‘The last MP for Melbourne Ports’

Applause for Michael Danby and an embrace from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten last week. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

IN his valedictory speech to Federal Parliament, Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby harked back to a humid day in 1972 when, as a 17-year-old ALP supporter, he walked from his grandmother’s home in Carnegie to St Kilda Town Hall to attend the iconic “It’s Time” rally that would launch Gough Whitlam into government, ending 23 years of Labor in opposition.

The Mount Scopus College student, who was at the beginning of a career that would see him immersed in university politics, the union movement, and from 1998, as MP of the bellwether bayside electorate, now renamed Macnamara, summed up his 20 years in Parliament last week.

In a speech replete with references to ideological developments past and present, the passionate politician noted he was “the last Member for Melbourne Ports” (which was formed in 1901) and serving that electorate “has been the greatest honour of my life”.

“Since I joined Young Labor 45 years ago, I’ve fought the good fight to ensure our party is united, centrist, progressive, economically responsible but principle driven, internationalist but patriotic – a fight that good people like [ALP leader] Bill Shorten and the rest of this party have won.

“I’m an unfashionable internationalist. I stand up for human rights here and around the world, provided the cause is principally non-violent.

“I’m here for the Kurds, the Armenians, the Uighurs, the Tibetans, the Darfuris, the Baha’is and prisoners in North Korean concentration camps,” he declared.

“I remember my first speech in this chamber like it was yesterday. Then, as now, Labor was on the wrong side of this chamber.”

A highlight of his parliamentary career, he said, was when then prime minister Julia Gillard sent him to Germany to supervise, with Indigenous elders, the return of stolen remains.

Danby, whose grandparents Margarete and Bruno Danziger were murdered by the Nazis, recalled, “It was the most poignant moment of my days as an MP, representing our country in Germany. Our respected ambassador ambushed me. It was Anzac Day. He insisted that I, not he, was to speak at the ceremony at the Commonwealth war graves. 

“Imagine me in Berlin, in the cemetery, with our Indigenous friends, in front of 700-plus diplomats, military attaches and soldiers of the Bundeswehr [German Defence Forces] … As I left the Commonwealth cemetery, our Indigenous brothers and sisters were sitting at the gate, and they were smiling at me. One of them said to me, ‘We know where you’re coming from, brother.'”

AJN STAFF