This came in from Hugh Nowell:
I met Kim Beazley, Australian labour MP, at the moment he decided to try and do so. His family were very poor. He went to school bare-foot. He had no ambition to enter Parliament. But he was requested to do it, was selected and was the youngest MP at 28.
He had a passion for history.
He also had an outsize hubris and hectored colleagues in Parliament and was thoroughly disliked. He had a humbling experience when visiting the Caux conference in 1953.
He was returning from a mission in London and went for one week and stayed for 7.
He said of his experience there, ‘What was happening was far more significant for the peace and sanity of the world than anything happening in Australian politics.’
This was 1953. He was introduced to the reconciliation then taking place between France and Germany led by Adenauer and Schuman.
He then discovered that these healing processes involved changes in people’s attitudes and relationships – including his own.
He found this experience the ultimate in realism for it suggests an experiment that anyone can try – searching for God’s leading - testing any thoughts that come against absolute moral standards of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love and carrying into practice those thoughts that meet those standards.
A Labour Party friend at the conference sat Beazley down and suggested that he should take time alone to seek God’s guidance, ‘having nothing to prove, nothing to justify and nothing to gain for himself.’
What a shockingly subversive thing to say to someone in politics! I had been proving just how right I was at every election, justifying everything that we had ever done, and gaining political power for myself. That was the minimum I must do.
You can never understand these standards by sitting back and trying to understand them intellectually, he says. There must be a decisive act – a turning of the will. For me sitting down and writing a letter of honesty to my wife started off a chain reaction. On receiving the letter, my wife said, ‘ I knew some of the things; some I guessed; some I didn’t know. I had a wonderful sense of relief and trust after reading it.’
Similar letters went to his brother and sister. While disentangling ‘the web of deceit’ in his personal life, he found he was disentangling a web in his political life.
It’s reasonable to ask how he fared after this thorough going start.
He felt called to raise the standard of life for the Aboriginal people.
His first achievement was secured when he was Minister of Education.
The second great achievement took place when he was not in office. Both measures were unpopular at the time. That and his determination to bring honesty into his political dealings caused him a lot of enemies.
His Parliamentary colleagues did not warm so easily to his new-found conviction. Alan Reid writing in the Sun in October 1953, ‘facing the prospect of political destruction at the moment is young Kim Beazley. Powerful, office-hungry individuals fear that his idealism and his current determination to pursue the truth, would cost the Labour Party the next election. The word has gone out, ‘Destroy him’.
He freely admits he made mistakes. But they did not destroy him. At the end of 32 years in parliament, the Melbourne Herald wrote, ‘ he was beyond any doubt one of the best Members of Parliament Australia ever had.’
For his contribution in education and in Aboriginal affairs the Australian National University rewarded with an honoury doctorate. As Minister of Education all existing student grants were extended to every Aboriginal and tertiary student. Overall education spending rose from 4.8 per cent of GDP to 6.2per cent.
The citation went on, ‘his greatest contribution was healing an ulcer that has festered in our country for close on 200 years. Sectarian bitterness was dealt a death blow by needs-based funding which Beazley introduced.
One thought stayed with him from his days in Caux in his search to live out God’s will, ‘If you live by absolute purity, you will be used towards the rehabilitation of the Australian Aboriginal people. Purity he saw, was the alternative to living for self-gratification, which kills intelligent care for others.
He continued his practice of early morning quiet seeking God’s direction between 6 and 7am. He established the principle that ’to deny a people an education in their own language is to treat them as a conquered people and we have always treated the Aborigines as a conquered people.’ Now teaching in schools takes place in 138 languages of the Northern Territory.
Out of office he campaigned for Land Rights for the Aboriginal people of which they had none. To restore the dignity of the Aborigines became a second great principle in which land rights were the key.
With the Rev Wells he started to campaign in 1963 to get a Select Committee to study the incursion of mining in the Northern Territories which threatened to destroy the spiritual and mythological significance of the land. Finally, by 1976 legislation was passed, opening the re-possession of tribal lands. From not owning an acre, aboriginal people gained freehold title to 643,000 square kms, an area two and half times the size of Great Britain.
‘ What a poor reward it would have been for the nation if Kim had pursued the cause of personal power during those years in Opposition’, commented a senior Government adviser when Beazley left politics.
Beazley spent 28 of his 32 years in Parliament in what he called, ‘Her Majesty’s Permanent Opposition’. ‘I have come to believe that the true function of the Opposition is to out-think the government at the point of its successes.’
In his time, he played a key role in Land Reform, preparation of Papua New Guinea for Independence, a massive increase in government spending on education and above all the welfare of the Aboriginal people.