Monday 6 February, 2023
Condolence Motion – Australian Senate

Simon Birmingham: I move that the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death on 16th January 2023 of, Senator Andrew James (Jim) Molan AO DSC, Senator for New South Wales and retired Major General. And places on record its appreciation and gratitude for his service to the nation and the Parliament and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

President as I move this motion to mark the contribution made by our late dear colleague Jim Molan, I begin by giving thanks. The celebrant at Jim’s funeral, Father James Grant, asked one particular thing of all of us in memory of Jim. It was to better embrace the attitude of gratitude that Jim demonstrated for all that was good in his life and for those who enriched it.

Firstly, I posthumously thank Jim for his service to our nation and to our Parliament for the deep and abiding values that he lived across all facets of his life and for the care and friendship that he demonstrated to family, to friends, to soldiers in arms, to colleagues, and to countless others.

It is in Jim’s memory that this Senate rightly gathers today. I acknowledge the thoughtful consideration of Senator Wong in enabling me to move this motion on behalf of Jim’s former Senate colleagues today. I thank all of those who enriched Jim’s life and who enabled his contribution to Australia, most particularly his dearly loved wife Anne, children, Michael, Felicity, Erin and Sarah, Jim’s adored grandchildren, his siblings, parents and extended family.

To Anne and the other family members gathered in the gallery today I send a big loving hug your way. We will hear much today of Jim’s service to our nation. Fittingly so. But it is the service of others in support of Jim that he would wish us to firstly acknowledge today. In acknowledging Jim, we also say thank you to all of those who served alongside Jim in our defence forces, in public service roles, in community or political organisations. Here in the Australian Senate or in so many other walks of life. Jim was grateful for all that you gave him. And so too are we as recipients of his wisdom, his work, his camaraderie and his friendship. I extend particular acknowledgement to Jim’s parliamentary and electorate staff who have lost a leader to whom their commitment was evident and for whom they gave so much assistance, especially during some of his most trying times.

President, Andrew James Molan was born in Melbourne on 11th April 1950. Australia was in the early years of a halcyon post-war period of growth, rising prosperity and relative stability. Globally, however, the uncertainties of the Cold War was to hang over the years ahead. Jim was one of six children born to Andy and Noni Molan. Jim described Andy, a World War Two veteran and Noni, as being quintessentially working class people who earned a middle class lifestyle via their hard work. He particularly acknowledged the drive of his mum in helping her children to view education as a vehicle for success in life.

Pursuing his childhood ambitions, Jim was admitted at the age of 18 into the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Both liked and respected by his classmates while at Duntroon and all throughout his life, Jim lived true to his view that blind obedience does not make for good soldiers. He would challenge and test, occasionally earn reprimand, but ultimately show the same respect in the same way that he earned the respect of those who served with him. As he said in his first speech to this place, leadership is everything. Leadership certainly was at the heart of everything that Jim achieved.

While at Duntroon Jim was to meet Anne Williams, the love of his life and true partner in his life. Their married life was to start in the midst of Jim’s first overseas posting from 1972 to 1975 in Papua New Guinea. This was to be his first period of service as an Australian serviceman, helping another country on their journey along the sometimes difficult path towards democracy. Jim would go on to serve in Indonesia using his Bahasa language skills on two postings as Australia’s defence attache, including during the fall of the Suharto regime. He served in East Timor as it moved towards independence in the Solomon Islands and in Iraq. He was to see different threats, notably terrorism growing, the challenge they posed and the nature of conflict evolve with those changes in threats and technology. But whatever those changes, Jim was always emphatic that people and leadership remained the keys to success. It was in Iraq that while serving as chief of operations to the multinational force, Jim had effective responsibility for the command of more allied troops than any other Australian military leader since World War Two.

While never pretending that these operations were faultless. Jim was rightly proud of the role so many played in trying to support peace, democracy and self-determination. During his 40 years of service in the Australian Army. Jim would also serve in Malaysia, Germany and the United States. He was to serve in the ninth Battalion, Royal Queensland Regiment, the Third and Sixth Battalions, Royal Australian Regiment, and as the Commander of the Australian Defence Colleges. Along the way he was also to train as a helicopter pilot, cementing one of his great loves, flying.

Jim and Anne were also to welcome four children amidst the transient and mobile life of military service. Sarah in 1981, Erin in 1983, Felicity in 1984 and Michael in 1989. In July 2008. By then, Major General Molan retired from the Army. Jim was rightly highly decorated, having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 2006, being made an officer by the United States in the Legion of Merit in 2004, and firstly a member of the Order of Australia in 1992. Subsequently an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2000.

Retirement was never likely to suit Jim Molan, though. His first book, Running the War in Iraq, was published in 2008. Jim and Anne settled on a property near Queanbeyan and he threw himself into service as a member of the local volunteer bushfire brigade. He was to use his love of flying to support rescue and emergency operations and also take that knowledge, skills and his leadership attributes to become a director of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre.

Public service was soon to call again in a different way. Jim has been acknowledged by former prime ministers Abbott and Morrison as a co-author of the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy. With the election of the Abbott government in 2013, Jim was appointed as a special envoy to help oversee its implementation. As Jim was to subsequently say, I quote:

“Australia had to consistently demonstrate national resolve in facing down the people smugglers.”

Jim was a big part of that resolve, which didn’t just stop the boats, but also stopped the deaths at sea and enabled the winding down of offshore processing centres. Through this time. Jim had also been a frequent and thoughtful commentator on national security matters, writing extensively about the challenges faced in the war in Afghanistan, the ongoing threats of terrorism, the battle for democracy, the strength of Western values and border protection policies.

Jim’s many divergent experiences, his love of country and his love of public policy culminated in him becoming active in the Liberal Party and seeking Senate pre-selection ahead of the 2016 double dissolution election. He was to be unsuccessful in securing a winnable position, but fate or destiny were clearly determined that Jim was to serve in this place. It is likely that Jim Molan is the only senator in history to have been declared elected by the High Court as a result of the disqualification of others, then lost the subsequent election from another unwinnable position on a Senate ticket, then chosen to fill a Senate casual vacancy and then successfully re-elected on his third attempt. Such a roller coaster experience may have embittered others, but not Jim Molan. He treasured every single day that he was a member of the Senate from December 2017 to June 2019 and again from November 2019 until his death last month. Jim Molan was determined to make each day here count, and he did.

Looking back on his first speech five years ago in 2018, Jim demonstrated his deep intellect and knowledge in global affairs and military strategy. He specifically singled out the impact of Russia, Iran, China and North Korea in threatening the liberal world order and creating strategic uncertainty and instability. In different ways events and actions that have occurred since have certainly validated his concerns from that time.

Some commentators portrayed Jim purely as a China hawk. This was simplistic and overlooked Jim’s earliest statements that we should welcome China’s emergence as a world power, especially the development gains it has delivered for humanity. He was clear that we should welcome China, though, from a position of strength and needed to increase our self-reliance. For Jim, it was a simple case of showing leadership in the face of a saying that he often repeated:

“Be ready and be strong because the world is a nasty and brutal place.”

Jim was willing to speak out even when it was uncomfortable for those he liked, trusted or supported. He did so with a sense of duty, a sense of purpose, and a belief that it was necessary for him to do so for the sake of the country that he loved and to preserve its values of liberty and democracy.

Self reliance was something Jim argued required a comprehensive national security strategy embodying much more than just the purchase of military equipment or defence force posture. He wrote about this along with the potential threats we face in his final book, Danger on Our Doorstep, for which Jim undertook interviews with an array of respected global military thinkers and strategists. Many former defence ministers were recipients of Jim’s wisdom, whether it had been solicited or not. But it was nearly always welcomed because it was delivered with the purest of motivations, the deepest of conviction and the greatest of consideration.

Once on a mission to achieve an outcome Jim’s efforts were never solely directed at Defence ministers. Prime ministers and others, including finance ministers, were not exempt. I too, was the subject of Jim’s drive to ensure Australia’s national security capabilities were not narrowly defined through the prism of defence posture or defence materiel. But in all aspects of our industrial and societal capability. Unfailingly polite, but equally relentless. Jim would make his case in meetings, conversations, reports, papers, messages, interviews and articles. It was this advocacy by Jim that in part saw the specific budgeting of funding for a dedicated Office of Supply Chain Resilience in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Many other colleagues will have their own examples of the impact Jim had on policies, decisions and recommendations throughout his time here, which also saw him make thoughtful contributions on issues such as veterans well-being, nuclear energy, and at a very personal level stillbirths.

A senator for New South Wales in the true sense of those words, Jim was also deeply committed to representing the state of New South Wales. As Tourism Minister, I travelled with Jim throughout south coast communities to meet businesses struggling from the impact of bushfires and the onslaught of COVID. These were never just visits, though, because Jim’s follow up was relentless. It was clear that he cared. Jim’s advocacy was respected so widely because it was consistent. If you knew Jim and understood his values, then you could nearly always know where he was likely to come from. As The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan wrote following his death:

“More than anyone I’ve known In Jim Molan, there was not a sliver of daylight between what he said and what he did.” 

But that predictability did not mean that Jim could be neatly categorised or pigeonholed. He said that on social issues he would make his mind up issue by issue and he did voting yes in the same sex marriage vote and quietly supporting the principle of an Australian republic. The last two years of Jim’s service as a senator were a difficult time. He battled cancer with a determination and a resilience that surprised none who knew him. Jim had more to do, more to give, and desperately wanted more time with Anne, with his children, and especially with his five grandchildren.

Complaint was never a part of how Jim responded to his cancer diagnosis. As it’s been noted elsewhere, If anything, he shielded those he loved and those he worked alongside as much as he could. Always painting an optimistic view of when he would be back at full speed. Treatments and infections did impede Jim’s ability to do all that he wanted to, but he never stopped contributing. Continuing to undertake interviews, to write, to scrutinise and to hold governments to account, both ours and the New Labour Government.

Following the change of government last year, Jim kept reassuring me that even when he could not attend sittings due to treatment, he was working with his team on questions for new ministers and that he would be back here for estimates. True to form, he was back here at estimates, making his last appearance at Defence estimates on nine November last year to grill officials in his polite way on the Defence Strategic Review. Their military preparedness over five and ten year horizons and the divergent threats that Australia faces. Jim Molan was true to form serving the interests of Australia right to the end.

It is perhaps fitting that I was in Papua New Guinea, the country of Jim’s first overseas posting, when I was advised on the evening of Monday, 16 January of his death. It is a death felt with great sadness by all of Jim’s colleagues who valued his abiding commitment to Australia. His diligence is part of our Liberal and Coalition Senate team and his thoughtful, caring friendship.

As a national outpouring of respect and commemoration ensued. It is clear that Jim’s life had touched and earned the respect of countless individuals. Australia has lost a true patriot in the best sense of that word, and a serviceman who demonstrated unwavering dedication to the safety and security of our nation.

Jim Molan served Australia as a soldier, a diplomat, a senator, a community volunteer and a strategist. He was a man of principle who was willing to make sacrifices for his beliefs and embody the best of service to his nation.

We can all best honour Jim, by remaining diligent to the enduring safety, security and peace that we rely upon to safeguard Australia’s democracy, liberty and prosperity.

Jim’s funeral service concluded with a reading from the Infinity, a poem written by Captain Philip Greaves during World War Two. The poem concludes with the stanza:.

“Should you meet him, untidy but grimed and fatigued. Don’t indulge in unwarranted mirth. For the brave, infanteer deserves more than your sneer. He is truly the salt of the earth.” 

Jim Molan was truly the salt of the earth. We are each better for knowing him and wiser for having served alongside him.

Australia is stronger thanks to Jim’s comprehensive service to our nation. His life did make a difference.

Thank you, Jim. We salute you, vale.