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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 12079


Mr BROADBENT (8:51 PM) —Who among us would choose to listen to a voice of reason and conscience in an ocean of expediency, perceived self-preservation and political thuggery? One hundred years after an immigrant from the other side of the world became Prime Minister and formed the first majority government of Australia, a future parliamentarian was also born on the other side of the world—one who showed fearless leadership, an emboldened heart and compassion writ loud. He led this nation out of the moral darkness wrought by the incarceration and indefinite detention of refugee women and children by force of his presence and standing—a presence and standing that proved superior to a complaisant government and a facile opposition, a presence and standing amongst the Australian people that catapulted him above the concerns of self-preservation, the acceptance of his colleagues, criticism of his detractors or the threats of his enemies.

Blessed by his mother and father with an analytical mind and an enviable intellect, able to focus more acutely on a given subject than most men, he is a foe to be feared and a friend to be admired and cherished. Of whom do I speak? Read for yourselves the editorials and letters to the editor, listen to the radio commentary or watch the short grabs of television coverage of last week. Sadly, all of this will be lost in the ether of the days of this year. Thankfully, that which will never be lost to the generations of immigrants to this country is the knowledge that one man abandoned himself so that others might be free to hope and dream of a greater future for themselves and their children’s children—to the generations.

Of whom do I speak? They call him Petro, but do not ask me about him because I am outrageously biased! A faithful friend in my times of trouble, self-doubt and difficulty. Last week the Australian wrote, ‘You either love him or hate him.’ I happen to be of the former persuasion. This man, who walks comfortably with community leaders, former premiers and prime ministers, keeps safe his greatest respect for his constituents and the people of Australia—even the last former Prime Minister, and some would observe them to be adversaries. Out of personal experience, I saw two men with great respect for one another; respect only earned out of the mutual understanding and shared knowledge of the exceptional qualities that each possessed; respect hewn out of years of interaction occasioned by their colliding political pathways; respect not born out of position, power or authority but incubated in deferential regard for the intelligence and considered determination of the other; respect that overrules ordinary expectation.

I speak not in sentiments of ending or closure but of shifting winds and new beginnings for, as the intention to leave parliament is announced at Petro’s time of choosing, so begins the next great adventure. So few leave this place at a time of their choosing. I say this in the context of Alan Saunders’ words in the Readers Digest of January 1957:

Life is what happens while you are making plans.

The founder of the party of which I am a part, Sir Robert Menzies, built the party on a foundation of plural traditions of free thought and individual conscience. Free thought and individual conscience are not things to be used frivolously, nor taken lightly, but are freedoms that are embodied in the traditions of our party. Petro observed this tenet rigorously. When I reflect on Petro’s considerable achievements I am drawn to consider that the conflict between principle and expediency is not new. I quote from David Day’s biography of Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, when in March 1905 Henry Boote, editor of the local Gympie newspaper, wrote:

The path of expediency is always a tempting one for the politician. It is smooth and level and there are places of refreshment en route. The path of principle on the other hand is rugged and uninviting—yet only along the unhospitable road can we reach the goal of our desires.

The Age newspaper put it differently in the editorial of 24 November of this year:

Petro Georgiou leaves Parliament as he entered it, a backbencher, but his record is more distinguished than many a minister in the Howard government. In 2006, when Mr Georgiou faced a preselection challenge in Kooyong, former Premier [of Victoria] Jeff Kennett endorsed him as ‘the definition of what Liberalism is about’. Yet it was Mr Georgiou’s brave and often lonely defence of modern Liberal values in an increasingly hardline government that ensured he was denied the ministry that his talents merited.

His is a record of decades of productive service to the Liberal Party. From 1975-79, he was a senior adviser to then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. Mr Georgiou was a key player in building a multicultural society and founding SBS. As Victorian state director from 1989 until 1994—when he replaced Andrew Peacock at a November 19 byelection—Mr Georgiou then rebuilt the Party. He oversaw Mr Kennett’s rise to power in 1992.

However, Mr Georgiou’s greatest contribution is arguably a result of his role on the Howard government back bench as a voice of principled, internal dissent. More than anyone—certainly more than a timid, easily disregarded Labor opposition—he managed to limit the excesses of asylum seeker policy and helped turn the tide against mandatory, indefinite detention. In the years of ‘war on terror’ panic after September 2001, Mr Georgiou negotiated safeguards when security laws went too far and spoke eloquently against the betrayal of democratic values.

On issue after issue—mandatory sentencing, multiculturalism and citizenship come to mind—Mr Georgiou offered a moral compass as others set courses of pure political expediency. Attesting to the value of the politics of conscience, subsequent events have vindicated almost all the stands he took—

Petro will leave this House better than he found it. How many of us could claim that mantle? With a twinkling eye, I am reminded of the time now limited to the life of this 42nd Parliament. Petro is still here, even for a time such as this. On the night of Friday the 21st, before I learned he was leaving, I had written on his birthday card: ‘With the best yet to come’—and so it shall be.