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In Memory of US Senator John McCain

Monday, 27th August 2018

A message from the Hon Kim Beazley AC

The passing of Senator John McCain sees Australia lose a great friend and the US a powerful voice for decency where that is now at a premium. McCain would stand up for his convictions and his country in the face of a torturer or an unworthy political leader. He rarely compromised his values but was always prepared to reach across the aisle for a compromise in the interests of a better governing outcome.

I hope I counted as a friend. I saw him often in Washington. Every Australian politician coming through DC wanted to meet with him. He always obliged. He was always prepared to host a gathering on the Hill for the Australian / American Leadership Dialogue or the Embassy.

His affection for us began as he visited for R and R during the Vietnam War. He had high and sometimes uncomfortable expectations of us. He believed the military a critical diplomatic tool to be wielded for freedom. He believed we should be in it, and his assessment of us was that we would be. Unusually for an American leader he saw the South Pacific a critical part of the globe. He saw Australia as the only country capable of protecting the sovereignty of the states of the region. He always used to refer to me as the worst of Ambassadors. He understood the Australian proclivity for ‘taking the piss’.

It is hard to calculate his leaving the Senate. Moral courage has deserted much of the benches. He wasn’t always right but he was fearless. He was readily capable of admitting error. Unusual in a political leader. He was absolutely right on what made the legislative institutions work and the correct relationships between members. He did not compromise with foolish cowardly nativism.

He had an incandescent temper. As he grew older that was better and better directed. Those who enraged him thoroughly deserved the rage. He was always direct with a sense of humour and irony.

I am surprised by my feelings on learning of his passing. He was an uncomfortable ally as some of his adventures, had they occurred, would have had fraught consequences. Some did. Problem was he always expected a full blown military commitment basically not deliverable, but without it failure likely. Odd that you don’t agree with a bloke but you hope someone is around to say the things he does. Someone putting a premium on a global advocacy of democratic freedom. You had the certainty if we were ever in trouble his powerful voice would advocate successfully American support.

But above all I am fearful of the removal of a powerful voice, maybe the only one, for decent order in Congress and fearless upholding of the constitution. American institutions were weakened last night.

Deepest sympathy to the family. All honour to the old comrade.

Let those who would handle
Make sure they can wield
His far-reaching sword
And his close-guarding shield:
For those who must journey
Henceforward alone
Have need of stout convoy
Now Great-Heart is gone.

Rudyard Kipling, “Great-Heart”