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Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 3936


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Finance, Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (15:37): I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death, on 2 June 2018, of the Honourable Joseph Max Berinson QC, a former Member of the House of Representatives for the division of Perth and Minister for the Environment in the Whitlam Government, and State Member of Parliament and Attorney-General of Western Australia, places on record its gratitude for his service to the Parliament, and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Senator CORMANN: Attaining political success at both the state and the federal levels, and working for his community, which he cherished, the Hon. Joseph Max Berinson QC's life was one of significant achievement. Born opposite Perth's Hyde Park in Highgate on 7 January 1932, Joe was the youngest of three children to Jewish immigrant parents, Shulem 'Samuel' and Rivka 'Rebecca'. Though he grew up deeply involved in the local Jewish community, the suburban Perth of his youth was a world away from the Turkish Palestine that his mother and father had left years before. His mother's experience of hardship would inform his sensibilities as a proud member of Australia's Jewish community.

Studying at Highgate Primary School before securing a scholarship to the distinguished Perth Modern School, Joe went on to attain has professional qualification in pharmacy in 1953. He worked in that field for several years before deciding, in the mid-1960s, that a pivot towards law would prove more fruitful. It says something for Joe's talent and energy that he so deftly shifted professions midstream. In fact, when he graduated from the University of Western Australia with his bachelor of laws in 1971, he won the prestigious JA Wood prize for the best student in law and the humanities. This is even more impressive when one considers that, at the time, he was serving in the federal parliament. Indeed, he could often be found delving into legal textbooks while flying between Perth and Canberra or studying in the Parliamentary Library, late into the night, after the House had risen.

Joe was also a devoted servant of Perth's Jewish community, pushing for the purchase of land in the Yokine-Dianella district that today hosts the Maccabi sports and culture club, the Maurice Zeffert Home for the elderly and Carmel School. Decades on, these institutions still sit at the heart of Perth's Jewish community, with Carmel School marking his recent passing with a tribute to:

… a giant of vision, a giant in generosity of time, wealth and spirit.

Some others may reflect that his messaging skills were sharpened, at least in part, by time spent as the co-editor of The Maccabean newspaper, which services the Jewish community in Perth.

In 1953 Joe was invited to become a member of the WA Labor Party, and he joined its Mount Lawley branch. Decades later, he reflected that he approached the Labor Party with no socialist ideology but, instead, with a firm focus on pragmatism and an intense dislike of the then active Communist Party and its motives. In the turbulent years that followed the 1955 ALP split, Joe navigated sectarian intra-party tensions between Catholics and Protestants from his unique position as a Jewish member. With time, his political involvement increased and he became a state vice-president. On 9 September 1958 he married Jeanette Bekhor, whom he had met through the Zionist youth league. Together they would raise three daughters and a son: Jill, Linda, Ruth and David.

Having stood unsuccessfully for the seat of Swan at the 1963 federal election, in 1969 Joe contested the seat of Perth for the Labor Party and won it with a convincing swing of 12.2 per cent. In his maiden speech, he eschewed policy minutiae and, instead, articulated his vision for Australia's changing federal system. Perhaps uniquely at the time, this was a Western Australian voice that welcomed the growing role of the Commonwealth. He advocated for its further involvement in such spaces as health, education and transport.

Within the federal parliament, Joe took on a number of roles, serving as Deputy Chairman of Committees from early 1973 until his elevation to Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees in February 1975, a role in which he would remain until his further promotion to the cabinet. Among other committee roles, he put his professional experience to good use on the House of Representatives Select Committee on Pharmaceutical Benefits between 1970 and 1972. Within his electorate, Joe focused on a range of local constituent issues, including helping the incoming community of Burmese immigrants, who, in the context of Australia's changing immigration system, were making Perth their home at that time.

In the tumultuous political year of 1975, Joe was promoted to the cabinet, succeeding Gough Whitlam, who had stood in for Jim Cairns, as Minister for the Environment in July 1975. However, his time in the executive was cut short when he was defeated at the 1975 federal election that brought an end to the Whitlam government. But Joe's political career was far from over. His short tenure in the executive had inspired him, and decades later he would reflect that, 'There is nothing to compare with being in cabinet, in terms of actually doing something.' During this time, Joe completed his articles and practised law.

Briefly despondent after failing to secure federal preselection, his course changed at the suggestion of Kim Beazley Jr, who prompted him to run for the WA Legislative Council. Soon after, Joe was elected to the council at the 1980 state election, initially serving as a member for the North East Metropolitan region before representing the North Central Metropolitan and the North Metropolitan regions over the years that followed.

Joe had returned to public life with the full intent of making a mark in cabinet. He would not be disappointed. In opposition, he served as the opposition spokesman on legal matters in the council and on parliamentary and electoral reform. These topics were important to WA Labor at the 1983 election. Upon the election of the Burke Labor government that same year, he became its Attorney-General.

The years that followed were busy, with Joe often representing the Premier and Deputy Premier on key bills in the council. Among other things, he pursued incremental reforms to the Western Australia Criminal Code, informed in part by the expansive commentary that had been provided by the Murray report in 1983. He was a fixture of WA politics during that era and remained as Attorney-General under the premierships of Brian Burke, Peter Dowding and Carmen Lawrence. In 1988, while still serving as Attorney-General, his legal prowess was formally recognised with his appointment as a Queen's Counsel. In 1993 he retired from the ministry and the parliament following the election of the Court Liberal-National government.

The decades that followed afforded Joe more time for other pursuits, including his service on the superannuation commission and his diligent work as president of the Jewish Community Council of Western Australia between 2001 and 2005. As the son of humble immigrants who went on to serve with distinction at both the state and federal level, Joe Berinson's life speaks to his talent and energy, just as it does to the remarkable opportunities that this great country of ours affords its citizens.

Despite these achievements, Joe's modesty and service mentality were clear throughout his life, as was the love that he gave his family whenever he was away from the political scrum. His obituary notice, posted in The West Australian on 4 June of this year, lauds him as being:

At once brilliant and modest … a leader and a servant of his community who in life did that which is asked of man - to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with G-d.

To Joe's wife, Jeanette, his four children, Jill, Linda, Ruth and David, his 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and all of his loved ones—on behalf of the Australian government and the Australian Senate I offer my sincerest condolences.