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Doug Everingham Condolences

Three members of the House of Representatives offered condolences for Doug Everingham in the Federation Chamber today.

Everingham, the former ALP member for Capricornia (Qld) from 1967 to 1975 and from 1977 to 1984, died on August 24, aged 94. He was the Minister for Health in the Whitlam governments (1972-75).

Mike Freelander (ALP-Macarthur) spoke of the influence Everingham had on his medical career, particularly during the implementation of Medibank. He paid tribute to Everingham’s commitment to community health centres, mental health and his anti-smoking campaign.

The current Health Minister, Greg Hunt (Liberal-Flinders), spoke of Everingham’s contribution to Medibank and Medicare, and his work on behalf of Westmead hospital.

The current member for Everingham’s seat, Michelle Landry (LNP-Capricornia), spoke of her predecessor’s preselection at a time when Gough Whitlam was reforming the ALP and of Everingham’s commitment to spelling reform.

  • Watch the condolence speeches (15m – transcript below)
  • Listen to Mike Freelander’s speech (5m)
  • Listen to Greg Hunt’s speech (4m)
  • Listen to Michelle Landry’s speech (6m)

Hansard transcript of proceedings in the Federation Chamber.

Everingham, Hon. Douglas Nixon ‘Doug’

Consideration resumed of the motion:

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.

Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (17:01): I speak today on a condolence motion for Dr Douglas Nixon Everingham, who was born on 25 June 1923 and died on 26 August 2017. I didn’t know Dr Everingham personally, but he had a significant influence on my career. The Whitlam government was inextricably enmeshed with my career as a doctor and with my political views. A medical student, I witnessed the difficulties people without medical insurance had accessing to medical care. I also saw in places like Callan Park and Broughton Hall in Sydney the way people with severe mental illness and disability were chronically institutionalised. I heard on many occasions in the 1970s the call for a universal healthcare insurance system. Dr Everingham was at the forefront of a medical and social revolution that shaped my career and shaped my life.

The Labor Party had long had the view that some form of universal scheme to cover medical costs was necessary. A plan which was put forward by two health bureaucrats, Scotton and Deeble, was adopted by Gough Whitlam and Bill Hayden and put forward as Labor policy. At that time, the parliamentary Labor Party had more medical practitioners than it had ever had: Dick Klugman, Harry Jenkins Sr, Moss Cass and Doug Everingham. They were all doctors who had worked with a variety of people, many of them disadvantaged. Doug Everingham had worked in the mental health system for some years.

With the advent of the Whitlam government, the Medibank legislation was introduced and rejected by conservative forces in the Senate. I well remember visits to the Sydney Medical School by Bruce Shepherd, as head of the AMA, to encourage us medical students to donate to the fighting fund against the evil of Medibank. The Medibank bills had to be taken eventually to a double dissolution. I remember, as a delegate for the Australian Medical Students’ Association in Adelaide, hearing Doug Everingham as the Whitlam health minister talking about the benefits of a universal healthcare system. It seemed to me to be the most rational response to what was then a crisis in medical costs. Doug Everingham was the health minister and helped Bill Hayden, the social security minister, introduce the new universal health insurance system called Medibank after the double dissolution election. Medibank commenced on 1 July 1975. Within nine months, health insurance cards were issued to over 90 per cent of Australians, completely revolutionising access to medical care. It’s my personal view that, because there were a number of medical practitioners in the government who understood the importance of health care for all Australians, there was the urgency required to introduce the Medibank legislation and push it through, to make sure that Australians got the medical care they deserved. Foremost of these was Doug Everingham. He’s now sometimes remembered for his eccentricities, such as his liking for Esperanto, the phonetic language that is consigned to history now, but he was really a seminal figure in health care in Australia.

Amongst the many things that Doug Everingham pioneered was the development of comprehensive community healthcare centres. The community healthcare centres now throughout Australia are a tribute to Doug Everingham. He pioneered the move to get people with psychiatric illness and disabilities out of institutional care and into the community. He presaged the Richmond report in New South Wales, which led to community involvement and community participation for many people with mental illness and disabilities. He introduced the school dental scheme and wanted to extend the scheme to cover all Australians but faced an uphill battle with a strong campaign against this from the Australian Dental Association. Doug Everingham also led the anti-smoking fight and introduced the gradual implementation of the ban on tobacco advertising on TV and radio. He wanted to introduce anti-smoking ads but was stopped from doing this by the government.

Doug Everingham was a doctor ahead of his time. He leaves a lasting legacy that all those in medicine reap the rewards of. He leaves a legacy not just in parliament but in the wider Australian community, and we should be very grateful for this. I’m certainly grateful for his influence and I extend my condolences to his family. He was a great Australian and, by any account, he was a great Australian physician and deserves our commendation.

Mr HUNT (Flinders—Minister for Health and Minister for Sport) (17:06): I also want to rise to acknowledge the work, career and life of the Hon. Douglas Everingham. As the current incumbent in the role, I understand and recognise the challenges which come with managing a national health system and remembering that it’s always about the patients and their access to doctors and nurses and to medicines, and then, when necessary, to the hospitals, to mental health support and to the medical research which makes so much possible and available. Doug Everingham started his working life as a doctor. He lived a long life of 94 years—he obviously practised his own medicine, as it were! When he graduated from the University of Sydney in 1946, he spent the best part of 20 years in practice before entering parliament in 1967 and running through to 1984, with a two-year break between 1975 and 1977.

Of course, his principal work was as health minister, and, as health minister, there are perhaps four things for which he can and should be best remembered. Firstly, he was one of the early pioneers in recognition of mental health as an important public medical issue. It had been buried for so long, over so many decades, and it began to emerge in the 1970s, and his work in the public health space as a health minister who wanted to acknowledge it is an important part of Australia’s medical history. It is critical that we acknowledge all those who have taken the steps forward on that front.

Secondly, he was one of the early instigators and architects of a comprehensive national medical insurance scheme—what was originally Medibank; it’s now Medicare. It’s something to which I’m committed and the Prime Minister’s committed and on which there’s now very clear bipartisan support.

Thirdly, of course, in many ways what might be the single thing of greatest personal pride was that he was one of the founders of Westmead Hospital. His contribution to establishing Westmead and the seed grants is critical. Westmead is, I think, now one of the great not just Australian but international hospitals. I’ve had the privilege to visit Westmead in my current role, and to see this hospital in action is to see something which began 40 years ago but which has grown and manifested itself into being a centre for children’s health, mental health, chronic disease and extraordinary medical research and surgical capability.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge his work in what was really an early advocacy and an unfashionable advocacy in the fight against tobacco and what was a critical moment in Australian history. The fight against lung cancer has been going on for decades. It took people of courage in positions of authority to do that, and Doug Everingham was one of those people. I acknowledge him, I acknowledge his family and I’m happy to speak on a truly bipartisan basis.

Ms LANDRY (Capricornia—Deputy Nationals Whip) (17:10): I rise today to commemorate the life of former Capricornia MP Dr Douglas Everingham. While Dr Everingham and I didn’t share the same political ideologies, we did share the same dedication for the electorate of Capricornia, and I have the utmost respect for the achievements he made. Born in Wauchope, New South Wales, Everingham graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney in 1946. He spent time in New South Wales psychiatric hospitals before relocating back to Rockhampton, Queensland, where, like many medical students, he had completed his internship. Dr Everingham died last Thursday aged 94 in an aged-care home in Brisbane. He was a respected politician, a loved family man and a successful advocate for health reforms.

Dr Everingham beat Evan Schwarten for Labor Party preselection in 1967 at a time when party leader Gough Whitlam wanted to add more tertiary-educated politicians to the ranks. He remained the member for Capricornia until his retirement at the 1984 election. He was somebody with vision and one of the few doctors at that time that were in government. The first of a stream of academic leaders under Whitlam, Dr Everingham worked in public and private hospitals as well as as a general practitioner in Rockhampton after his graduation from the University of Sydney. After he won Capricornia, he became health minister and was responsible for introducing community health centres and establishing the Hospitals and Health Services Commission. He opened new hospitals, established new agreements with the states and also focused on Indigenous health programs. It’s important to recall that this was in the 1970s, a time when such reforms were considered radical.

Although it was not delivered during his tenure as health minister, Dr Everingham was instrumental in the creation of Medicare. Dr Everingham knew that all Australians would benefit from universal health care and was committed to seeing services delivered through general practitioners under a system paid for through taxation.

In many ways Dr Everingham was ahead of his time, but that did not stop him from succeeding in driving his agenda forward and realising many remarkable achievements. He urged 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.

Not only was he a man of high intelligence, but he had a sense of humour to boot. Dr Everingham was a proponent of the proposed SR1 set of spelling reforms. Spelling reform 1 is an English spelling reform proposal advocated by British-Australian linguist Harry Lindgren. It calls for the short ‘E’ sound to be always spelt with ‘E’. In a sign of his cheeky character, the proposal resulted in him renaming his department the ‘Department of Helth’, prompting Prime Minister Whitlam to send correspondence to Dr Everingham beginning with ‘Dear Dug’ and signed ‘Yurs, Gof’.

The spelling reforms were a reflection of his unerring belief in international peace. As his former state member for Rockhampton said:

His absolute commitment to the introduction of the international language, Esperanto underpinned his world peace objective as he reasoned that if people could communicate in a universal language there it would bring nations together. I think he must have had some influence at Rocky High where his children went to school because there were lunchtime instructions available for those I treated in Esperanto, I tried and failed.

He worked tirelessly for peace and had a profound influence on many people at many levels.

At the time of his death last week, Everingham was one of four remaining original Whitlam government ministers, one of the last remaining stalwarts of a very political era. Today, we remember the contributions of this honourable man and thank him and his family for his commitment to our nation. To Jo-Anne, Sue and Rick, thank you for the contribution your father made to my electorate of Capricornia and the sacrifices I’m sure you made as a family. Please know that they will not be forgotten.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hogan): I understand that it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places, and I ask all present to do so.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the Federation Chamber.

Mr MORTON (Tangney) (17:15): by leave—I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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