Condolence - Ian Kiernan

17 Oct 2018
Prime Minister

Mr Morrison: (Cook—Prime Minister) (14:00): I rise, on indulgence, to acknowledge the passing of Ian Kiernan AO. We learnt of his death earlier today. His untimely death is a reminder that being a great Australian is within the grasp of every citizen of this country; you just have to be willing to have a go. Ian's approach was always to empower others. When he founded a movement first to clean up Australia and then to clean up the world, he sought not to attract followers but to produce leaders. Whether it was cleaning up beaches, parks and waterways, or planting trees, or conserving water, Ian's ultimate mobilisation of 30 million people in around a hundred countries was never about him. It was about empowering others to take action. As I said this morning, he observed the beauty of the land and the planet on which he lived and he tapped us all on the shoulder and he said: 'We've got to take care of this. It's our responsibility—each and every single one of us.' He did it by igniting that spark of personal responsibility in those supporters and volunteers who rose to the cause or, indeed, led that cause. 'You know best,' he would say.

Ian Bruce Carrick Kiernan was born near Sydney Harbour, which he loved, in 1940 to British migrants George and Leslie. As a builder, renovator and investor, he accrued a prodigious property portfolio, only to see it go belly up in the recession of '74. After that, he said he would do what any self-respecting young builder who sailed boats would do. 'I got on my yacht,' he said, 'and visited 36 of the most beautiful islands that I could find—Tahiti, Hawaii.' And he did it all in one year. But with the postcard imagery that had attracted him came an ugly awakening. It was while he was moored in Hawaii that an overnight downpour pushed a mountain of rubbish down from the local ravines, dumping it in the harbour. Ian surveyed the unsightly mass and instantly felt a twinge of new opportunity, of the difference he could make. However, it would be some years later, after he set an Australian solo world sailing record of 156 days in the 1986-87 BOC Challenge, that those feelings resurfaced into his life's mission. He later recalled seas that should have been magic and myth that were littered with rubbish:

First a rubber thong, then a toothpaste tube, a comb, a plastic bag … The rubbish popped up on both sides of the bow.

So Clean Up Australia Day began, as Clean Up Sydney Harbour Day, on Sunday, 8 January 1989.

The plan initially had been to contain the effort to Mosman's beaches, but Ian was the sort of guy with one eye always on the horizon, like a good sailor. One day he just said—and no offence to the member for Warringah, or indeed to the Speaker of the House for the language—'Bugger Mosman! Let's do the whole harbour.' And he did, with the help of an astonishing turnout of 40,000 Sydneysiders. It went national the next year. It also went gangbusters, bringing together 300,000 Australians to lend a hand.

On behalf of the government and this chamber, I extend our deepest condolences to Ian's family—to his wife, Judy; to his daughters, Sally and Pip; and to his son, Jack. Thank you, Ian Kiernan AO, for your service to our country and to our planet. May he rest in peace.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!