Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:00): I rise to join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Treasurer and other members in paying tribute to a great Australian indeed, Sir John Leslie Carrick. John Carrick was a father, a husband, a veteran, a senator and a champion of the causes to which he devoted his life. He passed away on 18 May aged 99 years, just shortly after his beloved wife, Lady Angela, who died in February of this year. They had three daughters, Diane, Jane and Fiona. I spoke to Jane last week. Jane is married to a former member, Bob Woods. I got to know Sir John through my relationship with my mentor and father figure Tom Uren, who of course served with Sir John.
He grew up the fourth of six children in Sydney, in Woollahra. He moved to Randwick and eventually Bondi. He studied at Sydney Technical High School. He delivered gas bills for AGL while studying economics at the University of Sydney. He lived in a time, though, that was turbulent, and he enlisted in the AIF in December 1940.
He was posted to the 18th Anti-Tank Battery, and his unit was deployed to West Timor as part of Sparrow Force in December 1941, with orders to deny the island to the enemy. There, two months later, he was captured, along with some extraordinary Australians—Tom Uren and ‘Bluey’ Rutherford. These were giants of Australian history. Lieutenant Carrick was captured, together with other survivors, and was shipped to Java in July 1942. They then moved to Singapore’s Changi camp and worked on the railway—as they put it, quite that simply—at the infamous Hellfire Pass.
One of the great opportunities I’ve had in my life was to visit Hellfire Pass for the opening in 1987. Many of the veterans, of course, since then have passed away. Sir ‘Weary’ Dunlop was there, along with Sir John Carrick, Tom Uren and other veterans. I saw the extraordinary emotion of these men who went through hell. When you see Hellfire Pass—and I encourage Australians to visit there—you literally see the rock that they cut through, often with no real tools being offered, suffering from malaria, suffering from starvation. The mistreatment that occurred to the prisoners of war would have, I think, understandably broken any human being.
What was remarkable about these men was that they were so stoic about their experience. They had a sense of solidarity and looked after each other at that time. Coming together more than 40 years after the war had ended, they had—my understanding is that it was—the largest gathering of these men that happened in that period in one place. These were tough guys but they cried, they talked, they drank and celebrated life and survival. They were determined to take that experience and cherish life and make the most of it for themselves, their families and their country.
On that visit, Sir John Carrick wanted to go down the River Kwai. We went down on a longboat. I sat next to him for about four hours there and back—and the Treasurer has just spoken about the long chats. He had a chat with me. I was a very young man. I was in my early 20s. We had a chat about our different philosophies. He was absolutely committed to the Liberal Party. He was a giant of the Liberal Party. The three giants of the Liberal Party have been Bob Menzies, Sir John Carrick and John Howard. They are the big three in history. There he was, with a young democratic socialist. It was my first overseas trip; I had never been anywhere. I was overwhelmed by this experience. Tom Uren, in order to develop my life skills I guess, had taken me on this trip. Sir John was very generous in talking about the times that he had had. But Tom Uren only ever spoke to me about his war experiences during that trip; it was the only time in his life. And I would have spoken to Tom at least once a fortnight, for decades. Sir John talked about, in a personal way, his experiences. He told me some things that perhaps he had not told other people. And I certainly kept that confidence. I regarded it as a great honour. He shared his experiences in order to educate me. He talked about his involvement in the Liberal Party, about his philosophy and about his commitment to early childhood education. He was a great thinker. He was an intellectual. I was speaking with Jane last week, and she was aware that we had corresponded over the years. John was always very generous in his comments. The last time I saw him was at To Uren’s funeral service at Sydney Town Hall. Despite his ill health, he was determined to be there.
One remarkable thing about all of these people—and one would hope that we would have their character to respond in a similar way—was that they bore the Japanese people no ill will at all. Indeed, Sir John Carrick refused to give testimony to any war crimes tribunal because he regarded that as being about the past and that it was the structures and systems of fascism that had created the problem, not the people; it was the political structures. People had different ways of responding to that. Tom Uren was a collectivist. For his whole life, he believed in the importance of the collective—from that experience of the way the Australian prisoners of war share everything. In his first speech and subsequently, he spoke about the fit looking after the sick, and those who had the most giving it to those who needed it. The officers did not have the same hierarchy as occurred under the British system, which was across the other side of the river. Indeed, in terms of survival rates, the Australians did much better.
For Sir John Carrick, it was the importance of the individual and liberty. He had a very coherent position, and, in spite of the fact that on the surface it was very different to Tom’s, there was a great deal of consistency, essentially, about both of them; a consistency that was all about the Australian national interest. Sir John Carrick said it was systems, not people, that caused the sorts of atrocities that happened during that. He said:
… although I had seen many atrocities, I saw the evil compulsion of the system on the individual.
He also said:
It’s not people who create the savagery, but the systems of government … Human nature depends upon the political and social environment in which it finds itself.
I thought that the obituary by Troy Bramston in The Australian was very good. He interviewed Sir John Carrick last year. In that interview, Sir John said, ‘Good god, I’ve seen the most horrible things. I saw human beings in terror.’ There, he was talking about the Japanese, that the whole structure of that system was one of terror. Today, when terror has a different form—in particular, the rise of Islamic terrorism, a form of fascism that seeks to impose its views on others in the most horrific way; that discards humanity and human rights—that challenge remains for us in a different way.
Sir John came back to Australia, enrolled in a law course at the University of Sydney and took a job as a research officer in the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party. Two years later, he became the general secretary of the New South Wales division, a position he held until 1971. It is remarkable that someone who began as general secretary in the 1940s was still the general secretary in the 1970s. I find that quite extraordinary. Six years in a party office was six years too many for myself, as far as I’m concerned. He went on to become the Minister for Housing and Construction, Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Minister for Education, Minister for National Development and Energy and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Federal Affairs. He was appointed the Leader of the Senate in August 1978, and he retired from the Senate in June of 1987.
It was interesting; there were a number of veterans who had at that time a solidarity across the chamber. Think about the turmoil of that time—the election of the Whitlam government, the dismissal in 1975, the period of the Fraser government and then the election of the Hawke government. There were a whole lot of people during that era that served in this place who, compared with our life experiences, we are so much more fortunate than. We literally stand on their shoulders as the result of their sacrifice, and we should always remember that.
In 2008, Sir John was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia for:
… distinguished service in the area of educational reform in Australia, particularly through the advancement of early childhood education and to the development and support of new initiatives in the tertiary sector …
He continued to be an active servant of the community post politics, serving on boards and advisory committees, serving, no doubt, as a mentor to people like the Treasurer and many others in the Liberal Party, and being prepared to give advice to people such as myself whilst being totally loyal to his party. There’s no question that there was no more passionate supporter of the Liberal Party than Sir John Carrick. He also understood, and it’s something we as parliamentarians should always understand as well, that above all we in this place have one interest to serve, and that is the national interest. Sir John Carrick is someone whose entire life was about serving the national interest.
I pay tribute to him today, and I express my sincere condolences to his family, to his friends and to his comrades who he served with. There are very few of these veterans left now, but we are very humbled, I think, in their presence, because what they did for the country should never ever be forgotten. May he rest in peace.