Sep 10, 2019

Speech – Jim Forbes – Tuesday, 10 September 2019

 I join with the Prime Minister in moving a condolence motion for Jim Forbes.

When Jim Forbes gave his first speech in Old Parliament House, he made a confession: the new member for Barker declared that he was filled with feelings of inadequacy and humility. It’s pretty remarkable, when you consider that Jim was a veteran of World War II. He was in Darwin when Japanese bombs were still falling. He went on to fight in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, then served in occupied Japan and Germany. For his bravery he was awarded the Military Cross.

When he came home, he was armed with fresh knowledge. Already feeling an attraction to politics before he went off to fight, he was advised that his future entry into parliament would be a lot more likely if he studied law. There can’t have been too many soldiers who lugged legal textbooks into the war-ravaged jungle, but Jim was one. War was followed by academia, including the scholarship that he received to Oxford. Eventually, out of it all, emerged a politician who would stick firmly to the belief that politics should be about policies rather than personalities. As health minister, he tried three times to launch campaigns against smoking. As Army and Navy minister he was, much more contentiously, charged with the task of introducing national service to bolster Australia’s capability in the catastrophe that was the Vietnam War.

Jim was a firm believer in honesty and loyalty. He admired those who showed it and was strong in expressing his disgust when it was absent. He may have been a Liberal, but Jim had something in common with the Labor Party of the 1970s in that he wasn’t a big fan of Malcolm Fraser. Perhaps Jim had been spending too much time in the company of his young friend, a fellow called Paul Keating. They stayed together at the Kurrajong Hotel. The rise of Fraser prompted Jim to call time on his parliamentary career, but he went on to serve as vice president and then president of the South Australian Liberals and as the Liberal Party’s federal president. He even had a hand in the rise of Alexander Downer, which we are sure Jim’s old Kurrajong mate Paul Keating would have been deeply thankful for!

Amid it all, Jim pursued the quest for what he called ‘a normal life’. By his calculation, a former politician needed two years for each year they spent in parliament before they finally attained that state of grace. Of course, as the Prime Minister has said, he led a very long life indeed, so by his own reckoning, he got there!

He ended his 90s still driving, still playing golf and still sporting an impressive head of hair. He was described as still being a forceful but gentle persona, on which note I’d like to return to Jim’s own words from 27 February 1972. They resound with the empathy you might expect from a man who was one of the critical people in the dismantling of the White Australia Policy, an act which made modern Australia a much better country today. He said:

… for many, immigration has become so much a part of everyday experience that we tend to ignore the human issues involved and the responsibility we have towards those who have come to live with us. The too pervasive materialism of life around us blunts our sensitivity to the loneliness, the bewilderment and, all too frequently, the aspirations of those newcomers seeking to re-establish themselves. Each of us, as we benefit from ever expanding economic growth, cannot fail to reflect on the part the migrant has played in creating Australia’s relative affluence. If for no loftier reason than this, we should be ready to acknowledge the debt we owe them.

To Jim’s family: we acknowledge the debt that we owe you. Our hearts are with you as his seemingly eternal presence passes into memory. May he rest in peace.

The SPEAKER: As a mark of respect, I ask all present to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

Debate adjourned.