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Tuesday, 4 May 1993
Page: 44

Senator KEMP —I wish to pay tribute to the distinguished career of Sir Paul Hasluck and extend my condolences to the Hasluck family. I cannot recall ever meeting Sir Paul, although as a member of the Liberal students at the University of Melbourne and subsequently an active member of the Liberal Party I, of course, closely followed his career and his contributions to public affairs. The extensive writings of Sir Paul Hasluck make it easy to refresh one's memory about the man, his attitudes and his impact on great events. Indeed, in the last week I have had the opportunity to read some of the articles written by Sir Paul and look at some of the books that he published. In my view, his thoughts are often particularly pertinent in light of the issues which have come before this Parliament.

  One of the themes which comes through the remarks that others have made today, and which is certainly backed up by my own readings, is that few, if any, men in our political life have had as much of the intellectual in their make-up as Sir Paul. His interests ranged across the theatre, literature and music, and he was also an avid collector of Australiana. In the last year, at the age of 87, he published a series of articles in Quadrant dealing with changes in social mores in Australia over his lifetime. The articles covered the topics of gambling, thrift, conversation and religion and he compared the attitudes and conventions of his childhood and early adulthood with those that he observed in contemporary Australia. The overwhelming impression one gets from reading those articles is that he felt something of the essence of Australian life had been lost and that we were the worse for the losing of it.

  He clearly had a sense of unease about the changes he perceived. As Sir Walter Crocker said in his own tribute to Sir Paul Hasluck in Quadrant:

He was uneasy and apprehensive about certain tendencies in Australian life and culture, such as increases in dishonesty, in violence and in intolerance . . . and the decline in the mass media, not least in the press. The debasement of the English language in Australia in recent years was an alarm bell for him.

His uneasiness with what he perceived to be the debasement of Australian life is reflected in his general concern about attitudes to and proposals for changing the Australian Constitution and, more specifically, to the standards observed by parliamentarians. Sir Paul was very strongly of the view that the Constitution as it stands is both strong and adaptable. His view was that, so long as it was treated with respect and good sense, its endurance would ensure continued good government. His thoughts are worthy of careful consideration as, while not a constitutional lawyer, he was well versed in constitutional history and the workings of government. In the 1992 Sir Samuel Griffith lecture, Sir Paul reflected:

Our biggest worries in the government of Australia are not whether the text of the Constitution is perfect but whether we have the wisdom—or even enough plain commonsense—to govern our nation wisely.

In the same lecture he stated:

The Constitution has given a sound basic structure, system of government and the political institutions for handling the changes that have taken place in Australia during the century. It has proved sufficiently adaptable to meet the changing needs of an emerging and evolving nation. Our Constitution is not an outworn obstacle to political wisdom or administrative skill. I can see no strength in arguments that we need a new Constitution or a new system of government even if there are very strong arguments for the need for some adjustments to meet changes.

Sir Paul's views on the debate surrounding Australia's Constitution and system of government extend into the contentious area of standards to be observed and respected by parliamentarians.

  In the speech delivered to the Samuel Griffith Society, Sir Paul decried what he referred to as the `weakening, and in some cases total disregard, of the unwritten conventions in our Constitution'. He pointed out:

. . . respect for the conventions as well as the text of the Constitution is a basic requirement of parliamentary democracy.

In earlier days, he recalled:

A Minister resigned if he was found to have misled Parliament; in the process of the introduction and passage of all stages of a Bill and transmission from one chamber to another sufficient time was allowed for debate; question time was an opportunity to obtain information and not to have another donnybrook brawl.

Senator Kernot drew that issue to our attention today, and I agree with her remarks. Importantly, he highlighted the need for `recognition and respect of the place in a bicameral system of each chamber'. In this context he expressed his particular consternation about Mr Keating's derogatory references to the Senate.

  Sir Paul rejected the so-called `dash for cash' mentality, maintaining throughout his public life a strict sense of duty about the spending of public money. As a Minister, he eschewed the perks of political life. A profile of him which appeared in the Canberra Times in 1968 emphasised this facet of the man, stating:

He seldom uses VIP aircraft and drives his own ageing Peugeot station wagon to Parliament House instead of using a Commonwealth car.

As an ex-Governor-General, entitled to a number of services paid for by the taxpayer, he remained scrupulously frugal.

  His views on what he felt to be the deterioration in parliamentary standards are perhaps best summed up in the last few lines of a poem he wrote and published recently. The poem was called But Words Unheard are Sweeter. These are the lines that Sir Paul penned:

In short, I've listened to the House, throughout a year,

Heard cries of `Rubbish', `Order' and `Hear, hear'

With rising pressure and hardening party cries.

I've heard a little truth and many lies.

But never heard, though listening late and long,

`I beg your pardon' and `Perhaps I may be wrong'.

Sir Paul Hasluck was a great Australian and a great Liberal. It is fitting that we honour his memory today.