Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

CONDOLENCES - James Philip 'Jim' McKiernan

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:25): I met Jim McKiernan through two of my great friends, George Campbell and Ruth Webber, who are both up in the gallery today. George spoke about Jim many times. I look back on the last speech of the valedictory process, which can be extraordinarily painful, where people get up and talk about each other in this place. Amongst all the praise that was given to Jim on that night, George got up and inevitably spoke about himself in his opening statement. He said that Jim and he were very similar and that they both came from Northern Ireland. Jim did not, as you know, George. Senator Campbell went on to talk about their great strength of friendship and mutual respect. He talked, as many people have done here this afternoon, about Jim's great commitment and passion for his union. George said at that time:

There are three things I can say about Jim that mark his commitment over the years. His absolute commitment to his union has been unstinting over the period since he joined it way back in 1969, when he first arrived. He has been an activist in the union ever since that period, even through the period of being a member of this chamber-he has been absolutely committed to the union movement all that period of time. His commitment to the party has been also a feature of Jimmy's period of involvement in the Labor movement, as is his commitment to the Irish community.

We have heard from many speakers today that the man never really left Ireland in many ways. He maintained a fantastic relationship all the way through his service in this place, talking consistently of issues that were happening in Ireland. For my friend Ruth Webber, I spoke with Jim a number of times, because we sometimes gathered when Jim and Jackie visited this place. We would get together, and they were enjoyable and memorable evenings. Jim spoke to me about how pleased he was that he was able to hand over his office and seat in the parliament for Western Australia to Ruth. One of the things that was mentioned by one of the earlier speakers was his absolute understanding that a senator's office serves the community. We heard from Senator Lines how working closely with community can rebuild faith in our party and build that understanding. He was able to pass that on to Ruth. Having been to her office many times, there were very many marks of the McKiernan in that office out there in the northern suburbs.

Jim had a genuine twinkle, there is no doubt.. I know it's a stereotype when you talk about a person with a twinkle, but he had it. He had a charm and an interest that made you want to get to know him, made you want to talk with him. He could also be a formidable opponent and advocate for issues on which he felt deeply. I would not have agreed with Jim McKiernan on all issues, but his intelligence and commitment would make you want to engage in the discussion and sometimes get into what would become a debate. I've been reading this afternoon and over the last couple of weeks getting ready for this. It's not an easy thing to talk about a man whom you respected but didn't know that well, but you knew people who loved him and you loved them.

Many of the issues which he discussed and took up in this place were things that we are debating now. We heard in the comments now the issues around migration and asylum and detention. They're in the debates now. The work that he did through his committee work was mentioned many times when they talked about the role that Jim McKiernan played in this place. He genuinely understood the importance of our committee work and understood the impact that had on the development of policy. One of the areas of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which he chaired for many years, was looking at issues around family law. This is now happening at this stage, in terms of what we are looking at at the moment: republicanism, citizenship-we won't talk about section 44-and also media ownership. There was a very strong debate at that time around media ownership.

But I think what we could see consistently was that Jim always remembered that he was a servant of Western Australia. When we had the much famed comments about what the role of the Senate was from the Prime Minister of the day, there were comments asked by a number of senators in this place about the term 'swill'. Jim, I believe, from the quotes I heard, said that, yes, he thought perhaps the word 'swill' could be appropriate to some people sometimes in this place-he left it deliberately vague as to who and when-but he also said that what senators needed to know was that they were here for the people from their states. They were representing the states in this Senate. I think he never forgot that.

I really enjoyed spending time with Jim. He made me feel happy. He made me feel challenged. He understood the value of working in the Senate. Jackie: in terms of Jim's work, he understood and celebrated the fact that you have a genuine and real and long-lasting partnership. That was how you worked together. It was reported on regularly in the Western Australian press about the way the two of you worked together. In his comments in his speeches, he actually showed that love and respect in a particularly cheeky way. In his last speech in this place he referred to his wisdom in employing you. I think that was one of the major things. He never did get to understand how to do the washing and the cleaning and the housekeeping, which he insisted-absolutely falsely-that you did by yourself, but they were the words that were left in this place.

Jim McKiernan will be missed, but we can see by the contributions this afternoon that remembering him will only make us stronger. And although I do not have a Cavan accent, I'm going to try to murder the Gaelic language, because he left this place with a couple of wishes in Gaelic. I'm going try as well, to put some words in Gaelic to finish off this contribution. A Chairde, go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir agus Jim McKiernan Ar Dheis De go raibh a Anam agus go raibh mile mile maith agat. And that says, 'A thousand thanks to all of you for sharing this afternoon the words about Jim McKiernan, and also for Jim McKiernan: may your soul always rest at the right hand of God and a thousand thanks to you also.'

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.