Tribute to Mrs Margaret Holmes
National Art School
Environmental Policies

About this Item
SubjectsCivil Liberties; Women; Protests and Demonstrations; Arts; Environment
SpeakersRhiannon Ms Lee

Page: 1933

    Ms LEE RHIANNON [9.10 p.m.]: Margaret Holmes is 97 years old. She has led a compassionate life of conviction, working for peace and social justice. At university Margaret became active in women's and peace groups. In 1959, at 50 years of age, Margaret was further radicalised when she embarked on a six-month journey of peace. She was constantly open to experiences that challenged her, and saw for herself the effects of economic injustice, racism, nationalism and colonisation. The journey revealed to Margaret the truth behind the Cold War propaganda, and on her return she was invited to speak at many Sydney peace groups.

    Margaret was now a fully committed activist, participating in many protests and vigils against conscription, arms expenditure and the Vietnam War from its earliest days. She was present at the famous protest in response to then Prime Minister Menzies' introduction of conscription, when a group of women wearing black veils silently left the room, knowing too well what war would bring. At that time, in the 1960s, protests were rare, making this an act of great courage. Margaret was also present outside Bill White's home when Bill became the first young man arrested for refusing to be conscripted. I remember that historic day well, with protests rolling across Sydney from the White's house to the Watsons Bay naval base.

    As a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Margaret was involved in campaigns for reconciliation and the anti-apartheid movement, and against chemical and biological weapons, and the French atomic tests in the Pacific. In 2001 Margaret was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of her life commitment to campaigning for peace and justice. Always encouraged by fellow women activists, Margaret's dedication and energy means that she is now an inspiration for many who follow in her footsteps. She was one of a group of women who greatly inspired me in my early work in the women's and peace movements. I recommend to honourable members the book about Margaret Holmes life by Michelle Cavanagh. I thank Margaret for her years of hard work for a safer, more peaceful and a just world.

    Today in question time the House heard great noise coming from Macquarie Street. The noise was coming from a protest by students from the National Art School who have taken up an important issue—an issue that the Government would be wise to listen to and on which it should adjust its policy fast. It is one issue on which Minister Tebbutt has clearly got it wrong. The National Art School should not be taken over by the University of New South Wales. The message is simple. The National Art School has made a huge contribution to Australian culture, it is unique, and it must not be diluted and compromised.

    The idea is that the National Art School will simply be taken over by the University of New South Wales. The Minister has assured us that there will be two independent art schools, the National Art School and the College of Fine Arts. That is rubbish. We know that under the administration of the University of New South Wales, particularly with Mr Hilmer as the Vice-Chancellor, that will not happen. Very quickly the National Art School will be judged in economic terms: We need to cut corners here, we need to compromise, we need to amalgamate the schools. That is how the issue will be resolved, and it will be a tragedy. Indeed, it will be a great crime, at a time when the arts need to be developed, fostered and supported. Cutting corners and pushing the National Art School into the belly of the University of New South Wales is deeply wrong. I urge Minister Tebbutt to do the right thing. The National Art School should be given Federal status and Federal funding, and Minister Tebbutt would be wise to add her voice to that. I congratulate everybody who was at the protest today.

    On another matter, together with many Greens and people in the community, I continue to be disappointed with the environmental commitment of Premier Iemma. He has made a couple of speeches on this issue but during the last term of the New South Wales Labor Government he has presided over the systematic dismantling of environmental planning, assessment and licensing for major developments; irrigators have been given property rights over water that was owned by the whole community; road freight transport has grown, instead of rail, causing major environmental impacts and contributing to global warming; we have deplorable draft regional planning strategies which do little to protect the environment; the Government has initiated a fire sale of 3.4 million hectares of Crown leases without any assessment of the environmental impact; and more than one million hectares of State forests have been turned into shooter zones. Clearly, we have a problem with this Government. We will be watching it closely over the next six months.