Death of Brian Mcgowan, A Former Member of the Legislative Assembly

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SpeakersFahey Mr John; Carr Mr Bob; Armstrong Mr Ian; Whelan Mr Paul; Face Mr Jack; Rogan Mr Patrick; Hartcher Mr Chris; Hatton Mr John; Clough Mr Ralph; Anderson Mr Peter

Mr FAHEY (Southern Highlands - Premier, and Minister for Economic Development) [2.15]: I move:
    That this House extends to Mrs McGowan and family the deep sympathy of Members of the Legislative Assembly in the loss sustained by the death of Brian McGowan, a former Member of this House.

It is with regret that I move this condolence motion to mark the passing of Brian McGowan, former member for Gosford, and to offer the deepest sympathy to his family. Brian McGowan was born in 1935 and grew up in the inner city suburb of Stanmore. At the age of 13 he took his first job singing with the touring Italian opera company. He left school at the age of 14 and worked as an office boy and then as a truck offsider. He later sat for the PMG entrance examination and became a telephone technician in training until he entered national service. He then worked as a tram conductor and a professional fireman. Graduating from Fort Street evening college in 1956 Mr McGowan gained a scholarship to Wagga Wagga Teachers College. He was appointed to Tocumwal Primary School in the mid-1960s, completed a bachelor of arts degree at the University of New England and was transferred to Nowra High School.

In 1972 he was promoted to The Entrance High School to take up the position of English and history master. As a member of the Independent Teachers Association his continuing support for his teaching colleagues was well known. Mr McGowan first stood for election for the seat of Gosford in 1973, but he was unsuccessful. However, he was successful in 1976 and held the seat of Gosford until 1988. While in Parliament he was concerned with social and educational issues. His abiding interest in and commitment to education issues was well known both to his electorate and to all members who served with him. He was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Drugs and he was Chairman of the Legislative Assembly Select Committee on the School Certificate.

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In 1976, in his maiden speech to Parliament, he raised concerns about the problems associated with growth in his electorate. He brought to the attention of Parliament the difficulties that arose when a medium-sized country town surrounded by tourist villages grew into a large, urban conglomerate. I served with Brian McGowan from 1984 to 1988. He will be remembered and respected by members from both sides of the House. The sad passing of Brian as a relatively young man is a sobering reminder to each of us in this House of our mortality. I will certainly remember Brian as a man of gentle nature and friendly disposition. He always extended to me courtesies both in and out of this Chamber and conducted himself, as a member, with dignity at all times. I express the condolences of this House, as well as my personal condolences, to his widow and family.

Mr CARR (Maroubra - Leader of the Opposition) [2.18]: It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Brian McGowan, a friend and a man of cheerful disposition and real commitment, especially to education. His career parallels the success of the last Labor Government. He was elected in 1976, the year Labor formed government in New South Wales. Like the parliamentary majority of that first Labor Government - one seat - his election victory was by the slimmest of margins, a mere 74 votes. He was an energetic young member of an energetic young Government. In 1978 he was one of many Labor members who made the first Wranslide part of his personal success. In his case he turned a 74 vote win into a remarkable 7,100 vote majority. Such a result after only two years, on the same boundaries of course, is confirmation of his hard work and diligence as a local member of Parliament.

The key to his success was that he worked very hard in the area. He had enormous common sense, he understood people's needs and he had a real affinity with the Central Coast. After his defeat in 1988 he became active in local government on the Central Coast, something in which he was involved until his death. He had a passionate interest in the bread and butter issues of State politics - education, the environment and other social issues. In his first year in Parliament he was appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Drugs. In 1979, as Chairman of the Select Committee on the School Certificate, he recommended bold future directions for education in New South Wales. The committee undertook the first comprehensive review of the operation of the school certificate since its creation by the Education Act 1961.

He established that the school certificate was an educational award that deserved great credibility, and recommended a wide cross-section of additional subjects to be taught in schools. As the Premier mentioned, he trained as a teacher in both primary and secondary schools, although he participated in a diverse range of jobs during his life. At the age of 13 he worked with the touring Italian opera company and, after leaving school, worked as an office boy and a truck offsider, and trained as a telephone technician. He entered national service and later worked as a tram conductor and a professional fireman. He will be remembered by all Opposition members as a man of cheerful, lively disposition, full of common sense. He had a commonsense appreciation of his electorate and its needs. He will be remembered for his commitment to the improvement of education. He understood that education was a key to equity and greater fairness in our society. He loved the region he represented and he loved the process of democratic politics. He was a fine, friendly and funny man. We are immensely saddened by his passing.

Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Deputy Premier, Minister for Public Works, and Minister for Ports) [2.21]: On behalf of the National Party I join with the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing sympathy to the family of the late Brian McGowan. As has been said, Brian McGowan could be best described as a typical local politician who loved his occupation. He liked his fellow man and was respected by his peers in this place. That in itself is fair testimony of the man. Many people go through this place without achieving what Brian was able to achieve. Brian McGowan, in his role as a parliamentarian, did not play the man; he played the policy and participated in the process of government to the utmost. He worked hard and was always available for a friendly word. Anyone wanting to discuss something in private with him could do so. He performed his duties well, was sensible, and always did his research. If more members modelled themselves on Brian McGowan, society would be better off. On behalf of the National Party, I extend sympathy to his family.

Mr WHELAN (Ashfield) [2.22]: I entered this House the same year as Brian, after the May 1976 State election, which was the year that Neville Wran became Premier of New South Wales after 11 years of Liberal Party-National Party Government. The result of the election hung in the balance for almost a fortnight, and it was Brian's achievement in winning Gosford by the narrowest of margins - actually, it was by 74 votes - that enabled Labor to form government after 11 years in Opposition. As one can imagine, it was a time of high drama for two weeks with the balance favouring the Government of Eric Willis one day and the Labor Opposition the next. And so it went for weeks with the media spotlight becoming white hot.

Throughout it all, Brian McGowan remained calm and unflappable as rumour followed speculation, fuelled by hyperbole. That is how I should like to remember Brian: his ability to keep cool under immense pressure. A true reflection of him was a quiet, yet very determined, achiever. He was a calligrapher of renown and he also was a gifted speaker. I remember a speech he made in the House, which I have extracted, when the former member for Gordon, Tim Moore, moved a motion to establish a select committee to inquire into the activities of an organisation known as the Children of God. That group had some fundamental beliefs alien to
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Mr Moore and he had some allegations he wanted to raise. Brian McGowan spoke in that debate and made it clear that, as many would say, there was no substance to Tim Moore's allegations. Brian McGowan finished his speech with these words:
    What prima facie evidence is there that we should set up a committee of inquiry? None has been presented. If theologically a man is either an ape or an angel, then I take my place with the angels.

He was a gifted speaker. His contributions after the dust of that hard-fought election had settled were of a like quality; namely, hard work, a firm purpose, and an emphasis on common sense which culminated in the long overdue reforms to the New South Wales education system through his work on the McGowan report. This report effectively modernised parts of the New South Wales education system and set new standards that remain in place today, more than a decade after Brian completed his massive work. Along with the honourable member for East Hills I was pleased to be on that committee. Brian McGowan was a diligent member both here and at the grass roots level in the Central Coast electorate, where he was immensely popular and widely admired. He was a nice bloke and a loyal colleague, and he will be missed by all who knew him.

Mr FACE (Charlestown) [2.25]: I extend my personal condolences to Margaret and her children on the sad passing of Brian McGowan after a relatively short illness. In the week his illness was diagnosed I happened to run into him in the Parliament, and in his usual cheerful way he said, "Well, that is what will happen. I will do my best with it. I will live with it and make the best of every day until the finish". He did just that over the Christmas period in making things easier for his family and enjoying that period with them.

Brian McGowan was immensely proud of all his children. I had a special relationship, as did my wife, with one of his daughters who was in the police force. Brian was immensely proud of her achievements. Brian had a laugh that will always remain in one's memory; it was one of those things he could not quite contain. It was unique to him. He also had a great sense of humour. When he discovered that some time ago another McGowan, who wore a watch and chain, was a rather successful politician in this State, Brian also decided to wear a watch and chain. He regarded it as a humorous talking point. That is the sort of fellow he was.

His humble background during those early struggling years made him a gifted local politician. He was held in high regard by all members who had electorates in the Newcastle and Central Coast region. Brian moved into the area from Nowra. He must have impressed a considerable number of people almost immediately because soon afterward he gained preselection for what was to be the new seat of Gosford. In 1973, in the late hours of the night, former Premier Willis brought into the House - he was then the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party - a bill to increase the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly from 96 to 99. Gosford was one of those new electorates. With Keith O'Connell moving over to the seat of Peats and Harry Jensen going to the seat of Munmorah, there was an opportunity for Brian to become a member.

From the day in 1973 when Brian failed to win the seat of Gosford - and a fellow called Malcolm Brooks became a member of this place - he worked hard. By the time the next elections were held in 1976 he had become a well-known identity throughout the rapidly growing Gosford community, in which incredible development had taken place, putting pressures on roads, transport and schools. All this he described graphically in his maiden speech. Brian McGowan took a deep interest in these matters and that is probably why he was successful. He made history as the Labor member who won the seat that clinched victory for the Wran Government. I remember being in Gosford with Vince Durick and the late Ken Booth when the news broke of the 74-vote win. That, coupled with the news an hour before that Hurstville had been won also, ensured that Labor had won office.

As the honourable member for Ashfield said, at no time did Brian McGowan become perturbed. Even under immense pressure he was unflappable. I pay tribute to Margaret McGowan. She must feel a great loss, because she and Brian did many things together. They were interested in a variety of activities. Many members of Parliament serve their electorates well all of the time but some have special interests that coincide with their electoral duties. Brian McGowan had associations with many organisations. He had a keen interest in theatre. At 58 he was far too young to pass away.

On behalf of members who represent electorates in the Newcastle and Central Coast area I pay tribute to him for his considerable contribution to the State and the area he represented so well. His views are encapsulated in his maiden speech. Apart from the McGowan report Brian will be remembered for being one of the few members of Parliament who in those early days wanted electronic media coverage of the Parliament, a proposal that was not especially popular at that time. In his maiden speech he said:
    While I am a member of the Assembly I shall not cease to advocate electronic extension of the public gallery and an increase in the continued reporting by print of this Her Majesty's Legislative Assembly.

Brian McGowan had strong views on that subject and continued to maintain them throughout the period during which he was a member of this place. At that time his words fell on deaf ears. He lived long enough to see that come about to a degree. I extend to his wife and his children my sympathies and those of the members representing the Central Coast and Newcastle areas.

Mr ROGAN (East Hills) [2.31]: I join with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and other honourable members in speaking to this condolence motion. On behalf of my family I pass on to Brian McGowan's wife, Margaret, and his family our
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condolences. Brian was a close friend of mine while he was a member of this House. Regrettably most friendships that begin in this place do not last beyond the time when a member leaves or, as happened in Brian's case, is forced to retire. After he left the Parliament we met on only the odd occasion. Nevertheless, I like to think of him as a friend and former colleague.

Brian had a uniqueness about him. He did his politics in his own way. He was never afraid to speak out or to ruffle the feathers of the bureaucrats or interest groups if they happened to disagree with his point of view. He was a sceptic, though I am not sure whether he was a member of the Sceptics Association of Australia; nor am I sure of his religious views. Whatever is beyond this life Brian will know of it now. He had a wonderful style of handwriting. He wrote copperplate with a distinctive flat-tipped pen. He would answer the correspondence he received from his constituents in his longhand style. That is a gift one does not often see in these times, and I doubt whether many members would reply to their constituents in handwriting, let alone that style of writing. At times he wrote on high-quality parchment paper.

Among the other occupations Brian held, and which have been referred to, was that of schoolteacher. He never quite forgot that background. I well recall his showing me a letter from a constituent who was advocating the reintroduction of the death penalty. As a former English master Brian had gone through this letter, which consisted of two or three pages, painstakingly with red pen, marking all the spelling errors. At the end of his reply to his constituent he wrote:
    Yes, I think there is merit to the death penalty, but I think it should be brought in only for those people who cannot spell properly.

As has been mentioned, Brian McGowan was chairman of the Select Committee on the School Certificate. I served also as a member of that committee, as did the honourable member for Ashfield. As chairman, he had to wait some time before the recommendations of that committee were implemented. That is not unique for committee reports of this Parliament. At the time I served as a member of that committee I also chaired a government inquiry into the four-term school year. I had to wait eight or nine years before the recommendations made in that report were introduced. Brian did not have to wait that long. Another committee of which I was chairman, which has the unmentionable name, was brought down 10 years ago, as I was reminded yesterday by the Treasurer. Some day someone will dust that report down and perhaps look at the recommendations and implement them. Brian was unique. It was an honour and privilege to have known him. It is with sadness that we are gathered today to support this condolence motion. I join with all honourable members in expressing to Brian's family our sincere sympathies.

Mr HARTCHER (Gosford - Minister for the Environment) [2.36]: Last week the House paid tribute to Ted Humphries, who was the member for Gosford from 1965 to 1971. We now bid a sad farewell to Brian McGowan, who represented the electorate of Gosford from 1976 to 1988. Like many working-class people who were born in the depression year of 1935, Brian McGowan faced the challenge of improving himself through education. He responded nobly to the challenge and succeeded in meeting it. The Premier has recounted to the House the long list of careers he followed in his desire for self-education and self-improvement. His early years of struggle led him to take a keen interest in social reform, an interest he shared with his wife, Margaret. They were married in the early 1950s and, being a fairly impecunious young couple, they decided to spend their honeymoon at a youth camp sponsored by the Eureka Youth League. They were not aware in those days of the strictures of communist morality, and when they went to the camp of the Eureka Youth League, despite the fact that they were married, they were assigned to separate quarters, for males and females, unable to have any contact with each other for the two weeks that they spent at the youth camp.

Brian was always ready to offer advice and assistance, and he readily offered both to me. Some of the advice he gave me I followed, some I chose not to follow, but it was always given in a friendly, good-natured way. I remember when I was elected in 1988 as his successor for the seat of Gosford I met with him for the first time as the new member. He said, "Let me give you one piece of advice which I hope you will take seriously". I said, "What is that?" He said, "Get your children out of the State's schools." I said, "Why is that, Brian?" He said, "Well, if I know Terry Metherell and if Terry Metherell does one-half of what he promises to do, the schools will be in an uproar in a few months". Brian was very observant about the impact of change in our society.

Brian McGowan was a person of rare courage and he demonstrated that courage in a political and personal way. Politically he demonstrated it in the battle that he waged with the Teachers Federation because he thought its views were "anti-semitic, anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant". Whether that was right or wrong, he was prepared to fight that battle and not simply lay down and surrender, even though he was a schoolteacher and was involved in Labor Party branches that had many teachers who were members. He fought with great courage. In the years preceding 1988 I used to go out door knocking. I would knock on a door and when the doors opened, as soon as I said I was the Liberal candidate they would say, "I have never voted Liberal in my life but I am voting for you". I would say, "Are you a schoolteacher?" and in many cases the response was yes. An article published in the Teachers Federation journal at about that time described Brian as a class traitor. If he believed in something, he stood up and fought for it.

In a personal sense he was a man of great courage. He faced his battle with cancer openly. In October last year he acknowledged in a local paper that he had severe, inoperable cancer. He said, "I
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acknowledge the fact that I am not destined to lead a long life". He was open and courageous about everything and, as the Deputy Premier said, in many respects he was a role model. Brian McGowan was born in the depression years. He believed strongly in the ideal that governments can achieve and help ordinary people in their lives. He was a man of deep social conscience and responsibility. He looked after ordinary people and did his best by them at all times. He was political, but not opportunistic; he was witty, but not cynical. He was a fine representative of the people, and I send my condolences to his wife, Margaret, and to his family.

Mr HATTON (South Coast) [2.41]: I join with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and my fellow members in offering condolences to Margaret and her family. It is sad that one sees the full tapestry of people's lives only when they die. Until now I had seen only a small part of Brian's tapestry. I knew Brian as a fellow teacher at Nowra High School. I knew of his activities in Shoalhaven prior to being elected to this House. He was well respected and took an active role in the local Australian Labor Party branch and in council matters. He took a keen interest in Federal and State politics and was a prominent member of the Teachers Federation. I was a teacher of agriculture at Nowra High School and he was on the English-history staff.

He had a reputation as an excellent speaker and he possessed a wonderful sense of humour. He had a keen sense of history and community values. He was able to relate well to students because of his wide experience of life. Many teachers tend not to have that worldly experience, and when a teacher enters the system one realises immediately through discussions in the classroom, debates and participation in the community, that a particular teacher has something special to offer to the community and to the school. I was saddened to learn that Brian had passed away, though I was not aware of his passing until I was informed by the honourable member for East Hills on my way down to the Chamber this afternoon. I endorse the remarks of other members and can add little to what has been said. However, on behalf of my constituents, teachers and many others who had the honour of knowing Brian, I place on record my condolences and appreciation to Margaret for a life well lived and a contribution well made.

Mr CLOUGH (Bathurst) [2.43]: On behalf of myself and my wife, Doreen, I should like to support the comments of the Premier and other parliamentary colleagues in relation to Brian McGowan. I listened closely to the remarks of the Minister for the Environment concerning the minor administrative problem experienced by Brian on his honeymoon. Knowing Brian as well as I did, I have no doubt that he quickly solved that problem. He was a man of exceptionally good humour and a man whose friendship was valued.

In company with the honourable member for Ashfield, I came into this House as the member for Blue Mountains after the 1976 elections. Brian was a great and steadying influence. He liked to smoke his pipe. I saw examples of the letters he wrote to his constituents. I must admit those letters were most difficult to decipher, but his handwriting was copperplate, and it was a first-class method of letting his constituents know that he cared about them. Brian McGowan was a very kind person who was admired by everyone in the Parliament. I, too, was saddened to learn of his passing. I extend to his wife and family, on behalf of my wife and myself, our sincere sympathy.

Mr ANDERSON (Liverpool) [2.47]: I join with other speakers in supporting the condolence motion to Brian McGowan. I first met him in the lead-up to the 1976 elections, when the other members mentioned won their seats and I did not. The first time I saw Brian he had a most wonderful beard. I shall not tell of the circumstances under which he removed the beard, but those of us who know remember it with some humour, as I am sure he would. Many have spoken of his skill as a local member. Gosford police station is testimony to that skill. Gosford, which used to be a poor relation to Hornsby in the policing structure, became a district in its own right entirely through Brian's representations. He did not confine his skills to that particular field but used them on a broad range of issues.

He was not only a committed representative of the people who had elected him but also a most forceful advocate. Brian had an ability to speak with great talent on a wide range of subjects. When Brian was aroused by or committed to an issue he was an awesome speaker and few members on either side of the House could get the better of him. I had many conversations with him late at night. Brian enjoyed a good meal and a good wine. He was Brian at his best when he opened up and talked about issues. I recall saying to him that he was his own worst enemy. It would be fair to say that in my time in the Parliament Brian McGowan was probably the most talented person not to have made the front bench. That had nothing to do with his ability but with his greater commitment to what he was doing and the issues he was pursuing. It was Brian who made the decision not to pursue that position to the extent others had. I recall how proud he was when his daughter joined the police force. I recall how proud he was of his family. The Parliament has been the poorer for his defeat: the world is the poorer for his passing.

Mr SPEAKER: Will honourable members please carry the motion by standing.

Members and officers of the House standing in their places,

Motion agreed to.