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Tuesday, 8 May 2012
Page: 2761

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (16:56): Family, church and ALP were Lionel Bowen's three 'great loves'. That was how the Catholic Weekly succinctly eulogised former Deputy Prime Minister Lionel Frost Bowen AC. A Labor mate of his, Johno Johnson, mentioned the same three loves and added a fourth. He said:

Lionel had a number of loves. First was for his family, his Church and God, his political party and his Irish heritage.

Johno Johnson observed that he was 'a man whose integrity shone forth as clear as the noonday sun.'

Objectively, those descriptions are true. Lionel Bowen's political career spanned over four decades—42 years, to be exact—at a local, state and federal level. Everyone who met Lionel Bowen was struck by his essential goodness, his sincerity, his self-effacing nature, his loyalty, his good judgment and his humour. His life is an essay on what is achievable in Australia, this great country of equal opportunity. He rose from a messenger boy to become Deputy Prime Minister—a real-life example of the cream of the Labor movement genuinely rising to the top.

Lionel Bowen was born in the inner Sydney suburb of Ultimo in 1922. His father, Samuel, was a soap maker. His mother was deserted when Lionel was only 10 and was left to tend to her son, her invalid brother and her elderly mother while working as a cleaner—circumstances that forced the young Lionel to leave school at age 14. He became a messenger and a legal clerk and continued to study at night school. During the war he served in the Army, rising to the rank of corporal during his four years of service. Afterwards he studied law at Sydney University under a postwar rehabilitation scheme. Shortly after working as a solicitor he became an alderman of Randwick Council, becoming mayor at age 27. By 39 he was a state member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, representing the seat of Randwick. In 1969 he was elected to federal parliament as the member for Kingsford Smith.

A speech from 1970 gave an early guide to his character. Touching on the war in Vietnam, he said:

People who are now concerned about their sons are interested in the fact that there should have been a mandate from the Australian people. It is no use saying, as was said in the defence statement, that we cannot confront that Soviet Union. I think the Australian national spirit is such that we should be prepared and in fact would be prepared to confront anybody if the need so arose.

Here was a man who got straight to the essential issue and whose moral convictions led him to the right conclusions.

From 1972 to 1975 Lionel Bowen served as Minister for Manufacturing Industry, Special Minister of State and Postmaster-General in the Whitlam government. In 1975 he was elected deputy opposition leader by the Labor caucus. From 1983 to 1990 he served as Minister for Trade then as Attorney-General and Deputy Prime Minister under Prime Minister Hawke. In 1991 he was deservedly appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia. And it is in his role as Deputy Prime Minister that he is most remembered.

As a minister Lionel Bowen has been described as 'delightful', 'a great minister', 'one of the best'—'he showed courtesy and consideration', was 'playful', was 'even-tempered' and 'full of good humour'. A former public servant shared this anecdote. Lionel Bowen had asked him to fix a problem with Telecom, so the public servant dutifully carried out the instruction. He went back to report to Mr Bowen and, during the time he had taken to carry out the instructions, Mr Bowen had been visited by another minister and had done a 180-degree turn on his original instruction. When the public servant asked Mr Bowen why he replied, 'Ah, champ—never trust a pollie; the double-cross is always on.'

Lionel Bowen was responsible for the Remuneration Tribunal. He asked for draft legislation in the morning and it was done by that evening. It just goes to show that the Public Service, when ably instructed, can move quickly! In 1989 Lionel Bowen became the longest-serving minister from the ranks of the Australian Labor Party in the history of the Australian parliament. At the time Prime Minister Hawke said:

It adds lustre to that achievement, and for honourable members on this side of the House a very special significance, when I say that that record of service will then surpass that of our great and beloved leader Ben Chifley.

After retiring Lionel Bowen spent much of his time as Chairman of the Australian National Gallery in Canberra. This continued an interest foreshadowed by his announce¬≠ment as Special Minister of State in 1974 of a Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections. Mr Bowen was responsible for the beginnings of the Australian National Museum, with a friend of his—Peter Pigott, who was appointed to chair the inquiry and report. He followed through with the idea and made it happen. At the time he noted that the development of museums and collections had been piecemeal, that there was no institution committed to telling the story of Australia to Australians. That is now the role of the National Museum. Bowen followed through with ideas and made things happen.

In the days since Lionel Bowen has left this place, the reputation of politicians as a class has not necessarily risen. In contrast, Lionel Bowen was a man who, if I might say, gave the Labor Party a good name and also gave politics a good name. The parliament could do with more political figures of the ilk of Lionel Bowen—inspired and informed, as he was, by his faith to improve our society. The Daily Telegrapheditorial noted that 'Lionel Bowen was a civilised and dignified presence in Australian politics for more than four decades'. It went on to say that 'Lionel Bowen was from a different era of Australian public life. In many ways it was a better era thanks to politicians of Mr Bowen's style and substance.'

The coalition extends its deepest sympathy to Lionel Bowen's widow, Claire, their five sons, three daughters, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. We thank them for lending him to the service of his nation. We on this side salute Lionel Bowen's distinguished, lengthy and exemplary service to our nation.