DEATH OF THE HON. ERIC LANCE BEDFORD, A FORMER MINISTER OF THE CROWN
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN [7.30 p.m.]: Eric Lance Bedford was born on 19 February 1928 at Concord, New South Wales, and, sadly, passed away on Saturday 8 July 2006 after a short illness. Eric was educated at Strathfield South Public School and then Fort Street Boys High School. After leaving school he went on to become a schoolteacher, and between 1947 and 1958 worked at a number of country centres. He then transferred to Liverpool Boys High School, where he taught economics and geography. From 1963 until 1968 he taught at Bankstown Girls High School. In May 1950 Eric married Muriel, or Jo as she is known, and the couple had three daughters. Two daughters predeceased Eric. During their retirement years Jo and Eric also took on the guardianship of two very young grandchildren. Eric first joined the Australian Labor Party when he was only 14 years old. An obituary published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday 10 July 2006 contained a quote that summed up Eric's commitment to the Labor Party:
I lived in a family where next to God was Jack Lang.
Along with holding many local branch positions, Eric was also Gough Whitlam's campaign director in 1966. Whilst Eric was teaching, a visit to his school from the local member of Parliament rekindled his interest in the Labor Party. That local member was none other than Gough Whitlam. During this visit Eric expressed his desire to become active in the party and Gough obliged by giving Eric a contact for the local branch. When Eric was teaching at Bankstown Girls High School he became active in the Fairfield South branch and he served on the party's State Executive. Throughout Eric's involvement with the Labor Party, his relationship with Gough Whitlam grew, and it was Gough who persuaded him to stand for the New South Wales Parliament. In 1968 he was elected to Parliament as the member for Fairfield and in 1976 he entered Cabinet as the Minister for Education.
That portfolio was dear to Eric's heart. He worked hard to lift the State's quality of education. He also set out to reduce class sizes, employ more teachers and introduce programs for children with learning difficulties and multicultural education programs. Always the schoolteacher, one of Eric's first directives when he became Minister was that a blackboard be put up in his office because, as he claimed, "You think better with a blackboard".
In 1980 Eric moved from the Education portfolio to Planning and Environment. In this role he implemented the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Eric was the driving force behind the Government's decision to preserve rainforests by preventing logging operations. In 1984 he again served as Minister for Education for a brief period, and following that he held the Industry and Decentralisation and Small Business and Technology portfolios. In December 1985 Eric retired from public office. Eric and Jo moved to the mid North Coast, where they bought a hobby farm called Zanzibar. Eric still maintained a very active role in the local Labor Party branches. One branch member who was particularly close to the Bedfords is Maggie Kennedy. Maggie and her late husband moved to the mid North Coast in the late eighties and decided to get involved in their local branch. At this time the branch only met every two months and the meeting was held at Eric and Jo's home. Maggie wrote a touching story, which was published in the Kendall Chronicle. She said the following of Eric:
Eric held the Branch presidency for many years. His vast political experience and continuing contacts with Party mates were of immense value both to the Branch and to those people in the community, regardless of political choice, who needed help with some problem or other at a government level.
Apart from his genuine love of the Australian Labor Party, educational heritage and environmental matters were very close to his heart. And then there was the Port Macquarie Race Club and the love of horses he shared with Jo. During his presidency of that Club, he oversaw all the great changes at the racecourse and its buildings which nowadays make going to the Port races a great day out.
Eric was a kind and gentle man. His death leaves a huge void, not only for Jo and the family but also for the Party here and all the friends he made during his happy days in the Camden Haven and beyond.
I certainly knew Eric as a kind and gentle man. He was highly thought of and respected by the people he dealt with over his years as a schoolteacher, politician, board member and active community person. Many people referred to Eric's disdain for dinner suits. To quote the Sydney Morning Herald obituary:
He promised that when he retired he would have a party on his small farm, run his dinner suit up the flagpole, salute it, lower it and burn it in an open fire. And he did.
I would like once again to express my sympathy to Jo, his daughter Judy and Eric's six grandchildren. His whole family can be proud of his efforts and achievements both in and out of politics.