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Tribute to Ron Dyer

Mr MATT KEAN ( Hornsby ) ( 13:22 ): Ron Dyer is a humble man who has worked hard for our State and left it better than he found it. It is fitting that Ron was recently honoured with an Order of Australia Medal for his service to the Parliament and the people of New South Wales. The son of a shop steward, Ron's interest in politics was sparked in primary school. Although coming from a Labor tradition, his interest was not inspired by a Labor icon but rather the founder of the Liberal Party and Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. Ron would listen to Menzies in parliamentary debate on the radio his father had made for him. It seems that we can blame my side of politics for creating such an effective opponent.

At the age of 17 Ron joined the Young Labor Council, a decision which would not only determine his future but also the course of the Australian Labor Party. It was there that Ron came into contact with Paul Keating, Laurie Brereton, Bob Carr and Leo McLeay.

The five of them not only became close friends; together they formed a political network that would transform the Australian Labor Party [ALP] into an election-winning machine and would have a huge impact on our State and country. They were the best political operators of a generation who all joined Young Labor around the same time in the 1960s. The story of these five mates as detailed in Fia Cumming's famed book by the same name is the story of the transformation of the ALP from a party seemingly committed to opposition to one that would dominate the New South Wales political landscape in the decades to come.

Ron cut his teeth in Young Labor, developing the skills that would later see him become a highly regarded member of Parliament [MP] and successful Minister. In 1969 Ron became president of Young Labor, running on the "officers recommendation ticket" and taking over from his good friend Paul Keating with Bob Carr serving as his vice president. Ron beat some very notable opponents for the presidency including the famed economist John Edwards, a future Treasury secretary Percy Alan, Wayne Haylan and his future colleague and future New South Wales Treasurer Michael Egan. Carr remembers this period fondly particularly how adversarial it was. Speaking to him when preparing this speech, Carr described Ron as one of the finest people he had ever met.

He was a good Chair with a g reat interest in foreign policy .

Whilst learning the political trade Ron was also attending the University of Sydney where he was completing his law degree. In 1972 Ron was admitted as a solicitor and commenced work at McLelland, Wallace and Landa before joining the personal staff of the then member for Penrith, the Hon. Ron Mullock, between 1976 and 1979. In 1979 Ron was selected by the ALP to enter the New South Wales Legislative Council to fill a casual vacancy created by the retirement of Labor icon and Ron's mentor, John Ducker. Ducker had been a former president of the New South Wales Labor Party and secretary of the Labor Council of New South Wales. Interestingly, Ducker was also a product of the Hornsby branch of the ALP, the branch that Ron would later join and where he still continues his involvement to this day—as the local Liberal MP, it means I always have to be on my toes.

After entering the Legislative Council, Ron served for 10 years on the backbench before becoming shadow spokesman for police and emergency services, housing and community services. When the ALP won office in 1995 Bob Carr appointed Ron as his Minister for Community Services, later moving to public works. In these roles he was highly regarded by both sides of the divide as hardworking, intelligent and compassionate. Most people come into public life claiming to want to make a difference; Ron actually did. As Minister for Community Services he instituted a system of juvenile conferencing to give a fairer deal to young people—a fine example of Ron's unwavering commitment to the idea of social justice. He strengthened child protection in New South Wales and established the aging and disability department. At the same time he created over 300 permanent supported accommodation places for people living with a disability. This is a tremendous legacy.

His most high-profile achievement came during his time as Minister for Public Works where he built the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, an iconic Sydney landmark that has stood the test of time. It is also a little known fact that Ron was largely responsible for thwarting a push by then Attorney General Jeff Shaw, who wanted to introduce a New South Wales Bill of Rights, an important win for all of us who believe in the primacy of the Parliament in the democratic process. Although Ron has long since retired from public life, he is still an active contributor to the community and the ALP. He is still heavily involved in the Hornsby branch of the ALP and can be found every election day handing out pamphlets at the Hornsby RSL.

The only thing more important to Ron than politics is his family. They are indeed his greatest joy. He is a proud father of Andrew and Elspeth, who has continued Ron's commitment to parliamentary process and the committee system as an employee of the Legislative Assembly. He is also a doting grandfather to Simon and Julius. Ron has rightly earned a special place in the pantheon of Labor legends and has contributed to remaking the ALP into the modern progressive political force it is today. Everyone I have spoken to about Ron, regardless of their political badge, says the same thing—he is as honest as he is decent. He is held by all who know him in the highest regard.

Ron always has time, a kind word or some political advice for anyone who seeks it, even a Tory like me. He is one of the true gentlemen of Australian politics. He is a man of few words but big actions. I suspect Australian political life would be a little better if there were just a few more Ron Dyers in the game. Knowing Ron, I am sure he would be a little embarrassed by all the fuss—particularly a Tory speaking so well of him—but in his case it is thoroughly deserved. He never did this for any awards or special recognition. He did this because he believed in the Labor cause and because of his deep commitment to social justice. Ron, congratulations on your recognition. It is well deserved for the difference you have made. I will see you at the Hornsby RSL on election day.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Mr Bruce Notley-Smith ): Private members' statements having concluded the House will adjourn until 2.15 p.m.

To read the full Hansard transcript, click here.