Gietzelt state memorial service: Labor stalwarts pay tribute to ‘trailblazer’

By Murray Trembath
Updated February 6 2014 - 4:30am, first published 3:41am

Former Sutherland Shire president and senator Arthur Gietzelt was remembered today as a man of passionate conviction  and a ‘‘trailblazer’’ who was well ahead of his time.
More than 200 people attended a state memorial service at Sutherland Entertainment Centre for Mr Gietzelt, who died on January 4, aged 93.
Former prime minister Bob Hawke said Mr Gietzelt was the best veterans affairs minister in Australian history.
Mr Hawke said, ironically, his appointment had been met with ‘‘consternation’’ from ex-servicemen’s groups because of Mr Gietzelt’s strident criticism of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war.
The groups had overlooked the fact that Mr Gietzelt had served for two years in New Guinea during World War II and had been on the executive of the RSL in NSW for three years after the conflict.
Mr Hawke said Mr Gietzelt’s efforts as minister were appreciated quickly, and by the end of the year, the leaders of the RSL and Vietnam Veterans Association had come to “love” him and warned Mr Hawke not to think of moving him in a cabinet reshuffle.
Senator John Faulkner said Mr Gietzelt had been an ‘‘enduring influence” in Sutherland Shire through the role he played in developing a new community.
He said Mr Gietzelt had fought for what he believed in, even when it meant taking on the local surf life saving movement when he led Sutherland Shire Council in banning a racially-selected South African team from a local competition during the battle against apartheid.
Labor front-bencher Anthony Albanese said Mr Gietzelt’s story was ‘‘one of passionate and privileged conviction, of standing up for what he believed to be right and refusing to back down when the going got tough”.
‘‘Much of his activism was way ahead of his time,’’ he said.
‘‘Arthur was a trailblazer who had the courage to pursue positions that in his own era were not always fashionable but he was usually on the right side of history.”
Mr Albanese said Mr Gietzelt had fought for “racial equality, gender equality and gay liberation as he liked to call it”.
More in the Leader next week.