Condolences – Mr Rick Farley
24 May 2006
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.02 am)—I rise today to honour one of my constituents, a man who was a uniter amongst the Australian people, Mr Rick Farley. Rick Farley connected communities and inspired many to follow him in pursuit of social justice for all Australians. The array of people who have paid tribute to Rick over the past week shows the extraordinary way he united usually disparate interests.
On Monday I had the honour of attending the celebration of Rick’s life at St Brigid’s Church in Marrickville, just up the road from my office. It was standing room only. The amazingly intertwined aspects of Rick’s life were all proudly represented. Rick’s partner, Linda Burney, spoke of her time with Rick with such amazing strength and love. She stated that she would miss most the sheer brilliance of his mind—clear, creative, pragmatic, brave and, very often, cheeky. Linda was, as always, an inspiration. In the past five very difficult months since Rick suffered a brain aneurysm, Linda has shown extraordinary courage and love.
Linda has acknowledged that she found it impossible to thank the hundreds of friends and community members who have sent messages of love and support over the past months. Linda did, however, include a few of these tributes in the program for Monday’s service.
“Rick’s contribution to Australia, both socially and ecologically, is his lasting monument.”
“He was a fine Australian who cared for all Australians and was able to walk on both sides of politics and society at large.”
A stranger to Linda wrote:
“I have never met you or your husband though I did hear him speak twice. His intelligence, strength of character and outspoken moral principles enriched my life and gave me extra courage to actively pursue social justice goals. Australia has lost a great man.”
There would be very few people, none I can think of more so than Rick, where, at a celebration of their life, people from right across the spectrum would come to pay tribute. People from the Cattlemen’s Union, the National Farmers Federation, Reconciliation Australia and social justice organisations where there paying tribute to Rick. Mr Pat Dodson’s eulogy, sent from Broome and read by his colleague Paul Lane, was quite extraordinary. In part, he said:
“Our mate was a champion who carried the vision of reconciliation and justice for Indigenous people in his heart and in his hands. … He delivered where others postured, achieving against the odds, always creating spaces of opportunity where others could follow. … Our mate saw where bridges needed to be built and knew how to make the foundations. Our mate argued over and over again that we needed to use natural resources in a sustainable way, to protect the future of our nation.”
If there was a theme running through Monday’s celebration, it was Rick’s relationship with the land. The way he was able to bring together pastoralists’ and farmers’ interests with those of Indigenous people, out of that respect, was quite extraordinary. But what a life. He was born in Townsville in 1952 but grew up in Brisbane. He did it pretty tough as a kid, losing his father when he was five. He and his sister were raised by his mother, a nurse, who worked long hours to pay for her children’s education. Rick graduated from the University of Queensland with a degree in drama and literature. His involvement in politics while at university was peripheral, finding time to protest against the touring white-only South African Proteas, before going to the game the next day.
After graduating, he joined a touring theatre company and went to Nimbin, before heading north to Rockhampton and becoming a journalist with a local newspaper. Rick later worked for Dr Doug Everingham, the health minister in the Whitlam government, and was acting press secretary at the time of the Dismissal. In 1976, Rick became the public relations director with the Cattlemen’s Union, a role which, he joked, saw him shift from vegetarian to steak lover, a role which allowed him to move eventually onto the national stage.
Rick became Executive Director of the National Farmers Federation in 1988 and it is this work—skilfully handled on a range of controversial and sensitive issues, notably the negotiation of native title legislation—for which he will be very much remembered. In his usual frank manner, Rick explained his tactics by saying that he:
“… always tried to destroy stereotypes and encourage different points of view. That’s why I’ve put farmers in touch with environmentalists and Aborigines. I’ve had differences of opinion on politics with rural groups, but they have been worked out over the years.”
Rick Farley had an astute understanding of the political climate in which he worked. He was able to forge a bond between the National Farmers Federation and the then Australian Conservation Foundation—with Phillip Toyne, the then head of the ACF—to form Landcare Australia. Many years on, we can acknowledge that Landcare changed the very way that farming practices occurred and built an alliance which has been long lasting with regard to these issues.
From 1991, Rick was also a unifying voice on the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Those who worked alongside Rick Farley on the council have spoken of the way he would quietly and movingly articulate the need to find a way to share our land. Rick would speak of the need for a just and united Australia.
In this spirit, in 1993, Rick, along with NFF president Graham Blight, negotiated with the Keating government on the native title legislation that followed the 1992 High Court decision on Mabo which gave Indigenous Australians limited rights to the land they once occupied. Other employer groups—miners and the then federal opposition—refused to even come to the table to deal.
In 1995 Rick became a part-time member of the Native Title Tribunal and ran his own land management consultancy business, helping to develop a joint venture cattle enterprise between Elders Ltd and the Aurukun Aboriginal community. Rick’s environmental and native title work was a constant part of the rest of his life. He said his views were shaped by all groups: farmers, conservationists, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. He said, ‘This is my Australia, warts and all.’
I came to know Rick as a neighbour in Marrickville and as the partner of Linda Burney, the state member for Canterbury, which is mainly in my federal electorate of Grayndler. I am proud to say I signed Rick up as a member of the Australian Labor Party, and he joined the Warren branch. He said at the time that he had been a candidate for the Senate here in the ACT for the Australian Democrats. Usually we have a waiting period in the Labor Party for people who have been members of other political parties. In Rick’s case, we welcomed him and we welcomed him straightaway because he was a quality human being—the like of which Australia has seen, in my view, very few.
Australia is so much the poorer for losing Rick Farley. All Australians will miss him and, in particular, the local community where he lived the later part of his life will miss him. We pay tribute to him. We pass respect to his partner Linda Burney, to his two children and other family members, and to his many thousands of friends throughout the nation.