the work of Peter Nugent in his electorate.

Causes on which we had similar views included the Scoresby transport corridor, the republic and mandatory sentencing. All of these issues featured prominently in our discussions. Peter often exhibited much more passion on these issues than you would normally find in a member of parliament. I will not go through the various social issues, which have already been spoken about, of which Peter was a champion. One event in particular made me realise where his passion came from. It was when Peter, the member for Chisholm and I attended a meeting of the Whitehorse Friends for Reconciliation as guest speakers. Peter was able to speak with experience, knowledge, integrity and, above all, conviction on issues such as Mabo, stolen children, reconciliation, mandatory sentencing and, of course, the rise of One Nation. He was able to draw on his considerable experience and the friendships he had formed during his days as a shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs.

Peter was very proud of his time on the shadow front bench. More importantly, he cherished and was proud of the friends he made during that time on the front bench and subsequently during his seven years as the government representative on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Peter has been described as the social conscience of the Liberal Party. He would be embarrassed at being singled out, but he would be proud to be one of the strong voices within the party on such issues. The party—the government—is poorer for his passing.

The Deputy Prime Minister has already referred to Peter's role as a champion of the Scoresby Transport Corridor. I wish to talk about that for a moment, because it was a grassroots electorate issue as opposed to a lot of the national issues which many other members have spoken about. He fought the lonely fight to get the Scoresby Transport Corridor or the eastern ring road built from Ringwood in my electorate to Frankston—long before many of us entered parliament. He once said to me at a time when he felt the cause might have been lost, `It probably won't be built in my lifetime as a member of parliament'—sadly prophetic words now; but he did expect its announcement during this parliament. That he passed away three weeks before the Prime Minister's announcement is unfortunately one of those political injustices that often take place. I certainly urge the state government, at a time closer to the construction and at a time when it may not be seen as cheap, political opportunism, to consider honouring Peter's work in getting the Scoresby Transport Corridor built by naming part of that corridor in honour of Peter. I suggest this to Minister Batchelor as not only a way of honouring Peter but, if he wants to look at personal political gain, maybe also a way for Minister Batchelor to redeem his name in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Peter's passing is such that I will miss his advice and his robust contribution in the party room and at our periodic marginal seats meetings down in Melbourne. Peter's legacy for me is that you have only a short time in this place and you must stand up for what you believe in and, if you do not do that, you will be remembered as someone who stood for nothing. Peter was one of those rare politicians who found a way to balance and accommodate loyalty to the party while being true to his own beliefs—a salient lesson for newcomers such as me. To Carol and to Peter's children and grandchildren, and to his staff, Judy and Sandra: on behalf of the people of Deakin and my family, I offer you my sincerest condolences.