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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3079


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (15:57): I also rise this afternoon to honour and pay tribute to the late senator Sir John Carrick AC, KCMG, a former New South Wales senator, minister, soldier and lion of the New South Wales Liberal Party. I want to acknowledge the words of my leader in the Senate, Senator Cormann, and thank him for those, and also acknowledge the words of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong, and thank her very much for the very generous observations that she has made today.

Senator Carrick was, indeed, one of the finest servants of this nation. I want to place on the Senate record my appreciation for his decades of service and pay tribute to his achievements. He was, indeed, one of the most influential people in the New South Wales Liberal Party and on the New South Wales Liberal Party during its formative years following World War II. He began his career with the party when he took a temporary role in 1946, which began a lifetime career in politics. Two years later he became the general secretary, a role which he held until he entered the Senate.

He was, as I've said, a lion of the Liberal Party and a giant of the party but a humble man, shaped by his experiences in World War II. He joined the Australian Imperial Force in 1940 and was deployed to West Timor as part of Sparrow Force the following year to defend the island against the Japanese. Barely two months later he was captured and sent to Singapore's notorious Changi Prison before being dispatched to the Thai-Burma Railway in 1943. As we know, there, prisoners experienced some of the most difficult and horrific conditions of the war. He, though, described his time as a prisoner of war as a 'great and enduring learning experience'. Despite the atrocities he saw and experienced, he was a believer that it was not people who create savagery but the evil compulsion of the system on the individual.

After the war, he again dedicated himself to public service. He entered the Senate in 1971 and held a number of ministerial positions, including as the Minister for Education from 1975 to 1979, and he was the Leader of the Government in the Senate from 1978 to 1983. His reforms to Australia's education system have had a profound and long-lasting impact on this nation.

After leaving the Senate in 1987, Sir John continued his contribution to education policy, chairing the New South Wales government's committee to review education legislation, the recommendations of which ultimately resulted in the New South Wales Education Reform Act 1990. His achievements in education reform were particularly recognised in 2008, when Sir John was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia.

I want to refer briefly to the remarks made by the Prime Minister in his speech on the condolence motion in the House of Representatives. I think this is a very fitting summary of Sir John himself:

Sir John's faith in our better nature gave him optimism and purpose, and he dedicated his life to this cause, strengthening our political system and ensuring that education fulfilled its potential as the ultimate instrument of individual improvement.

He was a generous mentor to many generations of Liberals, young and not so young, and many of us on this side of the chamber owe him a debt of gratitude for his good counsel. As New South Wales Liberal senators—those of us who sit on this side, who walk in his considerable footsteps—we owe him much. As a then Young Liberal in the early 1980s, I certainly found him a daunting public figure, acknowledging at the same time that he was much admired and much respected. At the mention of his name, a degree of gravity would fall over even collected groups of Young Liberals—a significant achievement indeed! And that is the way I think many members of the New South Wales Division of the Liberal Party will remember him: gravitas, sincerity and a life of public service.

Before he died, he told his family that, notwithstanding his extraordinary life and his extraordinary contribution, he did not want a state funeral. As a prisoner of war, he said, he had seen too many funerals. None of those had been afforded any fanfare. Sir John wanted to be equal to them and wanted to be farewelled as simply as possible, and he was. It says much about the man we remember and commemorate today, a person who gave so much to this nation as a soldier, a senator, a minister, a husband, a father and a grandfather and who did not want anything in return. I pay tribute to him today and express my sincere condolences to his family and to his friends.