Date:11.02 AM TUESDAY, 30 June 1998
Member:Moore, Hon Norman
Page:4895 / 2

Condolence Motion

HON N.F. MOORE (Mining and Pastoral - Leader of the House) [11.02 am]: I move -
      That this House expresses its deep regret at the death of Hon Eric Michael Heenan, a former member of the Legislative Council for the North-East Province and the Lower North Province and father of the House from 1958 to 1968; and places on record its appreciation for his long public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his wife, son and members of his family in their bereavement.

Hon Eric Heenan leaves a reputation as a dedicated and honourable member of Parliament, and as a respected lawyer. His passing at the age of 98 has a particular significance. He was the last surviving parliamentarian to have enlisted in the First World War; he was the last living member to have served in the Western Australian Parliament before the Second World War; he contested his first election before any member of this House was born; he had at 32 years the longest continuous term of service of any Australian Labor Party member of the Legislative Council; and he was father of the Legislative Council for 10 years between 1958 and 1968.

These facts are notable but they are far less important than the quality of Eric Heenan's life and public service, a record that earned him great respect and affection from his political opponents. He was born in the eastern goldfields town of Kanowna and spent part of his early life at Esperance. He entered the teaching profession as a very young man and then aged 18 years enlisted in the AIF. Hostilities ended before he reached Europe. At the time of Anzac Day this year he was one of 18 surviving veterans of the Great War.

Eric Heenan taught at East Victoria Park, studied law, and was admitted to the profession in 1929. He practised first in Esperance and then in Kalgoorlie, where he represented the Australian Workers Union. In 1930 he contested the South Province, based on Boulder, Coolgardie and Norseman, for the Australian Labor Party.

Looking back, it is too easy to assume that a goldfields Labor member would have been assured of a safe parliamentary seat. Although this was generally the case for the Legislative Assembly, contests for the Legislative Council were far more open and indeed in the early 1930s most of the six goldfields seats in the Legislative Council were in conservative hands. Eric Heenan was unsuccessful in challenging the sitting MLC, Hon George Cornell, and in 1934 he contested the neighbouring North-East Province against another strong incumbent, Hon Harold Seddon. On that occasion he came within eight votes of success.

Two years later at the 1936 biennial election for the Legislative Council he succeeded in winning another North-East Province seat, defeating a well known Kalgoorlie identity, Hon Richard Moore, by 32 votes. After these tough battles Eric Heenan won the strong backing of an electorate that stretched from Kalgoorlie to Leonora, Laverton and beyond. He was re-elected in 1944 with a comfortable 57 per cent of the vote and had decisive wins in the North-East Province in 1950, 1956 and 1962.

Servicing a large, remote electorate was no easy task in those times and a conscientious MLC like Eric Heenan would be travelling over rough roads and staying in primitive hotel accommodation in order to represent the needs of communities running short of petrol or groceries, or badly in need of improved schools. Hon Clive Griffiths remembers Eric Heenan visiting his country school as the first member of Parliament he ever met. I am sure that Hon Clive Griffiths would wish to express his respect for his former colleague. Eric Heenan used his legal office for his parliamentary work in an age when electorate offices were unheard of. When he transferred his residence to Perth in 1950 he would travel to Kalgoorlie by train each weekend when Parliament sat to keep in close touch with his constituents.

His official biographical notes record his membership of Kalgoorlie community institutions, and his presidencies of the Amalgamated Prospectors Association and of the Eastern Goldfields Fresh Air League. Such detail, however, is only a small indication of the depth of his long community service.

After 1965 the major redistribution of Legislative Council boundaries saw the North-East Province disappear. In its place was the new Lower North Province, consisting of the Legislative Assembly seats of Gascoyne and Murchison-Eyre. Eric Heenan was an inaugural member for the province but his election prospects were made more difficult with the loss of Kalgoorlie, and in 1968 he was narrowly defeated by the late Hon George Berry by only 71 votes out of 3 500. Perhaps a lesser man would not have recontested the seat.