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Doug Everingham Condolences: House Remembers Whitlam Minister

Last updated on January 6, 2024

The House of Representatives today offered condolences following the death of Doug Everingham, the former Labor member for Capricornia and Health minister in the Whitlam governments.

Everingham died on August 24, 2017, aged 94. He represented the Queensland electorate from 1967 to 1975 and from 1977 until 1984. He was one of the original Whitlam ministers and held the Health portfolio throughout the Whitlam period.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten paid tribute to the former doctor during a condolence motion prior to Question Time. Both acknowledged Everingham’s commitment to health issues, especially mental health, and his work in establishing Medibank, the original universal health insurance scheme.

They acknowledged Everingham’s interest in linguistics, including his devotion to Esperanto and spelling reform.

Everingham’s death leaves just three of the original Whitlam ministers still living and five overall.

Everingham was first elected at a by-election in 1967. There are now just 16 members of the 26th Parliament still living.

The death of Doug Everingham means there are now 28 House members from the Menzies era (1949-72) still living. The oldest of these is Henry Pearce, who is also a former member for Capricornia. Pearce, a Liberal, will turn 100 on September 17, 2017. He held Capricornia from 1949 until he was defeated by the ALP’s George Gray in 1961. Gray’s death in 1967 precipitated the by-election won by Everingham.

Watch the Turnbull and Shorten speeches (10m)

Listen to Turnbull and Shorten (10m)

Hansard transcript of condolence debate for Doug Everingham.

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth—Prime Minister) (14:01): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 24 August 2017, of the Honourable Douglas Nixon Everingham, a former Minister and Member of this House for the Division of Capricornia from 1967 to 1975 and 1977 to 1984, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

I acknowledge the presence in the gallery today of Doug’s son Rick and Rick’s wife, Madonna. Today, we pay tribute to a man of sincerity and compassion who inspired a great deal of affection from both sides of the House. We record the passing of a man who oversaw significant reform which, crucially, has had an enduring, beneficial impact on our nation, benefitting and advancing the health of so many Australians. We remember one of the true characters of this place, very much his own man, walking his own path.

Doug Everingham was born on 25 June 1923 in the town of Wauchope, New South Wales, on the North Coast. He won scholarships to Fort Street High School and later to the University of Sydney to study medicine. After graduating, he worked for years on the front line of psychiatric institutions in Sydney. That experience instilled in him the strong belief that the mentally ill did not belong behind closed doors in institutions, as was the practice of the day. When he became the health minister in the Whitlam government, he pushed to deinstitutionalise mental health, long before that approach was broadly accepted as appropriate. He was a man ahead of his time in many ways, in particular in urging restrictions on cigarette and alcohol advertising, going to the extent of sticking antismoking signs on the cigarette vending machines that were once commonplace at Parliament House.

He first entered parliament after winning the seat of Capricornia in 1967 against his brother-in-law. In his maiden speech, he gave a passionate defence of peace, calling for openness to globalisation and more meaningful engagement with the wider world. He also singled out the great concept of the Snowy scheme. I can’t help thinking that he would have been pleased to see that great Australian enterprise enter a new era.

It was as Minister for Health between 1972 and 1975 that Doug Everingham left his mark. He was the architect of new community, health, school, dental and family planning services. He secured federal funding for the expansion and modernisation of hospitals across the country. He was instrumental in the introduction of Medibank, which today we know as Medicare. One of his famous pet causes of the time was his campaign for simplified phonetic spelling. He would have preferred his own department, the Department of Health, to be spelt H-E-L-T-H, but, on his attempt to implement such a system, the minister received a deceptively curt letter from Prime Minister Whitlam, reminding him that spelling fell outside of his responsibilities as health minister.

He retired from political life in 1984 and will be remembered dearly for his good nature, his easy smile and his wit. I place on record, Mr Speaker, our acknowledgement and thanks for his outstanding service to his constituents and to the Australian people, and our sadness at his passing. A dearly loved husband of Beverley and later Shirley, Dr Everingham is survived by three of his four children, a stepdaughter and stepson, grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time of loss.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (14:05): I thank the Prime Minister for his words. Today the Labor family salutes the life of a faithful son. We offer our condolences to Doug Everingham’s family and loved ones, including his son Rick, and Rick’s wife, Madonna, who are here with us today.

Doug Everingham was one of the first of the ‘Whitlam academics’—a new breed of tertiary-educated Labor candidate—a trained psychiatrist, surgeon and GP who became a reforming health minister, present at the creation of Medibank and the beginning of universal health care in this country.

It was actually 50 years ago this very month that Doug won the by-election for Capricornia. He did so as an atheist suspected of communist sympathies. He was considered, perhaps, a risky candidate for a regional seat under the new leader, Gough Whitlam. When Graham Freudenberg was moonlighting as an advancer for his leader’s visit, he learned that Doug had named his house ‘Ingersoll’, after the famous 19th century US orator and radical free thinker. Graham was concerned that the press gallery would revive this ‘atheism’ thing, so it was politely suggested that Doug might want to remove the plaque, or perhaps put up a clarification. He replied: ‘I have done everything you and Gough have asked me in this campaign—I have shut up, I haven’t written any letters—but this is my home, and the name stays.’

As we are all aware, electoral boundaries change. In his time, Doug’s seat, centred on Rocky, stretched as far and wide as Sarina, Biloela, Gladstone and Bundaberg. It is no surprise that a man familiar with the vast expanses of this nation was passionate about extending opportunity beyond our capital cities, bringing first-class medical facilities to the suburbs and the regions.

Doug himself was a humble person, and a private one. He shunned the trappings of office. A friend who knew him well informed me today that he was one of the last people in Rockhampton to buy a colour television. Unusually for those times, Doug was a teetotaller, and a zealous campaigner against smoking—to the point of covering the cigarette machines in Parliament House with skull-and-crossbones stickers. And, unusually for any time, he was passionate about Esperanto and spelling reform. Doug held to the idea that, if everyone could speak the same language, then we would be free of the misunderstandings that fuel conflict. He thought this was a great path to world peace. When he was asked by the author of Who’s Who to list his interests, he replied, ‘semantics, interlinguistics, pasigraphies, symbol systems and spelling reform’. Throughout his life, he championed phonetics and the removal of extraneous vowels; indeed, he wanted to remove the ‘a’ from his own title as Minister for Health. He would often write to his constituents and his colleagues using Esperanto. Esperanto, of course, relies on phonetics, so Prime Minister Whitlam—himself no stranger to the intellectual or the exotic—would sometimes send up his colleague by writing him notes addressed to D-U-G and signing his own name as G-O-F.

Like every Queensland MP except for Bill Hayden, Doug lost his seat following the Dismissal in 1975. He travelled to London to practise as a locum. In 1977 he recontested and recaptured Capricornia, representing his community until he retired at the 1984 election.

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, when you look back at the record of Doug Everingham’s speeches in this place, the overwhelming majority focus not just upon health but also upon the disadvantage, the poverty and the poor health suffered by Aboriginal Australians. He was someone who spent years providing free medical treatment at the Woorabinda settlement near Rocky. He knew firsthand of what he spoke about. So many of those speeches, and colleagues here could briefly imagine them, were given as part of an adjournment debate—heartfelt words delivered to empty chambers late at night. But what I think is remarkable is that those speeches could be read on adjournment tonight with only a word or two changed. It is perhaps something we should all reflect upon.

Today, another member of a famous government marches into history. We pause to honour the memory of a man of decency, humility and intellect and we offer our party and our nation’s thanks to his family for his service.

The SPEAKER: As a mark of respect, I ask all present to signify their approval by rising 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 Defence Industry) (14:10): by leave—I move:

That the resumption of debate on the Prime Minister’s motion of condolence in connection with the death of the Honourable Douglas Nixon Everingham be referred to the Federation Chamber.

Question agreed to.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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