The Accountability Round Table

Acceptance Speech for the Missen Award – Judi Moylan
Wednesday 11 December 2013

May I acknowledge the Indigenous peoples on whose land we meet and pay respects to elders past and present.

Sir Gerard Brennan, AC, KBE, QC, Tim Smith QC, Chair of the Accountability Roundtable, Parliamentary Colleagues, dear friends ;

I feel deeply honoured and I admit a little overwhelmed to receive a citation that bears the name of Alan Missen, a man, who throughout his long Parliamentary career upheld principles of integrity, courage and independence of mind.   Alan Missen made an extraordinary contribution to the work of the Parliament often showing himself to be ahead of his time on issues such as tobacco advertising, reduction of ozone depleting gasses, protection of the Great Barrier Reef, the morality of whaling and a host of other causes.

As politicians each of us comes face to face with our myriad frailties, when with the best of intentions we strive to make decisions that will have consequences good and less good.  One of the most harrowing times for me personally was being present on the floor of the Parliament and voting for the Iraq war.  The people of Iraq were about to be revisited by unspeakable horrors.  Given the mood of inevitability that had overtaken the Parliament, crossing the floor would have had no effect. But the general awareness that I MIGHT DO SO, was enough to gain me an appointment with the Prime Minister.  In the end I exchanged my vote for a promise by the Prime Minister to massively increase Australia’s aid contribution in the cause of children and other civilians and to postwar reconstruction. I also asked the Prime Minister to promise that Australia would use its influence with the United States to cease using cluster bombs.

In those difficult times in the Parliament I shall never forget the acts of kindness of colleagues who although they did not share my disposition on some issues, made it abundantly clear that our friendship would prevail regardless of my stance on certain policies. – Despite popular belief to the contrary civility still has currency in the Australian Parliament.

What motivates one to support, or still more to join a political party? It is often more than ideology alone. Together, with the obvious attraction of its eponymous identification with freedom of thought and action, I was instinctively struck by the relative newness of the Party I joined and represented in 1992. After all, forty -­‐six years are not much more than salad days, where political parties are concerned. A whiff of youthful excitement pervades the Party room to this day. This finds expression in a priceless incapacity to accept prescriptive dogma and rigid conformity without irritation. In fact, the Party has been known on occasion, to display extraordinary amiability to malcontents like myself.

Back in 1975, in the furious days of the withholding of supply, at least four prominent Liberal backbenchers, including, one Alan Missen, were known to be wavering until the last moment. They were given the anodyne appellation ‘jellyfish’.  As jellyfish it was politely suggested that they were lacking in spine. So, the jellyfish were taken, not to Coventry, but to SUPPER to be warned, persuaded and suitably braced for battle.

EVEN the eminence grise Robert Menzies would demand no more than that they would be wise to face up to the inevitable. I can well imagine that the redoubtable Alan Missen would have received all this with considerable bemusement. After all a jellyfish may lack spine, but it is more than compensated by a painful sting that is often fatal. In the end as we know, after considering the issue with his customary forensic thoroughness, Alan Missen did not cross the floor, and nor did his colleagues.

The tension between being a team player and wrestling with one’s own conscience is one of the most trying aspects of political life. Some of the best debates concern matters where the parties specifically are allowed a conscience vote. In my own case, the benchmark has always been: that which upholds the preservation of human life and human dignity. I consider myself fortunate to belong to a Party sufficiently sagacious and confident of itself to permit dissent on the backbench.
In conclusion:
I am reminded of the speech given by the celebrated Democrat Senator Robert Kennedy in 1966, when he said”
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief // that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,…… those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

I am deeply touched that my colleagues, particularly the highly regarded and admired Russell Broadbent, saw fit to nominate me for the Alan Missen award. I thank the Chair of the Accountability Round Table, Tim Smith QC, and his Board, for so generously bestowing upon me this signal honour.

May I also offer my warmest congratulations to my dear colleagues and friends Mark and Melissa.
Thank You
Judi Moylan

Share This