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Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 3938


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:46): I rise on behalf of the opposition to acknowledge the passing of one of our own, the Hon. Joseph Max Berinson, who passed away on 2 June 2018 at the age of 86. I commence by conveying the Labor Party's condolences to relatives and friends of Joseph Berinson.

Joe Berinson was the pharmacist turned lawyer who would serve as a federal minister and as a state Attorney-General. He was regarded as a humble and decent individual who demonstrated courtesy and tolerance, and he was a dedicated servant of the Commonwealth, of his state and of his community. Kim Christian Beazley, now Governor of Western Australia—but, obviously, previously our federal leader—summed him up in this way:

Courageous and determined … that is how Joe came across, whether discussing our party's aims with trade unionists or with journalists and the ALP State executive. … Away from politics he was rightly admired as the most devoted family man.

A lifelong Western Australian, Joe Berinson was born in Perth in 1932 to parents who had emigrated from the Middle East on either side of World War I. After completing primary and secondary education with high levels of attainment, he then completed a four-year apprenticeship at Perth Technical College in pharmacy and finished each year as the best student in his cohort. He had a dual education in politics through exposure to political leaders, including Ben Chifley and Robert Menzies, at Forrest Place near the site of his on-the-job training, and also as a young leader in the Jewish community. He was a key proponent of the development of education facilities for Perth's Jewish community and also co-editor of The Maccabean newspaper.

Elected the member for Perth in 1969, after having previously and unsuccessfully contested the division of Swan in 1963, Joe Berinson was part of the growth in the Western Australian representation in Canberra that was critical to Labor's later success. In 1958 only Kim Edward Beazley was returned as a federal Labor member from Western Australia. Just over 10 years later, he had five colleagues. In his first speech, Mr Berinson identified the malaise that had developed as a result of two decades of conservative rule. He saw economic prosperity in Western Australia had come about in spite of government policies, not because of them, and he struck a chord with many of his constituents by identifying that many of them had failed to benefit from an otherwise buoyant economy. Ordinary people were not benefitting from a higher standard of living and were faced with rising costs at the same time as grappling with inequitable social payment and taxation scales. The lack of interest in considering an orderly transfer from the states to the Commonwealth of responsibilities in areas such as transport, education, health and housing resulted in a shunting process between different levels of government, with the ordinary person most definitely not a beneficiary.

In 1972, Labor came to power for the first time in a generation. Mr Berinson admired Gough Whitlam, for Gough's commitment and attention to civil rights and social welfare, and he would have an opportunity to participate in the advancement of the government's program, not only as a backbencher but in the ministry. He served briefly as Deputy Speaker and was appointed Minister for the Environment on 14 July 1975. Like many others, obviously his service was severely curtailed by the dismissal of the Whitlam government on Remembrance Day later that year.

Labor has a proud history of protecting the environment, and it was the Whitlam government that provided the foundation for this. Mr Berinson took on a portfolio in which there had been great policy advances in a short time. The Whitlam government appointed Australia's first minister for the environment, passed Australia's first environmental legislation, the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act, and put in place the inquiry into the environmental impacts of the Ranger Uranium Mine. Joe Berinson approached his ministerial role with the diligence that was typical across his career. He was a voracious reader and he quickly gained a reputation for being across his brief and for his well-informed questioning of his colleagues' cabinet submissions. But, of course, as I alluded to, the regrettable events of 11 November 1975 curtailed his ability to make his own impact in the environment portfolio. With his passing, there remain just four surviving members of those who served in the Whitlam ministry: Doug McClelland, Moss Cass, Bill Hayden and Paul Keating.

At the election immediately following the dismissal, Joe Berinson lost his seat in the parliament. A decade earlier, he had taken the view that it would be law rather than pharmacy that would best equip him with the skills required to affect the change that he saw was necessary. He completed his studies at the University of Western Australia by making use of the long flights to and from Canberra to work on his assignments. After an intervening period in which he put these legal qualifications to use, he entered the Western Australian Legislative Council in 1980.

On the election of Labor to government in Western Australia in 1983, he became Attorney-General. Courtesy of his service in the Whitlam government, he was the only member of the new state cabinet with any ministerial experience—obviously an asset, as he cast a critical and pedantic eye over the workings of the new government. He went on to serve in this role for a decade, surviving both the political winds and, of course, the WA Inc. royal commission. He took on other portfolios, including corrective services, prisons, budget management and resources, and, additionally, served from '87 to '93 as the Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council.

One of the key political and policy issues he dealt with in his role was Aboriginal incarceration, which he described as a serious and frustrating problem. He recognised the need to address the causes through diversionary programs and alternative options to imprisonment. Regrettably, many years later, the incarceration rate of our First Nations peoples is still, as it was then, unacceptably high. Mr Berinson was justifiably proud of his efforts to place new emphasis on the rights of victims in criminal proceedings, and he oversaw the creation of a new parole system and introduced home detention. A new children's court with judicial oversight was established during his tenure. Of the Whitlam government ministers, only Paul Keating was to continue serving in an Australian parliament longer than Joe Berinson. Regarded as competent and well liked, he served with three premiers and could potentially have replaced one of them had he not turned down a suggestion that he assume the leadership. True to his humble demeanour, he decided he wasn't right for the job.

Joe Berinson did not contest the 1993 state election and he retired from politics at the end of April that year. Subsequently, he was appointed by the Commonwealth to serve on the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal. Mr Berinson was a dedicated servant of the Jewish community in his home state. This was something to which he was able to devote a greater amount of time in his retirement. He served as the president of the Jewish Community Council of Western Australia. At annual general meetings of Carmel School, he directed questions at the board with the same insistence as he had done to his colleagues around federal and state cabinet tables. Fifty years earlier, he had been the youngest contributor to the campaign to purchase the land on which the school would later be situated. He often spoke publically as a defender of the rights of Israel and in support of freedom of religious practice.

Joe Berinson was at the coalface of a generation-defining government. After being part of Labor's return to government in 1972, he had the opportunity to serve as a federal minister before Labor was swept from power just three years later. However, this proved to be the prelude to a much longer period of ministerial service at a state level, where he was fortunate to be a senior minister in a Labor government that lasted a decade. As I said, after politics he continued to serve his community.

Labor mourns the passing of our comrade. We again extend our sympathies to his family and friends at this time. As Senator Cormann has quoted, and as Mr Shorten has quoted, I end on the words that his family used to describe him: 'In life he did that which is asked of man: act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God'. May he rest in peace.