The Hon. (Sir*) Jim Samios MLC (1933-2011)

Word today that Jim Samios, Liberal Member of the NSW Upper House from 1984 to 2003, has passed away. Let me not pretend that I have any special insights with respect to his life and achievements, but his is a career worth acknowledging.

In the remembrances for him, it will be much said that he was a gentleman. (The asterisked “Sir” in the post title reflects his nickname, “Sir Jim”, among a number of his Parliamentary colleagues; I believe Duncan Gay may have referred to him at least once as “Lord James”. Thankfully, “Lord Jim” was not employed.)

That Samios was a gentleman is so true; in fact, it was my first reaction today upon recalling my observations. But to think that sufficient is to neglect a career of great distinction. 

Samios was a lawyer, but his most significant contributions prior to his entry into Parliament, were holding Chairs of the Ethnic Communities Council, the Migrant Settlement Committee and Community Refugee Committee. He held the latter post in the late 1970s, as the Fraser Government had started its controversial program of admitting Indo-Chinese refugees into Australia.

With the gradual dismantling of “assimilation” and the emergence of multiculturalism, Samios was at the forefront of these reforms. He was appointed to the SBS board, a key element in establishing multiculturalism in Australian society.

Yes, Samios was a gentleman, but do not neglect the steel. No-one who was second on their party’s Upper House ticket upon their first election, held their place for nigh on 20 years, was a Parliamentary Secretary and Deputy Liberal Leader in the Upper House for 8 years, should be underestimated.

At the time I was engaged in the Parliament, Samios as well as his colleagues Franca Arena (ALP), Jim Kaldis (ALP), and Helen Sham-Ho (Lib) had each come from active roles in ethnic associations, ethnic media, and advisory and lobby groups. Each of their elections might be read as a reward from their parties for establishing ethnic strongholds, and the realities of politics would say you were right.

But upon their various elections, they would be given the role of maintaining these connections, in terms of advocacy and education, from the Parliament, and Government or Opposition, as the case may be. Samios excelled here; to name just two areas, anti racial vilification legislation and a charter of principles for a culturally diverse society.

Given the nature of the Upper House, unelected for so long and with few of its powers exercised to hold the Assembly in check, it was a rather shy and retiring chamber. Certainly, Samios was not the only MLC you would have described as a gentleman.

Post 1995, with the change in the dynamics of the Upper House coming from the cross benchers holding the balance of power, came a more hardball style of politics. Some of this was down to the fluidity (or what seemed to some as the chaos) of proceedings, older MLCs retiring, younger, and even somewhat aggressive successors, and greater factional controls.

It was during this time that Samios was Deputy Leader of the Upper House Liberals, and as an active MLC, was hardly biding his time. But with his departure and those of some other senior figures from all sides of politics in 2003, one might see that is an end of an era.

I remember several of Samios’ speeches, where he drew from the great seams of culture and learning that ran through Greek history. He would quote classic texts without pomposity or condescension. He took tremendous pride in this being part of his heritage.

But he took greater pride in this being part of the heritage of Parliamentary democracies. He was proud that he was a Member of Parliament in a country where parliaments held an essential and honoured place in the making of laws, and gave life to the concepts of democracy from so long ago.

He had every cause to be proud of this, but ultimately, to be proud of a life that left his country changed for the better.

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