Condolences – the Hon Peter Francis Salmon Cook
Senator the Hon John Faulkner
5 December 2005
Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (4:36 PM) —Condolence motions are toughest when we know well the person about whom we speak, toughest when we have served with them, toughest when we have respected them and toughest when we have liked them. I can say that for me, and I am sure that this is true for many others in the Senate, it is not easy to speak about Peter Cook.
I have served in this Senate now for 16½ years—for all but the last few months with Peter. We have served together in caucus, we have served together in cabinet, we have served together in shadow cabinet and we have served together as members of Labor’s Senate leadership team. Outside the parliament, I have served with Peter as a member of Labor’s national executive. With those experiences, you get to know someone well. If I had to use one word to describe Peter Cook, that word would be ‘contributor’. He was a real contributor. As a backbencher, minister, shadow minister and back-bencher again, Peter treated the parliament seriously. He argued the case for Labor with passion and courage.
He was a very good minister, and he was a minister who made a difference. I would have to say that I had a few ministerial stoushes with Peter when he was industry minister and I was environment minister, but he was always professional, albeit, I thought at the time, stubborn! The one thing I knew was that, whatever the issue, Peter had the government’s interest and Labor’s interest uppermost in his mind.
Perhaps Peter was best known for his work as trade minister. The job suited him and he suited the job. He never lost his enthusiasm for trade policy. In fact, he was talking to me about the complexities of trade issues in his hospital bed a couple of weeks ago. I must admit I found some of those complexities eye-glazing. There was no doubting his commitment to progressing the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation negotiations and his achievements with the Uruguay Round. There is no doubt that that commitment and those achievements will be a lasting legacy.
After our loss of government, Peter persisted during the tough times of opposition. I know how frustrating he found it. I know how desperate he was to see Labor return to government. He easily could have left the parliament and found fulfilment elsewhere. He chose to stay. I know that that was certainly the right decision for the Labor Party, and I hope that it was the right decision for him.
I want to particularly acknowledge Peter’s personal support during those four years he served as deputy opposition leader. I suppose from time to time my heart was in my mouth when Peter’s inevitable daily point of order was taken. It was a red-letter day when the President actually ruled in his favour! But Peter was a very good parliamentarian, and he also used the Senate committee system effectively. Peter was the logical choice to chair the very wide ranging Senate inquiry into the new tax system—Senate-speak for the GST committee. He was the logical choice to chair the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident—Senate-speak for the kids overboard committee. And he was the very obvious choice to chair the Senate select committee into the Australia-USA Free Trade Agreement. These committee responsibilities he took very seriously, and he delivered in each and every case. How tough it must have been with the FTA committee, at a time when he was literally fighting for his life, having been diagnosed with cancer.
Peter spent the last 18 weeks of his life in hospital—16 weeks in Sydney, away from home, family and friends, and the last two weeks of his life in Perth. In hospital, all Peter wanted to talk about was politics. He would give a very brief, matter-of-fact medical bulletin about his condition, which usually made me feel very queasy, followed by a thorough and insightful analysis of federal politics. Even from his hospital bed, he just wanted his party to succeed. I simply cannot express in words my admiration for the way he dealt with his illness, nor could I ever do justice to the remarkable support he received from his wife, Barbara. Barb was simply magnificent.
I last saw Peter a couple of days before he was medivaced to Perth. Barb had rung to say that Peter was to be awarded a medallion by the city of Gdansk in appreciation of his support for Solidarity. There were a number of recipients of this commemorative medallion worldwide, including a small number of Australians. With Peter gravely ill, Barb was concerned that the award might never be made. At very short notice, the Polish Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Jerzy Wieclaw, facilitated the awarding of the medallion, which I was able to present, on the ambassador’s behalf, before Peter returned home to Perth. During this condolence debate, I want to publicly acknowledge the understanding and assistance of the ambassador and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, which allowed this presentation to be made before Peter’s death.
Peter Cook was tenacious. He was tenacious in his support for the trade union movement. He was tenacious in his support for the Australian Labor Party. He was tenacious in pursuing the goals he believed in. He was tenacious in his fight against the cancer which finally claimed him. We will miss his fighting spirit. We will miss him.