A True Servant of the Labour Movement - Vale Simon Crean

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging, and I pay my respect to any Indigenous people who are joining us here today.
To Carole Crean and the members of the Crean Family, to Brigadier Robert Marsh representing the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Professor James Angus, the Lieutenant General of Victoria, to the Premier of Victoria, Dan Andrews and to Cath Andrews, and to Sussan Ley representing the Leader of the Opposition.
Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
We are here to mourn a great Australian who served his country and his community with humility and compassion, with integrity and intellect.
A beloved son of the Australian Labor Party whose personal qualities earned him a respect that knew no political boundaries. 
As one of its true servants, Simon embodied so much of what truly matters at the heart of the labour movement.
That spirit of working together and standing up for each other. And above all, the sense of fairness that was forever his guiding star.
As the son of Frank Crean, who had regular encounters at home with the likes of Doc Evatt, Arthur Calwell and Gough Whitlam, Simon had the benefit of growing up observing Labor history firsthand.
He fulfilled so many roles. Secretary of the Storemen and Packers Union. President of the ACTU.
Member for Hotham. Minister and Cabinet Minister in the Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard Governments. Deputy Leader and then Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. Chairman of the European Australian Business Council.
What he never was, though, was a person who believed in positions-of-convenience. He never bought into politics as a game.
His instinct was for reform, for change, for new ways of looking at problems, new approaches to solving them. To join the dots, as he was so fond of putting it.
He often greeted the world with a crinkle-eyed geniality – an apt introduction to this man of decency, kindness and boundless generosity, and I think the photo that is in the booklet at the front page today captures Simon - a photo I’ve never seen, just extraordinary.
Politics may have its share of those who believe profoundly in their right to bear grudges, but Simon wasn’t one of them.
He could fight battles against someone, yet still maintain the respect of the other. Even more uncommonly, he could keep the friendship.
That’s because what always guided Simon was principle.
When he voiced his opposition to sending Australian troops to the Iraq War he made it clear his argument was not with those who wore the uniform and served in Australia’s name, but with the Howard Government.
He rose so powerfully to the occasion in making that argument, each sentence he spoke in Parliament as fierce and as bright as a lightning strike.
His stance would be vindicated by history, yet was deeply at odds with much of the political and media climate at the time. Simon’s principles did not turn with the breeze.
He reiterated his stance in the presence of President George W. Bush, reasoning – rightly – to quote Simon, that “friends must be honest with each other”.  President Bush was moved to describe it as a “fine speech”.
But perhaps one of the most striking illustrations of Simon’s character was the first of his Iraq speeches, when he went to speak with our troops face to face ahead of their deployment.
Though he did not believe Australia should be part of that war, he made clear to our troops that the respect and gratitude he felt for them was deep and unwavering.
Simon’s ministerial career was quite extraordinary. In portfolios as diverse as Employment, Training, Regional Development, Trade, Primary Industries, Science, Simon gave his all, characterised by inclusive engagement and a determination to make a positive difference, not just to occupy the space.
I do want to single out Simon’s passion for the arts, which he understood was an essential part of the Labor mission. It was not a side project or a mere distraction or decoration.
He knew a culturally confident nation has the strength to know itself and the imagination to enlarge itself.
His final ministerial action was the launch of the cultural policy Creative Nation. A decade later, Simon’s work provided the five pillars on which my Government’s cultural policy Revive is based. And we ensured that Simon was there at the Espy launch earlier this year.
Today we express our respect and gratitude to Simon, a man who held the same values throughout his entire career, from his early union days to his trips to Europe in the name of Australia’s economic interests.
It’s telling even if you just look at the words that bookend his distinguished parliamentary career.
In his maiden speech, Simon devoted himself to the national interest and to the creation of a “more just and equitable society”.
Then turn to his final two speeches to Parliament, which happened to both be condolences.
One for Hazel Hawke, in which Simon echoed Hazel’s request to us all, to “think about what this country could be, inspiring Australians to approach their futures creatively and hopefully”.
And the other was for Mandawuy Yunupingu, Simon urging us to sort out the unfinished business of Closing the Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.  
Simon served his country right until the end. It was bittersweet for me arriving in Berlin last week so soon after him.
Had the circumstances been different, I know we would have compared notes. More importantly, I would have been the beneficiary of his wisdom, as I so often was.
My hope now is that our sadness can give way to a sense of celebration of a life so very well lived.
Carole and the family. Carole, the glow of the great love between you will never fade from your heart. We wrap you and all your family in our thoughts today.
May our friend and comrade Simon Crean rest in peace.

20 July 2023