I acknowledge Jim’s family, friends and staff in the chamber today as I rise to make some comments on this motion. In Jim’s maiden speech he talked about the words of Napoleon, who said:
… if you want to learn a nation’s interests, go to the graves of its soldiers.
And it struck me yesterday, as we were at the Australian War Memorial for the ‘Last Post’, how appropriate those words were. On the one hand we were all there to remember the life of Lieutenant Stanley Le Fevre, but, as I stood, looked around at the gallery and saw the number of campaigns that Australians have been involved with, it brought back memories of Jim—his service and the number of places where he has served our nation.
We heard words from the Prime Minister about service and sacrifice, but also looking beyond the serviceman to the families who were left with a void. It brought me back to Jim and, Anne, what you and your family are going through.
As the Leader of the Opposition spoke about the importance of democracy, freedom, being prepared to stand up and fight, and being prepared to defend and promote those things that enable us to be the nation that we are, it brought back to mind all the things that Jim stood for.
In his maiden speech, he was kind enough to mention the fact that Senator Reynolds and I had been the two people he had asked to escort him into the chamber—not that at that time I knew Jim well.
We’d both graduated from Duntroon, we’d both had a career in the military and we were both Army pilots, but that was the first time I had started to have a direct interaction with Jim in a professional capacity. It did, however, give me the advantage of having been in those three institutions and understanding their mottos and ethos, having seen them so fully lived out.
In a time when so many companies have vision statements and values and when people give lip service to things, it’s good to reflect on the values that the Army has. Service they define as ‘the selflessness of character that places the security and interests of the nation and its people ahead of our own’, and courage, respect, integrity and excellence, all of which we saw in Jim.
At Duntroon the motto was ‘Learning promotes strength’, and one thing that I knew about Jim from his time here and learned from comments at his funeral was his appetite for learning and for understanding and how that not only made him strong but made his contributions to this nation more powerful.
The Australian Army Aviation Corps’ motto is ‘Vigilance’, and we see in Jim’s contributions his vigilance—his care for this nation, for his family and the fact that no effort was too much to help people be prepared.
Across the roles people that people have talked about here today—soldier, senator, parliamentarian, patriot, advocate and aviator—I’ve seen Jim work. We worked together on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and I’ve seen the detail of his work, his inquisitive nature, his willingness to challenge.
Having sat in on cabinet office policy committees with Jim as we worked with leaders at the highest level in the nation to try and explain and advocate the importance, in Jim’s case, of things like a national security strategy, I’ve seen the diligence and respect but also the passion with which he has approached these issues. I’ve had Jim visit South Australia in my paired seat of Makin and seen his advocacy for and ability to interact with veterans, and then to advocate for them powerfully back in this place.
We’ve heard a lot about Jim and his advocacy here, but, on the international stage, one of the groups he was involved with was the High Level Military Group, which advocated the rule of law, which sought to understand and to highlight the fact that not all governments and not all societies actually share the same values—about the fact that, whilst we, for example, are governed by the rules of armed conflict, there are nations which are authoritarian in nature which will seek to use those things to our detriment.
Jim is the first to admit that he’s had his critics along the way, but he was happy to have the critics where he was standing up for something that mattered.
The report they issued, for example, about Israel and some of Israel’s military conflicts, where, in his words, Israel demonstrated that they had standards for their defence force in terms of adherence to the rules of armed conflict that matched, if not exceeded, those of our own—this earnt him many critics, but it’s an example of where he was prepared to put himself forward to advocate the values that he believed were important.
As an aviator, he served in 171 Aviation Squadron, as I did, but he was the Honorary Colonel for the Australian Army Aviation Corps. In his words, ‘It was like being the tribal elder,’ and, as I think of Jim’s role here in this place, to some extent that’s the role he played. The tribal elder is not necessarily someone who has executive power, but the tribal elder is someone who brings a lot of wisdom, experience, insight, discernment and encouragement. That’s what we saw him bring to the national policy debate and to colleagues in this place.
There’s another aspect to his character that I don’t think a lot of people would use to describe Jim.
We’ve heard about his stature, about his leadership and about his ability to command. But I would say Jim had a large dose of humility, which is not something you often associate with senior leaders, whether in politics or in the military.
But Jim was not only humble enough to join a local RFS, get on the tools and work but he was also humble enough to learn from people. He was humble enough to relate to people regardless of their stature.
As we see, his ability to interact not only with community here but also professionally with people on all sides of politics—and internationally, in the relationships he built with the TNI of Indonesia and others—speaks volumes of the fact that he saw people.
He respected people.
The fact that so many people here have seen Jim as a friend speaks to the fact that he respected people, and he had the humility to value them and to value the time that he spent with them.
I’d like to finish by returning to the Australian War Memorial. In the midst of the pomp and ceremony of Australia’s Federation Guard, of the fine speeches, of the laying of wreaths and of all the things that were going on, we were interrupted incessantly by the beating rotors of firefighting helicopters flying overhead, and I thought, ‘Jim would think this is fantastic.’
I could imagine him being far more interested in where they were going, what loads they were carrying and whether they were achieving their mission than in the pomp and ceremony. I thought that Last Post Ceremony summed up so much of what was great about Jim.
Vale, Jim Molan.