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Tuesday, 4 May 1993
Page: 52


Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Science and Small Business and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science) —I rise to speak to this condolence motion for Fred Hollows. Since 1988 I have had the opportunity to meet Fred on a number of occasions. My first involvement with Fred Hollows was an indirect one when I visited Eritrea as a guest of the ELF in October 1988.

  I remember travelling down through Sudan and finally reaching a place called Rota where there was an underground hospital which was equipped with quite sophisticated medical equipment. We talked to a number of staff there who in the previous months had been trained by Fred Hollows himself on his first visit to Eritrea. The most moving occasion of all was when we met a former patient of Fred Hollows who said that because of Fred's work she had had her sight restored after many years of blindness. I suddenly realised then that this man Hollows was someone exceptional.

  I agree with Senator Hill's remarks that everywhere one went in Eritrea, Fred's fame and service to that country had spread—so much so that the credit Fred Hollows had established in that country rubbed off on us as Australian visitors. I met Fred when I returned to Australia and, in common with Senator Evans, was overwhelmed by his style, language and presentation. This meant that one was either 110 per cent with Fred or one had better watch out.

  I remember one occasion when he came down to visit Parliament House to get the funds for the intra-ocular lens factory in Eritrea. He wandered into my office and shouted out, `Come on, Schacht, let's go round and get hold of Blewett. I need $200,000 for this factory'. I said, `Well, have you got an appointment?'. He replied, `I don't need a bloody appointment—we will just go to see him and we'll get it off him'.

  Before I knew what I was doing, I was leading him around to Dr Blewett's office. We walked in and Neal had quickly got a bureaucrat to come over from AIDAB who was sitting there rather nervously, because he had already heard about Fred's reputation. Fred started the conversation by saying, `Look, Doc, I understand Schacht has got a few numbers for your preselection back in South Australia. Unless you get this money for us, you might be in trouble getting re-elected'. It was the most amazing start to any representation I have ever seen and away Fred went from there.

  The conversation lasted about four minutes. Fred's bulldozer effect was very effective because Dr Blewett said, `I am sure we can make arrangements' and the bureaucrat got the message. Then Fred said, `By the way, it is not $200,000 Australian; it is $200,000 American'. So the value had suddenly doubled. Since then the equipment has been prepared and it is on the way. I understand that the Eritreans will name the intra-ocular lens factory after Fred Hollows; it will be called the Fred Hollows Factory. In Eritrea there will always be a very effective reminder of the contribution made by Fred Hollows.

  On a number of occasions since then, I have had opportunities to meet Fred at functions. I was given the great honour at an AIDAB conference to introduce Fred as the guest speaker. The first 10 minutes of Fred's speech related to his version of Marxism and the evils of the capitalist system, which startled most of the audience. He then proffered a few views on how AIDS could be controlled in Australia, and that upset the rest of the audience.

  Most of the people at the conference had come along to meet this fantastic character, Fred. By the end of his speech they were rather confused about the range of issues that Fred got himself involved in and how he expressed his views. But when they met him afterwards privately in conversation, despite, as Senator Evans said, his `rough as guts' attitude, they saw some great charm about Fred such that, in the end, one could not help but be on his side. I have never yet come across a person who had some meeting or some period of time with Fred who was not, in the end, an absolute devotee of his cause.

  There is great sadness with Fred's passing. The cause of his death, cancer, caused a slow deterioration in Fred. But throughout it all, even when he was greatly affected, he was still working flat out for the causes, still performing his work as a doctor, still making phone calls, still getting people to make the commitment to raise the money for the causes in which he so strongly believed. The state funeral that was conducted at the cathedral in Sydney was one of the most moving occasions at which I have been present in my period in public life in Australia. So many people from all walks of life attended and the orations from various people about Fred's career were very moving, from that given by the Catholic Bishop of Sydney to that given by the well-known communist Frank Hardy. They all made it clear that, obviously, Fred was a remarkable person.

  I will certainly miss conversations with Fred—or arguments, I should say, because conservations with Fred usually were arguments. All I want to say in conclusion is that not only was Fred Hollows a great Australian—in my period in public life, I cannot think of a greater Australian I have met—but also he was a great human being worldwide. By any measure, Australia has been very fortunate to have had Fred Hollows as an Australian citizen. He brought great credit to our country right around the world. It is only appropriate that he is one of the few private citizens who has had the honour of a condolence motion in the Australian Parliament.