Gough Whitlam’s Eulogy For Lance Barnard: “My Oldest And Best Mate”

Lance Barnard died on August 6, 1997, at the age of 78.

Barnard, the member for the Tasmanian seat of Bass (1954-75), was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence during the first term of the Whitlam government. Barnard also served in the two-man ministry, with Whitlam between December 3-19, 1972. He held 14 portfolios in the interim administration, one more than Whitlam.

Barnard had been deputy to Whitlam since their election on February 8, 1967. Following the 1974 election, Barnard was replaced as deputy by Dr. Jim Cairns. Shortly afterwards, Whitlam appointed Barnard as Ambassador to Sweden, Norway and Finland.

In the ensuing by-election in Bass, there was a 14.3% swing against the ALP and the seat was won by the Liberal Party’s Kevin Newman. The by-election signalled the unpopularity of the Whitlam government and probably emboldened the Coalition to block Supply a few months later.

This is Whitlam’s eulogy to Barnard, at St. John’s Church, Launceston.

Gough Whitlam’s eulogy for Lance Barnard.

Two weeks ago the people of Launceston met to honour their greatest fellow-citizen, Lance Barnard. Today his friends have come to Launceston from around Australia to pay their last tribute. Lance ‘phoned me on the day of the civic reception. I know how much it meant to him. He and Jill knew what his chances were, in that last journey across the Strait to Melbourne. Beyond his family’s love and his own courage, nothing could have done more to lift his spirits than that last expression of esteem and affection from the people of the city and region he loved and served.

Since 1909, when the 19-year-old Claude Barnard came from Deloraine for a job as an engine cleaner in the Launceston railway workshops, the Barnard family has been part of the life, work and history of North Eastern Tasmania. Claude and Lance, between them, represented Bass in the Australian Parliament for a total of 36 years. In the post-war Australian Parliaments, three sons have followed their fathers as Ministers in Labor Governments, the Barnards, the Creans, the Beazleys. Each family has provided a Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. Claude Barnard, Chifley’s Minister for Repatriation, later served in the House of Assembly, as did his nephew and grandson.

How small a part of Lance Barnard’s story is told by saying that he was my deputy from February 1967 to June 1974; and how little it conveys about our long association, the most significant partnership of my own political life and, in the wider stream of Australian history, matched only by the Curtin-Chifley partnership.

When I first took my seat in the Parliament in 1953, and when in 1954 Lance regained the seat which his father had lost in 1949, neither of us could have foreseen the long, arduous and turbulent road ahead. Contemplating the composition of Caucus, we might have seen something ominous in the fact that until our arrival, our parliamentary ranks had contained more veterans from the Boer War than from the Second World War. Armistice Day 1954 was a Thursday, the only day of the week when the House used to sit in the morning. On this occasion, having sat till after midnight, the House did not sit till the afternoon. Lance and I went together to the service at the Australian War Memorial.

I need not dwell on Labor’s desperate days of the second half of the 1950s; but I am proud to acknowledge that Lance was the first colleague to offer me support in a leadership role. At the Armistice Day service at the Australian War Memorial on Wednesday 11 November 1959 he quietly mentioned to me that I should consider contesting the Party’s deputy leadership, likely to become vacant in the New Year. His support then, and at every stage over the subsequent 15 years, was crucial; in every crisis, in every setback, in every triumph.

I want this to be understood in the most positive way. Lance’s role went far beyond that of the loyal deputy, great and rare though the quality of the loyalty he gave undoubtedly was. What his colleagues and I valued most was his deep understanding of the needs and hopes of the Australian people, his instinctive feeling for the Labor Party and the Labor Movement, in all its moods and manifestations. Combine this with a deep Australian commonsense, and an innate decency and integrity, and you have, no man’s lieutenant, but a prince among men.

The first fruits of our partnership came when Lance was elected Deputy Leader late on the same afternoon I was elected leader – 8 February 1967. I mention the late afternoon, because the Caucus proceedings had been delayed pending the arrival in Canberra of the other Tasmanian members. It was the worst day of the Tasmanian bushfires of 1967. “This blessed isle” – yet scarred so often with such grief.

Thirteen months after Lance and I were elected to lead the Labor Party only one of Australia’s 13 Houses of Parliament was left with a Labor majority, the Tasmanian House of Assembly. All the electoral divisions in it had equal enrolments. Premier Eric Reece, Lance and I, the Leader and Deputy Leader in the Senate, Lionel Murphy and Sam Cohen, and the Labor Leaders of the Opposition in the five State Assemblies met in Hobart to revive the Party’s fortunes. We drew up a strategy to achieve equal franchise in the House of Representatives and for all the State Houses of Parliament. The strategy has succeeded everywhere except in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council of Western Australia.

In the years to 1972, three aspects of Lance’s background were invaluable: His Labor credentials were impeccable, indeed, hereditary; as a teacher he realised the central problem of Australian education – the inequalities arising from lack of Federal involvement in schools; as a gunner at El Alamein, in the glorious 9th Division, he could speak with authority on veterans’ affairs and defence matters.

On these matters, he knew what it was all about. He knew what I was about. He had the gift of going to the root of the matter. Thus, in the long contest with the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party, he knew exactly what was at stake: whether a self-perpetuating machine or the parliamentary party and its elected leadership should prevail.

Secondly, he knew that there was no chance of equal opportunities for our children until and unless the Australian Government became involved, and that this meant assistance for all schools, government and non-government alike. It is almost forgotten now that the burning issue for the Labor Party in those years was not the war in Viet Nam but the century-old debate on so-called State Aid. It is a phrase and an issue barely comprehensible, in its capacity for sectarian bitterness and division, to Australians under 40 today.

And thirdly, Lance knew that Australia would never have an effective, self-reliant defence force as long as responsibility for its component parts remained divided and disputed between five rival departments. No colleague, no ally, no opponent could fault Lance’s experience and patriotism.

When in 1967 I established for the first time the system of shadow ministers within the parliamentary executive, I gave Lance responsibility for the departments of defence, army, navy, air and supply. Jim Killen, never one to miss an opening, greeted my announcement: “My honourable friend’s idea of defence planning is to say ‘Lance, take five'”. The range of responsibilities which Lance accepted in Opposition merely foreshadowed his role in December 1972.

On 5 December, three days after the election, the Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck, accepted my recommendation that he swear Lance and me to all existing ministerial offices. Lance took, not five, but fourteen departments. I took a modest thirteen. The duumvirate was actually a triumvirate, because there is a quorum of three for the Executive Council, of which the Governor-General is the chairman. We wanted to demonstrate that the Governor-General could withdraw if there was an attempt to transgress the purposes for which the interim ministry was created.

As I later reported to Parliament: “The First Whitlam Ministry was the smallest ministry with jurisdiction over Australia since the Duke of Wellington formed a ministry with two other Ministers 138 years previously”. Alas, I did not perceive the portent in the parallel. For the brief Wellington Ministry of 1834 had been appointed by King William IV to supplant Lord Melbourne, the last time the British Monarch dismissed a government and a Prime Minister having a clear majority in the House of Commons.

On that first brilliant summer’s afternoon in Canberra, Lance made an historic decision. The Defence Department, perhaps the best prepared of all the departments for the change of government, had assumed that legislation would be required to redeem our pledge to end conscription for national service. Lance, however, had already ascertained that the National Service Act could be suspended by regulation. He ended liability for all further and future national service. There were to be no further call-ups and the young men currently serving were given the choice of completing their service or ending it forthwith. It was our government’s first decision. It has never been reversed. In our second week there was a passing-out parade at Duntroon. For the first time in history the whole cabinet was in attendance. We both wore our RSL badges.

In the spirit of celebration of a great Australian life, may I, with your indulgence, briefly recall the atmosphere of our first weeks together?

The journalist Robert Drewe, now in the front rank of Australian novelists, wrote in The Australian about the first three months:

Australians blinked as, within weeks, we recognised China, ended conscription, abolished race as a criterion of our immigration policy, banned racially selected sporting teams, supported equal pay for women, began reform of the health service, put contraceptives on the medical benefits list, established the Schools Commission, moved to stop the slaughter of kangaroos and crocodiles, abolished British honours and searched for a new national anthem.

Robert Drewe concluded:

Labor restored some dignity to the conduct of our national affairs at a time when we had all come more or less to expect nothing but ill from political action.

I salute Lance Barnard’s colleagues, his comrades-in-arms, who have been able to come here today. We know best the depth of his contribution, in the years before 1972, and in our first and second terms in government. The deepest disappointment of his public life was his unfair and unwise dismissal as Deputy Prime Minister after our remarkable election victory in May 1974. I lost my strong right arm. It was more than my loss. It was the Party’s loss and the Government’s loss. It was Australia’s loss and Tasmania’s loss. In 1972 and again in 1974 the Labor Party had won all five of Tasmania’s seats in the House of Representatives. From 1975 to 1990 the Liberal Party held all of them.

As with so much of our tumultuous second term, commentators often get the chronology wrong. Lance did not retire hurt. Characteristically, he soldiered on for a full year. He completed the administrative and legislative arrangements for the armed forces on which he had worked for over seven years. He introduced the Defence Force Re-Organization Bill on 15 May 1975. When he realised that his war-caused hearing impediment was increasingly impairing his Ministerial performance, I accepted without hesitation his request for a diplomatic appointment. He resigned from the House on 2 June and from the Cabinet on 6 June.

On 21 August Lance’s Defence Force Re-Organization Bill passed through all stages in the House without division and was introduced in the Senate. Debate was resumed in the Senate on 26 August. It was debated again on 28 August, when the Opposition proposed a motion to refer the bill to a Standing Committee, which was to report by 20 November. Cleaver Bunton and Steele Hall voted with the Government against the motion; the votes being equal the motion was lost and the bill was passed. It was assented to on 9 September.

I need only add that at the Bass by-election in 1975 I fell off the wave that I had ridden since the by-elections for Dawson in 1966 and for Corio in 1967. The lasting monument to the Bass by-election is the excellent Australian Maritime College. The decision to establish it was announced on 10 June 1975 and the bill to establish it was introduced by the first Beazley on 2 October 1975.

In June 1978 Lance retired as ambassador and Ian Sinclair, the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, paid public tribute to him. In June 1981 the Fraser Government appointed him Director of the Office of Australian War Graves. The Coalition’s best Minister of Defence, Jim Killen, would have approved the appointment of a man whom he always addressed as his honourable and gallant friend. During his term he visited numerous Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in France, Belgium, Egypt, Gallipoli and Singapore. In November 1983 he retired early due to ill-health. He was widely consulted on the design of the proposed 9th Division Memorial. In 1987 he visited the proposed site just outside the Alamein War Cemetery. The Memorial was dedicated in 1989.

I must give two instances of the character of this man. In 1973 Sir Paul Hasluck told me that, due to his wife’s health, he could not accept an extension of the customary five-year term. He gave me a handwritten list of eight persons amongst whom he thought I might choose a successor. Lance Barnard’s name was on the list and I discussed the list with him alone. He did not wish to be appointed. In 1977, Lance was pressed to accept a KCMG. He naturally declined; but, more significantly, he was adamant that neither the offer nor the refusal should become public.

Each of us who knew him will have our own special memories of Lance Barnard – as a husband, a father, a close relative, as a colleague, a political opponent, as a friend, a fellow-citizen. I honour especially the staunchness of my oldest and best mate.

Yet perhaps it is not in any single one of these memories that we shall best find the true man we knew and loved.

It may be that all our recollections – Lance as the holder of great offices of State, the dedicated parliamentarian, the Labor man through thick and thin – all of these may fade and merge against the light of one shining image:

The young Australian in the deserts of North Africa, so far from home, when the homeland itself was imperilled.

I like to imagine that Lance Barnard, the 21-year-old volunteer with his two brothers, one, like Lance, wounded and another killed in action.

Placing Lance amidst that splendid company of Australians, representative of the best of our generation, may we not assuredly say of him and them:

They grow not old, as we who are left grow old.

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