House of Representatives
14 September 1955

21st Parliament · 1st Session

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. C. F. Adermann) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

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Prime Minister · KOOYONG, VICTORIA · LP

– I lay on the table the following paper: -

Report of the Royal Commission on Espionage.

Motion (by Mr. Holt) proposed -

That the paper be printed.

Debate (on motion by Dr. Evatt) adjourned.


Mr. MENZIES (Kooyong - Prime Minister). - Mr. Deputy Speaker, as honorable members know, Senator McLeay died to-day at the age of 63 years. He was born in August, 1892, in the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. He first came into this Parliament as a senator for South Australia after the general election held in 1934. He was a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. In 1937, he was Government Whip in the Senate, and from November, 1938, until October, 1941, he was the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He was a member of the Economic Cabinet and a member of the War Cabinet, and he held various other offices which I need not enumerate, such as those of VicePresident of the Executive Council, Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Minister for Trade and Customs, PostmasterGeneral and Minister for Repatriation. For a time he was Minister for Supply and Development.

What I have said about it will illustrate to honorable members the extreme width of the experience that Senator McLeay had even in those years. In 1945, he went to the United Nations conference in San Francisco as an assistant to the Australian delegation, and I ‘am sure that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) will have happy memories of his congenial association with the late honorable senator on that occasion. He suffered, of course, from the vicissitudes of politics. He was defeated at the general election of 1946, but was re-elected at the general election of 1949, and since then, as honorable members know, he has been a prominent member of the present Government, and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.

The fact that George McLeay was defeated in 1946 and came back in 1949 is perhaps one of the indexes to his character and outlook. He was not easily permanently set down. I have never known a man of higher spirit, a man of more infinite good nature, a man who could .take all the knocks in argument, whether the argument was in the Cabinet room or on the floor of the Senate - take’ knocks, and give knocks, and always remain infinitely good tempered, leaving no wounds on his own soul, and certainly none on the souls of others; He was a very remarkable man, and his death, so unexpected, is a great shock to all of us. I think I should not be exaggerating if I said that George McLeay was one of those rare men who enjoyed the affection of political friends and foes alike. I certainly have never heard any one in this House, or elsewhere for that matter, say about him anything that was harsh, uncharitable or unjust. The truth is that he himself could not have made such a remark about any one else. He was incapable of being harsh, uncharitable or unjust.

I hope that his widow, who is so well known to all of us, and his children will obtain some comfort from the knowledge of our feelings, and I am sure that our friend, his brother, the honorable member for Boothby, will appreciate how we feel on this occasion. It is very difficult, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to say very much on these occasions, and so I move -

That this House expresses its deep regret at the death of Senator the Honorable George McLeay, who at the time of his death was a senator for the State of South Australia and a Minister of the Crown, places on record its appreciation of his meritorious public service, and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Leader of the Opposition · Barton

– I second the motion. The news of the death of Senator George McLeay came as a great shock to us.

The Opposition party this morning, in a small way, paid tribute to his memory and extended the very deep sympathy of the members of the party to his family and friends. He was in many ways a remarkable man. He held many public offices and was never discouraged in the face of adversity. I remember Senator McLeay’s work and valued assistance in 1945 at the San Francisco conference. He was the soul of geniality, good fellowship and good friendship. Some of us used to call him “ Mr. Pickwick”. He did not fail to resemble in some respects the drawings of Cruikshank in the earlier Dickens publications. ‘I think that what struck us all was his simplicity, his humanity, his kindness and the absence of guile from his disposition. Senator McLeay was a lovable character and he made every one feel happy by his very presence. We deeply regret his death, and I join wholeheartedly in supporting the motion that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has proposed.

Minister for Commerce and Agriculture · Murray · CP

– I desire to associate my colleagues of the Australian Country party and myself with the motion that has been moved by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). We are indeed greatly allocked and distressed at the untimely death of our friend and colleague.

The late Senator McLeay was a very close personal friend of mine, and I think that every one who knew him counted him a friend. He was a very good Australian. He possessed a personality which attracted and held the affection of all with whom he came in contact in quite a rare degree. Senator McLeay had, as the Prime Minister has explained, a very long record of service to this country, and a long and valuable record of service to the political party to which he belonged.

George McLeay was a man with a very sane philosophy, who brought his sanity to bear obviously on the many difficult problems with which, in the course of his career, he was obliged to grapple. I was quite closely associated with our friend. He entered the Parliament at the same time as T did, following the general election of 1934. With him, [ was invited to accompany the present Leader of the Opposition to the first United Nations conference in 1945, and because of his experience as a former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and his general interest in and understanding of the issues with which 1 am administratively concerned, he was asked to represent me during my various absences overseas on government business. Indeed, when I was ill and absent for some months a year or so ago, Senator McLeay acted as Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and since my return to duty he has accepted the responsibility of working in association with me on matters connected with my portfolio, in which he was so experienced and interested, and to which he was able to contribute so much.

As I have said, Senator McLeay was a really good Australian. He was a man of good and firm judgment, and possessed a strong personality. He had always a quite obvious direct approach to issues, and was able with a rare gift to speak in a most outspoken manner, but never in my experience did he provoke an atom of bitterness by his nonetheless direct approach to these issues. So, he grew to enjoy the affection and respect, 1101 only of all members of the Parliament, but also of all other persons with whom he worked. Senator McLeay had at all times a very clear sense of his responsibilities, and an undeviating firmness in the discharge of them. He had at all times a clear picture of the goal to which he was steering. It was always a good goal, related to what he conceived to be the Australian interest, and despite the extent to which he adhered to the national viewpoint, never at any time did he fail to have in mind the humanities of the situation.

There was absolutely nothing at all mean in George McLeay’s character. He was serious, and yet carried withal a certain joyfulness in his life. As I have said, and as both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said also, he inspired and held the affection of all of us. His political career was positive, useful and good; its results will remain to the benefit of this country. On my own behalf, and on behalf of my colleagues in the Australian Country party, I extend to his widow and family and to his brother very sincere sympathy in their sad bereavement.

Leader of the Anti-Communist Labour party · Ballarat

– On my own behalf, and on behalf of those who sit with me, I join in the expressions of regret and sympathy at the death of Senator George McLeay that have been voiced by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. McEwen). As the Prime Minister has said, Senator McLeay was a man of wide experience and great ability. He combined a strong personality with a forthright and straightforward character, and he had a likeable disposition. He was indeed a great Australian. I and my colleagues extend deep and sincere sympathy to his widow and children, and to his brother, the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. McLeay).

Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.

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Prime Minister · Kooyong · LP

– As a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased honorable senator, I move -

That the House do now adjourn.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 2.46 p.m.

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The following answers to questions were circulated: -

Atomic Energy

Mr Swartz:

z asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice - 1, Has a prediction been made in a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe that atomic energy will be used for industrial purposes in the United Kingdom within ten years? 2, Can any information on this subject be made available?

Mr Beale:
Minister for Supply · PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · LP

– I am not familiar with the report in question but the fact of the matter is that the United Kingdom Government has already decided on the erection of eighteen nuclear power plants to generate power for industry and the first is expected to come into operation within the next few months. The general programme of nuclear power plant construction in the United Kingdom was announced in the United Kingdom White Paper issued in February of this year.


Mr Swartz:

z asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice -

Has any decision yet been made regarding the provision of a treatment plant for uranium ore at Mount Isa, Queensland?

Mr Beale:

– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -

The mining company holding a lease of a major uranium deposit in the Mount IsaCloncurry district is still engaged in its exploratory work and has as yet made no decision to erect a treatment plant in that area. It is possible that some few months may elapse before the essential preliminary investigation into the characteristics of the ore are complete.


Mr Swartz:

z asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -

  1. What were the final results of the ricegrowing experiment conducted in the Northern Territory last season by the Territory Administration and an American organization ?
  2. Do the results so far obtained indicate prospects for large-scale commercial rice production in the Northern Territory?
Mr Hasluck:
Minister for Territories · CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA · LP

– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -

  1. The rice experiments last season confirmed conclusions reached in the experiments carried out in previous seasons that it is necessary to: («) work out means of obtaining adequate water control and drainage;

    1. determine irrigation techniques and cultivation methods for the soil conditions which obtain in the Territory; (c) develop a suitable rice variety for the local environment; and (rf) devise methods of controlling depredations of wild geese. The experiments added to the knowledge being gathered on these points.
  2. Pending satisfactory answers to the problems as indicated in the answer to 1, rice production in the Northern Territory is regarded as experimental. There would be no objection to an organization with capital and technical knowledge of rice-growing at its disposal, attempting large-scale commercial production, provided it recognized the risks involved.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 September 1955, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.