Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 7 Hansard (4 June) . . Page.. 1802 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
He took the brave step, for that time, of ending Australia's divisive commitment to the Vietnam War. While his decision was based on pragmatic realities within Australia and within Australian politics, it marked a new maturity in Australian public life. He signalled that Australia was capable of making its own decisions and, indeed, that it would do so. In that respect, I think he was a nationalist of the highest order. He was also very controversial.
He made unpopular decisions in the belief that decisions had to be made for the wider good. He made decisions that were hard for him personally. For example, he resigned from the Liberal Party in protest at Malcolm Fraser's election as leader in 1975. In his quixotic Senate campaign of that year, he even advocated a vote for his old adversary, the Labor Party. He lived much of his political life being reviled by both sides of politics, even if many of those who attacked him now genuinely, if begrudgingly, admire him.
He should be remembered for his commitment to the Australian national consciousness and cultural identity as well as for his contribution to education. He was a long-serving minister for education. Peter Costello, the federal Treasurer, who now holds the seat of Higgins-Gorton's seat after he left the Senate-said that he was a man who stood up for the Australian national interest and was very much a forerunner of the modern prime ministers.
I concur with the view expressed by the Chief Minister that Sir John was a man who made a unique contribution to Australian public life. He was the only person ever to move from the Senate to the prime ministership. He made significant contributions in a number of areas, including creating an independent foreign policy and protecting Australia's ownership of industry. He was the first to recognise the importance of protecting the Great Barrier Reef and took a major step towards promoting Australian arts and culture.
Figures of his magnitude are not often seen on the political stage, particularly in this day and age. A more tempered style is usually preferred by politicians today, which makes it all the more sad that Australian public life has lost a figure of the magnitude of John Gorton. The opposition extends its sympathy to his family.
MS DUNDAS: I rise to add condolences on behalf of the Australian Democrats on the passing of Sir John Gorton.
As Australia's 19th Prime Minister, Sir John Gorton was a proud Australian nationalist. As has been mentioned, he was of a generation that knew the experience of hardship and war. His earliest years were during the First World War, and he was then a school student during the Depression. He then served Australia bravely during World War II.
After returning from the war, he was elected to the Senate in 1949, where he served in many strong portfolios, including the Navy, foreign affairs and the CSIRO, and was also Leader of the Government in the Senate. He then became the first federal minister for education in the mid-60s. He made an important contribution to education by fighting for the equal treatment of government and independent schools, and he maintained a strong commitment to the quality of Australian universities.