Vale Neville Wran

neville_wran.jpgMr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:12): I rise to express my condolences on the passing of the late, great Neville Wran and pass those condolences on to his surviving family. It is true to say, as others have said before me, that New South Wales was indeed a very different place before Neville Wran. We often look back at history, particularly political history, and think that the things that have flowed were in some sense inevitable. Thirty-eight years ago, on 1 May 1976, Neville Wran led Labor to victory in New South Wales. It seems inevitable from the vantage point of history but nothing could have been further from the truth.

Students of Labor history will recall that Neville Wran's election in 1976 came only seven months after the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government federally—an event that sent reverberations throughout the country. For a Labor leader in our most populous state to stand up not nine months later to become the first Labor premier in that great state after many years in opposition was no mean feat at all.

He showed a way forward for the Labor Party during what were very dark days for us. He galvanised Labor supporters right around the country, heralding one of the most legendary Labor governments in Australian history. I say that he was one of our finest premiers, if not our greatest.

Neville came from pretty humble beginnings. He was one of eight children born to Joseph and Lillian in Paddington in Sydney's inner west. They were very different places, Balmain and Paddington, from what they are today. In the early Wran years, it was a place where locals laboured in the local mine or at the soap factory down at Mort's Dock, now a highly prized residential establishment and a tourist attraction.

Neville was the one who famously quipped, 'Balmain boys don't cry,' referring to the toughness that you needed to grow up in a rough-and-tumble working class area, as it was in those days. This was well before the organic cafes, the designer boutiques and the million-dollar properties that are typical of the place today. This is where Neville Wran began his life. It is where he was instilled with a sense of social democracy that resonated through his famous 10-year term. That term began on 14 May 1976 and ended on 4 July 1986.

It was a decade of sound economic management and progressive social reform, which should be the hallmarks of a modern Labor government. There were significant policy achievements in a raft of areas, from health, as the member for Werriwa has spoken about, through to education, transport, conservation, consumer affairs, Indigenous affairs, the status of women, industrial relations, antidiscrimination, equal opportunity and law reform, arts and heritage protection, the Public Service, and electoral and institutional reform. Neville led a government that forever changed the everyday life of New South Wales.

One of his biggest legacies was new infrastructure spending. Expenditure on capital works exceeded or was equal to the rate of inflation in nine out of ten years during his time in office. The Wran government doubled the land conserved in national parks and secured World Heritage listing for the north-east rainforests. He facilitated outdoor dining, reformed the sale of alcohol and permitted Sunday trading. He oversaw the construction of the Sydney Entertainment Centre, the Powerhouse Museum and the Wharf Theatre and he approved extensions for the State Library, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Australian Museum. These are all things that we take for granted today as a part of our state's enviable cultural identity.

The health and wellbeing of the people of New South Wales was always at the front and centre of the Wran government's reform agenda. There were public health initiatives, such as banning smoking on public transport—something we just take for granted today, but in Neville's day this was a very controversial reform—and introducing lead-free petrol and random breath testing for motorists. These latter two were also very controversial issues but were critical public health reforms introduced by Neville Wran and his Labor government.

He achieved many great things for Sydney, but his presence was always felt very strongly in regions right across New South Wales. He understood what many governments today take for granted—that is, that you cannot win government, particularly in New South Wales, without winning seats in the regions. He understood that there was a Sydney beyond Burwood. He understood that there was a Sydney south of Sutherland and north of North Sydney.

He was very kind to, and a good friend of, my region, the Illawarra of New South Wales, which saw unsurpassed growth and rejuvenation during the Wran era. Steel production at BHP, now BlueScope, was saved by the joint efforts of Bob Hawke and Neville Wran in 1984, when the world and domestic steel industry went through free fall. He ensured there was construction of a new hospital at Shellharbour, which is now a rapid growth area—one of the fastest growing urban areas in New South Wales. He established the State Government Office Block in Wollongong, creating hundreds more jobs, Public Service jobs, outside the Sydney CBD. He ensured there were local workers involved in building components for the Sydney Harbour Tunnel—much of it was constructed at Port Kembla and in Wollongong and was then shipped up to Sydney.

He also left an enormous legacy for the Illawarra in public transport, particularly in my electorate of Throsby. We saw the electrification of the South Coast rail line. Gone were the red rattlers of my childhood—we saw an electrified line between Kiama and the CBD of Sydney. We saw the building of the Dapto bypass, connecting Berkeley to Yallah, opening up new areas for residential development; expanding development at Port Kembla by building a multipurpose berth, coal and grain terminals, kick-starting the economic development of that part of my electorate.

He was the guy who started the Maldon-Dombarton rail link—tragically, it was ended by Nick Greiner, advised by Barry O'Farrell at the time and still at the forefront of one of the infrastructure projects we campaigned for the completion of in our region. Neville started it and he saw the importance of it to the Illawarra and to the economy of New South Wales, opening up the ports of New South Wales to the grain, the coal and the freight terminals of western New South Wales and the rest of the country.

No government—state or federal—has matched Neville Wran's vision. None could be a more reforming government in those tumultuous 10 years. He did a lot more than just balancing the budget and running the trains on time. He was a good man, a successful man, a well-loved Labor premier. New South Wales is truly a different place because of his turn at the helm. He will be deeply missed. Vale, Neville Wran.