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Sir Rupert Hamer, Former Victorian Premier, Genuine Liberal, Dies, 87

Sir Rupert Hamer, Premier of Victoria from 1972 until 1981, died at his home in Melbourne on March 23, 2004.

HamerA major condolence debate took place in the Victorian Legislative Assembly this week.

Extraordinarily, only one member of the House of Representatives, Petro Georgiou, the member for Kooyong, rose to pay tribute to one of the great Liberal figures of the past half-century.

In the Senate, an Australian Democrat, Lyn Allison, moved a condolence motion that was passed without debate.

It is difficult to imagine the Howard government adopting such a stance if the deceased Premier had been a right-winger of the ilk of Henry Bolte. This theme was explored by Alan Ramsey of the Sydney Morning Herald.

A State Funeral for Hamer was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, on March 30. The eulogy was delivered by Lindsay Thompson, Hamer’s deputy who succeeded him as Premier in 1981. Thompson was defeated by John Cain in 1982.

  • Listen to Thompson’s eulogy (11m)
  • Listen to Hamer’s State Funeral service – ABC broadcast (97m)

Text of an article by the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, published in the Financial Review on March 30, 2004.

Dick Hamer, premier of Victoria from 1972 to 1981, governed at an important time for his state and for Australia.

In the post-war years, the country had committed itself to major population programs and to national development. In those years Australia made significant progress.

When Dick Hamer became premier, Australians were wanting something more. It was a time when truly liberal values were given great emphasis. Support for the environment was one of the important issues for Dick Hamer. He recognised the challenge ahead – the protections that had to be put in place if the lives of future Australians were to be enhanced.

He supported the arts for their own sake but also as a manifestation of national identity, as an expression of the spirit of individual men and women. These were increasingly part of the emerging Australia.

The migration decisions taken and supported by all sides in the early years after the war had already done much to change the Victoria that Dick Hamer came to govern. At this time, government had a positive role to play in shaping the nature of Australian society, which made Dick Hamer’s innovations all the more important. Liberal values, the attitude of government to people and the relationship of people in the wider environment were critical. Australia was evolving as a much broader society.

Dick Hamer recognised that governments needed to be more responsive to differing concerns. He put Victoria in the lead in changing times. The values he promoted were essentially liberal. The individual and the individual’s right to choice was strongly supported but the state had a positive role in advancing and maintaining that right. Capital punishment was ended amidst general approval throughout the community.

Dick Hamer achieved an important change in direction for Victoria. It has been said that he modernised the state. Especially in terms of people, in attitudes to people, in concerns for people and their individual rights, that is exactly what he did. He opposed racism and discrimination with a deep but quietly held belief. He knew how divisive these issues could become. He strongly supported the republic and never lost his commitment to public life.

Dick Hamer would have had many problems with theories of economic rationalism and of deregulation that gave significantly increased power to major corporations. He believed that these ran counter to a concept of liberal values that always placed people first.

There is much more to government and very much more to life than the economic bottom line. There are many things that governments ought to do which may not pay for themselves but which are still important to the integrity and values of a people, of a country.

Dick Hamer was a quiet man. He opposed extremism. Have we lost some of the essence of Dick Hamer’s liberalism? Have we advanced beyond it? Liberal philosophy, liberal attitudes at their best, are universal in their application. The protections of the rule of law, of habeas corpus, of trial by jury do not exist merely for the privileged, they exist for all people. For Victoria and Australia, Dick Hamer would believe that they should not only exist but have practical application to all people who come within reach of Australian law and Australian power. Any move to deny such rights to some who are regarded as outside the law, who should not benefit from due process, would deeply offend Dick Hamer’s consciousness.

He was the essence of a person for whom liberal values and the rule of law, in the truest philosophical sense, were a prime motivating factor through his entire life. We should be asking ourselves how much of what he stood for have we lost or set aside.

Text of the speech delivered by Petro Georgiou, Liberal member for Kooyong, in the Adjournment Debate on March 29, 2004.

Mr GEORGIOU (Kooyong) (9.05 p.m.) — I rise to honour the memory of Sir Rupert Hamer. He was a courageous and socially progressive Liberal. He led Victoria with great distinction as a premier from 1972 to 1981. To anyone who reflects on Sir Rupert’s 23 years in the Victorian parliament and his record of achievements, then and subsequently, it is overwhelmingly apparent that Dick Hamer was a man for the times and a man ahead of the times.

I met Dick Hamer on numerous occasions during his premiership and after his retirement. As member for Kooyong, I invited him in 1998 to be chair of the Federation Fund Committee, a task which he managed with his usual distinction and sensitivity. Sir Rupert, who was Victoria’s Premier for almost nine years, succeeded the indefatigable Sir Henry Bolte who, for almost two decades, had turned Victoria into Australia’s economic powerhouse.

Sir Rupert for his part had a passion for people, for getting out into the community and listening to people’s desires, concerns and aspirations. His humility and genuineness, when combined with political mastery, saw him lead the Liberal Party to the largest ever victory in its history. In Victoria in 1976, the party captured 51 of 81 parliamentary seats. The benefits of his passion and dedication to liberalism, however, cannot and should not be measured only in terms of political success, substantial as that was. They can be measured against the broadening of social awareness, the encouragement of cultural diversity and civic responsibility in Victoria that occurred under Sir Rupert’s leadership.

He was the first Premier in Australia to establish an arts ministry. He enhanced individual rights. He delivered Victorians equal opportunity legislation and residential tenancy laws. He created a small claims tribunal, decriminalised homosexuality and made environmental protection and sustainability a government priority, establishing the Environment Protection Authority. His commitment to the environment resulted in his government purchasing land for metropolitan parks, using planning powers to enable the preservation of open space and protecting the Yarra River. This was all part of his vision of Victoria as the `garden state’. As a community we continue to reap the benefits of his foresight in this area. Today the environment is a significant contributing factor in Melbourne’s official recognition as the `world’s most liveable city’.

Dick Hamer was an avowed opponent of capital punishment. Ultimately he succeeded in abolishing capital punishment, soon after becoming Premier, by introducing a private member’s bill into state parliament. And Sir Rupert showed the courage of his conviction when, as a member of the Bolte cabinet, he argued, albeit unsuccessfully, against the hanging of Ronald Ryan, who became the last man to be sent to the gallows in Australia.

This broad snapshot of a long and distinguished career in public life seeks to partially capture the courageous, progressive and visionary approach Sir Rupert adopted throughout his public service and particularly during his time as Premier. It is a tribute to him that he is held in the highest regard by both his political allies and political opponents alike. In the context of his generation he was quintessentially Australian. He undertook three separate tours of duty during World War II, including as a Rat of Tobruk and serving at El Alamein.

After his parliamentary service, he continued to contribute to the community through an ongoing involvement in the arts, the humanities and conservation. I do not think it is accurate to say that Sir Rupert retired after leaving politics. He simply diverted the same energy, enthusiasm, wisdom and sensitivity into other pursuits: to supporting philanthropic organisations, such as the Victorian State Opera, the Save the Children Fund and Greenhouse Action Australia, and to advocating a more compassionate approach towards refugees.

His support of and involvement in community events never waned. On the morning of his passing, he had attended a multicultural function at the parliament. On the evening before, he had been at Hawthorn’s Guernsey Presentation night, as the club’s No. 1 patron. A life well lived is a life worth while. Sir Rupert’s life was well lived, and this made the state in which we Victorians live more worth while. I extend my sympathy to Lady Hamer and her children, Christopher, Julia, Sarah and Alastair, and their children on the passing of Sir Rupert. He will be fondly remembered and very sadly missed.

Text of the motion moved in the upper house by Senator Lyn Allison (Australian Democrats, Victoria) on April 1, 2004. The motion was carried without dissent and without debate.

That the Senate—

(a) notes that Sir Rupert Hamer, a former Victorian State Premier, died on 23 March 2004 aged 87;

(b) acknowledges in particular Sir Rupert’s contribution to public life, including his active service in World War II, his contribution to the abolition of the death penalty, his pioneering efforts in setting-up national parks and the Environment Protection Authority in Victoria, his commitment to principles of democracy, the Republic, the arts, heritage and young people; and

(c) expresses its deepest condolences to Sir Rupert’s wife, Lady April Hamer and their children Christopher, Julia, Sarah and Alistair.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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