Tuesday 11 August 2020
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Australian PM - 1 month ago

Condolence - Ben Humphreys

Mr Morrison: (Cook—Prime Minister and Minister for the Public Service) (14:00): I move: That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 17 November 2019, of the Honourable Benjamin Charles Humphreys AM, a Member of this House for the Division of Griffith from 1977 to 1996, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement. When Ben Humphreys was first elected as the member for Griffith, in 1977, he had never been to Canberra and never set foot in Parliament House. After attending one of his first caucus meetings, he was taken aback—and forgive: God, I thought all these blokes were mates down here. In his words, he arrived in Canberra green, with a small g . In 1977 there were only three Labor members in Queensland, and he believed he d be a oncer. He wasn t, he was elected seven times. He brought to this building and the one down the hill the life experiences that our country always needs. Ben s father was a veteran of the Great War. He suffered lifelong injuries after being run over by a horse-drawn artillery gun. He and his mother were regular visitors to the repat hospital in Brisbane. It was there he saw a hospital full of men struggling with painful ailments, lingering legacies from the Great War: chronic lung conditions from gas poisoning, kidney problems from trench nephritis, the lasting impacts of shrapnel wounds and gunner s deafness. The young Ben saw the suffering and he experienced the burden so often carried by families when the guns fall silent. In the 1950s, aged 18, conscripted for national service, Ben joined the Navy. He then went on to train as a motor mechanic and then served with the Royal Australian Navy s fleet air arm as an airframe fitter. Later, he opened his own mechanic garage, and two of the blokes who helped him get that business off the ground were veterans from the Second World War. Ben s warmth and outgoing nature meant he made many friends far and wide. In time, his ability to gather people was seen as the right skill to help Labor in its rebuilding effort after 1975. That judgement was right, and in 1977 his seat was one of just two additional seats picked up by the Labor Party. Ten years later he was made veterans affairs minister. It was there that the lessons of his life guided his path. He developed a close friendship and relationship with Tim Fischer, and together they helped right the wrongs that were inflicted on our Vietnam War veterans. A motion ordering the service of our Vietnam veterans was passed, moved by Humphreys and seconded by Fischer. The welcome home parade was supported, and the arduous process of designing and completing a Vietnam Forces National Memorial here in Canberra was approved and completed. In 1990 he oversaw a project that will never be forgotten: to mark the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, 58 of the last surviving veterans were flown back to Gallipoli, with nine widows also accompanying them. It meant chartering a special Qantas 747, QF 1915, taking with them veterans, carers, junior legatees, nurses and doctors and the love and respect of a grateful nation. There has never been a flight like it, I imagine: four passengers in their 70s, eight in their 80s, 54 in their 90s and one passenger aged over 100. It was something very special for Australia. On return, Ben Humphreys said it all humbled him, and he was a very humble man. Ben Humphreys was a substantive minister who helped ensure we kept our promise to the men and women who serve in our name. Tim Fischer once said Ben Humphreys genuinely had the wellbeing of the veterans first and foremost in his mind. Kevin Rudd, who was mentored by Ben, said he was a kind, gentle and good man. At the end of his time in parliament, Ben remarked that he should have struck a medal for his wife, Beryl. Instead, today we give her the thanks of the country for sharing Ben with us. Mr Speaker, I offer the heartfelt sympathy of this parliament and of our nation to Beryl, and to their grandchildren and to their children. Ben was a great Labor man and will be well respected for as long as there are days.

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