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Farewell and thank you, Brian Harradine

Brian HarradineThere was one brief shining moment in the 90s when independent Senator Brian Harradine held the balance of power in Canberra and independent Gladstone MP Liz Cunningham held the balance of power in Queensland. Christian priorities carried more weight at that time, given the incorruptible independence of these two fine people. Both were there because of a vocation to seek the common good as the expression of Christian charity “even over the perilous abyss of public affairs” (as BA Santamaria once put it).

Listen to an interview today with two people who knew Senator Harradine well: Fr Frank Brennan SJ (one of his counsellors on the Wik decision) and Melinda Tankard-Reist (his long-time staffer) – audio HERE.

And read this tribute from Brian’s other long-time staffer, Jeremy Stuparich, in The Age HERE.

Because I knew Mel and Jeremy, I was a visitor to Brian’s office on a few occasions from 1997 onwards. It was the network-hub for people who shared Brian’s concerns over key issues and for me it was basecamp for lobbying senators on a number of matters: in support of the Andrews Bill to repeal the Northern Territory’s euthanasia Bill in 1997 (successful); in opposition to embryo destructive research in 2003 (unsuccessful – it overturned Brian’s hard-won position from 1985, see below); against the irresponsible release of the abortion drug RU486 in 2004 (also unsuccessful – this also overturned Brian’s hard-won principle, agreed by Labor and Liberal some years earlier, that the Health Minister – not narrow-scope officials in the TGA – should make the final decision about a drug designed to procure death)… And other occasions of fond memory.

I first heard of Senator Brian Harradine in 1985 while I was a medical student in Brisbane, and he had tabled a private member’s Bill in the Senate against human embryo experimentation. This news first shocked me into awareness of how far our society had sunk into soulless utilitarianism, and I remember sticking posters up around UQ urging action in support of the Harradine Bill… My introduction to political activism, of sorts. The Senate enquiry that arose from his Bill recommended against destructive embryo experimentation, and that recommendation stood until the hype and ‘organised lying’ surrounding embryo stem cell research swept principles aside in 2003.

Brian was a very gentle and courteous person. I never saw him too busy to spare a word of conversation, and I never saw him agitated with the pressure of Senate business – no doubt thanks, in part, to his highly efficient staff. He was also hard to read, as he listened closely but said little. In the latter phase of his career I was aware of the slight blunting of his intellect from mini-strokes, and eventually that forced his retirement.

Amongst the many fine people I have known in politics state and federal – all Christian men and women – Brian stands out as the humblest. I recall Tolstoy’s comment in War and Peace, his scathing critique of political pretentiousness, that “there can be no greatness where goodness and simplicity are absent”. On those terms, Brian Harradine was a great man.

His state funeral will be held tomorrow at St Mary’s Cathedral in Harrington St, Hobart, at 11am.

 

UPDATE 23/4/14

ABC news clip of the funeral HERE.

Note the typical ignorance of an ABC journalist, saying Brian campaigned “against stem cell research”. He did not: he actively supported ethical stem cell research – namely adult stem cells – but opposed the destruction of living human embryos for research purposes. Tony Jones made exactly the same mistake introducing me on LateLine in 2003, as “an opponent of stem cell research” and I had to make the same clarification. Slow learners, or just faithful to their mission to marginalise-a-conservative at every opportunity.

 

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