2 June 2024

Farewell to Gary Nairn AO, former parliamentarian and committed community servant

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Gary Nairn AO (l) with the late Tony Coote at Mulloon, Bungendore. Photo: File

Former Liberal Member for Eden-Monaro and committed environmental repair advocate Gary Nairn AO has died at the age of 73 after a period of illness.

Described by his friend and former Liberal candidate Jerry Nockles as “a man of unparalleled dignity and composure”, Mr Nairn was the Member for Eden-Monaro between 1996 and 2007, in the final throes of the seat’s tenure as bellwether for the nation, and in later years became increasingly involved with regenerative agriculture and conservation initiatives.

Born in Sydney in 1951, Mr Nairn was educated at Sydney Boys High and the University of NSW. He worked as a registered surveyor in private practise and managing director of a surveying company until 1996.

His political engagement began in the Northern Territory, where he joined the Country Liberal Party in 1987, becoming president between 1990 and 1994. In 1995 he was given honorary life membership of the party. Mr Nairn also worked internationally, in the UK and Geneva.

He was elected as Federal Member for Eden-Monaro in 1996 and was re-elected in 1998, 2001 and 2004. Mr Nairn served as Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister John Howard, with responsibility for water reform, recognising his enduring interest in resources and the environment.

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Mr Nairn headed the federal government’s enquiry into the 2003 Canberra bushfires, published as “A Nation Charred”. The enquiry found while there was no ‘one size fits all’ strategy to bushfire risk reduction, there were a number of issues regarding appropriate design in bushfire zones, insurance, community preparedness, the toll on emergency services and, in particular, the liability of public landholders for care and maintenance of high-risk zones.

Promoted to the front bench as Special Minister of State in 2006, his responsibilities included Ministerial and Parliamentary Services, the Australian Government Information Management Office, Film Australia and the Australian Electoral Commission.

In 2007, Mr Nairn lost Eden-Monaro to Labor’s Mike Kelly in the Rudd landslide, among five other front benchers and the Prime Minister, but retained his strong interest in community building and resilience.

In 2015, he was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia for his contribution to spatial sciences, NSW and NT communities, Federal Parliament and disability support services.

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In Canberra, he worked closely with the construction of the Alliance Francaise, and was the strategic advisor for Monaro Early Intervention Services, a not-for-profit organisation helping young children with disabilities.

He became national chair of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Australia in 2018, driving significant growth and participation, and also became a director of the Biodiversity and Conservation Trust of NSW.

The Mulloon Institute at Bungendore became a particular passion and he chaired the Institute’s board between 2018 and 2024.

Founded in 2011 by Tony Coote AM and his wife Toni, Mulloon is recognised globally as a demonstrator of sustainable agriculture and environmental regeneration. The Institute believes that the long-term sustainability of both agriculture and the environment requires balance and working together in unison to benefit Australia’s farmers and communities.

Speaking about the Mulloon Creek Catchment project across 50km of waterways, Mr Nairn said the collaboration between 20 local farmers showed repair and rehydration of the landscape was possible and that environmental restoration was valuable from the perspective of agricultural productivity.

Mr Nairn is survived by his wife Rose, children Ben and Deborah and grandchildren. His first wife, Kerrie, predeceased him.

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Peter Norton6:47 pm 02 Jun 24

Gary was also a key part of the Save Our Snowy campaign that successfully stopped the privatisation of Snowy Hydro. The sale by the federal government looked a certain thing, and despite having the odds against them, the team managed to get the decision changed. It’s interesting to think about whether or not the Snowy 2.0 project, that is now creating so much employment for the region, could have been possible if Snowy Hydro had been sold. Gary also achieved many other good things for the region. Thank you Gary, and RIP.

Brendan Vernon2:10 pm 03 Jun 24

Maybe if it had been in private hands, the ballooning cost would have been borne by private shareholders rather than the taxpayer and/or wouldnt have gone ahead which in hindsight seems like the correct decision

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