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The Honourable Michael Eamon Beahan AM,

Born 21 January 1937- Died 30 January 2022

Eleven years ago, the Australian people recognised the contribution of Michael Beahan by admitting him as a Member of the Order of Australia.

At his funeral in Melbourne on Tuesday 7 February 2022, Michael was described as a genuinely good and kind man.

For a kid who played and swam at Coliemore Harbour and attended Loreto Abbey School at Dalkey, Michael would rise to great heights.

His career was varied.  He was an electrician, a teacher, union leader and a secretary of the Labor Party in the state of Western Australia. In 1987, he became a Senator for WA in the upper house of the Australian Parliament, which culminated in his role as 19th President of the Australian Senate until he left politics in 1996.

Michael was a true Labor man and a great Irish West Australian. Through all this, he remained a good, gentle and kind man.

Michael was born in London where his early years were not easy. The impact of the Great Depression was still being felt, then the War came with the constant bombings including of Michael’s family home. The family decided to move to Ireland. Michael often spoke of his teenage years in Dalkey as a time of joy.  He immersed himself in Irish culture and became a true lover of his father’s native country, especially of Yeats’ poetry and Joyce’s prose. He visited Ireland often.

When the Beahan family decided to migrate from Ireland to Australia, Michael was a 17-year-old, it was time to think of the future. In 1954 after disembarking a migrant ship at Fremantle, he found work at the Australian Electric Company in Perth, manufacturing electrical equipment. Following his apprenticeship as an electrician and his introduction to trade unionism, he became increasingly interested and concerned about workers’ rights and workplace safety and was determined to do something about it.

In his 20s, he decided to return to formal education. He attained Arts and Education degrees from The University of Western Australia and became a secondary school teacher in Bunbury, a regional town in the south west of Australia.

It was this combination of factory floor background, trade qualification, union membership and teaching that led to Michael becoming the West Australian Trades and Labour Council’s first ever education officer. This initiative underpinned the establishment in 1975 of the Australian Trade Union Training Authority (TUTA), funded by the federal Whitlam government to provide education and training programs for union officials.  Michael was instrumental in its establishment as a statutory authority in every state and became its first director in WA.  It was here that Michael learned the importance of training and organisation to keep unions relevant in an ever-changing world.  He was also attuned to the need for political action to ensure the rights and wellbeing of working men and women are protected.

Michael’s move to the political sphere occurred in 1981 when he became General Secretary of the WA Labor Party.  He led Labor’s successful election campaign to win Government at the state level in February 1983.

A few weeks later the Labor Party won the March 1983 federal election, installing Bob Hawke as Prime Minister.

These elections saw the WA Labor party addressing the lack of women in the state and federal parliaments with a record number of women from WA elected at both the state and federal levels. While Michael was a champion of women being elected to Parliament, he was not a supporter of affirmative action or quotas, an issue in which he was at odds with his party.

Michael’s enduring political legacy during his time as party secretary was the modernisation of WA Labor’s political campaigning infrastructure, practice and culture. Michael brought a greater professionalism to campaigns, seeing the value of modernising local and regional organisational structures, and training campaign workers. His vision was to ensure that those who followed him would be best placed to steward his party forward. He adopted new ideas and technology from overseas. He created a culture of campaign innovation, which deployed political imagery and themes, communicated with new tactics and methods. In the 1980s these ideas were new and novel. We all became used to Michael’s organisational motto of “crisp, concise and contemporary.” This became the campaigning hallmark of Tony Blair but its origin was very much in Michael’s thinking forty years ago.

He further introduced wage equality for political workers and Labor party staff, becoming the first to champion pension payments and equality of reward and opportunity for female staff.

The party adopted his approach to campaigning and organisation nationally and by 1993 Michael was the chairman of the Labor Party’s national campaign committee. Labor won an election thought to be impossible.  

Michael was also adept at internal Labor politics, helping found the centre faction, focussed on policy, neither right nor left politics – genuinely looking to balance the party. The Centre faction played a critical role in the success and stability of the Hawke then Keating governments and their reforms which started 30 years of continuous economic growth.

Beahan, having been a leader in the Parliamentary Labor Party, was elected as President of the Australian Senate in 1994. In this role he became a global ambassador for Australia. He became Labor’s International Secretary too, and this allowed him to train campaign workers for social democratic parties all over the world, including in Malta, South Africa, Vietnam, and Fiji. During his parliamentary career Beahan was also, among other things, Chairman of the Defence, Trade and Human Rights Committees.

As the Senate’s presiding officer, he improved the actual working of the chamber and his reforms endure today. Michael was acknowledged by Gareth Evans, a fellow Labor Senator and Australia’s significant foreign minister, for his personal warmth, charm and as an outstanding character who contributed to the opportunity, wealth, and humanity of Australia.

Following his political career, Michael settled in Melbourne and devoted much of his time to the community. Fighting for housing projects, for people, for democracy and an Australian Republic.

As in all his life, Michael fought for good causes – even writing a letter to the Editor of the Melbourne Age newspaper arguing republican presidential models just a few weeks before his death in January.

Michael Beahan lived a real labour life, committed to community and committed to causes. From London to Dalkey, and eventually to Australia’s National Capital, he remained a good, gentle, kind, and decent man. He will be greatly missed.

Michael is survived by his wife Margaret; brothers Terry, Peter and Frank; by his first wife Jenny and children, Daniel and Kate.

I thank the Beahan family, the West Australian Labor party, John Cowdell and Marcelle Anderson for this thoughtful consideration, advice and anecdotes about Michael.

 

Hon Gary Gray AO

Australian Ambassador to Ireland, Personal friend of Michael

 

Australia Day 2022

Why Australia still celebrates the day colonialists arrived

Published by the Irish Times on January 26th 2022, Ambassador Gary Gray reflects Australia's sad and undisputed past while celebrating its recent and continuing growth. The piece can be read in full here Why Australia still celebrates the day colonialists arrived (irishtimes.com)

Aboriginal Flag

History was made when the Australian Embassy in Ireland took the decision to add the Australian Aboriginal Flag to the Embassy here in Dublin. The flag which is characterised by a black upper half, red lower half and a central golden circle is not usually flown in conjunction with the Australian National Flag but will now, after consultation with the Australian Government, become a permanent feature overlooking St. Stephen’s Green.

Commenting on the decision, Australia’s Ambassador to Ireland, Gary Gray said, “The acknowledgement of the historic and unique connection which Australian Aboriginal people have to the land and culture of our nation is utterly appropriate. Though the flag has been flown from buildings in Australia and on specific dates elsewhere, the Embassy in Dublin is among the first international posts to take the decision whereby the flag will fly with the Australian National Flag all year round.”

Aboriginal flag flies at Australian embassy in Dublin (rte.ie) 

Climate OpEd

Writing for Ireland's Business Post, Ambassador Gray said, "Though sometimes not recognised internationally, the past 15 years have seen a remarkable change in Australian public opinion regarding climate change. Emissions have been driven down by 19 per cent from 2005 levels and while climate statistics can sometimes be difficult to visualise, these results per capita, put Australia’s rate of declining emissions greater than the world’s big economies (as measured by OECD and G20 averages)."

Read his piece in full through the link below.

Gary Gray: Australia can work with Ireland to help shape better policy on climate change | Business Post

Free trade between Ireland and the European Union

Speaking plainly in the Irish Farmer's Journal today, Ambassador Gary Gray describes concerns about Australian food production standards and what this might mean for animal welfare in the country as simply "unfounded".

The Ambassador continues to highlight the benefits of the Australian - EU Free Trade Agreement, currently in negotiation and the receptive market Irish exporters will find down-under.

The piece can be read in full here 'Australia will always promote free trade' 01 August 2021 Free (farmersjournal.ie)

Martin O Meara VC

Fighting under the Australian and New Zealand Armed Forces in Europe, Martin O’Meara from County Tipperary performed repeated acts of bravery which earned him the Victoria Cross. "There are many eyewitness accounts, reading with withering clarity, of action; of bravery under the screaming bombardment, blackout and fire, during which O’Meara was himself struck and wounded."

Ambassador Gary Gray wrote a piece on O'Meara, leadership and remembrance for the Irish Times this week. You can read it in full here

Anzac Day not a celebration but commemoration (irishtimes.com)

https://www.nenaghguardian.ie/2021/10/08/ceremony-to-honour-an-outstanding-irishman/ 

https://www.tipperarylive.ie/gallery/local-news/674181/tipperary-village-s-anxious-for-visit-of-great-war-hero-s-victoria-cross.html 

https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2019/0726/1065326-medal-national-museum/

 

Wine OpEd

Irish influence on Australian wine has helped put it on the global wine map’ (irishtimes.com)

Australian History is Irish History

From prime ministers and premiers to pastoralists and poets, Australia’s history is, in part, Irish history - Independent.ie

Flying Irelands Proud Spirit 

Happy St Patrick’s Day to the Australian-Irish diaspora celebrating across WA.

St Patrick’s Day has long outgrown its homeland’s national day and instead become an international festival of unifying significance. Emblematic of that unifying spirit is of course the Irish tricolour, so well established with the day of St Patrick, proudly flown in every city around the world. Perth is no different.

The story of the man who first presented the flag in Ireland, Thomas Francis Meagher, is fascinating. An Irishman who travelled from Ireland to Paris, before returning home to Waterford, and from there to Tasmania and on to New York city, Meagher lived a truly noteworthy life. He died over 150 years ago and his life touched three continents and great moments in history. On this St Patrick’s Day, he touches our lives.

Believing in the unification of Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant communities in opposition to British rule, Meagher travelled to Paris in 1848 to study revolutionary events. He left behind a truly desolate Ireland, now into its third year of the Great Famine and he was determined to learn from his French counterparts what was necessary to create a political movement that would unify the Irish people. After a month on the continent, Meagher returned to Waterford and carried with him a gift of solidarity from the friends he had made in France. That gift was the Irish tricolour and when it was first flown from 33 The Mall, Waterford, on March 7 later that year, it paved the ideological path for a coming together of all peoples on the island of Ireland.

You may recognise the similarities between the French and the Irish flags — both are tricolour, each divided into three equal vertical bands, with white as the central colour.

Meagher spoke of the flag given to him by the French in April 1848 saying, “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”

Enthused with this new spirit of kinship, Meagher reached out to the Orange Order to create a lasting relationship of solidarity and later that year played a central role in the failed Young Irelander Rebellion. For this he was sentenced first to death, then commuted to exile in Tasmania.

In Tasmania, Meagher married and had a child before escaping exile and travelling to New York. In New York in 1852 he found work as a lawyer and newspaper editor and then went on to serve as a Union army general in the American Civil War. He joined an Irish American volunteer brigade, the “Fighting 69th” .

Meagher saw action at Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Despite the ravages of drink and a wild life, he formed part of the honour guard that surrounded the open coffin of the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. Meagher later became acting governor of the Territory of Montana before falling from a Missouri river boat in 1867 and drowning.

During a historic 1963 visit to Ireland, president John F. Kennedy presented the flag of the Union brigade that Meagher led in the American Civil War. Today, that flag hangs in the Dail Eireann (Ireland’s Parliament).

Of all Meagher’s achievements, Ireland’s symbolic national flag is a persistent reminder of his legacy and ideals upon which he stood. The tricolour flag that flew in Waterford 173 years ago represents the best of the Irish human spirit and could have had any number of colours so long as the symbolic white strip existed to bind them together.

The Irish in WA will be celebrating St Patrick’s Day in a much more traditional way than we Australians in Ireland — I hope you’re all at the pub. Or enjoying the day with the brilliant Irish consul in Perth, Marty Kavanagh.

Due to COVID-19 , this is the second year Ireland’s people have had to put celebrations of their national day on hold. Again, this year, Australians in Ireland will connect with their Irish friends and family online instead of gathering in a cosy pub, something that is such an important part of Ireland’s social fabric.

Meagher’s belief in hope and peace as symbolised in Ireland’s flag is something that extends beyond Ireland’s borders to our international landscape.

As we emerge from the pandemic we look forward to what our world could look like. The virus has given us a clearer picture than ever, of the interconnectedness of our world and the importance of viewing our problems from a connected, collective and global perspective.

During the pandemic, Irish nurses and doctors have worked in WA, and West Australians have experienced the virus in Ireland. We have truly been in this together.

Gary Gray is Australian Ambassador to Ireland


Copyright © 2021 The West Australian


 

 

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