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Honourable John Myles Bennett

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Tags: Condolence

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Tasmanian Greens to express our sincere condolences at the premature death of the honourable John Bennett and to acknowledge a life very well lived as a proud and passionate Tasmanian.

It is clear from the materials that I have read that John Bennett's great talents as a lawyer led to him being 'talent-spotted' by the Liberal Party in 1986 to shore up their fortunes in the seat of Denison. He had one of those rare and often difficult introductions to politics where he was elected and immediately he was a minister with a very large portfolio load. We know that has happened in this place before but it is actually a mark of his talent that the party when it returned to government with Robin Gray as premier recognised that John Bennett was a person who had the skills, energy and the commitment to take on a heavy portfolio load, including that of attorney-general.

When I arrived in Tasmania on Valentine's Day 1989, a day I will never forget because I fell in love with Tasmania, it was just before the June election in 1989 that led to the loss of then premier Robin Gray's government and the Labor-Greens accord. One of the things that struck me, as a journalist coming down here, was the incredible colour and eccentricity of a lot of people who were part of the Tasmanian political establishment. A number of larger than life figures were part of politics then and one of them was definitely John 'Bullbars' Bennett, who had a capacity - I am going to use journalist language here - to spit out a grab in describing any situation that was full of colour, it was succinct and it was a view that he held sincerely. One of the things that I noted about John Bennett when I first arrived here was his authenticity. You might not agree with everything he did or said but he was certainly an authentic politician.

For example, one of his early decrees, if you like, was to remove the term 'Ms' from departmental and ministerial office correspondence. That is not something any evolved male feminist in this place would get away with now, but he viewed the term 'Ms' as something of a feminist flight of fancy, when we know that it is a gender-neutral term that does not describe women by whether they are married or under the age of 18. Again, it was the mark of the man that he was prepared to go out there, do this, argue it and carry the day on it for a while. At the time, he was criticised by female members of the House from Labor and the Greens but he stuck with it. I was reading, in some of the clippings that were provided by the Parliamentary Library, some quite evocative descriptions of having a conversation with John Bennett when he was the attorney-general in the late 1980s, and him sparking up a cigarette in his ministerial office and sitting back and opining on the world. It is such a different world that members of parliament occupied then but it is a visual picture of a man who had a rare zeal for politics and an overt excitement about life and its possibilities.

It is very clear that he was extremely sane, so sane that his parliamentary career only lasted four years. He left parliament in 1990 after the Liberal government fell and it is very clear to me that he had no regrets on leaving parliament and went on to make a strong contribution in other areas of Tasmania's community life, including in the sporting field. He had the grace not to insert himself as a former parliamentarian into ongoing public debates other than when he felt very strongly about it. I did want to note his clear sanity.

One of the reasons John Bennett left parliament was because he was so disgusted by the circumstances surrounding the attempted bribery of then Labor member, Jim Cox. There are quotes from him when he still in parliament, 20 July 1989, and the article says -

Former Tasmanian Attorney-General, Mr John Bennett, yesterday angrily denied any involvement in the state's political bribery scandal. Mr Bennett said the rumours had placed great strain on his family and he would take legal action against those responsible.

Again, it is a mark of the kind of character John Bennett was. He stepped forward and threatened consequences, should people continue to slur him.

Mr Bennett revealed as well as being involved in the matter in his former capacity as attorney-general he was also involved as a witness. He said, "I am outraged at what has been said about me in what has been trial by rumour and is not true. When I say I have had a gutful, I mean it", an emotional Mr Bennett said. He said he wanted the rumours to stop, "Because if anybody keeps going about this they will want a big piggy bank because I will be after them in the courts." He says, "I became involved in the case because at all material times I was the attorney-general of Tasmania and therefore the first law officer."

He notes that rumours about him had begun soon after a meeting at his property at Ross with Victorian and Tasmanian police over jurisdictional difficulties relating to the police investigation of the alleged bribery attempt involving Mr Cox.

It was not long after that that John Bennett decided to leave the Tasmanian Parliament and the then seat of Dennison and invest his considerable talents and his enormous energies in other parts of community. On behalf of the Tasmanian Greens, I express my sincere condolences to Mr Bennett's family, his first wife Jill, his second wife Bonnie, and his children Missy and Mat, and simply say vale, John Bennett, and your family should be somewhat comforted that Mr Bennett, in politics and community, made his mark on Tasmanian life.