Oct 14, 2003

Condolences: Cairns, Hon. Dr James Ford

CONDOLENCES: Cairns, Hon. Dr James Ford

14 October 2003

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (5.33 p.m.) —I rise to support the condolence motion for a great Australian, Jim Cairns, moved by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. Paul Strangio begins his biography of Jim Cairns, Keeper of the Faith, with the term `the future man of peace arrived in war’. Jim Cairns was born on 4 October 1914, and what followed were 89 fulfilling years. And what a life: a policeman, an academic, an intellectual and a politician in the broadest sense, as well as a parliamentarian. Jim Cairns can be remembered as being an early public opponent of Australia’s White Australia policy. It was this respect for humanity which defines his enormous contribution.

In 1955 he defeated Stan Keon, who had defected to the Democratic Labour Party, to become the member for Yarra and then began his extraordinary career as a parliamentarian. It is extraordinary because he can be remembered as much for what he did outside parliament as for what he did inside parliament. There is no doubt that he will be remembered most importantly for his contribution to the Vietnam War moratoriums. I want to quote his friend and comrade Tom Uren who, upon hearing of Jim’s passing, wrote:

Cairns was the inspiration, the titular head and the main spokesperson for this unique movement. At one anti-Vietnam meeting at Sydney Town Hall in late 1971—called by the NSW Right machine—Jim was one of the speakers, along with Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke. John Ducker was in the chair. Cairns was running late and by the time he entered the Hall all the speakers were already on the platform. As he walked down the aisle the audience noticed him and, en masse, they stood up and applauded. Jim was very embarrassed and jogged down the aisle to the platform. Whitlam and Hawke were well received by the audience who applauded during their speeches but when Cairns rose to speak, they again rose en masse.

He spoke quietly, not trying to raise emotions, giving the history of the creation of the conflict and our involvement, taking us to where we were and, finally, where we had to go to achieve our objective. There was absolute silence during this speech—you could hear a pin drop—the audience listened so intently. When he finished, the people rose again and applauded for several minutes. Never in my lifetime have I ever heard or seen an audience give so much respect to a public figure. They showed their love, their respect and their affection for him. It was his enormous courage that made him such a magnificent individual. His crusading was the epitome of the movement. He drew enormous strength from the warmth of an audience, and they in turn drew strength and courage from him.

Such love does not come easily; it has to be earned—and certainly Jim Cairns earned it. In opposing that war he saved the lives of many Australians who were involved in it or who would have been conscripted, and he also helped to stop the conflict in Vietnam.

At the time, he also made a great contribution to parliamentary life. He served as Minister for the Environment in 1975, as federal Treasurer from 1974 to 1975, as Deputy Prime Minister from 1974 to 1975, as Minister for Overseas Trade from 1972 to 1974 and as Minister for Secondary Industry from 1972 to 1973. He will be remembered for opening up trade links with China and also for his conduct as Acting Prime Minister after the Cyclone Tracy devastation of Darwin on Christmas Day 1974 and, soon after that, the destruction of the Derwent River bridge.

As a result of what was an intellectual transformation, he became disillusioned with life as a parliamentarian while still being a minister in the government. Later on he talked about the need for nonparliamentary change. As quoted by Mark Latham, Jim Cairns argued that Australia could not be a socialist country until it was a country of socialists. He wrote about—and indeed lived—a concept, which at that time was new, which stressed the importance of human relationships.

Indeed, on 20 February 2000 I was honoured to launch his book On the horizon: a cultural transformation to a new consciousness. This became his last book. The launch was undertaken before an elderly audience at a pub in Chippendale, but it also attracted many young people who came to see what this great icon of the Labor movement had to say. While there are many things in that book that I disagree with, what was clear at that launch—from a man who even then was starting to become quite frail—was his passion and his belief in social change and in advancing the cause of humanity.

It was at Tom Uren’s 80th birthday party, held two years ago at Tom’s house in Balmain, where I last saw Jim Cairns and where he and Gough Whitlam were united. It was quite a sight seeing them sitting in Tom’s lounge room having a chat. It was a great honour for someone of my generation to be able to see that. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Jim Cairns, to pass on my condolences to his family on their loss and to say that not only the Australian Labor Party but indeed Australia have lost a true believer.