Condolence Motions Make For Heartfelt Start To Parliament

Proceedings in the House of Representatives got off to a prickly start today with the government goading the ALP during condolence motions for Arthur Gietzelt and Ariel Sharon.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott set the tone when he moved a motion of condolence for the former Senator Gietzelt who died on January 5 at the age of 93.

Abbott

During his speech, Abbott said: “He was a lion of the Labor Party—or at least he always asserted that he was a lion of the Labor Party and of no other party.” The Labor benches bristled at the comment and as Opposition Leader Bill Shorten rose to speak a voice could be heard describing Abbott as a “low dog”.

Abbott’s comment was a reference to allegations in documents released by the Australian Security Intelligence Service (ASIO) that claimed Gietzelt had communist connections during his time as a member of the ALP. Gietzelt served as a minister in the Hawke government from 1983 to 1987.

Following the Gietzelt condolence, Abbott moved a second condolence motion for former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon who died on January 11 after spending eight years in a permanent vegetative state following a stroke in 2006. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop spoke to the motion, as did Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his deputy, Tanya Plibersek.

After the speeches, the Manager of Government Business, Christopher Pyne, associated himself with what he called “the genuine and heartfelt remarks” by Abbott, Bishop and Shorten, “and the remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition”.

The Opposition benches bristled again, with the comment assumed to refer to a statement made by Tanya Plibersek in the House on September 17, 2002, in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. She said: “…I can think of a rogue state which consistently ignores UN resolutions, whose ruler is a war criminal responsible for the massacres of civilians in refugee camps outside its borders. The US supports and funds this country. This year it gave it a blank cheque to continue its repression of its enemies. It uses US military hardware to bulldoze homes and kill civilians. It is called Israel, and the war criminal is Ariel Sharon.”

Plibersek later withdrew the remarks and said she had changed her views.

During today’s proceedings, the ALP’s Tony Burke raised a point of order with Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, objecting to “two occasions where point-scoring has been used on the death of a person”.

Plibersek

Plibersek said: “I am personally offended by the remarks of the manager of government business, and I would like him to withdraw those remarks, please.”

The Speaker played a dead bat, saying: “I think the interpretation that people have placed in their minds is for them to determine.”

Pyne withdrew his remark and Speaker Bishop said: “I find the way in which we are conducting this part of the business taking away from the seriousness…”

Perhaps the dead are owed nothing but the truth, but today’s unedifying exchanges seem to run counter to Abbott’s promise that he would provide a government of “adults”.

  • Listen to the Condolence Motions (15m)

Hansard transcript of condolence motions in the House of Representatives.

Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Prime Minister) (14:00): I move: That the House record its deep regret at the death on 5 January 2014 of the Hon. Arthur Thomas Gietzelt AO, former Senator for New South Wales from 1971 to 1989, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

He was a long-serving and notable member of this parliament. He served in the Second World War with the Royal Australian Engineers in New Guinea. He was elected to the Senate in 1971 and, along with Senator Peter Durack, was at one stage the Father of the Senate. Arthur Gietzelt was a minister for four years in the Hawke government. He was a lion of the Labor Party—or at least he always asserted that he was a lion of the Labor Party and of no other party.

Arthur Gietzelt was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his service to the Australian parliament and to local government. He served his country; he served his people, and on behalf of the government I offer condolences to his wife and to his family.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (14:02): On 5 January this year, the Labor Party lost a great servant in the Hon. Arthur Thomas Gietzelt. Arthur gave much of his adult life to the service of this nation: first as a soldier in the jungles of New Guinea, alongside his brother Ray—also a legendary union leader; then as a councillor in the Sutherland Shire for 15 years, including nine terms as mayor; and from 1971 to 1989 he was a senator for New South Wales.

Fittingly, for a lion of the Labor Party, Senator Gietzelt’s first speech in the other place was a stinging repudiation of the Gorton government’s budget. His long service did nothing to temper his rhetoric or dull his passion. Twenty-eight years later, in paying tribute to Arthur, the great John Button commented on their, shall I say, ‘robust’ policy discussions. John Button said, ‘On a number of occasions I recall that he expressed disagreement in my office in a tone of voice which might even in this building have been heard on the House of Representatives side.’

Arthur would serve for four years as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs in the Hawke government. For two years, he was Father of the Senate. He was always a powerful voice on numerous Senate committees. In his final act of Commonwealth service, Arthur explained that he timed his departure from the Senate to guarantee that his replacement would be another distinguished representative of Labor in the Senate, Senator John Faulkner.

When he left parliament, Arthur said: ‘I have been able to do what I want with my life. There aren’t too many who can say that.’ Australia is fortunate that what Arthur wanted to do most was serve his nation. Today all of us in this place salute Arthur for his service to his community and to his country in war and in peace. On behalf of the parliamentary Labor Party, I send my condolences to Arthur’s wife, Dawn, and to their three children and three grandchildren. May he rest in peace.

The SPEAKER (14:04): As a mark of respect I invite honourable members to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The SPEAKER: I thank the House.

Debate adjourned.

Mr PYNE (Sturt—Leader of the House and Minister for Education) (14:05): I move:

That the resumption of the debate on the Prime Minister’s motion of condolence relating to the death of the Hon. Arthur Thomas Gietzelt be referred to the Federation Chamber.

Question agreed to.

Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Prime Minister) (14:06): On indulgence, I rise to acknowledge the passing of Ariel Sharon, former Prime Minister of Israel. Ariel Sharon was one of the architects of modern Israel. He was one of the founding fathers of the state of Israel. He was a soldier who fought during Israel’s major historic wars before going on to become a political leader. At times a hawk, at times a dove, he reshaped the political landscape of Israel with his decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. As a reflection of Australia’s close relationship with Israel, Foreign Minister Bishop attended Mr Sharon’s funeral to express the sympathies of the Australian government and the Australian people in person.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (14:07): On behalf of the federal opposition, I join with the Prime Minister in acknowledging the passing of Ariel Sharon. As a general and as a prime minister, Mr Sharon dedicated his life to fighting for his beliefs and the state of Israel. His deeds on the battlefield won him fame as one of Israel’s most brilliant and courageous commanders. The same bravery and tactical acumen served him throughout his rise to the prime ministership.

Undoubtedly Ariel Sharon was a fearless leader and, at times, a controversial figure. But in his final years as Prime Minister he made strides in the Israel-Palestine peace process, representing a courageous shift in his politics in favour of a two-state solution. All of those involved in the peace process should follow the example of courage that has historically been required to move the process forward. We should all rededicate ourselves to supporting this goal.

Ill health robbed Mr Sharon of a chance to complete his change of position and, indeed, to remake his legacy. We will never know how history would have judged him had he seen this through. Regardless of this, Ariel Sharon will loom large in the memories of his people and his country. He will be remembered as a great friend in the history of Australia. The nation of Israel and the Israeli people will deeply feel his loss. Our sympathies are with his family and with all those who mourn his passing.

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:08): I rise on indulgence to affirm the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the passing of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. I was honoured to represent the Australian government at a memorial service for Ariel Sharon at the Knesset on 13 January and at his burial service at the Sharon family farm in Negev. I extended our deep condolences to Ariel Sharon’s family, to the President and Prime Minister of Israel, and to the Israeli people on the passing of a man who dedicated his life to the nation of Israel. As United States Vice President Biden remarked during the memorial service, Ariel Sharon was a complex man who engendered strong views across the globe about his commitment and passion, his opinions and his work. But, Vice President Biden observed, like all leaders who make their mark on history, Ariel Sharon had a north star that guided him—and that was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Throughout decades of service to the Israeli people, Ariel Sharon remained deeply committed to safeguarding Israel’s security and prosperity.

Australia remains firmly committed to Israel’s right to exist in peace within secure and internationally recognised borders as much as we are committed to the two-state solution, which recognises a state for the Palestinian people where they too can live in peace and prosperity behind internationally recognised borders. We support resumed final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. We welcome the strong leadership shown by United States Secretary of State Kerry in bringing the Israelis and Palestinians to the table to find a negotiated political solution to the most contentious issues—including the final boundaries and status of settlements, refugees, Israel’s security and the city of Jerusalem—in order to reach a just and lasting two-state solution. This is the only path to realising Ariel Sharon’s enduring vision for a secure and prosperous Israel for generations to come. Australia joins with our friends in Israel in mourning the death of Ariel Sharon.

Ms PLIBERSEK (Sydney—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (14:10): Ariel Sharon was, from any perspective, a significant figure in modern Israeli history. His life, controversial and full of struggle, mirrored much of the development of modern Israel. He was born in 1928, around 20 years before the establishment of the modern Israeli state, in what was then the British mandated territory of Palestine. It was a turbulent time, after a world war which carved national borders—still governing the Middle East—but before a second, which was to create the conditions from which modern Israel was born. In the 1940s, while the Holocaust was taking place in Europe, Sharon joined the military wing of the Zionist movement and was a soldier in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. He became a decorated member of the Israeli Defense Forces, a brigadier general during the 1967 Six-Day War and a commander of an armoured division in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

After the Yom Kippur War, Ariel Sharon turned to politics, where for most of his career he was a stalwart of the Israeli right. His time as defence minister ended in controversy after the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. His rise through Israeli politics to the prime ministership in the first decade of this century dominated the later part of Sharon’s life. Israeli politics is, to the outsider, a mosaic built on the seemingly eternal effort to guarantee the country’s very existence—an effort Ariel Sharon spent his entire adult life dedicated to.

For someone with Sharon’s history, it was perhaps unexpected that his time in office saw a shift towards a two-state solution in the peace process, as well as a large removal of settlers from Gaza. This sparked a ruction in Israeli politics, with Sharon breaking from his traditional Likud bastion to form the centrist Kadima. This took courage, and the fact that it was Ariel Sharon who made such a courageous stand is worthy of praise.

The history of modern Israel, from its establishment, through numerous wars to the current decade, has been a struggle, and Ariel Sharon’s whole life has been bound up with this struggle. What we do know is that a man who left the public stage a number of years ago and was, for much of his adult of life, a very significant figure in Israeli public life, has now departed. We offer our condolences to his family and to the state of Israel.

Mr PYNE (Sturt—Leader of the House and Minister for Education) (14:13): I move:

That further statements on indulgence on Ariel Sharon be permitted in the Federation Chamber.

In so doing, may I attach myself to the genuine and heartfelt remarks of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Leader of the Opposition and the remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Burke: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I will be brief. With respect to your role preserving the dignity of this House, we had two occasions where point-scoring has been used on the death of a person. It ought not occur.

The SPEAKER: I think the interpretation that people have placed in their minds is for them to determine. I put the motion—

Ms Plibersek: Madam Speaker, on the point of order: I am personally offended by the remarks of the manager of government business, and I would like him to withdraw those remarks, please.

The SPEAKER: As I understand, the remarks made were that the Leader of the House wished to associate himself with the remarks that had been made. I cannot see an offence in that. I do note that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has voiced her concern on that issue, but I do not see how I can be asked to ask anyone to withdraw remarks associating themselves with those remarks.

Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker, if it would assist the chamber, I withdraw the remark but I associate myself with the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

The SPEAKER: I find the way in which we are conducting this part of the business taking away from the seriousness, but I accept the way in which the matter has been dealt with and I will put the motion that further statements on indulgence on Ariel Sharon be permitted in the Federation Chamber.

Question agreed to.

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