Feb 9, 2015

Condolence Motion – The Hon. Tom Uren, AC

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (14:12): I join with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in supporting this condolence motion for my friend and comrade Tom Uren. Tom Uren saw deprivation in his early years, and then the worst of humanity. Born into the Depression in 1921, he left school at the age of 13 because his father could not get employment. He was a great sportsman. He represented Manly, unfortunately, in rugby league, but he also fought for the Australian heavyweight boxing championship. He was also a surf lifesaving champion at Freshwater. He had a lot to look forward to; and then, of course, World War II intervened. He put his nation before himself and, like so many other young men and women of that time, he enlisted. He went to Timor and was captured. He served in Timor, in Singapore, on the Burma-Siam railway and in Japan as a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Those people who read Richard Flanagan’s extraordinary book would respond to it as I did: you just wonder how these men came through that process without being bitter about the world and their place in it.

He was an extraordinary man. If he can be characterised by anything it is by his faith in humanity and his fellow man. He came through that process with love and used to speak—unusually for a man—about his love for people. It was genuine, and he received love in spades in return.

He was, in my view, the most significant grassroots campaigner in the history of the Australian Labor Party, given the longevity that the issues, be it the anti-Vietnam war moratoriums, which he and Jim Cairns led, his role on the environment—well ahead of the pack; well ahead of the intelligentsia—he understood a love for our natural and our built environment or whether it be issues of justice for our veterans. He was very proud that his last victory was to convince Prime Minister Gillard to grant justice to the surviving former prisoners of war of the Japanese. That occurred in 2012.

He leaves a tremendous legacy: the greening of Western Sydney, access to sewerage for people in our outer suburban communities, the first significant investment in public transport by a national government, the Australian Heritage Commission, the Register of the National Estate and the saving of the Sydney Harbour foreshores. Wherever you look around this country, particularly in outer suburbs and our regional cities, Tom Uren leaves a legacy of which he and his family can indeed be proud as both a minister in the Whitlam government and a minister in the Hawke government.

When he was nominated for the Companion of the Order of Australia I contacted Tony Abbott, the then Leader of the Opposition, and told him—as I told Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Greens—that Prime Minister Gillard was supporting that nomination. All three of them enthusiastically and genuinely supported that nomination. He was someone who, in the noise of politics and conflict and petty squabbles that go on, soared above the political landscape—in this building and out there in the community.

To Christine, Ruby, Michael and Heather—and all of his family—I pass my condolences to you. His state funeral was a very historical event. I think it was wonderful to see Sir John Carrick, a good comrade of Tom’s as a prisoner of war. They led parallel lives of different political viewpoints but both are people, for those of us who have come after them, to whom we owe eternal respect for what they did for our nation.