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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3073


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Finance, Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (15:34): by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death, on 18 May 2018, of the Honourable Sir John Carrick AC, KCMG, former senator for New South Wales, minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate in the Fraser Government, places on record its deep appreciation for his remarkable life of patriotism and public service, and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

A fierce patriot and formidable political operator, the Hon. Sir John Carrick stands shoulder to shoulder with the great builders of the Liberal Party. He was one of the leading lights of the Menzies era, having had a profound and lasting impact on their national story. Born on 4 September 1918, Sir John was the fourth of six children to Emily and Arthur James Carrick. Spending his formative years in Woollahra, Randwick and Bondi, his youth was not without trial, with his father, a government clerk, joining so many other Australians in losing his job during the grim years of the Great Depression. Sir John's natural intellect was evident from a young age, and he secured a scholarship to the distinguished Sydney Technical High School before going on to graduate with a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney in 1941.

However, Sir John's story soon became like that of many other young men of his generation. Having served in the Sydney University Regiment in 1939, he joined the Australian Imperial Force in 1940 and stepped into the maelstrom that was the Second World War, serving bravely in West Timor as part of Sparrow Force, before being taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese. He spent several harsh years in South-East Asia, including time interred in the infamous Changi Prison and labouring on the Burma-Thailand Railway. Yet for Sir John the hardship that he endured did nothing to diminish a natural spirit of optimism and decency. In fact, he learned Malay and Japanese so as to act as an interpreter. Stirringly, following his liberation in 1945, Sir John raised funds alongside his fellow servicemen for medical personnel who were at the coalface of the effort to rebuild the decimated nations of South-East Asia.

The end of the war saw Sir John return to Australia, doing what he could to pick up where he had left off. He continued to serve in the Citizen Military Forces until 1951, and on 2 June that year he married Diana Margaret Hunter, who went by the name of Angela. In time, three daughters would follow: Diane, Jane and Fiona. During this period, Sir John then jumped into a very different arena, taking on a role as a research officer in the New South Wales office of the then fledgling Liberal Party of Australia. Having been formed only a short few years earlier and not having yet won a federal election, the Liberal Party that Sir John joined would benefit greatly from his coming lifetime of service.

When he was appointed state secretary in 1948, the legend of the so-called 'grey eminence of Ash Street' was born. Sir John would work tirelessly alongside then state president Bill Spooner, later to become a senator and Senate leader himself, to build the party from the ground up. Whether it was engaging members, founding branches or fielding candidates at the polls, he was a cornerstone on which the New South Wales Division of the Liberal Party was built and became a fixture during the 23 years of federal Liberal-Country Party coalition government that began in 1949.

It was in the closing days of this era that Sir John finally entered the parliament, succeeding Senator Alister McMullin and formally commencing his term on 1 July 1971 after securing victory at the 1970 federal election—incidentally, the year I was born. A committed federalist, Sir John, in his first speech in this chamber, outlined an expansive plan for reforms to the federal system that sought to avoid what he described as the 'Oliver Twist syndrome' of state fiscal disempowerment. His words also set the tone for a political career marked by humility and decency—that of a man who was always careful to separate political and ideological differences from the personalities that conveyed them. Sir John reviled attempts to split Australians along lines of class and faith, noting in his first speech:

Divisiveness is the evil of politics and I hope to do something to reduce it.

Today, decades later, we can well reflect on how much our contemporary Commonwealth might well benefit from some more of that spirit.

A common thread throughout Sir John's parliamentary career was his clear regard for the role of the Senate. He was often quick to put his view that this place serves as 'the only safeguard against unbridled power and arrogance'. This was buttressed by his belief in the Senate committee system's importance to the conduct of cautious and considered public policy. I note that, while a fixture today, the modern Senate committee framework was in its infancy at the time of Sir John's entry into the Senate. No doubt many would agree that his early appreciation for the important work undertaken by these committees was prescient indeed.

Entering Billy Snedden's shadow ministry in 1974 as opposition spokesman for urban improvement and, later, as opposition spokesman on federalism and intergovernmental relations, Sir John was quickly given the opportunity to put his philosophical convictions into action. But it was the Fraser government's sweeping election victory in 1975 that gave him the chance to make his greatest policy impact. Serving briefly as Minister for Housing and Construction and Minister for Urban and Regional Development in late 1975, Sir John took particular joy in his work as Minister for Education between 1975 and 1979. Such was his passion for education that he adapted his one great hope in his first speech. For him, a modern, quality education was the greatest tool in the fight to give everyday Australians the best possible opportunity to better their lives and those of their families. He marshalled the full force of this passion while serving as minister, and many of his reforms became the bedrock of the education system that all Australians continue to enjoy today. Among other pursuits, he advocated fiercely for greater choice in Australian schools and secured more funding for the Catholic and non-government schooling sectors, which have since shaped the development of generations of Australian schoolchildren. Then Prime Minister Fraser was very wise to place Sir John in roles tied to his interests, and he later took on the post of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs and Minister for National Development and Energy.

But, beyond his policy contributions, Sir John's famous decency and good nature allowed him to excel as one of the greatest parliamentary leaders of the age, serving as Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate from February 1978 and, from August of that same year, as Leader of the Government in the Senate and Vice President of the Executive Council. Too often today it is assumed that the clash of political wills, ideas and offerings must be cruel and personal. In Sir John's leadership during that period, we see that contention put to bed. Be it on the campaign trail or on the floor of the Senate chamber, Sir John always sought to draw as clear a policy contrast between the Liberal Party and its opponents as possible. This spoke, I believe, of two great faiths: his belief in the superiority of the Liberal vision and in the good sense of the Australian people to make the right call at the right time. Yet none could suggest that this emphasis on a fierce political clash detracted in any way from the decency and collegiality of the man who promoted it. It says much about Sir John's character and leadership style that figures on both sides of the Australian political divide were quick to make moving tributes to him.

The Fraser government's defeat in March 1983 brought Sir John's tenure as Senate leader to an end, and it would be some four years later that he would retire from the Senate altogether, yet even then his public service was not done. Sir John's passion for education drove him in the years that followed to serve as Chairman of the Committee of Review of New South Wales Schools in 1988 and 1989—a review which helped draft the 1990 Education Reform Act and benefited greatly from Sir John's unique mix of zeal and experience. Further to this, he served at various times as a member of the New South Wales ministerial advisory council for teacher education and on the advisory board of the Macquarie University Institute of Early Childhood.

A life well lived in service to his country was also officially recognised when, in 1982, Sir John was made a knight commander of the Order of St Michael and St George for 'services to the Parliament of Australia'. Further to this, he was awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees in 1988 and 2000 by the University of Sydney and Macquarie University in addition to being appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Australian College of Educators. Commemorating the young Commonwealth that he loved and served, in 2001 Sir John fittingly received the Centenary Medal for outstanding leadership and service to the Australian community, especially through education, and had the Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education named after him in 2004. In 2008 Sir John was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in recognition of distinguished service in the area of educational reform in Australia.

Yet all of these titles and honours did nothing to erode the humility of a man whose life was defined by honest and authentic service, be it that of the young prisoner of war, the respected minister and Senate leader, the mentor to a generation of Liberals or the loving husband and father. In this sense the life and legacy of Sir John have earned him a place in the lore of the Liberal Party and alongside the greatest Australians—a patriot before a partisan, but a passionate Liberal to the end. Both this party and the nation are stronger and more prosperous because of his service.

Earlier this year Sir John lost his beloved wife of 67 years, Angela, just three months before his own passing. To Sir John's daughters, Diane, Jane and Fiona, and to all of his family and loved ones, on behalf of the Australian government and the Senate I offer my deepest condolences.