***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***
Thank you, Mr Speaker and I thank the Prime Minister for his words.
I'd like to begin by welcoming Gordon Scholes’ daughters, Kerry and Anne, who are here with us in the chamber today.
They've told me that they remember keeping quiet at home, early in the morning, when their Father was asleep after driving the night shift.
They remember listening, excitedly, as the train would pass through Breakwater, near their home in Geelong.
If there were nine consecutive blasts on the whistle, they knew their Dad was aboard.
Later, they remember the phone calls from Canberra in sitting weeks, every night at the same time.
They remember the Saturday trips to Corio Village shopping centre, Gordon stopping to chat to anyone and everyone...
…his daughters, trying to pretend they didn’t know him.
But above all, they remember a humble man who loved his wife and children.
A man who was always true to himself, true to his values.
Someone born into hard times, drawn to politics not by the trappings of office but by the opportunity to make life better for the people that he worked alongside – and their families.
Personally in a way, I feel like I knew Gordon Scholes for a very long time.
My grandfather’s brother worked on the railways his whole life, George McGarth, he was an active member of the Australian Railways Union.
Uncle George was a big man, he had hands like dinner plates, he was a boxer as well as Gordon.
Although Uncle George came from a political party who's perspective was to the left of the Labor Party, he always rated Gordon Scholes.
Now it is a matter of record in 1967, Gordon won the Corio by-election with an 11 per cent swing.
It was the first time that Labor had won the seat since the defeat of the Chifley Government in 1949.
And it was the first federal victory for the new Labor leader, Gough Whitlam, the beginning of a momentum shift that would roll all the way to 1972.
Indeed for decades to come, Gough would say “It started in Corio”.
And perhaps it was in this emboldened spirit that, in his parliamentary debut, Gordon Scholes delivered not so much a first speech but more of a Budget Reply.
- The proud son of the railways called for the extension of the standard gauge to Geelong.
- He argued for a massive expansion of Australia’s defence manufacturing and better services for Aboriginal people.
- He delivered a stinging attack on the Minister for Health, before reading into Hansard the opening paragraphs of the Labor Party platform dealing with health policy.
- He urged honourable members to lift the standards of their behaviour, warning that Australians would never respect their parliament if the politicians themselves showed contempt for the institution.
He closed his first speech by saying:
“I hope that on the next occasion, I will be a little more forthright in what I have to say.”
For the following 26 years, Gordon held the seat of Corio for Labor.
He served with distinction as Minister for Defence in the Hawke Cabinet.
And, of course, as Speaker of the House in the Whitlam Government.
That infamous day when Kerr sacked Whitlam brought on one of the fiercest debates the chamber had ever seen – and Gordon Scholes chaired it with dignity and calm.
In those hours of obstructionism and opportunism and unprecedented constitutional crisis.
The young speaker held his nerve - and kept his hand.
And at a time when so many acted without scruple, he held true to his duty.
History has judged him with honour.
We salute Gordon Scholes’ life of service – to his union, to our party, to the nation.
May he rest in peace.