Parliament Speeches

what's happening / speeches / The Hon. Brian Joseph Langton, Former Member for Kogarah, Member of the Legislative Assembly and Minister of the Crown

The Hon. Brian Joseph Langton, Former Member for Kogarah, Member of the Legislative Assembly and Minister of the Crown

Hansard ID: HANSARD-1323879322-139907

Hansard session: Fifty-Eighth Parliament, First Session (58-1)

The Hon. Brian Joseph Langton, Former Member for Kogarah, Member of the Legislative Assembly and Minister of the Crown


I welcome to the gallery family and friends of the former member for Kogarah Mr Brian Langton. I give a special welcome to Elizabeth Langton, Brian's wife; Davina Langton, Adele Langton and Celia Langton, his children; and Celia's husband, Elliott Hamann. I also welcome Luca Murray and Remy Murray, Mr Langton's grandchildren. I also welcome former Minister and member for Mount Druitt Richard Amery, former Government Whip and member for Rockdale George Thompson, former Deputy Government Whip and member for East Hills Alan Ashton and former member for Kogarah Cherie Burton. I also welcome to the gallery a guest of the member for Mt Druitt, Cheryl Samuels.

Mr CHRIS MINNS (KogarahPremier) (14:34:08):

— I move:

That this House:

(1)Extends its deepest sympathies to the friends and family of Mr Brian Joseph Langton, who passed away on 17 October 2023.

(2)Acknowledges Mr Langton's years of service, including as:

a)the member for Kogarah from 1983 to 1999, and

b)Minister for Transport and Minister for Tourism, and Minister for Fair Trading and Minister for Emergency Services.

(3)Recognises his significant contribution to the State of New South Wales over many decades.

Brian was a man of lifelong public service, as the Minister for Transport and Minister for Transport in the Carr Government, as the member for Kogarah for 16 years and as the mayor of Kogarah before that. To those of us who knew him, Brian was a generous friend, a mentor, a volunteer in the community, a man of energy, a man of action and, through it all, a warm and loving family man. The Parliament offers its deepest condolence to his friends and his family who are in the gallery today, and particularly to Elizabeth and to Brian's three daughters, Davina, Adele and Celia.

It was said at Brian's funeral that he was one of those rare people for whom contributing to his community was as natural as breathing. Rare as it might be, that mentality of service was always there from Brian's youngest days. After leaving school he joined the St Vincent de Paul Society, and before long he was serving as the president of its jail visitation program. That meant that every weekend Brian would get into the car and, instead of going to the beach or to the movies, he would drive to one of the State's prisons. Members will know that the prisons are often in regional communities in far-flung corners of the State. Brian offered company to the lonely and listened to the inmates. He helped family members survive on the outside. Later, he would make those extraordinary visits with Elizabeth, his future wife—which seems like a bit of a crummy first date, to be honest! Brian adored Elizabeth and they enjoyed a long, supportive and happy marriage for almost 50 years.

At the end of the day, Brian believed in social justice. That conviction carried him into politics, where he ran for Kogarah council as a 23-year-old. At the time the sitting member for Kogarah was Bill Crabtree, who had held the seat for almost three decades. Bill was a smart man, smart enough to know that Brian was a real threat—so much so that he decided to appoint his wife as the chair of the Kogarah electorate credentials committee. She is a neighbour of mine. What followed was a series of strange bureaucratic coincidences, in the finest traditions of the Labor Party. Applications were lost in the mail and signatures were struck down on arcane technicalities, with the result of blocking Brian's membership to our great party for a long time.

Luckily, Brian Langton was a determined man, and after three years his membership of the local branch was finally approved. Very soon after that, he was preselected as the candidate for Kogarah. He was then elected to Parliament on 22 October 1983, which was an auspicious day for the Labor Party because four by‑elections were held on that day. Brian, Richard Amery—who is in the gallery today—Andrew Refshauge and Bob Carr were all elected on the 22nd. All four became Ministers in a future Labor Government, and all four left a lasting legacy in the State of New South Wales.

Brian brought many gifts to public life. He had a quick and versatile mind, a way with words and a knowledge of the business world, all backed up by immense energy and an enormous work ethic. To rise to those positions, particularly from opposition, you need to work hard. It made him an extremely effective member of the Parliament. In opposition, Brian campaigned on behalf of rail workers who had been laid off by the Greiner Government. In a newspaper column at the time, Coalition Ministers anonymously nominated the one member of the Opposition frontbench they would like to poach for their own team, and the answer was Brian Langton.

After Labor's victory in 1995, Brian joined the Cabinet as the Minister for Transport and Minister for Tourism. He was very proud of the work that he accomplished in this place, particularly in expanding access for people with disabilities to the State's public transport system. He was instrumental in growing the fleet of wheelchair‑accessible buses in the State, and he took enormous satisfaction, quite justifiably, in correspondence he received on those reforms.

One letter was from a man named Kevin Byrne. Kevin lost the use of his legs as a teenager, and he contacted his local member one day to say, "Brian, I just got public transport to work for the first in my life". He was 16 years old. He went on to say, "It was only you who did it—accessible buses, accessible bus stops and an accessible railway station here at Kogarah". Friends, at the end of the day, that is what public life is all about—getting a letter from an individual like Kevin and knowing that you made a difference in this Parliament and in your community. As Brian said from this lectern in his last speech in Parliament, he was in politics to represent:

… the poor, the sick, the needy, the downtrodden, and those who are - for whatever reason - unable to fend for themselves, and embracing those who can contribute.

Brian was one of those contributors in our community over many decades, in both a public and a private capacity. He fought for a new cardiac ward at St George Hospital, and that unit continues to save lives today. He volunteered at the St George School, St George AFL club, Calvary Hospital and St George cancer centre. He gave his time to Lifeline and the Wayside Chapel. When I was preselected to run for Kogarah, I was aware of the kind of footsteps that I would be walking in—people who had not just been selected as MPs or Ministers but had become pillars of our community. I also came to learn, over time, that many of them were still around and active in Labor Party politics. Like many of the people I have come through politics with, such as Ryan and Jo and many others, I have been lucky enough to learn and receive support and advice over that journey from people like Brian Langton and Richard Amery—and Brian's daughter Davina and Brian's successor as the member for Kogarah, Cherie Burton.

Brian was a character. He was fantastic company. He was fun to be around, and he was extremely funny. Once, Bob Carr—a famously healthy man, for those who do not know, and devoted to his steel-cut oats—told his transport Minister that a sensible man should be having some fruit for breakfast. Brian replied that he did: He just knocked off a Cherry Ripe. He was irreverent, but it was underscored by an essential good nature. He was passionate. He cared about other people. He will be missed by the Labor Party and by this State, and his family has lost a beloved father and grandfather.

Mr MARK COURE (Oatley) (14:40:34):

I am honoured to speak on behalf of the Opposition to pay tribute to the former member for Kogarah, Brian Joseph Langton. The St George area has a tight-knit community. Anyone who has had the honour of representing the area in local, State or Federal politics knows this. My first interaction with Brian was as a young chap when I joined the Young Liberals in 1994. In the lead-up to the 1995 State election I would volunteer after school each afternoon for the Liberal candidate for Kogarah, Margaret Dombkins—I understand that she actually joined the Labor Party at a later stage.

Mr Nathan Hagarty:

There is still time.


There is still time for me, I am told. That clearly demonstrated Brian's persuasive abilities. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of his book and recruit some of my Labor opponents to the Liberal Party. It was during that formative period of my teenage years that I first witnessed Brian's dedication and passion to public service and the community he cherished so dearly. Brian's long career in politics spanned many aspects of our political system. He was first elected as an alderman to Kogarah council and later served as mayor from 1979 to 1980.

As the Premier mentioned, Brian went on to represent the good people of Kogarah in this place from 1983 to 1999, marking the start of what was to become an extraordinary 16-year political career. Brian became a Minister when Labor came to power in 1995, serving at various times as the Minister for Transport—in fact, he took the train to Parliament—Minister for Tourism, Minister for Fair Trading, and Minister for Emergency Services. From his early days as a young alderman on Kogarah council to his tenure in this place, Brian's passion for public service never wavered. He approached every role and every enormous responsibility with compassion, gusto and an unwavering dedication to the people he represented.

Beyond his political career, Brian's dedication to community service knew no bounds. He continued to give back to the community long after leaving office, volunteering his time and talents to organisations such as the Wayside Chapel, Lifeline, Meals on Wheels and St Vincent de Paul. His selfless devotion to helping those in need was a true reflection of his compassionate spirit and generous heart. He was also a champion of the St George Hospital Cancer Care Centre, assisting numerous times in fundraising to support those in need. Brian never failed to stand up for those in their time of need, always ensuring that he had the backs of those who needed his help most. In addition to his contributions to the community, Brian was also deeply involved in the world of sports, particularly AFL. For two decades he served on the New South Wales AFL judiciary, and he was a proud president of the St George Australian Football Club. Members of that club still speak highly of his wonderful contributions. His love for the game was matched only by his passion for his community, and his presence will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Brian's journey was truly one of service and dedication, marked by a steadfast commitment to making a difference in the lives of others. Even in his last years, I personally continued to witness this dedicated and talented spirit as every month I would sit next to him at our local council traffic committee meetings. Brian, as the Premier's local representative on that committee, would demonstrate his local knowledge by strongly pointing out why the council's plans were just not going to work, sending them back to the drawing board and keeping them on their toes. There was a wonderful partnership between the two of us on the local traffic committee for just over 12 months. I would approve anything he wanted, and of course he would approve anything that I wanted. It was a great combination.

Throughout his more than 28 years of public service, Brian was a fierce advocate for his constituents, fighting tirelessly to champion their interests and concerns. Whether it was lobbying the former Premier Neville Wran to fund the cardiac unit at St George Hospital, which is still running today—and his campaign to save that cardiac unit is still talked about, mentioned only recently by Professor Horton, who assisted in that campaign—or whether it was alongside Phil Bates, initiating the annual cycling promotion at Carlton, Brian's dedication to the St George area never wavered. His legacy of public service will endure for generations to come, a testament to his unwavering commitment to the betterment of our community. On behalf of the Opposition, I extend my deepest condolences to Brian's beloved wife of 47 years, Elizabeth, his daughters, and the entire Langton family. May he rest in peace, and may his life of dedication, passion and commitment be remembered for many more years to come. I will miss Brian at the local traffic committee.

Ms PRUE CAR (LondonderryDeputy Premier, Minister for Education and Early Learning, and Minister for Western Sydney) (14:46:51):

— I also express my condolences to the family of the late Brian Langton, the former member for Kogarah and former Minister for Transport. I offer those condolences to his wife, Elizabeth, his daughters, Davina, Adele and Celia, and his seven grandchildren. Brian was a man who brought good cheer to this place over many years—not a tribute that can be paid to many, I fear. As we have heard, he was held in very high regard by the Premier and the other former member for Kogarah, well known to many of us here, Cherie Burton. He was known to many members of this place, past and present, and made lasting friendships across the aisle. That was reflected in enormous attendance at his funeral. Many former Ministers and Premiers of broad political persuasions were in attendance.

Brian was larger than life. Those who served with him remember a man who was generous to others and always thoughtful to those who sought his advice and assistance in this place. While speaking to people in preparation for this motion, I discovered that Brian was well known for entertaining colleagues in the caucus room during late parliamentary sittings. He would play his guitar and sing hits from the '60s. I cannot imagine that happening now. I was told country and western rated highly, but he had quite a repertoire. To the delight of many, his voice and booming laughter would echo around the Parliament.

He was always generous with his advice to young and inexperienced backbenchers. I know how meaningful that would have been to many new MPs. I was also told that his quick wit was never really personal. He was king of the interjection, but it was always used to disarm, and he elicited a smile from many an Opposition member. His service to the people of Kogarah was exemplary, as the Premier said. He served in that role for over 15 years, which is quite a contribution. I am sure others will also recall that he had a long and positive involvement in public transport as shadow Minister and then Minister. He was instrumental in a campaign to remove tolls from roads around New South Wales. That may seem familiar to members of this place. In particular, the M5 cashback scheme, which was particularly important to the people of Kogarah, was championed and achieved by Brian Langton. He initiated the purchase of wheelchair‑assisted buses and ensured that many a transport project included local manufacturing. Some things stay the same.

After he left Parliament, he served as an independent board member of BusNSW from 2005 to 2012 and also in the role of chair. The private bus industry in New South Wales was not always a friend of the government. As always, Brian opened up avenues of communication that achieved better outcomes for the people of this State and the bus industry. He was masterful in bringing differing parties together. In 2008 the transport Minister, John Watkins, appointed Brian Langton to the position of Chair of Sydney Ferries. I am told it was a position he relished, constantly riding ferries and getting to know staff. Whilst in that role, patronage grew, safety improved, reliability and customer satisfaction increased, operating costs reduced, and staff voted in favour of a groundbreaking single maritime agreement. Importantly, the improvements led then Premier Kristina Keneally to reject an independent inquiry recommending the privatisation of Sydney Ferries. Even now, the then Minister boasts that Brian undertook the role with enthusiasm and great intelligence.

His extensive involvement in his local community was an extension of his gregarious nature, as was his involvement in politics and the great Labor family. He offered support and advice to many an up-and-comer in his local community. He served as president of St George Australian Football Club, was involved in St George Hospital and volunteered at the St George School—a beautiful school for specific purpose in the Kogarah area. The school is for students with intellectual, physical and multiple disabilities. It is a big contribution to make. It is hard to imagine that a personality as big as Brian's is gone. His beliefs, and mine, assure me that Brian continues to look out for his beautiful family. Hopefully, the memories of this incredible man will be ever remembered in the intelligence, thoughtfulness and legacy of public service that now rests with his three daughters and his beautiful grandchildren. I offer my deepest condolences to Elizabeth and the entire Langton family. Vale, Brian Langton.

Mr GEOFF PROVEST (Tweed) (14:52:04):

I speak about the Hon. Brian Langton. First, I offer my wholehearted condolences to Elizabeth and her family. I met Brian a number of years ago. To set the scene, I was a manager at the Georges River Sailing Club. I started working there in 1976 and had the pleasure of knowing the Hon. Billy Crabtree and his wife, Alice. Until the Premier's contribution, I was unaware about the issues that were occurring behind the scenes. Brian used to appear at the Georges River Sailing Club on a regular basis, and we had good rapport with one another. I always remember Brian as a bit of a larrikin; his smile and quick wit would break me up.

I lost track of Brian after I left the sailing club and went to the Revesby Workers' Club. I then ended up as the chairman of the local tourism board in Tweed Heads and, lo and behold, my good friend Brian Langton was the tourism Minister, so he visited several times. He once visited for the North Coast regional tourism awards, and I was in awe that somebody I knew was a Minister of the Crown. I was fairly young in those days. We were waiting for the awards announcements. Unfortunately, Brian and I had a bad habit in those days. He came sliding up to me and said, "Where can we go for a smoke?" I said, "Minister, I just had one near the fire escape around the back where no-one can see you." He said, "Good. We will go there." Right at that moment somebody from Tourism NSW, as it was known at the time, said, "Minister, you need to start the awards right away." He said, "Madam, leave me alone. I am talking to somebody of importance. We shall be ready when we are ready." As we walked out, he said to me, "Did you like that?" I said, "Minister, that is pretty cool. I liked that."

I tell a funny story about Brian. When I was a duty manager at Revesby Workers' Club, we had a fundraiser evening for the local Labor Party. There were lots of prizes and we did everything right. Brian and a few others came up to me and said, "Mr Provest, you should buy some tickets." Back in those days we did not have ATMs, so there was nowhere to get money out. A middy was 35¢ and a schooner was 45¢, so we did not need a great deal. I said, "Brian, I have only got a few dollars." I had to run into the safe and write an IOU for $25, which was a fair whack. I bought the tickets and won a $2,000 painting, which is still hanging in my house today. Thank you, Brian. I really appreciate it.

In later years I used to run into him around the corridors of Parliament House and we would talk about the old times. My father was the deputy principal at Carlton South Public School, which is across the road from St George Leagues Club, so I have a real bond with the area. Brian always showed me a great deal of respect. In many regards, even though we did not have a great deal of time together, he was sort of like an older brother to me. He kept saying to me, "You should join the Labor Party. You would be good at this." We used to laugh about it when he came to Parliament and I saw him at members' functions. Elizabeth and her family have experienced an enormous joy by knowing Brian. I know that today is a sad day. We look back and reflect, but we also need to look at the joy that he brought us. In the short time that I knew him, he brought me a great deal of joy and laughter. I wish I had his wit. On behalf of my electorate, I thank Brian Langton and offer my condolences to Brian's family.

Mr RON HOENIG (HeffronMinister for Local Government) (14:56:43):

— On behalf of the Parliament of New South Wales, I acknowledge the life and service of the Hon. Brian Langton, who passed away in October last year. I extend my heartfelt sympathies to Brian's wife, Elizabeth, his three children and his seven grandchildren during this difficult time. For more than 27 years, Brian diligently and fiercely represented the Kogarah community. He served as a staunch advocate for the people of Kogarah at both local and State Government levels. Born in Maroubra, his family moved to Carlton when Brian was five years old. He was educated at Marist College Kogarah, the same school as the Premier. He was a lifelong resident of the area and was steadfast in improving the lives of his constituents.

Brian joined the Labor Party at the age of 15. During his time in this place, Brian was a devoted Labor member and an important figure in the Carr Government. Like me and many other members of this place, Brian's political career had its origins in local government. Following in the footsteps of his father, Joseph, Brian was elected as an alderman of the former Kogarah municipal council in 1973 at the age of 23. He served on council for 12 years, including one term as mayor, until he left council in 1983 to run for State Parliament. His involvement in local government also extended to membership of the executive of the Local Government Association from 1981 to 1982.

Serving in local government provides a strong foundation for anybody entering this place. As the closest tier of government to the people of the State, being on council enriches one's perspective with a deep insight about the issues at the heart of the community. Whilst on council, Brian worked tirelessly to address those issues and enhance the lives of those within his local community of Kogarah. His tenacity carried into this place when he was elected as the member for Kogarah in 1983 at a by-election, and that marked the start of a 15-year parliamentary career.

In the early days Brian served as chair of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Road Safety. He was a member of several caucus subcommittees, including corrective services, police and emergency services, public works, ports and roads, sport and recreation, tourism, finance, employment, planning and environment. While Labor was in opposition, Brian served as shadow Minister for Transport for six years. When Labor came to government in 1995, he was appointed Minister for Transport and Minister for Tourism. Reflecting on his time leading the Transport portfolio, Brian was particularly proud of the increase in patronage on public transport and putting the issue of accessible public transport on the nation's agenda.

He worked hard to ensure members of the community with a disability were not excluded from public transport, campaigning for accessible buses, bus stops an train stations. He recounted conversations with constituents telling him that they were able to catch public transport for the first time since they were children because of the accessibility improvements that had been made under his watch. Brian later also served as Minister for Fair Trading and Minister for Emergency Services. He was a fierce champion of Labor values and always stood up to fight for people who could not stand up for themselves. In his final speech to this House, he reflected:

Being a Labor member was and is knowing that the party is the only one capable of representing the poor, the sick, the needy, the downtrodden, and those who are - for whatever reason - unable to fend for themselves, and embracing those who can contribute.

Beyond the political arena, Brian was well known for being an active volunteer and philanthropist in the local community. He selflessly dedicated his life, both while in his place and when he left Parliament, to give back over the years. He volunteered to local organisations including the Wesley Mission, Wayside Chapel, Lifeline, St Vincent de Paul Society and Meals on Wheels. He also contributed to the board of St George Hospital, St George School for children with disabilities and the St George Cancer Care Centre.

Brian was renowned for his love of aerial ping-pong—or Aussie Rules, as some call it—and his passionate involvement with Kogarah's Australian Rules football community. He served as President of the St George Australian Football Club and was an important part of the AFL Sydney Tribunal for more than 15 years, many of those years as chair. Brian played a pivotal role in setting up the inaugural AFL NSW/ACT Tribunal and was chair from its inception in 2020 until he stepped down in 2023. Shortly before his passing, Brian was given an AFL Sydney life membership, which made him one of less than 60 people to hold that honour.

I will tell the House a couple of stories of interactions that I had with Brian that well reflect him, the latter of which had a profound effect on me. The first was on election night in 1987. Brian, Elizabeth, Christine and I went to the Rockdale Mayoral Charity Ball. There we were in our dinner suits, participating in those mayoral charity balls that used to be quite frequently held in our constituencies. Word went out that the member for Barton, Gary Punch, was having an almost apoplectic reaction as the votes were being tallied and reported by scrutineers. Brian and I decided that we had better go to the Barton electorate office to see how we could help those people who were trying to manage Gary Punch.

It was Gary's third election, which meant that it was essential for Gary to be re-elected, because you needed to win three times to get a pension. Secondly, in those days Barton was very much a marginal seat. It was a bellwether electorate, and Gary Punch had only held that seat through sheer determination and hard work. As the votes were being tallied and Brian and I, in our dinner suits, went to the door of the electorate office—having left our wives at Rockdale Town Hall—we could hear the then member for Barton screaming in the high-pitched voice that only those who knew Gary well would regularly hear. As we went into his office and as phone calls were coming in from scrutineers, I decided the best way to deal with Gary was to lock him out of his office.

Brian and I locked ourselves in a room, and I was taking the calls from the scrutineers and writing them down. Brian had a lead pencil behind his ear, and he was scribbling on a piece of paper, licking the end of the pencil and working out the two-party preferred vote in his head. He just sat there calmly doing it, as if somehow everybody could perform that task. When the very last booth came in, within about 20 seconds Brian worked out the two-party preferred vote and proclaimed Gary to be the winner. That was at least 1½ or two hours before it was announced on television or anybody else knew. I found that to be the most remarkable mathematical calculation, and that quietly spoken, respectful individual had that skill.

Probably the most profound effect that Brian Langton had on me was something that I have never forgotten. It is something that has stayed with me from the time I had the conversation with Brian. Brian was the Minister for Transport in the Carr Government, and he lost that ministry under the most incredibly unfair circumstances. I said to Brian, "Mate, I'm really sorry. You were a great Minister for Transport. You've been treated so unfairly." That was not long after it happened, and he looked at me and said, "Ronnie, I've got everything I have in life because I've got three letters after my name. Those letters are ALP. If it wasn't for the ALP I never would have been the mayor of Kogarah. If it wasn't for the ALP I never would have been the member for Kogarah. If it wasn't for the ALP I never would have been a shadow Minister, and if it wasn't for the ALP I never would have been a Minister. So I very much value those letters that I have after my name and feel that I was incredibly privileged to have the opportunity that those three letters gave me." To this day, I remember that conversation.

Many of us—either members who have moved through this House or who have been in the political process—have generally felt defeat; have generally felt that they needed some other position that somebody else got; have felt that they have been dudded by their colleagues, their leaders or their party machines along the way; and have felt some sense of entitlement. But Brian Langton had no sense of entitlement. He just had a sense of appreciation and respect for the party he joined at 15 and the opportunities it gave. To me, that says everything about the man as a human being. It says everything about the man and his commitment both to the public and to the party that he served. I value the opportunity of being able to say that in this House, because it might remind all of us in this House of the privilege that we have and the privileges that have been extended to us because of membership of the political party that we represent in the New South Wales Parliament.

Brian will be remembered for his unwavering commitment to public office and for the lasting impact he left on the Kogarah community. He made it his life's mission to stand up for those less fortunate and to ensure that their voices were always heard.

Transcription in progress…