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Where have all the Bilneys gone?


As with nuclear testing controversies, we should not shy away from advocating on climate change

I did not go to Gordon Bilney’s funeral. But then why should I be invited? At one time we inhabited different sides of the political divide — although in our case the divide was often razor thin.

Bilney was Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs in the Keating government from 1993 to 1996. Before that, in the early 1960s, I always greatly admired him as a fellow student politician, when we were all radicals. Conscious of “the Bomb” then, we had considerable sympathy for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the daguerreotype grainy images of endless duffle coats and miserable faces of protesters marching from London to the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. However, the push for a nuclear-powered Australia was secondary for Australian youth as Australia was increasingly sucked into the conflict in Vietnam.

When I was a Victorian medical student, Bilney was a South Australian dental student. He went from teeth pulling to jawboning, entering the world of diplomacy, which readied him for politics when he became the federal member for Kingston in South Australia and served five terms from 1983.

For a brief period in the nineties, Bilney contributed significantly…