The Hon Tom Uren AC - Speech to Parliament

I rise to pay tribute to a great Australian and a lion of the Labor left, Tom Uren. I associate myself with the remarks of the member for Fremantle, the member for Charlton, the member for Reid and the member for Fraser. It was a real privilege to be in the chamber to take heed of those excellent contributions.Others have already paid tribute to Tom's contribution to serving Australia and to giving voice to a range of at times unpopular but always important issues. It is clear to me that his courage undoubtedly advanced a fairer and more decent Australia.

In this regard, I particularly acknowledge the contribution of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Sydney, and also that of the member for Grayndler. In the case of the member for Grayndler, I acknowledge his contributions in this place and in other forums. It is clear to me that in so many ways the member for Grayndler is the inheritor of much of what Tom Uren did and stood for.

In this contribution I want to briefly pay particular tribute to Tom's work as minister for urban and regional development. In this capacity he reminded Australians that we are an urban—indeed, suburban—nation. Tom was appointed to this ministry, the first of its kind, at the start of the Whitlam government in December 1972. The member for Charlton just described his stewardship of this portfolio as magnificent. I simply say: I agree. This was also a watershed moment in Australian politics, as it recognised the role the Commonwealth can and should play in our cities. Before I was born Minister Uren wrote:

The Australian Government believes it must be positively involved in the life of our cities and that it has a significant role to play to ensure that they are our servants rather than our masters. In doing this, we are concerned that all people will get fair access to a full range of public services and utilities such as schools, recreation, health services, public transport, adequate housing at reasonable cost, choice of employment, an adequate range of commercial and shopping facilities, community welfare services and essential services such as garbage and sewerage. These facilities need to be blended together in cities which retain a sense of human scale and a sense of belonging and liveliness. These are essential conditions ought to be available to everyone.

He reminded us that equality has a geographic overlay. Of course, it still does. Where we live determines how we live, to too great an extent. As a member of parliament representing a constituency urgently in need of a comprehensive cities policy, his words continue to carry special resonance. More than 40 years on it is, to say the very least, disappointing that his vision has been abandoned under the present government. I take heart and hope from the fact that his imagined significant role for the Commonwealth in this space was realised by such luminaries as Brian Howe and the member for Grayndler. I am sure that a future government will rectify this present neglect.

In 1988, Tom said that infrastructure and housing was one of the areas where he felt proud to have made a personal contribution. He said: 'I am what you call a William Morris socialist. I've always tried to create a more beautiful, gentle, serene world to live in. I got a tremendous amount of joy out of working with people. I felt like a bricklayer: you like to leave bricks and mortar so you can see what you've done for people.' The monuments to people which Tom felt he had left behind—and which he had—include the National Estate register; the Australian Heritage Commission; the land commission; urban transport plans; diversion of freeways out of inner Sydney and, in particular, low-income housing redevelopment; decentralisation; dozens of regional parks and botanical gardens; and, critically, the system of untied grants to local government. It is an extraordinary and transformative legacy; but of course, as we have heard from other contributors to this debate, it is only a small portion of Tom Uren's overall contribution. His character looms large over our movement and, indeed, our nation. It is hard to conceive of a more full life, and it is extraordinary to see that it was lived in such large part for others.

Tom Uren's faith in humanity is something that strikes me. His rejection of hatred continues to inspire. The example that he set, despite personal reason to think otherwise, to reject rancour, to reject bitterness, his continued confidence in what we can do together: these things continue to inspire. Others who would like to be as unwavering in our pursuit of social justice should heed his words and heed his example. On behalf of the people of Scullin, I extend my condolences to all who knew Tom: his family and his friends.


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