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Monday, 23 February 2015
Page: 979

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (10:36): I rise today to pay tribute to a great friend and mentor, Paul O'Grady, who passed away on 18 January this year aged 54. Paul grew up in Sydney's west and joined the Australian Labor Party at age 15, following the dismissal of the Whitlam government. At 18, he became the youngest ever organiser for the Australian Workers Union, and in 1988 he was elected as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, where he sat for eight years before resigning to confront an altogether new battle in his life when he was diagnosed with HIV.

It was in his role as an MLC that Paul came to make some of the most significant contributions to public life. His impact, however, on the individual lives of so many people, including me, extended well beyond his public life and endured until his final days. Few understood the breadth of Paul O'Grady's reach; he was so many things to so many people. Whether it was the gay or HIV-AIDS community, environmental activists or everyday individuals who confronted discriminatory laws and practices, Paul made a difference in his advocacy for change. Paul's sharp intellect, his clever wit and his notoriously cheeky approach to life meant that he was terrific company, but he was never going to suffer fools, nor would he countenance the disingenuous. He lived his life with integrity and expected no less from those around him. He was often disappointed, and friends would find themselves being sent to Coventry from time to time, but Paul remained uncompromising in his pursuit of honest, frank and just outcomes throughout his life.

My first encounter with Paul was in Newcastle almost 20 years ago. In what I would learn was typical of his style, Paul's first words to me were to ask, 'So what will be your contribution?' With no time for small talk, Paul liked to cut straight to the chase, particularly when it came to the things that mattered. He believed that everyone had a contribution to make—that was the purpose of being—and Paul had a lot to contribute, so there was little time to waste.

As an MLC, Paul was fearless in his pursuit of social justice and a positive agenda for change. His inaugural speech touched on many issues that he was passionate about: Aboriginal land rights, censorship, drug law reform, workers rights, policing, public housing, prison reform and the legalisation of brothels. He pursued these issues and many others in his eight years in parliament, facing inequalities and discrimination front on, wherever and whenever he found them.

There was no better friend than Paul O'Grady. He was warm, generous and compassionate with a wicked sense of humour. His irreverent approach to life and steadfast commitment to living life with integrity meant that you rarely forgot your encounters with Paul. I most certainly will not. Thank you, Paul, for your extraordinary courage, your passion, your determination to make a difference, your generous spirit, your sage advice and most importantly your friendship. May we all learn from your example. Farewell, my friend. (Time expired)