Page 233 - Week 01 - Thursday, 12 February 2015
He arrived in Canberra in the early 1960s to lecture in law at Australia’s shiny, new National University. In 1970 he secured Labor preselection for the single House of Representatives seat for the ACT and entered parliament that same year as the member for Canberra.
Kep was a firm champion of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and in 1972, as the Labor Party spokesperson for the interior, he opposed the McMahon government’s attempts to tear down the Aboriginal tent embassy outside Parliament House.
He was appointed the first minister for the ACT and the Northern Territory in the Whitlam government and was a proud and passionate advocate for Canberra during that time. Kep went on to succeed Lionel Murphy as Attorney-General in 1975. He only served nine months in that role, but the changes he introduced and guided through what was a famously turbulent legislature were some of the Whitlam era’s most notable social reforms. Kep’s reforms mean Australians now suffer less discrimination even today.
As Attorney-General in 1975 he decriminalised abortion and homosexuality in the commonwealth territories, a groundbreaking reform which at that time affected over two million people from Canberra to Darwin, from Christmas Island to Port Moresby. He also established no-fault divorce and the Racial Discrimination Act—two reforms that have stood the test of time and laid the foundations for a more open, a more tolerant and a much more modern Australia.
Kep lost his seat in 1975, along with a lot of Labor members, it would be fair to say, but that did not stop him being a vocal proponent of civil liberties, unafraid to write and speak on controversial issues. His lifelong commitment to civil liberties saw him speak out against the manipulation of public hysteria about crime and the consequent rising rates of imprisonment, arguing for the release of large portions of Australia’s prison population.
The work of progressive change is never complete. I think each of us here, particularly on this side of the chamber, draws inspiration from the reforms that Kep delivered and sees in them what can be achieved if we remain determined to see our country grow ever more open and ever more free. His life will be remembered as one of dedicated and loyal service to the people of Australia and to the Labor movement.
MR HANSON (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition): Madam Speaker, I rise in condolence for Kep Enderby. Kep was born and raised in Dubbo to small business owners and, like others, he served his country in uniform before serving in the parliament. Kep was a trainee pilot at the end of the world war.
After war service, he moved to Sydney to study law at the University of Sydney. He was admitted and later practised law in London before returning to Australia. He set up practice and lectured in Sydney before moving to Canberra to pursue a similar career, practising with distinction to enable him to be named Queen’s Counsel in 1973.