Standing up for Canberra

Kep Enderby

Last month I was saddened to learn the passing of the Hon. Keppel Earl Enderby QC and I would like to use this opportunity today to highlight some of his legacies, particularly to Canberra where he was the federal member between 1970 and 1975. Like so many in Labor, Kep Enderby's life had humble beginnings. He was born in Dubbo on 25 June 1926. His parents owned a milk bar and he attended the local high school. 

During his teen years, he earned money by selling ice-creams at the theatre. He served as a pilot in the Air Force from 1944 to 1945 and then moved to Sydney to study law under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, which was a Chifley government initiative. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1950 and then moved to England where he worked for a while in the bar. He returned to Australia in 1955 and then settled in Canberra, in our wonderful national capital, in 1962. It was during this time that he was a lecturer at the Australian National University.

He became increasingly involved in the Labor Party, and in 1970 was elected as the member for the ACT, which became the seat of Canberra, which I now proudly and passionately hold. He served his community until the dismissal in 1975. Kep was active in the community long before he entered politics. He was an active civil rights advocate in the 1950s and 1960s, and he continued to campaign on issues like prisoner welfare and voluntary euthanasia after he left politics. He served as a Supreme Court judge between 1982 and 1992, and he was also the head of the Serious Offenders Review Council and was one of the founders of the New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties. Kep will be remembered for his long and dedicated service to our country. In Canberra he will be remembered as a champion of homosexual law reform, of abortion rights and of fierce opposition to poker machines.

In a way, Canberrans have traditionally been altruistic. Canberrans have come to serve in the national capital in the public service, to make a difference, to serve their nation and to serve their democracy, so we are traditionally a community that thinks larger than just ourselves and that thinks broader than just the community. We think about the nation and how we can best serve it. As a result of that, we tend to have progressive politics and progressive views on things. I think that, in those very early days of Canberra coming together as a national capital following the investment that Robert Menzies made in the 1950s and the move of people to Canberra, —the significant moves in the 1960s and 1970s—Kep Enderby reflected and, in a way, was at the forefront of those progressive views of the community. Those policies, those reforms, are the ones that we hold very dear in this community. As you know, we are very strong proponents of marriage equality and we are generally a progressive community. I think Kep Enderby did not just reflect that, but was at the forefront of those views.

He fought for ACT residents and those of the Northern Territory to be represented in the Senate. He also helped steer controversial legislation through the parliament including no-fault divorce, as we have just heard, and the Racial Discrimination Act. His most important initiatives were in the law where he is credited with a host of legal reforms including the Trade Practices Act, the Family Law Act and the introduction of legal aid, which was a significant reform that opened up access to legal services for so many of the disadvantaged and underprivileged. These are policies and rights that we take for granted today. Without Kep Enderby's tireless work, they may have taken decades longer to pass into law. And, he achieved all of this during his nine-month stint as Attorney-General. What he achieved in a very short amount of time was pretty extraordinary.

I have been talking to people over the past few weeks who knew Kep, because I did not know him. I spoke to a number of Labor Party people, and Kep was described to me as having a gifted mind, a mind that traversed a range of issues, that had progressive thoughts on those issues and that managed to realise many of those issues into policy and into changes that benefited the nation. His gifted mind help achieve so much for Canberra and, more widely, for Australia. As the current member for Canberra I pay tribute to his vision for our city and our nation. His electorate, my electorate, is a far better place because of him.

Aside from the law and politics, Kep had a love of golf and competed in the 1951 British Open as an amateur. He also loved flying, and he was flying helicopters well into his 60s. As we have also heard, another one of his passions—and I am not going to speak Esperanto—was the Esperanto movement. After learning Esperanto in 1987 he was made the president of the Australian Esperanto Association from 1992 to 1997.

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, their son Keir and daughter Jo as well as many grandchildren. I offer the Enderby family my deepest condolences. Vale Kep Enderby.

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