*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
Thank you Mr Speaker and I thank the Prime Minister for his words.
Today the Labor family salutes the life of a faithful son.
We offer our condolence 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 and was considered perhaps a risky candidate for a regional seat under the new leader Gough Whitlam.
So it occurred that when Graham Freudenberg, who was moonlighting as an advancer for his leader’s visit, 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 the atheism thing’.
So it was politely suggested that Doug might want to remove the plaque…or perhaps put up a clarification.
“I’ve done everything you and Gough have asked me in this campaign. I’ve shut up, I haven’t written any letters. But this is my home and the name stays."
Now as we are all aware, electoral boundaries change. And in his time Doug’s seat, centred on Rocky, stretched as far and wide as Sarina, Biloela, Gladstone and Bundaberg. So it’s 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 tee-totaller, a zealous campaigner against smoking, to the point of covering the cigarette machines in old 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 path to world peace, so when asked by the authors 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, does rely upon phonetics. So Prime Minister Whitlam, himself no stranger to the intellectual or indeed 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.
Now, like every Queensland MP except Bill Hayden, Doug lost his seat following the Dismissal in 1975, he travelled to London to practice as a locum. In 1977 he re-contested and re-captured Capricornia, representing his community until he retired at the 1984 election.
In conclusion, when you look back at the record of Doug Everingham’s speeches in this place, the overwhelming majority focused not just upon health but upon disadvantage, specifically the poverty and poor health suffered by Aboriginal Australians.
He was someone who spent years providing free medical treatment at the Werrabinda settlement near Rocky, he knew first-hand of what he spoke about.
So many of those speeches, and all colleagues here could briefly imagine them, were given as part of the adjournment debate. Heart-filled words delivered to an empty chamber, 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. This is perhaps something we should all reflect on.
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.