BAUME, Peter Erne (1935– )
Senator for New South Wales, 1974–91 (Liberal Party of Australia)

Peter Baume, who served for seventeen years in the Senate, was a small ‘l’ Liberal in the Deakinite tradition, representing the ameliorative and interventionist strand of the Liberal Party. Baume was sometimes at odds with his party’s public position and was prepared to cross the floor on issues of principle. He enjoyed distinguished careers in three separate areas of endeavour (medicine, politics and academia).

Peter Erne Baume was born on 30 January 1935 in Sydney, New South Wales, the eldest of four children of Sidney Erne Baume, a radio station manager and later an advertising agent, and his wife Jean, née Brodziak. There was a distinct family tradition of public service with his grandfather, great-uncle and cousin all being politicians. His grandmother, Rosetta Baume, was among the first group of women to stand for the New Zealand Parliament in 1919. Her husband, Frederick Baume, was a New Zealand parliamentarian from 1902 until his death in 1910. A great-uncle, John Jacob Cohen, was Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly (1917–19). Former Senator Michael Baume is his cousin. Eric Baume, a celebrated journalist, author and broadcaster, was an uncle. Other relatives chose the medical profession. From his parents Baume absorbed ‘classical liberal democratic values’, including personal autonomy, and a sense of caring and obligation.

Peter Baume’s first schooling was in Melbourne, where his father managed radio station 3UZ. He was a pupil at Ormond State School and Melbourne Grammar’s preparatory school, Grimwade House, Caulfield. When the family returned to Sydney, they lived at Collaroy on Sydney’s northern beaches. Baume attended Narrabeen Public School, then North Sydney Boys’ High School for a short period, and went on to Sydney Grammar School (1949–51). After matriculation he discharged his national service obligation as a medical orderly with the RAAF at Richmond, NSW. On 15 December 1958, he married Jennifer Broughton Tuson at St Swithun’s Anglican Church, Pymble; they would have a daughter and a son.

Baume entered the medical course at the University of Sydney and graduated in 1959 (MB BS). As a university student he was apolitical and played rugby union. His early medical career included residency and registrarship at Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, and membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (1962). Baume won three research scholarships in gastroenterology, which took him to the UK (1963) and the USA (1964–65) and enabled him to complete a Doctorate of Medicine at the University of Sydney in 1969. His military service included the post of regimental medical officer, University of NSW Regiment (CMF) from 1960 to 1962, having transferred to the reserve list of officers. Before entering the Senate he was in private practice as a consultant gastroenterologist and physician and held clinical lecturing positions at the University of Sydney.[1]

Baume joined the NSW Liberal Party in 1970, becoming president of the Gordon branch within a year. He was encouraged to seek political office by Don Dobie, MHR, an Assistant Minister in the McMahon Coalition Government. The Liberals were anxious to recruit a medical practitioner in the light of Whitlam’s Medibank proposals, but Baume was unsuccessful in gaining pre-selection for the safe north shore seat of Berowra. Bruised by the experience, he was mentored in politics by Senator John Carrick, and won preselection for the Senate.

Baume was elected to the Senate on 18 May 1974 in a double dissolution election in the midst of the dramatic years of the Whitlam Labor Government. With ten senators to be elected, he held the fifth position on the NSW Liberal/Country Party ticket. Baume endured an agonising wait before winning the final seat on the 72nd count. He was elected again in 1975, 1977, 1983 and 1987.

Baume delivered his first speech to the Senate on 10 July 1974. He accused the Whitlam Government of failing to control inflation, and neglecting Australia’s defences. Acknowledging that the Labor Government had proposed social welfare reforms, he said that he would attack them on the basis that they lacked equity. Baume recognised the Senate’s ‘very great power and responsibility’ and declared that it was ‘not subordinate to any other chamber … I refuse to agree that its rights or powers are in any significant way circumscribed’. Appreciative of the value of the Senate’s committee system, he expressed optimism about the chamber’s future. In 1975 Baume had initial doubts about the wisdom of the Opposition blocking supply, but Rex Connor’s resignation in mid-October convinced him that the Whitlam ministry was ‘not fit to govern’.

Baume would later describe himself as ‘wet behind the ears’ and ignorant of the extent of social need when he entered Parliament. His views changed gradually, and he moved ‘more and more to a classic liberal position’, including a belief in the central importance of empowerment and increased opportunity. He became a close confidant of the party’s best-known small ‘l’ Liberal, Alan Missen.[2]

As a backbencher for three years, Baume asked questions and addressed issues on a remarkably wide range of topics including health, social welfare, education, the environment and conservation, telecommunications, Aboriginal issues and international affairs. He especially enjoyed work on estimates committees, and later wrote, ‘I became a real expert … so that officers did not like having to appear before me’. One of Baume’s most significant contributions was his chairmanship of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare. The committee’s comprehensive review of evaluation in Australian health and welfare services contained in the 1979 report, Through a Glass, Darkly: Evaluation in Australian Health and Welfare Services, provided impetus to the greater use and legitimacy of evaluation techniques (e.g. program budgeting and performance indicators) across many public social programs.

Another of the committee’s reports, Drug Problems in Australia—an Intoxicated Society, published in 1977, proved controversial and radical and stands as a pathfinding enquiry into alcohol and drug addiction. For Baume, and for other committee members, this was ‘an immense learning experience’. The report emphasised that drug abuse was essentially a social and medical problem, rather than a legal one, and urged the establishment of a national strategy on drug abuse. One of the report’s central themes was that alcohol, if consumed to excess, should be considered as a drug on a par with tobacco, prescription and illicit drugs. Recognising that there was significant alcohol abuse in Australian society, the report recommended that all levels of government ban the advertising of alcohol and suggested the introduction of random breath testing of drivers. Prime Minister Fraser, embarrassed by the report, appointed a Royal Commission headed by Justice Edward Williams, which rejected most of its recommendations.[3]

Appointed Deputy Government Whip in the Senate in 1977, Baume served as Government Whip from 1978 until 1980. Following the Coalition’s electoral victory in October 1980, Baume held several portfolios: Minister Assisting the Minister of National Development and Energy (1980–82), Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (1980–82), Minister for Health (1982) and Minister for Education (1982–83), when promoted to the inner Cabinet. As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, he was rated by fellow senator and political opponent Stephen Loosley as ‘one of the more effective and compassionate people to hold the portfolio’. Baume had been a councillor of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Affairs (1974–80) and understood the difficulties involved in trying to resolve ‘problems that have built up over 200 years’. He considered ‘listening’ and a capacity for negotiation to be essential elements of his role in dealing with a great diversity of Indigenous communities. He regarded his major achievements as land rights legislation in Queensland, budget management education and the introduction of Indigenous health programs.

In opposition from March 1983, Baume held the shadow ministerial portfolios for youth affairs (1983–84), education (1983–84), status of women (1984–87), and community services (1985–87). He was a member of the Parliamentary Liaison Group on AIDS (1985–91), and from 1985 was vice-president of the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Group. Baume served as a Temporary Chairman of Committees from 1987 until 1991.

As Opposition shadow minister responsible for the status of women, Baume delivered a passionate speech in support of the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Bill in June 1986. He traced the history of discriminatory practices against women and noted the slow progress of reform. Demonstrating his commitment to the cause of equal opportunity, he crossed the floor in May 1987 to support the Labor Government on the third reading of the Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Bill. He was joined by six Liberal colleagues. Baume stressed that he was bound to endorse the measure as he believed ‘passionately in equality of opportunity and removing barriers, wherever they may be, which prevent people from exercising that equality’. He asserted that ‘Liberalism is not and has never been just an economic doctrine. Liberalism cannot be presented as such to an informed electorate’, and said that he would ‘fight still for a continuing Liberal vision of a society of free and powerful individuals each able to control his or her own life’. For Baume, crossing the floor on this issue was a ‘momentous’ personal decision, and as a result he resigned from the shadow cabinet. He realised that that his liberal principles ‘sat poorly with the increasingly dominant radical conservatism’ of his party and that his vote meant that he was ‘finished in the Liberal Party’.[4]

In his role as a member of the state council and state executive of the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party, Baume was familiar with party strife. In 1984 he was a founding member of a small body of influential NSW Liberals known as the ‘group’, which, for more than a decade, was successful in its aim of reducing debilitating factional warfare within the branch.

Prior to the 1987 general election the federal Liberals were also experiencing internal problems, which centred on ideological, policy and personality differences. This was compounded by the difficult relationship with the Nationals, exacerbated by the Joh Bjelke-Petersen push for Canberra. Baume and some Liberal colleagues were especially troubled by the increased emphasis in the party on economic rationalism and ‘dry’ economics. In May 1987, during an ABC Four Corners program, Baume and other like-minded Liberals expressed their misgivings over the ‘new right’ policies being proposed by some in the Coalition. Baume asserted that privatisation and deregulation were not goals in themselves. At this time he was a leading member of a group called the Liberal Forum, consisting of small ‘l’ liberals both inside and outside the parliamentary party. Regular meetings were held, and occasional papers published, with Baume acting as editor. The members of the forum saw it as a reform group dedicated to ‘raising the level of public debate and discussion about the philosophical and political direction of the Liberal Party of Australia’.

In August 1988, Baume voted for a Labor Government motion on immigration (originally proposed by Prime Minister Hawke in the House of Representatives). The Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Button, moved that the Senate give its ‘unambiguous and unqualified commitment’ to the principle of a racially non-discriminatory immigration policy for Australia. In mid-1988 there had been a brief, but highly-charged, public debate on the increase in Asian immigration to Australia. This had been fuelled by some National Party members advocating a greater racial balance in the immigration intake, while Liberal leader John Howard had referred to the need for ‘social cohesion’. The theme was taken up by John Stone, Senate leader of the Nationals, who declared that ‘Asian immigration has to be slowed. It is no good dancing around the bushes’. Baume admitted that the issue had troubled the Liberal Party and he expressed concern that no one from his party had immediately repudiated Stone’s statement. He indicated that he would support the Labor Government motion, as it was to him a matter of conscience and principle. In his speech Baume entered into the record a statement he had made earlier: ‘There is no place in Australia for any revival of a white Australia policy, overtly or secretly. No tests of racial origin should be applied to any applicant for migration to Australia’. Baume crossed the floor again in December 1990 when he voted in favour of an Australian Democrats’ amendment to the Broadcasting Amendment Bill (No. 2), designed to prevent the advertising of tobacco products through the sponsorship of sporting and cultural events.[5]

Baume resigned from the Senate on 28 January 1991, having been appointed Professor (and Head) of the School of Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales. In his last week in the Senate Baume introduced the War Crimes (Crimes Against Humanity) Amendment Bill 1990. The War Crimes Amendment Act 1988 restricted the prosecution of war crimes to those alleged to have been committed in Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1945. Baume’s amendment was intended ‘to widen the compass of the legislation to any war crime committed by any person in any theatre of war at any time’. At this time the principal act was being challenged in the High Court and Baume acknowledged that his bill could not proceed until the court had made its decision. Despite Baume’s hope that someone might take up the bill after his departure, it was not revived.

Senators from all sides of politics gave valedictory speeches on Baume’s departure. Labor Senator Bob Collins who had dealings with him when Baume was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, stated that ‘I do not think that I have met anyone in [my] 14 years in Parliament whom I have both liked and respected as much as Peter Baume’. Senator Teague recalled Baume’s vote for the equal opportunity measure, and his consequent resignation from the shadow cabinet, as examples of how Baume ‘cared most courageously for the principle of equality’. In the same vein, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Robert Hill (Lib., SA) characterised him as a ‘fighter for the underprivileged, for anyone who has been discriminated against’. Some members praised the departing Baume for assisting them during their initial days in the chamber and also for dispensing medical advice to them. Baume, in his valedictory speech, emphasised the continuity of the Senate as an institution, arguing that the best testament of a senator’s service was through the contribution made by invigorating the Senate and its procedures and capacities, ‘sustaining and developing the Senate itself’ and augmenting ‘the strength of the Parliament’. Baume was given the honour of taking the chair for the beginning of his last sitting day in the Senate.[6]

At the University of New South Wales, Baume pursued his research interests in euthanasia, and drug policy and evaluation. In 1991 he was commissioned by the Hawke Government to head a review of the drug evaluation process in Australia. His report, A Question of Balance, urged reform of the drug licensing system. He also acted as a consultant for federal and state departments of health and was joint author of enquiries into disability services and veterans’ compensation. Another report on the Australian surgical workforce, of which Baume was the sole author, provoked controversy after Baume questioned the ‘excessively tight control’ of the supply of surgeons by professional bodies. He relinquished his position at the School of Community Medicine in 2000, and became an honorary research associate with the university’s Social Policy Research Centre.

Baume was elected Chancellor of the Australian National University, Canberra, in December 1994 (he had previously served as a council member for eight years). He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1992 for services to the Australian Parliament. Since leaving the Senate, Baume has been actively involved in many non-government and statutory organisations, including Alzheimers Australia, Amnesty International, the Brisbane-based Foundation for Development Cooperation and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. During the 1990s he also held office as foundation chair of the Australian Sports Drug Agency, deputy chair of the National Council on AIDS, president of the NSW branch of the Public Health Association, chair of the Drug Offensive Council of NSW and as a commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission. Baume is an outspoken advocate of drug law reform, reconciliation and justice for refugees. He has penned a prolific number of text and journal articles on medical, political and humanitarian issues. In 2000 Baume reflected that ‘in all my medical teaching and writing I have tried to convey the notion that people are more important than their diseases and that the whole person is the proper focus of medical care’.

Peter Baume was a compassionate politician who eschewed political pragmatism on issues that he believed crucial to individual liberty, and paid the price. He became an outstanding representative of a strand of liberalism which had become increasingly rare in the Australian Parliament.[7]

Clive Beauchamp

[1] Transcript of interview with the Hon. Professor Peter Erne Baume by Ron Hurst, 1991–92, POHP (access restricted); CT, 26 Nov. 1994, p. 11; Peter Baume, ‘Insubstantial Pageant’, unpublished, 2006.

[2] Peter E. Baume, ‘Service in three careers’, Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 173, No. 4, 18 Dec. 2000, pp. 643–6; POHP; CPD, 10 July 1974, pp. 51–3; Anton Hermann, Alan Missen: Liberal Pilgrim, Poplar Press, Woden, ACT, 1993, p. 155.

[3] POHP; Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare, Through a Glass, Darkly: Evaluation in Australian Health and Welfare Services, Canberra, 1977; Ralph G. Straton, ‘Evaluation Research in Australasia: Moving Forward’, Evaluation Journal of Australasia, Dec. 2001, p. 25; Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare, Drug Problems in Australia—An Intoxicated Society? Canberra, 1977; ‘Interview with Peter Baume’, Drug and Alcohol Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2002, pp. 77–82.

[4] Stephen Loosley, ‘Goodbye to all that’, Australian Business, Oct. 1990, p. 34; POHP; CPD, 12 June 1986, pp. 3839–44, 30 April 1987, pp. 2130–3.

[5] Dean Jaensch, The Liberals, Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, NSW, 1994, pp. 82–3; Transcript, ABC TV, ‘Four Corners’, 4 May 1987; Gay Davidson, ‘Too Much Compromise with Money and Power’, Australian Society, Oct. 1990, pp. 24–5; POHP; CPD, 24 Aug. 1988, p. 35, 25 Aug. 1988, pp. 224–36, 359, 11 Dec. 1990, pp. 5355–64.

[6] CPD, 19 Dec. 1990, p. 5967, 21 Dec. 1990, pp. 6364–70.

[7] Baume, ‘Service in three careers’; P. E. Baume, A Question of Balance. Report of the Future of Drug Evaluation in Australia, AGPS, Canberra, 1991; P. E. Baume & K. Kay, Working Solution: Report of the Strategic Review of the Commonwealth Disability Services Program, AGPS, Canberra, 1995; P. E. Baume, R. Bomball & R. Layton, A Fair Go: Report on Compensation for Veterans and War Widows, AGPS, Canberra, 1994; P. E. Baume, A Cutting Edge: Australia’s Surgical Workforce, AGPS, Canberra, 1994; Davidson, ‘Too Much Compromise with Money and Power’.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, Vol. 4, 1983-2002, Department of the Senate, Canberra, 2017, pp. 41-47.

Auspic DPS

Auspic DPS

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, NSW, 1974–91 (Lib)

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, 1980–82

Minister Assisting the Minister for National Development and Energy, 1980–82

Minister for Health, 1982

Minister for Education, 1982–83

Senate Committee Service

Estimates Committee E, 1974–75, 1976–77; D, 1975–77, 1983–88; B, 1986–87; F, 1987–90; C, 1990–91

Standing Committee on the Social Environment, 1974–75

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1976–80, 1983–87

Joint Committee of Public Accounts, 1976–77

Select Committee on Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, 1976

Standing Committee on Social Welfare, 1976–80

Standing Orders Committee, 1978–83

Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, 1983–85

Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, 1987

Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, 1987–91

Select Committee on the Administration of Aboriginal Affairs, 1988–89

Select Committee on Health Legislation and Health Insurance, 1989–91