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Turnbull And Shorten Pay Moving Tribute To Sir John Carrick

Moving tribute was paid to the late Senator Sir John Carrick in the House of Representatives today. The former Fraser government minister died on May 18, aged 99.

CarrickCarrick, shown here in 1971, was a NSW Liberal senator from 1971 until 1987. He became Minister for Education on November 12, 1975, following the dismissal of the Whitlam government. In 1979, he became Minister for National Development and Energy, holding the portfolio until the government’s defeat in 1983. He was Leader of the Government in the Senate from 1978 until 1983.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke of Carrick’s wartime experiences, including three years as a prisoner-of-war in Changi. He spoke of Carrick’s service as General Secretary of the NSW division of the Liberal Party and his time as a minister in the Fraser government. Turnbull’s voice broke as he told how Carrick died in his family’s arms, just as Changi prisoners ensured that none of their number died alone.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said some regarded Carrick as “the soul of the Liberal Party”, which “he took from a fledgling amateur operation to a national political force”. Shorten said that “giants of our movement across the generations knew and admired John Carrick not just as a worthy foe and an opponent of great civility and courtesy but also as a person of substance, someone always prepared to argue sincerely held differences in principle, philosophy and the convictions that underpinned policy”.

Carrick’s death means that 22 (51%) of the 43 ministers who served in the Fraser ministries between 1975 and 1983 are now deceased.

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Hansard transcript of Condolence Debate in the House of Representatives for the late Senator Sir John Carrick.

Carrick, Hon. Sir John Leslie, AC, KCMG

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth—Prime Minister) (14:00): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 18 May 2018, of the Honourable Sir John Leslie Carrick AC KCMG, a Senator for the State of New South Wales from 1971 to 1987, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Across the divides of this parliament, Sir John was one of the most influential and admired men in Australian politics. He walked alongside the political giants of our nation, but he was never in their shadow. He was a humble man who lived simply, wore second-hand clothes and gave much of his money away. Before he died, he told his family he did not want a state funeral. As a prisoner of war, Sir John had attended far too many funerals, and none of the friends he had buried were afforded any such fanfare—no family, no headstones, no ceremony. And in solidarity with his fellow soldiers, John Carrick wanted to be farewelled as simply as possible. It tells us so much about the man we remember today.

He was born in Sydney in 1918, just a few months before the end of the Great War. He went on as a man to defend our nation in its darkest hours, fighting with the Australian Army’s Sparrow Force in Timor during World War II. He was captured and spent more than three years in prisoner of war camps, including the infamous Changi Prison. He endured the brutality and inhumanity of working on the Burma-Thailand railway.

Despite this terrible hardship, the life John Carrick made when he came home showed that his searing experiences had not buried his love of humanity. ‘It’s not people who create the savagery,’ he said, ‘but the systems of government … Human nature depends upon the political and social environment in which it finds itself.’ Sir John’s faith in our better nature gave him optimism and purpose, and he dedicated his life to its cause, strengthening our political system and ensuring that education fulfilled it’s potential as the ultimate instrument of individual improvement. He mastered Japanese because he wanted to build bridges. He refused to testify at war crimes trials because he believed in forgiveness. And he and his fellow Sparrows funded scholarships for doctors and nurses because they wanted to repay the villagers who had helped them as prisoners of war.

Like his fellow POW on the other side of politics, Tom Uren, he was determined to lead a life of public service when he returned. After the war, John began work as a research assistant with the Liberal Party, hand-picked by Robert Menzies, before accepting a temporary job, general secretary of the New South Wales Liberal Party. He later joked, ‘Like a damned fool, I accepted the temporary job, which lasted 23 years.’ Generations of Liberals, including myself, have benefitted from his good counsel. Sir John’s famous reminder that you can’t fatten the pig on market day spoke of the importance of having a plan, sound long-term policy and delivery founded on enduring Liberal values.

He entered elected politics in 1971 as a senator and held a number of ministerial positions, including education minister from 1975 to 1979. Education was his lifelong passion. He described it in his maiden speech as his one great hope for society. As a minister, his many reforms included promoting choice in education and supporting funding for Catholic and non-government schools. It’s an enduring policy that has bipartisan support to this day. His work in office and afterwards, after he left office, served to modernise our schools and recognise the critical role of parents and great teachers in education.

In February, the New South Wales Liberal Party state council meeting coincided with the funeral of Lady Angela Carrick, Sir John’s great love and steadfast partner for 66 years. On Saturday, when we next gather, we do so on the day of Sir John’s funeral. The timing is poignant but appropriate. Sir John spent his final days saying goodbye to those he loved. His daughter Jane told me that he had one last request of his daughters. He asked them that they hold him while he died. In those prison camps the prisoners of war, deprived of all dignity, so far from their families and those they loved at home, had a pact between them that no-one would die alone. And so those brave men who had endured so much were held until they died. And so Sir John Carrick died in the arms of those he loved. Jane says he died magnificently, and he deserved that, having lived a truly magnificent Australian life. On behalf of the House and of our nation, I extend our deepest condolences to Sir John’s daughters—Diane, Jane and Fiona—and to the extended Carrick family. May he rest in peace. Lest we forget.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (14:07): I commend the Prime Minister for those moving words. The Prime Minister has detailed Sir John Carrick’s long life of achievement, from Hellfire Pass to high office. I understand that his loss will be deeply felt throughout the Liberal Party, which he took from a fledgling amateur operation to a national political force.

For some Australians who are unfamiliar with Sir John Carrick’s career, he was a most significant figure in Australian politics. Some have described him as the soul of the Liberal Party. No other figure in Liberal history could lay claim to such a long and distinguished association with the party’s success. A trusted counsellor to Prime Minister Menzies, a senior minister under Prime Minister Fraser, an influential mentor for Prime Minister Howard, John Carrick was present at the creation and travelled the journey from young backroom operator to elder statesman. And as an enthusiast for the political contest, I hope he would appreciate the fact that the Labor Party, which he did so much to keep out of office, pauses to pay its respects today.

The Labor icon Tom Uren famously said that his time as a prisoner of war in the Japanese camps was what made him a collectivist, because amidst the brutality and the starvation and the backbreaking labour it was up to the fit to look after the sick and the young to look after the old. Yet from these same camps, out of the same unimaginable trial of body and spirit, John Carrick took his liberalism, because for him the lesson of those dark days was that it is not the people who create the savagery, it’s totalitarian leadership, where the lives of individuals count for nothing. I think it is remarkable that amidst all that senseless, soulless punishment of one group of people by another, there are individuals of such strength of character who can still find meaning in the experience and, indeed, to emerge from it with faith in their fellow human beings being the hope for the future of the world, because Sir John, like many, like so many of that greatest generation, returned from the trauma of war determined to build a peace worth winning.

In every sense he served his country all his life. From his first federal election as party secretary right through to his last run as a senior senator, Sir John Carrick never sought to a mount a campaign built around minimising difference, blurring lines or presenting a small target. He believed in taking the opportunity to draw sharp distinctions, to enhance contrast—to respect the intelligence of the Australian people by offering them a clear choice. I think it’s a big part of the reason why Sir John was so successful as a political strategist, and I know it’s why he was so respected for so long by his adversaries on the Labor side of politics.

Giants of our movement across the generations knew and admired John Carrick not just as a worthy foe and an opponent of great civility and courtesy but also as a person of substance, someone always prepared to argue sincerely held differences in principle, philosophy and the convictions that underpinned policy. He revered the Senate as a house of review. He prized the committee process and the opportunity it provided for genuine, considered debate. I was interested to read in his biography, by Graeme Starr, that he opposed lowering the quota for the election of senators. He warned that it would reduce the possibility of any government ever commanding a majority. He went on to say, ‘It would lead to the balance of power being determined by,’ and I quote, ‘dozens of unknown and almost unsupported candidates, many with quite eccentric policies.’ He could be remembered, I think, too, as a fortune teller.

But, in reflecting on his life today, I think we are reminded that the best traditions of our democracy are not bland slogans or supine agreement; it is when both sides present competing visions for the future from a place of principle, where we argue on what we believe in, and we trust Australians to choose. Mr Speaker, Sir John Carrick’s name will live long in the Liberal pantheon, and the example of his life is one for all Australians. May he rest in peace.

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—

Debate adjourned.

Reference to Federation Chamber

Mr PYNE (Sturt—Leader of the House and Minister for Defence Industry) (14:12): by leave—I move:

That the resumption of the debate on the Prime Minister’s motion of condolence in connection with the death of the Honourable Sir John Leslie Carrick be referred to the Federation Chamber.

Question agreed to.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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