Sir David Smith back at Old Parliament House

December 17, 2013 by Henry Benjamin
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In 1975, Sir David Smith stood on the steps of what is now the Old Parliament House and read out the proclamation of the dissolution of the Whitlam Government…he has returned to the building which houses the Museum of Australian Democracy as a member of its Advisory Council.

Sir David Smith

Sir David Smith

The appointment was announced recently by The Minister for the Arts, Attorney-General Senator George Brandis who announced the appointment of three distinguished Australians to the Old Parliament House Advisory Council with responsibility for the Museum of Australian Democracy.

The Honourable Dr David Kemp has accepted appointment to the vacant Chairmanship of the Advisory Council.

Mrs Heather Henderson and Sir David Smith AO, KCVO, have agreed to serve as members of the Advisory Council.

“Each of the three candidates are distinguished Australians intimately connected with federal political affairs,” said Senator Brandis.

“Importantly, each has a personal connection with Old Parliament House. At various times in their careers, both Dr Kemp and Sir David worked in the building, while Mrs Henderson’s principal association is through her father (Sir Robert Menzies), who dominated the Parliament during his 17 years as Prime Minister.”

Senator Brandis said that there are important symbolic connections as well.

“Sir David will always be remembered for the iconic moment in Australian history when, on the front steps of Old Parliament House, he read the dissolution proclamation which enabled the 1975 constitutional crisis to be adjudicated by the people. Mrs Henderson represents an earlier and more gracious time with which Old Parliament House is today associated.”

The appointments, which will be for a term of three years, will bring the Advisory Council to full strength.

“I thank Dr David Kemp, Mrs Henderson and Sir David Smith for their willingness to serve the Australian people as members of the Advisory Council of this iconic cultural institution,” Senator Brandis said.

Sir David Smith remained very involved on the political scene serving among many other distinguished leaders the late Sir Zelman Cowen, only the second Jew to attain the high honour of representing the Queen in Australia in the role of Governor-General. Sir David Smith told J-Wire: “I read dissolution proclamations in 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1990.”

Although he retired in in 1990, many visitors to the Old Parliament House in subsequent years may not have recognised the face of the friendly volunteer guide with intimate knowledge of the building, a role Sir David would maintain for 18 years.

In fact, Sir David Smith’s connection with the building predates the famous Whitlam dismissal. He told J-Wire: “My memories of Old Parliament House date from December 1958, when I spent the next five years working in the building as Private Secretary to a Minister in two Menzies governments.”

Speaking of his newly-announced position Sir David said that he would be “simply a member of an advisory council”.

Asked what was significant for him during his years in Canberra he replied: “My whole time at Government House – seventeen and a half years and five Governors-General – was a significant period in my life as a career public servant.”

A member of the ACT community told J-Wire that Sir David Smith was active in the community and still joins them on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and occasional communal events.


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