Hon. Allan Clyde Holding

┬áIt is with great sadness but also a strong sense of privilege that I rise to speak on the condolence motion for the Honourable Clyde Holding and to pay my respects to this very significant figure in our state, our nation and our party. Over the last fortnight many things have been said about his passing, none better than the words spoken this morning at the very moving and fitting tribute held at the National Gallery of Victoria, a tribute which reflected the rich threads of Clyde Holding’s life and demonstrated that at the core of his being were his love for his family and friends and his desire to transform the community for the betterment of all. It was a fine testament to him as a father, partner and friend, particularly when his talented children spoke of their close relationship with him. I touch on some words his son Danny said, which were quoted in the program:

I believe the close bond between the young child and parent never really leaves you and holds you in good stead.
Although Clyde is gone, I think for every second of my life I’ll feel loved by him.

Similarly, for those who were not there this morning, his daughter Isabella told a hilarious story about Clyde as a father. Every year on her birthday he would dress up as a monster and give the kids at the birthday party a thrill. However, being Clyde Holding, he was not just being a monster; he was Being a Monster in the sense of the Stanislavsky acting method. He would wear his terry towelling robe and something on his head from the undergarments drawer, I believe, and he would terrorise the young children downstairs for fun. I believe Isabella said there had been a blood nose and a couple of concussions by the end of her birthday sessions. However, she obviously loved and adored the fact that her father was so present in her life.

Today’s mourning was a tribute in which prime ministers, past and present, demonstrated manifestly heartfelt and deep respect for their former colleague’s passion, commitment and achievements and one from which those of us in the Labor Party tradition could draw great strength and pride in the legacies and history of this great party. It was also a tribute through which we could celebrate the leading lights in our tradition, such as Clyde Holding, who have fought for and achieved great change, and who have reformed society, advanced human rights and equality and helped heal divided communities.

As we have heard, the length and depth of Clyde Holding’s service to public life is simply extraordinary. His incredible 36 years of parliamentary service to the Labor Party and the labour movement, his inner city constituents and the many progressive causes of which he was champion, particularly opposition to the death penalty and the rights of indigenous Australians, is an outstanding achievement. As the house is aware, before entering Parliament Clyde was a solicitor; he founded the law firm Clyde Holding and Co. before becoming a senior partner in what became the law firm Holding, Ryan and Redlich, the firm which now stands as the very successful Holding Redlich and the place where I was lucky enough to do my articles back in the late 90s.

As is so often the case in the Australian vernacular tradition the firm’s name was shortened, the legal fraternity calling it simply ‘Holdings’, and I remember as a young lawyer thinking, ‘Wow, it must have been a pretty special person to have started a firm like this, with their name not only on the door but on everyone’s lips’. It was very hard to get articles at Holdings, as I know it still is, because the tradition of the firm was so strongly rooted in the personal and political values of its founding members.

People desperately wanted to work at such a place and continue the traditions of fighting for justice and using the law to transform society.

This is what Clyde Holding did as a lawyer — working for unions and their members, standing up for rights and for justice. He was one of the pioneering leaders of the Labor Lawyer fraternity, a group which included those who built up Slater and Gordon and other Labor law firms, which included my father-in-law, Mike Higgins. Mike told me endless stories about when he was at Slater and Gordon sharing domination of the personal injury lists with the partners from Holding Redlich.

It was a fitting moment many years later when I worked closely with Clyde’s son Peter and saw his great skill and capacity in helping the Labor government deliver amendments to Victorian law that strengthened the rights of asbestos victims in this state.

Peter worked on changes that meant that those victims who had made a claim for asbestosis were not prevented from making another claim if they were subsequently diagnosed with the deadly and cruel asbestos-related disease mesothelioma. I know his father would have been so proud of Peter as he championed that change, without which a person facing exactly the same situation as Bernie Banton was confronted with would have been left without access to compensation. Reform was delivered, people were given the rights they deserved and justice was achieved — and Clyde Holding would have been most proud.

The skills of legal interpretation, negotiation and delivering outcomes that become the day-to-day work of a labour lawyer clearly stood Clyde Holding in great stead as he became a parliamentarian, a federal minister and someone who can count in his many achievements the delivery of Uluru back to its traditional owners.

His tireless work in Aboriginal affairs helped deliver a fundamental and much-needed shift in public discourse and attitude, and paved the way and was the backdrop for the historic Mabo and Wik decisions. I remember studying the Mabo decision in university and feeling that passion swell and the goose bumps rise.

I pay tribute to Clyde and to those around him who fought the good fight to represent their seats, form government and deliver change, which is the great strength of this party and its traditions. We are here to stand up for values, to push for the creation of a more equal society and to have the commitment and courage to seek the mandate to govern to do so, for it is not an easy road — and Clyde knew this better than most.

As has already been mentioned, Richmond back in those early days was a tough place and the Richmond ALP was even tougher.

It stands to reason that for Clyde to have won and withstood the battles he must have been a tough character. As was reported in the Age the day after he was elected as Leader of the Opposition:

He looks Irish — ‘a bit of a mixture of an Irish politician and an Irish boxer’, a friend says. He is average height, with a sturdy build and an aggressive chin.

I do not know whether the current member for Richmond would qualify for that description.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms GARRETT — Maybe not the aggressive chin.

Mr Hulls — Same hairstyle!

Ms GARRETT — Same hairstyle, sturdy build. As has been said, in his inaugural speech in this house Clyde Holding spoke of his desire to see employment, affordable housing and safe workplaces — and he worked throughout his life for those. Without his reforms of the party, the seeds of success for future Labor governments would not have been sown. Without his extraordinary work as a minister in the federal arena, particularly in Aboriginal affairs, we would not have had some of the outstanding outcomes we have. As arts minister he won the respect of artists all over Australia and delivered outcomes which continue to be enjoyed as a benefit for the nation as a whole.

In his words and actions Clyde Holding was a passionate advocate for change and for those in society in need.

It is people like him who have crafted the ALP and its traditions and have lived and breathed its core values of social justice and equality.

It is indeed a privilege to have had the opportunity in this place to acknowledge Clyde Holding’s contribution to the Victorian and Australian public, to this house, to the Labor Party and to the Labor movement. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time. A true reformer, a true believer, a true Labor man.

Hansard, 2011