The Legislative Council expresses its deep regret at the death of the Hon. George Weatherill, former member of the Legislative Council, and places on record its appreciation of his distinguished public service, and that as a mark of respect to his memory the sitting of the council be suspended until the ringing of the bells.
In preparing some comments for my contribution to the condolence motion today I was well and truly reminded that it is about time I retired from this place, and I am sure there will be no disagreement from some opposite to that observation, because my office pulled out the comments I made as George was, I believe, about to retire from this chamber just over 20 years ago in July 2000.
George’s version of events—and there may well be a conflicting view—was that in a complicated series of arrangements that went on within the Labor Party, which would only be understood by those within the Labor Party, his son Jay was about to be preselected for Cheltenham for the 2002 election. George was only three years into an eight-year term—and there are not too many people who, other than for health grounds, give up five years in the Legislative Council—voluntarily retired and, as I understand it, Bob Sneath from the AWU, who had particular power within the halls of power within the Labor Party at that particular time, took his position in the Legislative Council.
As I said, this was George’s version of events, but I am sure it was pretty accurate, that he was very happy, as was his wont in many areas, to make a sacrifice for what he saw to be for the benefit of his family and Jay in particular, but also what he believed would be to the benefit of the Labor Party in terms of Jay’s potential contribution to the future of the Labor Party. As it transpired, Mr Weatherill junior (Jay) went on to serve his party and South Australia as a minister and then as Premier for a good period of time.
As I said, I have been in this place way too long and it is about time I retired, but it does not seem 20 years ago that I was farewelling George from this particular chamber. In discussions with my current colleagues, none of them actually served in the Legislative Council with George. I think you, Mr President, would have served with him but I am not sure that anyone from the Labor Party benches would have served with George either.
As I said at the time, 20 years ago, I recall with fondness the period of time we all, as colleagues, spent in the chamber with George. He was well known for his fondness for a quiet ale and a cigarette or two. Botany Bay, as it then existed on the lower ground floor, was the refuge for smokers in Parliament House, that little enclave. Anyone who had an office in and around that particular area knew, as the doors opened and closed, that George and others had been there, in terms of allowing smoking in Botany Bay, as it was called, on the lower ground floor of Parliament House. As it transpired in later years, they were forced to go out onto the back steps of Parliament House to indulge in that filthy habit of smoking.
I think all former members who worked with George would recall their time working with him with fondness. He did not get wound up on too many issues in parliament, but the ones he did were clearly issues that were near and dear to him and to the broader union movement generally. Essentially, they were issues in relation to workers compensation. When he was first elected to the Legislative Council there had been a huge debate on workers compensation. Also, issues that related to what we now call work health and safety laws but what was occupational health and safety legislation in those early years, as well as any other general issues; in particular, if there was federal legislation from what he would see as an evil federal Liberal or Coalition government impinging on the rights of ordinary workers.
They were the sorts of issues that George would speak on, generally, in this particular chamber. He was fearless in terms of pursuing his views on behalf of working men and women broadly within the trade union movement. I recount that 20 years ago—and I put it on the record now because these sorts of occurrences do not happen these days—George was well known for his contribution to what was then the annual press versus parliament cricket game. Mr President, you would recall that.
I have to say that he was not noted for his ability on the cricket field. He was a toiler, if I can put it politely, in terms of his contribution. He was marginally better than former Premier Mike Rann, I might say, but not much, in terms of his contribution on the cricket field. However, he would inevitably be in charge of hospitality, in particular the cooking of the barbecue.
Perhaps the contribution and cricketing prowess of former members was much higher in those days when I first came to the parliament. We used to play the game on Adelaide Oval but were relegated to Adelaide Oval No. 2 as they noticed our abilities, and we were then relegated down to being opposite the police barracks or parklands or whatever it might be.
When we were relegated George would somehow borrow a mobile barbecue—from, I presume, the AWU, although I am not sure which particular union—hitch it up to the back of his car, bring it to wherever we were, whether the parkland ovals or opposite the police barracks, and set it up and be in charge of cooking the barbecue for the press and the parliament at that annual event, which used to occur just prior to Easter every year.
He was also associated with one of the tennis clubs in the western suburbs. Another social event we used to have—although not as frequently as the cricket game—was a press versus parliament tennis event, and George and Joy hosted us down at their local tennis club in the western suburbs for that social event between the media and the parliament. I am sure those within the Labor Party would be able to attest to George’s hospitality, both within the Labor movement and personally. He was great company in relation to all those particular events.
As the only current member of the government who served with him and who enjoyed the time I served with him, I want to pass on my condolences to the family, friends and acquaintances of George and acknowledge his contribution to his party, his family, the parliament and the broader community. As I said, on behalf of government members, I acknowledge his contribution.