Death of the Honourable Eric Lance Bedford, a Former Minister of the Crown
DEATH OF THE HONOURABLE ERIC LANCE BEDFORD, A FORMER MINISTER OF THE CROWN
Mr GRANT McBRIDE (The Entrance—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister for the Central Coast) [10.00 a.m.], by leave: I move:
That this House extends to Mrs Bedford and her family the deep sympathy of the members of the Legislative Assembly in the loss sustained by the death on 8 July 2006 of the Hon. Eric Lance Bedford, a former Minister of the Crown.
I acknowledge the presence in the visitors' gallery of Jo Bedford and other members of the Bedford family. Today I pay tribute to the late Hon. Eric Lance Bedford, who was born on 19 February 1928 at Concord and who sadly passed away on Saturday 8 July 2006, aged 78 years. Eric was born to Roy Oswald and Clara Rosalind Bedford and I understand his only sibling was a younger brother, Ross, who predeceased him. Eric lived a life of service to the people of New South Wales. He was a schoolteacher, in fact, the first schoolteacher to become a Labor Education Minister in this State. He subsequently served in the New South Wales Parliament from 24 February 1968 to 31 December 1985—17 years, 10 months and 8 days.
Following his retirement from Parliament Eric continued to remain active. From 1986 to 1990 he chaired the Local Government Grants Commission, from 1988 to 1998 he was Chair of the Hastings Higher Education Association, and from 1996 to 2001 he was President of the Association of Former Members of the New South Wales Parliament. He also remained an active member of the New South Wales Geographical Society and the Australian Labor Party [ALP], to which in the year 2000 he was awarded life membership—the highest honour in the party. Such a life of service is not possible without family support, and I make special mention of Eric's wife, Jo Bedford. The two of them made a great team.
Eric and Jo were married on 6 May 1950. They were fortunate to have three beautiful daughters, Robyn, Julie and Judy. Tragically, the Bedford family was struck by the sad and premature deaths of two daughters, leaving behind grandchildren on whom Eric and Jo have doted. For those who live on—wife Jo, daughter Judy, and the grandchildren, Dominique and Tamara, Nicole and James, Adam and Joel—the spirit of Eric continues to live on also. I first met Eric when I was a member of the Canley Vale branch of the ALP in Western Sydney.
Eric was universally well liked and highly respected by all. He was a good-humoured, generous, open and engaging person. He was a talented politician and a worthy Minister holding the ministries of Education, Planning and Environment, Industry and Decentralisation, and Small Business and Technology in the Wran era. In fact, during the period when he was the Minister for Industry and Decentralisation, and Small Business and Technology, he gave me the tie I am wearing today. I found it quite moving when I put it on this morning. I have always kept the tie, and it has always been for me a memory of Eric.
Eric was highly valued, well liked and respected by Premier Wran. Eric was someone I both admired and saw as a role model. Many others share my respect and admiration for Eric, and I invited some of those who attended Eric's funeral or provided tributes to have their words incorporated into today's condolence motion. The claim is that Gough Whitlam recruited Eric back to the active list of the ALP and encouraged him to seek public office. In his letter to Jo, Gough Whitlam says in part:
Our family and many thousands of families will remember Eric's contribution to their lives and grieve with you and your family at this time.
From Neville Wran, I quote in part:
Above all Eric Bedford's political life was characterised by his loyalty—his loyalty to the Labor Party, his loyalty to the Government in which he served, his loyalty to the leadership and his colleagues, to his family and most of all himself. Few men who have been elected to this chamber (the New South Wales Lower house) have left it with the respect and good will which Eric Bedford enjoyed.
I repeat what Neville Wran said:
Few men who have been elected to this chamber (the New South Wales Lower house) have left it with the respect and good will which Eric Bedford enjoyed.
Terry Sheahan, a Wran Minister and mate of Eric's, delivered the official eulogy, in which he captured the virtues and the spirit of the man. Commenting on Eric's first speech—what used to be known as a maiden speech—on 21 August 1968, Terry says:
A genuine inner spirituality also comes through in his sensitive account of the varying needs which his multicultural constituency faced in regard to places of worship and community support services.
At one point in his speech he said, simply but emphatically:
I consider it my duty to press relentlessly for the alleviation of the problem.
And for the next 18 years on the back or on the front bench in Fairfield (1968-81) or Cabramatta (1981-85) he did just that.
Janice Crosio, a former Wran Minister, Federal member and Mayor of Fairfield City, was Eric's next-door neighbour, so to speak, in the adjoining electorate. Janice was also part of the strong western Sydney Labor representation in the Wran era, many of whom came from a local government background, like George Pacullio, John Aquilina, Janice Crosio and Pam Allan. Janice says of Eric, simply but powerfully:
Eric was a wonderful human being and a genuine Man of the People.
Nick Lalich, the current Mayor of Fairfield City, a long-time friend and colleague of Eric's and a former pupil when Eric was a teacher at Liverpool Boys High, says in part:
As far as a teacher goes, I remember Eric as a fairly hard teacher, but I felt he was very fair. I copped a lot of canning from Eric and probably deservedly so.
Nick goes on:
As a State Member he did a lot of work for Cabramatta and for the Fairfield community which we are indebted for.
Greg Friedewald, Press Secretary to Eric from June 1980 to December 1985, says of Eric:
First and foremost he was a wonderful person. As his Premier, Neville Wran said at his funeral he was probably too nice a bloke for the cut throat world of politics.
Greg refers to Eric's achievements that are not well documented since his passing, namely his involvement in the Wran Government's environmental achievements:
… saving of the forests, the move to lead free petrol, waste management and the management of critical national parks like Kosciusko and Lake Mungo.
Eric's staff are acknowledged in Terry Sheahan's eulogy. I would like to conclude with an Eric story provided by his former press secretary Michael Ross, who worked for Eric between 1976 and 1980:
Eric had two major dislikes: He hated queuing for food, and he hated dinner suits. He promised all of us when he retired, he would have a party we would all be invited to at Zanzibar, his retirement property at Logans Crossing, near Kendall (where he proudly flew the State flag from a flag pole.) And, he would run his dinner suit up the flag pole, and salute it, and then bring it down and burn it in the open fire. And that he duly did!
I am told that story is true. It says something of the character of Eric Bedford. I lay on the table for the information of members, as part of my comments today, the correspondence from Gough Whitlam and Neville Wran, the eulogy delivered by Terry Sheahan, which covers the life of Eric Bedford better than I could ever do, and the correspondence from Greg Friedewald, Eric's press secretary.
Mr IAN ARMSTRONG (Lachlan) [10.13 a.m.]: I join the Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister for the Central Coast in extending my appreciation for the life of Eric Bedford, particularly in this place, and my sympathy to his wife, Muriel, and family. I think Mr Speaker, John Aquilina, and I are the only members of the current Parliament to have served with Eric Bedford. I came to this place in 1981, at which time Eric Bedford was Minister for Planning, and he then went on to become the Minister for Education after the next election.
The Minister has outlined Eric Bedford's history in this place well, including some of the lighter side of Eric. He was a most pleasant man. He was one of the old school; there is no doubt about that. He played politics hard, but very professionally and with great sophistication. There was none of the pedestrian chitter-chatter nonsense, and so forth, that sometimes goes on in parliaments these days. Eric Bedford and his colleagues were tough debaters, they were good researchers, they were good thinkers, and they had a mission to be in this place because they respected very much their responsibilities in having been elected to the Parliament to achieve something on behalf of the people of New South Wales, and particularly those in their electorates.
I always found Eric Bedford a very easy role model to follow: he was decent, focused and friendly, he played hard politics, and he was a great believer in the Australian Labor Party. But whatever he did, he did very strongly and very successfully. Like many people of that time, he was self-made virtually. I note from his biographical profile that he went to Fort Street Boys High School and Sydney Teachers College. He taught for 11 years at country schools. No doubt, that was the reason for his being such a decent man, because country schools certainly are fantastic, at any time. He married Muriel Glennon in 1950, and obtained an arts degree through external study with the University of New England. No doubt he was teaching at a school when he undertook those external studies. In those days, people had to work very hard, and it is amazing what they achieved. Eric Bedford was certainly focused on education and on high academic qualifications.
Eric taught economics and geography at Liverpool Boys High School from 1958. The Minister outlined his entry into the ALP via Gough Whitlam. His parliamentary profile also mentions the story about the dinner suit and his being somewhat opposed to it. Another story I would like to tell, which is also referred to in Eric's biographical profile, is one that further demonstrates his sense of responsibility in this place. As the Sydney Morning Herald obituary says:
"If it is possible for a politician to be loved, Eric Bedford was loved by one and all", his former press secretary, Michael Ross, said. Ross recalled visiting Tamworth when all accommodation was booked out. The National Party MP, Noel Park, put Bedford and Ross up at his place, and drove the minister to a local ALP branch meeting.
That is what you call bipartisan support. But it could only happen to Eric Bedford, because he was one of those sorts of people. That is one of the reasons why I found him to be such a good friend. I will not go so far as to say he was my mentor. Eric came to my electorate a couple of times whilst he was Minister for Education. Driving from town to town and chatting with Eric was always a positive thing. You could be a friend of Eric's, and you could be a professional colleague of Eric's, irrespective of your politics or your beliefs. To me, that is a sign of a great man and someone who is intelligent and is really proud of what they are doing. The Sydney Morning Herald obituary goes on:
Bedford implemented the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, regarded as a model for environmental planning in Australia. He was disappointed to find that it was being exploited by business people. The Government decided in October 1982 and January 1984 to preserve rainforests by preventing logging operations—something Bedford regarded as a personal triumph.
He was reinstated to the education portfolio in 1984 and then transferred to industry and decentralisation, small business and technology …
Retiring to Zanzibar, a hobby farm on the Mid-North Coast, he flew the state flag from a pole on the property. He was a keen fisherman and tried to attend an opera whenever he visited Sydney.
The other reason I believe Eric Bedford was a good bloke is that he bred horses. Anyone who breeds horses has to be, first, very game, second, very foolish to think they are going to make any money, and third, have a wonderful interest with other horse breeders. I always enjoyed Eric's company. He was a fairly regular visitor to this place after he retired from politics. We would say to him, "How are the horses going, Eric?" We would both have a story to tell. I said, "Eric, you never ring me up when one is going to win." He said, "Well, there wouldn't be very many phone calls." He certainly enjoyed his horses and had a great love for them, as does his wife. That was one of those great bonding things as far as I am concerned. I have great admiration for people who are in the horse industry.
The Eric Bedfords of the world and of the Parliament make it a much better place. I would like to think that Eric will be remembered by members and that members might take note of his biographical profile, which is available from the Parliamentary Library. As a role model for today, I think we could all probably learn something from the likes of Eric Bedford, and from Eric in particular. Once again, I extend my sympathy to his family. It was a privilege to work here with him.
Mr JOSEPH TRIPODI (Fairfield—Minister for Energy, Minister for Ports and Waterways, and Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Business and Economic Regulatory Reform) [10.19 a.m.]: As honourable members know, Eric Bedford was the member for Fairfield. On behalf of the electorate of Fairfield, I convey condolences and an enormous sense of indebtedness and gratitude to Eric's family for the sacrifices he made through his commitment to public office and to the Labor Party. While I never had the chance to know Eric as a member of Parliament—I was a bit young at the time and he retired the year I joined the Labor Party—he is well known and still well regarded in the local community. Although years have passed, Eric left a mark and he is well remembered and well regarded in the local community.
Two things come home to me in relation to Eric Bedford, and those two things are extremely important to the people of Fairfield. The first is his long passion for the Labor Party. The stories I hear around the place about Eric Bedford, his commitment to the party and his understanding that the party is the only vehicle that exists, in effect, to help the kinds of people who populate Fairfield are well recorded and well known. The stories about the people who used to go to Eric's home before and after meetings and how well received they were, his commitment to party members, the fact that he always listened and was always guided by party members, have rested in the minds and memories of many people in the local community.
Eric Bedford understood that the Labor Party was the only effective vehicle to help people such as those who live in Fairfield. His passion and understanding that the Labor Party would be a vehicle for reform, to ameliorate and improve the lives of a challenged community in the sense of its socioeconomic makeup, are important. The second thing was Eric's enormous passion for and commitment to public education. One thing the Labor Party understands, and Eric Bedford also understood, is that public education is an important vehicle to allow people to get out from the working classes and to progress themselves. That meal ticket, that very important vehicle, that institution that is public education, is a crucial way of allowing people who make up the electorate of Fairfield to break free from the challenges they confront.
The Fairfield electorate, at the time Eric was the member—the electorate later became Cabramatta—was a community made up of more than 100 ethnic communities, as it is today. Today it has 133 nationalities and 88 different languages; it is similar to what it was when Eric was the local member. These people have two important needs; firstly, the need for the Labor Party to be successful and to provide them, as immigrants with all the challenges they face, with opportunities; and, secondly, the need for the important egalitarian nature of public education. Eric understood both of those needs. He understood the significance of these institutions and he had a passionate commitment to ensuring that they functioned well and delivered for the people of his electorate.
On behalf of the people of Fairfield, and all those who benefited from Eric's contribution through his public life, I thank Eric and his family for everything he achieved. It is only fair that he is recognised in this Parliament. To the family I say this: The stories are still around and Eric is still well regarded. Many families in the Fairfield electorate and in Cabramatta were touched by his work. Eric is fondly regarded and will always be remembered by the people of Fairfield.
Mr ANDREW STONER (Oxley—Leader of The Nationals) [10.23 a.m.]: The passing of former New South Wales Government Minister and Camden Haven resident Eric Bedford is a tragic loss for the State of New South Wales. A senior member of the Wran Labor Government for 17 years, all State members of Parliament held Eric Bedford in high regard for his integrity and his passion for New South Wales. Unlike the honourable member for Lachlan, I was not involved in politics at the time, but I understand that Eric Bedford was a tough but fair politician. I am told that he was always prepared to resolve disagreements with members from my side of politics through intelligent and constructive negotiations. The son of an electrician, Eric was originally a teacher and taught at various country schools across New South Wales. He had a long involvement with and a strong commitment to his party, the Labor Party. In 1966 he even did a stint as campaign director for former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam before he himself entered politics in 1968 as the member for Fairfield, which later became the seat of Cabramatta.
From 1976 Eric was given the education portfolio for more than three years, and then went on to be the environment Minister, industry Minister and Minister for small business before retiring in 1985. I understand that Eric Bedford's main reason for leaving politics was to spend more time with his family and friends. Why would he not when he retired to the beautiful Camden Haven? However, Eric still stayed on in the public sector as president of the Former Members of NSW Parliament Association from 1999 to 2001. He was also an adviser to the Minister for aging from 1996 to 2001. While Eric Bedford may have been from the wrong side of politics, he certainly settled in the right part of New South Wales. After his retirement from politics he relocated from his home in Sydney's west to the district I call the best part of the best country in the world.
Mr Ian Armstrong: You're biased.
Mr ANDREW STONER: I am biased, and rightly so. Eric Bedford settled at Logan's Crossing near Kendall, which is part of Hastings shire, in which I also reside. It is a beautiful place. The honourable member for Lachlan mentioned Eric's passion for horses. On his property, he bred and trained race horses, and quickly became a popular local identity in Camden Haven. Unlike many former members of Parliament who keep wanting to have their two bobs' worth, Eric stayed out of local politics wherever possible, other than supporting his local Labor branch in Camden Haven, which often met in Bob Martin's former pub at Kew. While I think Eric would have liked nothing more than to get rid of me from the seat of Oxley and have me replaced with a Labor member, nevertheless he never made those views known publicly, and he never took any shots at me publicly. Indeed, the dealings I had with Eric have engendered in me the view that he was an absolute gentleman.
I have a particularly fond memory of Eric following the candidates' forum that had been arranged at Wauchope before the last State election. As one does with these particular forums, one has mostly supporters of both sides come along and very few dispassionate members of the public. On that particular evening there were some particularly passionate members of the Labor Party. One in particular took great delight in having a loud shot at me and questioning virtually everything I said—the person may have had a drink too many before attending the forum. Following that, Eric approached me and apologised for the behaviour of that person, who was a member of the Labor Party. That spoke volumes to me about the type of man Eric Bedford was. His death at the age of 78 is a tragic loss of a man who put politics aside wherever possible for the betterment of the State of New South Wales. On behalf of The Nationals, I express our sincere condolences to Mrs Bedford, his family and friends. He will be fondly remembered and greatly missed.
Ms PAM ALLAN (Wentworthville) [10.28 a.m.]: My political career did not overlap that of Eric Bedford. Certainly he was gone from the Parliament before I was elected in 1988. However, I had the enormous pleasure of knowing Eric when he was the Minister for Education and I shall make some remarks about that time. When I look back at Eric's political career I realise that the years that he began his ministerial service in this place coincided with the years that I began my political adulthood.
My first year of teaching in the New South Wales secondary school system was 1976 and in 1977 I became a full-time official with the New South Wales Teachers Federation. From 1977 to 1981 I had the opportunity to know Eric and the people around Eric. I have friendships with people who also worked extremely closely with Eric Bedford. I particularly mention Alan Ruby, Vivienne Howe and Vic Baueris. Michael Ross is in the gallery this morning and he was one of two people named Michael Ross who worked for Eric Bedford when he was Minister for Education. That was my first opportunity to get to know Michael, who has since had a very colourful career working for various Ministers and other organisations.
Eric Bedford was highly respected by the New South Wales Teachers Federation, and I think Eric reciprocated that respect. Eric became the Minister for Education in the Wran Government following a period of enormous acrimony within the New South Wales teaching service and the public education system. I have looked at Eric's various speeches about the challenges to public education when he was Minister for Education. Eric came into this Chamber following the enormous legacy of bitterness, fighting and industrial action between the Askin Government and the Teachers Federation. Those two great political and industrial juggernauts met during the time of the Askin Government because Askin had a huge ideological agenda to oppose the New South Wales Teachers Federation.
In one of his speeches to Parliament Eric highlighted the leadership of the then Teachers Union, which for many years was led by Sam Lewis, a prominent communist. Not only was the president of the union a prominent communist, the organisation was a repository, a home for communists. In 1977 when I became an official of the union I was one of the very few non-communists operating within it. There were a handful of members of the Australian Labor Party at that time—Graham Ashton, Vic Baueris and several others—in the union. We were regarded with some suspicion because we were seen to be on the right wing of the industrial movement.
Nevertheless, despite the organisation being dominated by communists at the time, when Eric became Minister for Education he managed to develop a very close working relationship with it. In fact, members of the new Opposition—a legacy of Askin who were still in Parliament at that time—made various attacks on Eric in this Chamber. They used to rubbish Eric Bedford because he had the hide to meet with the New South Wales Teachers Federation without the presence of a representative of the director general of education. Eric was attacked on the floor of this Chamber because he had regular meetings with the Teachers Federation without representatives of the Department of Education. Most Ministers now would find it incredulous that a Minister would be attacked for meeting with a major stakeholder without a departmental representative present. But in those early years of Eric's ministry of education he had to withstand those sorts of attacks.
As a result of the very acrimonious relationship that existed between Askin and the union there were great expectations of Eric when he became the Minister for Education because the expectation was that Neville Wran would deliver for public education. Indeed, Neville Wran, his team and Eric did deliver many gains for public education, partly because Eric Bedford knew the public education system so well. One need only look at his maiden speech and other speeches in this Chamber to know he was intimately acquainted with the requirements of the education system. It would be great if every Minister who has been elected since Eric Bedford was the Minister for Education were as intimately aware and had such a detailed knowledge of their portfolios. When Eric Bedford became the Minister for Education he certainly had that knowledge.
In his maiden speech in this Parliament, long before he became the Minister for Education, he spent most of his time talking about education, the needs of teachers and students, class sizes, disadvantaged schools and school maintenance. Those issues have continued to plague education Ministers and governments since that time, but Eric was aware of all those matters. Inevitably, relationships between unions and Ministers can deteriorate, and that certainly happened with the Teachers Federation, which was and still is a very challenging organisation. It makes huge demands on government to satisfy the needs of education. Education is an enormous portfolio area covering many aspects. Despite the Teachers Federation taking industrial action while Eric was the Minister, he was still polite during the strike. I do not think a Labor Minister for Education, or a Labor Premier for that matter, has been as polite to the New South Wales Teachers Federation since the days of Eric Bedford. He always retained that politeness. I think that was why he was regarded with so much affection in the upper echelons, of which I was not one, of the Teachers Federation. People such as Max Taylor, Barry Mayfield and Jennie George all appreciated the qualities Eric possessed.
When one reads Eric's speeches, and the speeches that have been made about Eric, particularly at his funeral, one realises that friendships were very important to him. The Minister for Gaming and Racing has already laid upon the table for the information of members Justice Sheahan's valedictory speech. I want to lay on the table a great speech of Roy Medich, who is also in the gallery, at the eulogy. The eulogies of both Terry Sheahan and Roy Medich had in common the warmth they felt for Eric, the warmth from Eric that was generated to them as his long-term friends and the love and support that Eric Bedford gave to his family. I was not at the funeral but I had a tear in my eye when I read those two wonderful speeches.
When Roy described Eric Bedford he used the word "calm". Interestingly, last night I spoke to a senior public servant when Eric was Minister and he used the same word "calm" about Eric Bedford. It is obvious that Eric would have needed to be calm when dealing with the Teachers Federation and later when, as Minister for Planning and Environment, he was part and parcel of one of the greatest decisions that any government has made in New South Wales, that is, the protection of the northern rainforests. Recently, when Neville Wran was talking about a book that had been written for the anniversary celebration this year for the Parliament he referred to that decision.
It is not an uncommon practice—and I do not think political parties would want it any other way—but Premiers are usually identified with those decisions more strongly than the people who might have had the nuts and bolts carriage of them. We will always think of the protection of the northern rainforests in this State as Neville Wran's outstanding achievement, but Eric Bedford was the Minister for Planning and Environment and was deeply involved in that very contentious process. Not only were Eric Bedford and Neville Wran in Cabinet at the time but they were also fierce supporters of the forestry movement and industry. A great friend of Eric Bedford at that time, Don Day, was the Minister responsible for protecting the interests of forestry workers, who wanted to log in those areas.
There were fierce debates around the Cabinet table between those two powerful advocates for their various interests, but they remained friends despite those impassioned arguments. Eric had the carriage of that proposal in Cabinet and I am assured that he was absolutely up to speed on the detail of the proposal. I recall someone saying that he was passionate in his own quiet way to ensure that that decision came to pass. Another of Eric Bedford's great environmental achievements, also referred to by Terry Sheahan in his eulogy, was that he was the responsible Minister when the New South Wales Environmental Planning and Assessment Act became law. His predecessor in the portfolio, Paul Landa, was the architect who brought it to Cabinet, but Eric Bedford had the responsibility of implementing it and for making sure its implementation was both smooth and seamless. It was Eric's calm demeanour and his ability to explain things that ensured that that would be the case.
Environmental planning issues continue to be of pre-eminent political importance in this State. We are still trying to negotiate between people who want to prevent development and those who want to develop. The issue does not go away. The fact that that major legislation was orchestrated by Eric Bedford speaks volumes about his contribution to this place. I, like previous speakers to this motion, am very sad that Eric has passed away at the age of only 78. He made an enormous contribution to the New South Wales Parliament and to the Labor Party. He made an enormous contribution to his family and his friends, and I wish his family well in the future.
Mr RICHARD AMERY (Mount Druitt) [10.41 a.m.]: I join with other members of the House in supporting this condolence motion on the passing of the Hon. Eric Bedford. I extend my deepest sympathy to Jo and her daughter, Judy, and her grandchildren, extended family and friends. Only last week this House passed another motion of condolence on the death of Kevin Stewart, who passed away only a short time after Eric Bedford. For those of us who only became involved in the Labor Party in the 1970s, Eric's death reminds us of how much time has passed since those days, and just how many of those who led Labor back into government in 1976 are now gone. Kevin Stewart and Eric Bedford have joined Pat Hills, Jack Ferguson, Ken Booth, Harry Jensen, Sid Einfeld and Jack Renshaw. They represent a great loss to Labor history in this State.
Members of Eric's family know the high regard in which he was held as a successful member of Parliament and Minister, and other speakers to this motion referred to that. Some of those who knew him would also refer to the high regard in which he was held as an individual. Although Eric was 78 years old—I note the honourable member for Wentworthville said "only" 78 years old—his passing came as a shock to many of us. I had been talking to him at a book launch in the precincts of this Parliament only a short time before he passed away. We had gathered with many members and former members of this House, and Eric looked so well and seemed so happy. To hear only a short time later that he had passed away was, as I say, somewhat of a shock and saddened me greatly.
I am one of the few members of this House whose tenure overlapped Eric Bedford's period of service. I was elected in late 1983, when he was already a Minister. Yesterday I tried to recall the first occasion on which I met him. I think it was about 1977 at a Labor Party gala fete out at Hollywood, near Georges River. I am sure that was the first occasion on which I met him, and the first occasion on which I met Gough Whitlam and Neville Wran, who had recently become Premier of New South Wales. I was a new member and if I asked questions or sought advice on any issue, Eric would make himself available to help and to give advice. I was never given the impression that I was holding him back from his other duties or that he would like to be somewhere else, and he always concluded his conversations with me with words of encouragement.
Eric retired from the New South Wales Parliament in 1985 and I was appointed a Minister in 1995. Although I did not know him socially in his retirement years I had occasion to meet him in an official capacity at dinners for former members and so on and he always had words of encouragement for me in regard to my day-to-day duties. It was a role he adopted for himself. A lot of Eric's history, as the Minister for Gaming and Racing said, was centred in the area in which I was brought up. Looking at Eric Bedford's public background I see that he taught at Liverpool Boys High School. Whilst I did not attend that school, some of my older brothers did in the late 1940s or early 1950s and although he did not to teach them, they certainly crossed paths at different stages of their lives.
In his inaugural speech given in this House in 1968 Eric referred to many of the problems experienced by and pressures placed on residents living in the outer suburbs of Sydney. I was pleased to note that, in that speech, he mentioned the town of Canley Heights, which was very much part of the electorate of Fairfield or Cabramatta, depending on the redistribution that was in place. I spent the first 14 years of my life living at 24 Beelar Street, Canley Heights, and left there in 1965 at the time when Eric was working up his political career as campaign director for various branches and as campaign director for Gough Whitlam in 1966, and so on. Our home was small, the road was unsealed, Bosnjak's bus service had been established for only a short time, the sanitary man collected the pans from an outside toilet—I have to say that I was about 12 before I first saw a flushing toilet; that was in a commercial building in Liverpool and I recall asking my father how it worked—and many homes in our street had been brought there in two pieces on the back of trucks. Those were the sorts of suburbs that existed in outer Western Sydney.
If honourable members refer to Eric's inaugural speech they will note that he raised those types of issues in 1968. I left the area in 1965, but it was many years before those issues were addressed. I note the strong emphasis on education, not only in the contributions today but also in Eric's inaugural speech. Education had to encompass the growing population and also the large number of migrants who were settling in Western Sydney as part of the post-war migration scheme. Another strong point in Eric's inaugural speech was his emphasis on libraries, not only public libraries but school libraries. I attended Canley Heights Public School and the library used to arrive on the back of a truck. I cannot recall whether it was every day or once a fortnight, but that constituted the Canley Heights Public School library during the early to mid-1960s.
Eric's inaugural speech also called for the installation of sewerage in all homes. It is interesting to note how those suburbs in Western Sydney, and in north-west and south-west Sydney, are built today. To take a line from Eric's speech, he said that sewerage should be a prerequisite for the development of residential areas and also for homes built in an existing street. He firmly believed that something as basic as sewerage should be a prerequisite of councils and planners before a house was built. As we know, that is the state of play today. The other issue he raised very strongly related to the redevelopment of Fairfield hospital, something that I have had experience with. Fairfield hospital looked as though it was made of bent steel and had been designed like old army huts. Today, although not on the same location, it is a very modern facility.
Reading Eric's inaugural speech may have been just a memory jogger for me, but it demonstrates how many basic issues were brought to the attention of the Government and to the policymakers in the Labor Party, remembering that when he made that speech Labor was in opposition. Many of his criticisms were directed to transport in the region, the overcrowding of trains and the need for improved bus services, and it is easy to see where shadow Ministers such as Peter Cox got information to formulate that election-winning transport policy in 1976. With Eric's passing we see the end of another part of the important history of the development of Western Sydney. We say farewell to a Minister who pioneered policies like the preservation of rainforest, and to a Minister who was a leader in the national debate to have lead-free petrol introduced into New South Wales and, ultimately, all of Australia.
Ministers and members of this place can be the target of campaigns to undermine their character and so on, and they may leave Parliament with their character and reputation somewhat damaged, whether the criticism of them has been fair or not. Eric Bedford represented in this Parliament a very tough and developing part of Western Sydney. He managed very difficult portfolios, as were mentioned by the honourable member for Wentworthville, those of education—which, like health, is probably one of the two toughest portfolios in government—as well as planning and environment, at a time when dramatic changes were taking place and this Parliament was considering issues such as prevention of the logging of rainforest and the change of fuel for motor vehicles. Those were all very contentious issues. But Eric left the Parliament and those portfolios with his reputation and character absolutely intact. I know that the Labor Party is very proud to have had a member and Minister like him, and I know that the family are very proud of the service, personal and professional, of the person that was Eric Bedford. My deepest condolences to everyone concerned.
Mr ALAN ASHTON (East Hills) [10.51 a.m.]: I begin by offering my condolences to the late Hon. Eric Bedford's family and friends and by supporting the sentiments that other members have expressed today. I was not a parliamentary colleague of Eric Bedford, but I was one of his 40,000 or 50,000 employees because for many years I was a schoolteacher before my election to this place, just as Eric Bedford was. I am sure many public servants have little interest in who their State Minister is, but that is not so in teaching. The commitment of the Minister to public education and his or her beliefs in the decency of teachers and the students they teach are imperative and have a vital role to play in raising the morale of teachers throughout the State.
I was very proud to be a teacher and very pleased to know that the Minister, Eric Bedford, really cared about what we were doing. In the years that I was teaching Eric Bedford was a popular and respected Minister. He had taught at Liverpool Boys High School—I taught at Busby High School for many years—and he also taught at Bankstown Girls High School, which is just outside my electorate of East Hills. Interestingly, Eric Bedford was elected to Parliament in 1968, the year of the first ever strike by New South Wales government teachers—of course, under a Coalition Government at the time. In 1976 Eric Bedford became the Wran Government's first Minister for Education. I understand he was the first teacher chosen to be a Minister for Education. He was to oversee many progressive changes in the New South Wales Department of Education. When I began teaching there were, on average, 38 students in each high school class. During Eric's time the number dropped to 32, and later to 30. This did not happen by accident. In Eric Bedford's inaugural speech in August 1968 he said:
Our young people must be adequately equipped to take their place in society in an age of rapid scientific and technological advancement. Though this is a laudable objective, I would remind the House that education is not a matter of curriculums and courses alone.
Eric Bedford recognised the vital role that school accommodation, equipment and particularly staffing play in expanding educational opportunities. He also identified a problem, which remains nearly 40 years later, when he said in his inaugural speech:
Much of the blame rests with the Commonwealth, which constantly refuses to face up to the responsibilities that are heaped on the shoulders of our State and local government authorities.
Nothing has changed, Eric. He also identified the issue of school class sizes in his electorate: in primary schools, 74 of 197 classes were oversize, in junior secondary 45 of 103 were oversize, kindergarten classes were oversize, and composite classes were endemic in Sydney's south-west in areas that Eric represented. He was acutely aware that "averaging" class sizes, as bureaucrats were wont to do, did not advance the educational opportunities of disadvantaged students. It is very easy to say, "We have an average of 30 in the class." But, if some classes have 20 for some particular reason, what good is that to the teacher and students in a class of 40?
He recognised that in the late 1960s New South Wales was losing teachers to Canada. My French teacher at the time was one of those. Half a dozen teachers left my school, Picnic Point High School, to go overseas and teach in Canada for the much greater salary and respect that teachers earned over there. In the 1970s, of course, someone had to bite the bullet and the Coalition Government then had to import thousands of teachers from overseas to catch up on the decline in teacher numbers Eric Bedford had warned of in 1968. I remember that in the year I began teaching at Busby High School there were 23 first-year-out teachers and half of them were Americans. Whilst some stayed on in the New South Wales education system and became Australian citizens, I have to say, to use the vernacular, there were many you wouldn't feed!
Eric Bedford was passionate about the need for local and school libraries. That came through not only in his career as a member of Parliament but was foreshadowed in his inaugural speech. As a great supporter of libraries, both public and in schools, his was a great statement to make. It came at a time when many libraries—as at the school I attended—were just a classroom upstairs that no-one much went into. I have to say that the librarian at my school tended to take the view that any children who came into the library were a bit of a problem, and the quicker the librarian could get them out of the library the better. I am sure the people in the public gallery, guests of the honourable member for Port Macquarie, would know that they have much better libraries now. In part, that has to do with the role that Eric Bedford played, because he was passionate about the need for local and school libraries.
On a personal note, I did meet Eric Bedford on quite a few occasions while I was working with education Minister Rod Cavalier—some years ago now—and also when he attended luncheons for former members here at the Parliament. I always sought him out to say hello and remind him of the respect that I and so many teachers had for him when we were under his care as the Minister for Gaming and Racing. The role that Eric Bedford played as Minister for Planning and the Environment has been mentioned by other members, such us the honourable member for Wentworthville, the honourable member for Mount Druitt and the Minister. That demonstrated how the Wran, and later the Carr, governments emphasised the importance in New South Wales of creating, protecting and enhancing our natural environment. That is an issue of which Labor governments, certainly since 1976, can be justly proud.
I will conclude with one personal anecdote, which I have related to quite a few people over the years. In the late 1970s I was a young aldermen, as we were called then, on Bankstown City Council and was representing the mayor at an East Hills District Choir and Music Festival at Bankstown Town Hall, where Eric Bedford was the official guest as Minister for Education. He was met by me and a senior departmental bureaucrat, who began his conversation with me and Eric Bedford by quite strongly, almost nastily, criticising the New South Wales Teachers Federation. He possibly thought he would score some brownie points by bagging the union to Eric. Eric listened politely to the officer for quite some minutes without making any comment at all. Then he turned to me and said, "Oh, by the way, what do you do, Allan?" I said, "I'm a high schoolteacher, Eric, and I'm also the federation representative at my school." Eric just laughed out loud, and we both wandered off to enjoy the night's entertainment, with the senior bureaucratic tagging along about four or five metres behind. Eric Bedford was a genuine parliamentarian who never forgot that he was once a schoolteacher. Once again I express my condolences to his family and friends, and record that any Parliament would be a better place with members like Eric Bedford in them.
Mr ROBERT OAKESHOTT (Port Macquarie) [10.59 a.m.]: I also express condolences to Eric Bedford's family. I will not speak so much about his role as an education Minister but about his role as a local constituent, as Eric retired to the mid-North Coast and lived a full and active live in retirement in and around the community of Kendall. I knew of Eric's reputation before I knew the man. The reputation I knew was that he was one of many retired members of Parliament who seem to be attracted to the mid-North Coast. It was a pleasure to finally meet Eric and then to build what was to become a lasting friendship. So much so that on several occasions I had the pleasure of visiting his house for various reasons, from a cup of tea through to some of the functions Eric used to have to raise a bit of money to help various community groups and do what he could in his retirement to support the community he lived in.
It is no small irony that today the Parliament of the Hastings Public School is visiting Parliament House. Eric would have loved the fact that the school Parliament from Hastings is here listening to condolences for him, given that he had so much to do with education and is probably most famously remembered for his role as education Minister. The man I knew, however, loved his fishing. He certainly loved the races and became an active member of the Port Macquarie Racing Club. It is well known behind the scenes that Eric Bedford had an awful lot to do with getting funding for, and making happen, the grandstand, the Ivan Livermore Stand, that is now considered part of the racetrack infrastructure. The Ivan Livermore Stand is now an integral part of the Port Macquarie Racing Club and the Port Macquarie community. The Port Cup is coming up on Friday week, and people there will be sharing a few thoughts and a few drinks in Eric's memory.
Eric passionately flew the flag every day at home. He loved his fishing. At his funeral his neighbour told a wonderful story about a couple of Eric's failed and successful attempts at fishing. He was certainly having a great retirement and it was a huge loss to the community when all too quickly word spread around that Eric had passed away. On behalf of the Port Macquarie electorate and personally, I say that both a valuable community member and a friend has been lost. I join with the House in passing on my condolences today.
Mr GRANT McBRIDE (The Entrance—Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister for the Central Coast) [11.02 a.m.], by leave: I would like to read extracts from some notes that were prepared by Mr Speaker, which I will lay on the table for the information of honourable members. Mr Speaker says:
In September 1981 I was elected to the State Parliament as Member for Blacktown and Eric Bedford was one of the persons I could always turn to for support and advice.
He told me very early in my political career that I would one day become the Minister for Education. I didn't believe him at the time but it did arouse an ambition which was eventually to bear fruit.
In conclusion, Mr Speaker says:
Eric is a person who had a major influence on my life and my career and I will sadly miss him. I know that he has experienced tragedy in his own life but he has always bore adverse circumstances with grace and a stoicism which revealed his innate inner strength.
To Jo and his family, my sincere condolences and best wishes. He will be sorely missed and always much loved.
I also lay on the table the eulogy given by Eric's almost lifelong friend, a friend of 35 years, Roy Medich. I am sorry I did not acknowledge Roy earlier. I am short-sighted, and when I was looking at the public gallery and trying to identify the people there I saw Michael Ross and Chris Church, and I now see you, Roy. Pam Allen, the honourable member for Wentworthville, directed my attention to you in the gallery. All three—two staff members and a great friend—were wonderful supporters of Eric.
I acknowledge the members who have spoken in this debate. The honourable member for Lachlan, Ian Armstrong, highlighted from the other side the great respect in which Eric was held by all members of Parliament, something rarely achieved in this Parliament. Joe Tripodi, the Minister for Energy, pointed out that he had not joined the party until after Eric became a member of Parliament. I acknowledge also the contribution of the Leader of The Nationals, Andrew Stoner.
From the speech of Pam Allan, the honourable member for Wentworthville, everyone would draw the conclusion that she greatly admired Eric and his contribution to education. Pam is also a champion of public education, so one can see how that mix worked extremely well. Richard Amery, the honourable member for Mt Druitt, grew up in that area and he shared his experiences of what the area was like and why Eric was so passionate about improving services in Western Sydney. It was the leadership of Eric and other Western Sydney members that changed the whole face of Western Sydney and turned it into the engine room it now is for Sydney, New South Wales and Australia.
Alan Ashton, the honourable member for East Hills, being a delegate and activist in the Teachers Federation and in public education, and having worked with former Minister for Education Rodney Cavalier, had personal contact with Eric and had enormous admiration for him as well. It is good to see that Rob Oakshott, the honourable member for Port Macquarie, acknowledged Eric's contribution to the racing industry in Port Macquarie. There is no doubt that Eric's lobbying and his passion for horses and Jo's passion for horses and racing in some way contributed to the success of Eric's representations to the Government. May Eric's soul rest in peace.
Members and officers of the House stood in their places.
Motion agreed to.