15 October 1931

12th Parliament · 1st Session

The Pbbsident (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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Senator BARNES:
VicePresident of the Executive Council · Victoria · ALP

by leave - I have most regretfully to announce to the Senate the death during last night of the Honorable P. G. Stewart, a member of the House of Representatives, and I move -

That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the death of the Honorable Percy Gerald Stewart, member for Wimmera in the House of Representatives, and a former Minister of the Crown, places on record its appreciation of bis meritorious public service, and tenders its profound sympathy to his widow in her bereavement.

The late honorable gentleman was intimately known to most members of this legislature, and, although we were aware that he had long been in indifferent health, the news of his death has come as a great shock to all of us. There is no question as to the conscientious service he rendered to this country, nor as to the ability and thoroughness with which he applied himself to the promotion of the interests of the people whom he was sent here to represent. He was a man of great tenacity of purpose. Wo one had a riper knowledge than he of the position of the primary producers of Australia, and he devoted himself whole-heartedly to the betterment of their lot. I can claim a wide knowledge of primary production; but I bow to the infinitely greater knowledge of the subject which our deceased friend possessed. His ability to express on the floor of Parliament the desires and needs of the people whose interests he specially represented was outstanding. I do not suppose that any other member of this legislature could have handled better than he did the cause of the man on the land. I was not as closely associated with him as others were, but I knew sufficient of him to esteem him very much as a man and to appreciate highly his public service. He was a modest man, earnest and always desirous of giving of his best to the cause of the people. Although of frail physique, at no time did he spare himself in placing before the country the views and requirements of the people he so well represented. I know that I am expressing the opinion of every honorable senator when I say, in the words of the motion, that we regret the passing of the late honorable gentleman, and condole with his widow in her bereavement.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [3.4]. - I deplore very much the circumstances which have occasioned the submission of this motion, and deeply regret the passing of so able a man as the late Mr. Stewart, who rendered great service to his country. We all join with the Leader of the Government (Senator Barnes), in expressing our sympathy with his widow. Mr. and Mrs. Stewart were a devoted couple, as many of us who knew them intimately are aware, and the widow’s loss is great indeed. During almost the whole of his parliamentary career, the late honorable gentleman suffered the handicap of ill health, and none could fail to admire the courage with which he fought it, arid continued, despite that handicap, to take a very prominent part in the work of another place. He advocated unswervingly the views which he professed. It was his political mission in life to advocate the rights of the man on the land, and from that course would never allow himself to deviate.

The late honorable gentleman was a ministerial colleague of mine, and I always admired and appreciated the industry and conscientiousness with which he applied himself to the duties of his office. It will be remembered that he resigned his portfolio because on one question he could not see eye to eye with his .colleagues in the Cabinet. In the discharge of all his public duties, he did not spare himself, as he might well have been justified in doing, in view of the state of his health, and I am sure his memory will be revered in the district he represented for so many years. I join with the Leader of the Government in his expression of regret at Mr. Stewart’s decease, and in extending our sympathy to Mrs. Stewart in the great loss she has sustained.

Senator GUTHRIE:

.- As a Victorian senator, a colleague of the late Mr. Percy Stewart, and one who was born in the Wimmera electorate, I desire to associate myself with this motion. Mr. Stewart was a man of frail physique, but had a big mind, and was full of pluck, courage and determination. He had very strong convictions. I did not invariably agree with them; but I always admired him for his straightforwardness. He saw what he considered the right line to take, and nothing could cause him to depart from it. No man in the public life of Australia, and particularly in Victoria, knew more intimately than he of the development of the Mallee wheat belt in the north of Victoria - a dry country, but wonderfully productive when nature smiles upon it. The late honorable gentleman knew it as I did when it was thick mallee scrub, and seemed to be a province of no particular value to the State or the Commonwealth, and he saw it develop into waving wheat fields. He met success without undue elation and adversity without complaint. He was a plucky man. ~No man did more to succour and secure help for the people of the Mallee belt during the years of drought, and again last year when, although they had a bumper season, they were faced with a hopeless price for their wheat. Although the conditions which confronted the wheat-growers during the last year must have ‘been a severe blow to him, and their battles against adverse seasons must have had some effect upon his health, I do not think that their adversities alone were responsible for his untimely death. He was, as I have said, frail in stature and constitution, but big in mind. His services were always at the disposal of his constituents, the State, and this great Commonwealth, which he loved. About two years ago I visited the late Mr. Stewart at his beautiful home. Its surroundings were well kept and developed, and I found it a veritable oasis in what was then a desert, owing to the drought. It was wonderful to see what his brain and energy had carved out of the Mallee country.

To his wife, who was his life’s helpmate, we extend our deepest sympathy. Percy Stewart has left a monument to his name in northern Victoria, and his efforts on behalf of that most deserving section of the community, the primary producers, who are experiencing such serious difficulties, will always be remembered. He knew their needs better than most men, and on their behalf no man ever fought more strenuously than he.

Senator CARROLL:
Western Australia

– As a member of the party to which the late Mr. Stewart belonged, I desire to associate myself with all that has been said with respect to the deceased gentleman whose loss we deplore to-day. By the passing of the Honorable P. G. Stewart, this Parliament has lost one of its most brilliant debaters and the primary producers one of their ablest champions. He pioneered the movement to give the primary producers a voice and representation in the Parliaments of Australia, and by his death, the electors of Wimmera have lost an able and conscientious representative. Like all men with strong political convictions, it was inevitable that he should make political enemies; but I think it can truthfully be said that even his strongest political opponents were his personal friends, and that political friends and foes alike will unite to-day in expressing sincere regret at his passing.

It has been said that there are souls so intense that they burn out the earthly tabernacles in which they are contained. If that be so, then it is true of the late Mr. Stewart. His soul, his indomitable spirit, undoubtedly strained his frail body beyond its powers of endurance and the end came all too soon. We, and those for whom he worked, are the poorer for his passing, and the little that is left for us to do to-day is to express our heartfelt sympathy for his widow in her irreparable loss.

Senator DUNN:
New South Wales

– On behalf of the group which I represent in this chamber, I desire to associate myself with the motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Barnes), and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). Honorable senators must undoubtedly feel deeply the loss of such a member of another place as the late Mr. Stewart, with whom, during the time I have . been a member of this Parliament, I have spent many hours. We frequently engaged in long conversations about various parts of the world which we both had visited. As honorable senators may be aware the late Mr. Stewart, when a young man, followed the sea, and in that capacity travelled around the world many times. He had rather a varied career. As Senator Guthrie has said, early in life he went into the Mallee, and by his industry and pluck carved out for himself a “home that was as an oasis in the desert days of drought.

The late Mr. Stewart, who was an exMinister of the Bruce-Page Government, at times differed from Mb colleagues. He was always a strong political fighter, but hisfights were ever free from personalities. He appealed very sincerely to the members of the Beasleygroup, who regarded him as a conscientious man and a fair fighter. During the past ten months he had been closely associated with the group which I represent, and we had come to appraise and esteem him very highly. On behalf of that group I express deepest sympathy with his widow and relatives. In the words of the immortal Shakespeare -

His life was gentle, and the elements

So mixed in him that Nature might stand up,

And say to all the world, this was a man.

Senator R D ELLIOTT:

. -I join with the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Barnes) ‘and other honorable* senators who have spoken, in expressing sorrow at the death of Mr. Stewart. I had known the deceased gentleman more or less intimately for a number of years’, and had many opportunities tostudy his striking personality. He was tireless in his efforts on behalf of his State, his constituents and his friends. Early in life he was a newspaper vendor on the steps of Parliament House, Victoria. Afterwards he became a member of that Parliament, later a Federal member and then a Federal Minister. He rose from the humble position of a newsboy to that of a newspaper proprietor. The deceased gentleman carefully studied every question upon which he was working and, having set his course, did not allow anything to interfere with his efforts to reach his objective. As other honorable senators have said ho was a man with whom you could heartily disagree, without that disagreement interfering in any way with close personal friendship. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Sir George Pearce) said that his constituents had lost a valuable member. I know his constituency well. It has lost-more than a member; it has lost a man for whom, from one end of the Mallee to the other, there is a strong feeling of esteem and affection.

Senator PLAIN:

– I desire to endorse the remarks of those honorable senators who have spoken so feelingly concerning the late Mr.

Stewart I had known the deceased gentleman probably longer than any other honorable senators. Many years ago, in the pioneering days in that part of the country in which he worked, and which he assistedto develop, I secured a contract to take a party of surveyors from Minapre to Lake Hattah, a distance of 80 miles, and the nearest water on the route was at either of the places mentioned. After I had completed that contract Mr. Stewart was associated with the construction of the railway which now connects Lascelles with Mildura. In those days he was closely identified with pioneering work and the experience thus gained by him did much to mould his character, and to make him the fighter that he was. No man was more conversant with the requirements of the settlers in the Mallee and the electorate which he represented, or more sympathetic with them in their hardships, than the late. Mr. Stewart’. He did much to further the settlement and development of the Mallee areas of Victoria, to bring before the Commonwealth Parliament the requirements of the people in that locality, and to promote scientific wheat-growing in Australia. To a very great extent he enriched the knowledge of farming in this country. I join with other honorable senators in sympathizing with Mrs. Stewart in the loss of a devoted and loving husband.

Senator HOARE:
South Australia

– I also associate myself with the motion The late Mr. Stewart was almost the. first member of the Commonwealth Parliament to whom I was introduced when I went to Melbourne to take my seat in the Senate for the first time in 1922. During the years that followed, I became intimately acquainted with that gentleman, and feel that I am entitled to claim that I knew him well. By his death the farming community of Australia has lost a staunch friend and a valuable advocate. I do not think there was a man in Australia who took a keener interest than he did in agricultural pursuits. He was a man of many sterling qualities, prominent among which were his scrupulous honesty and integrity of purpose. I do not think that a more straightforward man ever entered the political sphere in Australia. One could not help admiring such a ‘ man. Not only Victoria, hut the Commonwealth, and, indeed, the whole world, is the poorer by his death. He was an able debater whose reasoning was always sound and logical. One may say without fear of contradiction that he was one of the ablest men ever associated with the political life of this country. That fact makes his death the more to be deplored. Our loss is great, but the loss sustained by his widow is immeasurably greater. We feel the deepest sympathy with her in her bereavement.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) [3.24] . - I express my concurrence in, and my endorsement of, the many well-deserved eulogies which have come from the lips of honorable senators in expressing their regret at the passing of one who has just gone from among, us. I assure honorable senators that their expressions of sympathy and condolence will be appropriately presented to Mr. Stewart’s widow.

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

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Senator BARNES:
VicePresident of the Executive Council · Victoria · ALP

– As a mark of respect to the memory of the late honorable gentleman, I move -

That the Senate do now adjourn.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 3.25 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 October 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.