Hon. Dr. Robert (Bob) Bruce Such

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 15:07 ): I rise also to support this condolence motion. Like many of you, my first experience of Bob Such, or minister Such as he was then back in 1995, was when we exchanged correspondence, although I initiated it by writing him a letter and I was very pleased with the response that I got. At the time, I was the newly-elected state president of the National Union of Students of South Australia. Like other student representatives around the country, I was quite concerned that Liberal governments were implementing voluntary student unionism (VSU). 

I thought I would write to minister Such and ask him to guarantee that he would not implement VSU. To my great delight, I received a letter quite quickly that indeed guaranteed that, under his ministry, he would not implement VSU in South Australia. We put that letter up on the wall of the state office of NUS for 1995. I am not sure how much longer it stayed there after I left, but certainly, for pretty much the duration of that year, we had that letter from a Liberal minister guaranteeing that he would not attack the ability of students to have representation and to organise. 

Indeed, he was quite firmly committed to that well into his years both as minister and further on, and he dubbed that a petty settling of old scores, and I refer to the 1999 Hansard—that I quoted, in a document on behalf of Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, then Senator of the Australian Democrats to the federal parliament, as an example of how the Liberals could approach this issue from a libertarian and representative perspective. He said: 

If the students at university do not like what is being done with their money, they should do something about it: they should get off their backsides and change the rules. I am afraid that what is happening is that people are fighting the battles of the 1970s. The universe does not begin or end at Monash. 

He went on to say that, unlike his federal colleagues, Dr Such welcomed freedom of speech rather than the silence of dissent. He continued that student organisations: 

…should be a thorn in the side, at times, on issues. They should be challenging or questioning whether it is a Labor, Liberal or whatever government. The tragedy is that the universities have been silenced. Apart from a few academics, not many people are prepared to say anything because they are afraid of having their funding cut. 

That was my first experience of Dr Bob Such, and it was certainly a very positive one. It was to be borne out in my respect for Dr Such. I think it is fitting that we are moving this motion today, private members’ business day because in the time that I have been in this place, Thursdays in the other place were once known as Bob Such Day on private members’ business day.

Indeed, as my colleague the Hon. Mark Parnell referred to, if Dr Such did not have a new item of business on a Thursday morning, people did wonder what he had been up to and what was going on. Dr Such put many issues on the agenda of this parliament, whether that was puppy mills or puppy factories, companion animal reform, voluntary euthanasia, e-democracy, lowering the youth voting age to 16 from the current age of 18, tobacco plain packaging, same-sex parenting, and respect for sexuality and human rights. 

I remember quite well his speech when he moved a civil unions bill on behalf of his constituents, which would have covered same-sex couples but also opposite-sex couples. He said it should be the right of everyone to have a civil union, regardless of their sexuality, and they should not necessarily have to have a marriage. That was, again, a very Bob Such perspective: having a different view of the world and not being afraid to put it out there, not only to this parliament but of course to his community. 

I think his community, while they did not always agree with every single thing that he did or said, knew that he had the courage of his convictions and he was not scared of saying things that perhaps challenged the status quo. Dr Such was indeed a real liberal, and the last time I saw him prior to the time that we were all in this place for the opening of parliament was when he fronted the press pack outside the Leader of the Opposition’s door, just after the state election. He walked out to an absolute throng, and I remember standing at the end of the corridor and watching him speak to that press pack for over 15 minutes. 

He said some things that I had never heard him talk about; he noted that at times in this place people had wished him dead when he had previously been ill. He talked about some of the less noble aspects of political life, but I think Bob’s legacy will be the of the more noble aspect of political life: the contest of ideas that this place allows for, in a way that is truly reflective of a democracy. I think we should not be afraid to see many more days in this place be Bob Such Day. With those few words, I commend the motion. 

Stay Connected

Sign Up to news and updates from Tammy.