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Tuesday, 21 August 1973
Page: 1

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs) - I move:

That this House expresses its deep regret at the death on 8 July1973 of Arthur Augustus Calwell, a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council, a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, a member of this House for the division of Melbourne from 1940 to 1972, a Minister of the Crown from 1943 to 1949, Deputy Leader of the Opposition from 195 1 to 1960 and Leader of the Opposition from 1960 to 1967, places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his widow and family in their bereavement

From the day he entered this House 33 years ago the right honourable Arthur Augustus Calwell was one of its significant members. He came here a fully-fledged politician. His political apprenticeship had been served in the rather more turbulent councils of the Australian Labor Party organisation. The moment he entered this place he was a formidable political figure with whom the leaders of all parties, not least his own, had to reckon. That remained true to the end.

There has been a remarkable unanimity among the tributes which have been paid to him by his colleagues, his friends, his opponents and the Press. All have very properly singled out his pioneering of the post-war immigration program as his most important and enduring achievement. It remains his monument, not so much because of the actual content of the program he himself administered but because of his seminal role in overcoming physical difficulties and sectional prejudices in establishing any post-war program at all. Sir Robert Menzies, in his tribute, has perceived that only somebody with Arthur Calwell 's credit and credentials in the Labor movement of that time could have carried this out. I might here express on behalf of my colleagues our deep appreciation of Sir Robert's poignant and graceful gesture in saluting his old friend and adversary at Saint Patrick's Cathedral last month.

Tributes to Arthur Calwell have also emphasised the 3 commanding influences and attachments in his life- his country, his party, his church. His was a singularly simple but fierce brand of Australianism. In a very basic, uncomplicated way, he was a nationalist and a patriot. His relations with his Party and his church were far more complex, as complex indeed as the relations between the Australian Labor Party and the Catholic Church were in his time. Consequently the traumatic events of the early 1950s left him, as they did so many who shared his loyalties, deeply and permanently wounded.

In sheer political terms his outstanding achievement was the great electoral triumph, the near victory, of 1961. What might have happened but for the survival of our friend from Moreton remains one of the tantalising 'mighthavebeens' in our history. That achievement of 1 96 1 was a very personal one and the subsequent failure of the 1963 election to redeem our great hopes fell as a very bitter blow upon him. His closest associates feel that, remarkably resilient a man as he was, that blow- a series of blows really, beginning with the assassination of John F. Kennedy a week before the elections- left him permanently depleted.

I have mentioned his instinctive Australianism. It should not be forgotten that he was also a political and constitutional nationalist. Along with his unrelenting opposition to conscription, carried on over a period of 50 years, this was a grand consistent theme of his career. He had scant respect, he had a just contempt, for the pretensions of State governments and the Senate. He saw both as obsolete obstructions to his vision for an Australia united for the welfare of all Australians wherever they may live or wherever they were bom.

He was an Australian citizen; he was a man very much of a particular city, the city of Melbourne. He took a particular pride in bearing that title 'Member for Melbourne'. His desire to represent that city, to bear that title, as only its third representative since Federation, was part of the reason for his comparative lateness in entering this House.. It is possible to see in retrospect that the delay played a part in ultimately depriving him of the highest position. He was the Member for Melbourne and a man of Melbourne, the inner Melbourne in which he was born, in which he served his political apprenticeship, which he represented for so long in this Parliament, whose people paid him such singular tribute in its Cathedral and in its streets last month, the Melbourne where he now lies.

Among the great influences in his life, one should not ignore his special sense of family. As husband and father he suffered very terrible losses and as a man with a genuine dynastic sense, the tragedy of the death of his only son, Arthur, was deep and enduring in its intensity.

There is one other profound key to his character. He was Australian, he was Labor, he was Catholic, but he was also a Celt, not just Irish but a Celt. I shall quote something written 100 years ago about the archetype of great Celt parliamentarians:

He was a thorough Celt. He represented all the impulsiveness, the quick-changing emphasis, the passionate, exaggerated loves and animosities, the hyperbole of statement, the preference for impressions and intuition rather than cold facts, the ebullient humour- all the other qualities that are especially characteristic of the Celt As an orator of a popular Assembly, as the orator at a mass meeting, he had few equals in this country. He had many of the physical endowments that are especially favourable to success in such a sphere.

Those words were written of the great Daniel O 'Connell whose statue stands, solitarily and . symbolically, outside St Patrick's.

Our late colleague would not, I think, have resented the comparison or resisted the conclusions we may draw about the causes of the failures as well as the triumphs of his long and remarkable career, the flaws as well as the great qualities of this remarkable Australian.

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