HUNDREDS OF LABOR, UNION AND COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS GATHERED AT THE STATE MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR ARTHUR GIETZELT ON 6 FEBRUARY. ALONG WITH BOB HAWKE AND OTHERS, JOHN FAULKNER AND ANTHONY ALBANESE SPOKE AT THE SUTHERLAND ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE. HERE ARE EDITED VERSIONS OF THEIR SPEECHES.
Arthur Gietzelt achieved a great deal. For his community, for the Labor Party and the cause of progressive politics, and for his nation.
Arthur embodied this reformist spirit, always looking for progress with fairness.
His story is one of passionate and principled conviction – of standing up for what he believed was right and of refusing to back down when the going got tough.
When Bob Hawke appointed him as Veterans Affairs Minister in 1983, Arthur reformed entitlements and achieved formal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ unofficial work patrolling Australia’s northern coastline in World War II.
Arthur was a trailblazer who had the courage to pursue positions that, in his own era, were not always fashionable. But Arthur was usually on the right side of history.
Arthur was a formidable organiser, but for him this was just the means to achieve political objectives. As he told The National Times in 1976: ‘My opponents try to paint me as a sinister backroom boy, just a numbers man rather than someone with beliefs. In fact my beliefs are what make me want to muster the numbers.’
Just last week I went to see the new film about the life of Nelson Mandela. If you asked the young people in the audience, I’m sure many of them would think support for the cause of the African National Congress was a consensus position in the 1970s. It wasn’t.
It was this perspective that drew many young activists to Arthur. He was a true mentor who would take the time to sit down and go through historical analysis with Young Labor activists as they formed their own views.
Many political figures were indifferent or even hostile to sanctions against the apartheid regime and were strident critics of Mandela and his comrades.
This month it is 25 years since Arthur left the Senate. His passing, mourned by even his most strident political opponents, is a great loss for his family, his friends, the Labor Party and the entire community.
Not Arthur. As Mayor of the Sutherland Shire he led his colleagues to ban
the involvement of racially selected competitors in surf life-saving contests. This was years before sporting sanctions became widespread.
But I like to think that if Arthur was here today he would be proud to think that his activism over decades provided an invigorating example for others on the progressive side of politics.
Faced with a battle for human rights, Arthur did not flinch – not even after the bombing of his family home.
Today a new generation is taking up that good fight to the Abbott Government.
Arthur brought the same passion to issues like gender equality, gay rights and protection of the environment. With his colleagues such as Tom Uren and Bruce Childs, Arthur Gietzelt ensured these issues remained core to the Labor agenda.
Labor has a great oral history tradition. This means we talk about the lives of leaders, celebrate them and learn from them.
Arthur would say that’s the thing about the Labor Party: We think ahead. We don’t seek office just to occupy power – we do something with it. We don’t just talk about justice – we craft the policies that make it real.
It’s why on a sad day like today as we mourn Arthur’s passing we are keeping his cause alive.