May 14, 2014

Condolences – The Hon. Neville Wran, AC, QC

Federation Chamber

Mr Albanese (Grayndler) (11:29): I want to join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other members on this condolence motion to a great Australian and a champion of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Neville Wran. Neville Wran was educated at Nicholson Street Public School and Fort Street High School, in my electorate. He went on to study law at the University of Sydney and became a prominent lawyer prior to entering the upper house of the New South Wales parliament in 1970. In 1973 he moved to the electorate of Bass Hill. He became leader of the Australian Labor Party and was elected premier in 1976. That was just after the very significant defeat of the Whitlam Labor government in 1975. It was a time when the Australian Labor Party was going through considerable difficulties. Neville Wran mobilised public support. Neville Wran understood that it was vital that politicians be aware of issues such as costs of living and the concerns of people in their local communities.

At Neville Wran’s quite extraordinary send-off at Sydney Town Hall just a month ago, the contributions of former Prime Minister Paul Keating, former Premier Bob Carr, Justice Michael Kirby, Labor historian Rodney Cavalier and members of Neville’s family—his wife, Jill, and children, Kim, Harriet and Hugo—were quite remarkable. In addition to those family members, I also give my condolences to Glen Wran, his son, who was the president of the Ashfield branch, in my electorate, of longstanding note, during the time in which I have had the honour of serving in this House as the member for Grayndler. I well recall the extraordinary state conference of the New South Wales ALP at Sydney Town Hall when Neville Wran announced his resignation in June 1986. As I entered the magnificent Sydney Town Hall that morning, the loyal deputy to Neville Wran, Jack Ferguson, pulled me aside and said, ‘Take a seat, son; you’re about to see history.’ I did not know at that time what was coming.

We all know in this place that there are very few secrets in politics. It is indeed remarkable that Neville Wran was able to resign from that high office after serving for a decade as premier of the largest state in Australia and it was kept a secret. The gasps from delegates at that conference were an emotional reaction that will stay with me for as long as I live. It was fitting that Neville Wran chose the floor of a New South Wales ALP conference to announce his resignation. He was of the view that no individual is greater than the movement of which they are a part. From time to time you hear that individuals might like to think that they get here on their own. They do not; they get here because of the support of their family, their community and the political party they represent.

Neville Wran, a giant of the labour movement, never put himself above that movement. His achievements were quite remarkable: the economic transformation of New South Wales into a modern economy, the new railway infrastructure out to the Eastern Suburbs, the electrification of the rail lines to Wollongong and Newcastle, new infrastructure in Sydney’s western suburbs and support in regional New South Wales. Those achievements led to the remarkable ‘Wran slides’ in 1978 and in 1981. This was a time when Labor won seats like Manly and Willoughby, and many seats in regional New South Wales. A two-party preferred vote of higher than 60 per cent is something I suspect might never be seen again.

It was a remarkable performance, which did not come about by doing nothing. It was an endorsement of a reforming, forward-thinking government. It was reforming in terms of the great achievements in infrastructure and economic development and also in the environment whereby, thanks to Neville Wran, the great national parks of the North Coast of New South Wales were saved and protected. He created the Land and Environment Court. He understood that development needed to be balanced with appropriate outcomes in environmental protection. He rebuilt the inner areas of Sydney through the Darling Harbour project and the Sydney Entertainment Centre. The Darling Harbour project on the old Pyrmont sites was very controversial. It was a dilapidated area, which he subjected to urban renewal. As someone who was born during and lived through Neville Wran’s premiership, living on Pyrmont Bridge Road, Camperdown, I am very familiar with that area.

Neville Wran established the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and the most significant land rights legislation anywhere in Australia up to that point. He introduced the Anti-Discrimination Act. He removed the criminalisation of homosexuality. In our time, when there is a modern debate about marriage equality, it is remarkable that just those few years ago to be gay was to risk being jailed because of your sexuality. Neville Wran had the courage to take that on and to lead the nation, to make a real difference to people’s lives.

Neville Wran was ahead of the nation on women’s rights when he introduced legislation concerning the appointment of women. Before Neville Wran’s government, the idea of a woman being appointed to a court was seen to be remarkable and not really appropriate. Neville Wran made sure that women were appointed to all of the highest offices in the New South Wales regime.

Before Neville Wran, the Legislative Council of New South Wales was a bit like the House of Lords in the UK, where the Lords were not elected by the people; they were appointed by each other. Neville Wran went to a referendum and won it to transform, more than a century after the New South Wales parliament was formed, the legislative council into a democratic body. Neville Wran introduced public funding and disclosure laws. Pecuniary interest registers for members of parliament did not exist before Neville Wran in New South Wales.

Regarding some of the laws that were still present in New South Wales before his premiership, the death penalty was still in place in New South Wales prior to it being abolished. The Summary Offences Act, whereby people were picked up and put into jail for the crime of being homeless or for other issues of poverty, essentially, was removed. He was, of course, the longest serving Premier of New South Wales until Bob Carr broke that record.

Neville Wran was someone whom I had the honour of having contact with as the president of Young Labor. At the time, Young Labor was not always compliant with the government of the day. Neville Wran had a wit but also a very sharp way of taking a young fellow, as I was in the Labor Party in those days, and giving him the benefits of his wisdom in a very direct fashion about the need to support his government. He was someone who was larger than life. He was someone who went on to have an extraordinary career in business. He was someone who was prepared to take a young fellow like me aside and give him good advice about the Labor Party.

I am very honoured to be a member of the Australian Labor Party like Neville Wran. Because of my membership of the Labor Party I have enjoyed a better life and privileges that I could not have dreamed of when I was growing up just a few kilometres from where Neville Wran grew up and went to school in our local community. I pay tribute to him and I honour him in this parliament today. I conclude by once again giving my condolences to Jill, who gave such as remarkable eulogy at his farewell, and to his children and all of his friends, colleagues and comrades.