Back to All News

Christine Milne: Condolence statement - Harry Evans

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 22 Sep 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, speaks to a condolence motion for the former Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans. She pays her respects and acknowledges his contribution to Australian democracy.

Senator MILNE: I rise today on behalf of the Australian Greens to support and join the condolence that has already been expressed by the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Labor Party here in the Senate. I was one of those who was fortunate enough to serve in the Senate when Harry Evans was here as the Clerk. He was a private person and a humble person, but he brought his considerable intellect and scholarship to the service of this country, and that is what he will be remembered for-for strengthening our democracy by the fierce stand he took for the rightful role of the Senate in our parliamentary democracy.

He first arrived in 1969 and he described the Senate of that time in this context:

"... every constitutional, parliamentary and procedural issue launched a bevy of appeals to the Westminster model. Whatever was allegedly done at Westminster was thought to be our infallible guide."

Nowadays invocations of Westminster are only occasionally made, and lack the air of authority they once had. We now appeal to general principles of governance and our own practices.
He was a staunch believer not only in the independence and power of the Senate but in the need to constantly improve the practices that suit Australian governance. He wanted to ensure that the Australian parliament stood for and reflected in Australia the values that we think are important in this country and that they be reflected in parliamentary practice.

He also understood the difficulties faced by those who are elected to the Senate as independents or in parties other than the two parties of government and opposition. So not only did he rewrite Odgers' but he brought in a series of reforms and changes that have been of immeasurable value to those of us who are in third parties or are independents. For example, he recognised the need for procedural advice and access to parliamentary drafting services. He brought about the changes that enabled everybody to access that advice. I think I can speak on behalf of everybody in recognising just how important that procedural advice is for everyone. He also brought in the practice of the referral of bills. The system that we now operate under was one that he designed. It makes for efficient and, I think, independent but fair processes for discussion of how bills are referred and how the system should work.

He was a fierce champion of the Senate sitting in its rightful constitutional place-that is, supreme over the executive government. He referred once to the executive's wish for committees to be 'feedlot animals kept under close control and supervision'. So he stood very firmly for the Senate's rights under sections 53 and 57 of the Constitution. Later, in referring to the executive in one of his papers, he wrote:

Here the executive government not only controls the legislature but exercises an iron discipline over it. This is particularly obvious in lower houses around the country, where the executive totally dominates and absolutely controls those houses, to the extent that the legislative function is virtually killed off. That is why he advocated so strongly for the power of upper houses to actually scrutinise.

His lasting legacy, apart from the tremendous assistance he gave to every senator who served in this place while he was the Clerk, is, of course, his body of writing. I recommend that people read some of Harry Evans's papers. I will read the titles of some of them, to give you a sense of the breadth of his contribution: 'The government majority in the Senate: A nail in the coffin of responsible government?', 'Accountability and corporate governance in the new parliament', 'The Senate, accountability and government control', 'The Australian parliament: Time for reformation', 'The intertwined history of Canberra and the parliament', 'Constitutionalism, bicameralism and control of power', 'Elections: Constitutional complexities and consequences', 'Ethics and Public Service governance'-and on it goes. There is a great deal to be learned about the history of parliamentary democracy and its practice here in Australia from the academic writings of Harry Evans. I think his lasting advice to us all were the words he gave when he spoke of 'restraint of the executive by a stronger legislature'. That is his advice to all of us. In paying my respects to Harry and acknowledging his contribution to Australia because of his strengthening of the Senate and our democracy, I also convey our condolences to his wife, Rhonda, and to his children, Ben, Sam and Beth.


Back to All News