(North Sydney) (16:40): It was appropriate that this parliament paused on Monday to remember the extraordinary life of the eighth member for North Sydney, Ted Mack. Ted brought to an end his career in public office over 20 years ago. Despite the passage of the years since, the respect and affection in which he has been held in my community has endured. I know that we will see this in large numbers on Friday at the public memorial service, which will be held at 9.30 am at the Luna Park ballroom.
In days gone by, his Citroen was the most famous vehicle on North Sydney’s roads, and that shock of silver hair was always unmistakable until the end. His reputation as a mayor, a state MP and a federal MP was founded on both his work on the Lower North Shore and the changes he sought to bring to the way in which politics operates in this country. North Sydney residents continue to enjoy his legacy as mayor to this day in the communities he protected, the facilities he built and the environment he saved. Civic Park in North Sydney, those unique bus stops and the North Sydney Oval, which remains one of our nation’s most beautiful, are the most obvious examples of his work. But just as important is what goes unseen—the preservation of those characteristics of our area which make it so special, which so easily could have been lost if it were not for Ted’s vision for our community.
His work in public life extended beyond bricks and mortar and our natural environment. For those of us cutting our young teeth in the Liberal Party, Ted Mack was of course famous for slaying Liberal luminaries. A state opposition leader fell first, followed by John Spender in 1990. In many ways, Ted Mack can be best described as one of the first disrupters, before that term had entered common parlance. He wanted to turn politics on its head and, in equal measure, he scorned both major political parties. He railed against big business, big unions and big government. His own political ideology did not fit neatly into any political box. On some issues he could be described as incredibly conservative; on others, left of centre. He was in that respect genuinely independent. In fact, Ted was the first Independent elected to this House in over 25 years. He hoped that he would be the catalyst for many more. While not the revolution he predicted, he would note that the crossbench is somewhat larger today—in fact, a little bit too large today—than during his solitary experience at that time. He would certainly smile at the synergy of the parliament pausing to remember his life on the day that the new member for Wentworth was sworn in.
In some ways, Ted was a populist but perhaps not quite in the sense that we would use that term today. He scorned representative democracy and preferred directly empowering voters. He argued passionately for the direct election of our leaders and for citizen-initiated referenda. These ideas have not come to pass, and for those of us who would describe ourselves as liberal democrats, who believe our institutions must protect individuals against the tyranny of many as much as they do against the tyranny of some, we are, frankly, glad they didn’t. Yet his life in this place did leave an enduring impact. For those representing the major parties, he taught us the hard way the lesson that no seat is ever really safe and all of us have an obligation to work equally hard for our communities, no matter what the nominal margin may be.
On a personal note, I’m grateful for the advice that Ted was always prepared to proffer during my time on North Sydney Council and, more recently, as a federal member of parliament. Indeed, there was never such a thing as a short conversation with Ted. On several occasions, I was lured into having a glass of wine, or three or maybe four, as I walked down Blues Point Road in McMahons Point on a Saturday afternoon, where he regularly held forth with his closest friends. The last such occasion was only six months ago. Whilst his illness had taken its toll, the sharpness of his mind and the strength of his views had certainly not diminished.
Ted Mack will be remembered for so many things—his integrity and honesty, his passion, his attention to detail, his commitment to transparency and open government and his refusal to accept the perks of office. Most famously, one of his first acts as Mayor of North Sydney was to sell the council Mercedes to buy two community buses. It is worth noting that Community Connect, the organisation that was the beneficiary of those donations, celebrated its own 30th birthday just a few months ago.
Of course he had that elephantine memory, which I experienced when he reminded me more than once of some disparaging comments I had made about him when I was a 20-year-old Young Liberal. It’s interesting to note that he was referring to an article that appeared in The Sydney Morning Heraldthat featured a photo of me, Joe Hockey and John Brogden, all Young Liberals, standing on the steps of North Sydney Council building, threatening to demolish the rule of Independents with a thrust in local government across the state. I should note that of the three of us I was the only one who actually went on to a council career—but I’m not sure that John Brogden or Joe Hockey ever regretted their own failure in that regard.
Most importantly of all, he will be remembered for showing us what a true servant of the people should be. Ted’s journey was shared with his proud and loving family. I want to acknowledge in the chamber today his granddaughter Eloise Mack, who works for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I’m not sure whether he would have approved of that career path with a major party, but I am sure he would be very proud that the tradition of activism and community service continues to flow in the blood of the latest generation of the Mack family.
To his great partner on his public and private journey, Wendy Mack, and all their children and grandchildren, I send the condolences of a community that will forever be grateful for his service to our nation.