Nelson Mandela has been described in federal parliament as a beacon of hope, a great man and a freedom fighter.

Nelson Mandela has been described as a one-of-a-kind leader whose greatness will never again be seen, as federal parliament paused to mark the former South African leader’s death.

With Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten travelling to South Africa for Tuesday’s memorial service for Mr Mandela, who died last week aged 95, it was up to acting prime minister Warren Truss to lead a condolence motion in the House of Representatives.

Mr Truss recorded parliament’s “deep regret” for the loss of the “freedom fighter who became a national healer, a prisoner who became a president”.

“Very few leaders in human history have embodied their cause in the way that Nelson Mandela represented a free and equal South Africa,” Mr Truss said on Monday.

“In the days ahead the world will mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, but let’s also give thanks to his life.

“We will never see another Nelson Mandela.”

Incarcerated for decades, lesser men would have given up the fight against apartheid and allowed their passion for justice to “spill over into a desire for vengeance”, Mr Truss said.

But Mr Mandela became a “beacon of hope” for a new South Africa.

“Because of Mandela’s greatness, South Africa was reborn in a spirit of reconciliation, not retribution,” Mr Truss said.

Acting Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said the world was lucky to share “Mandela’s times”.

Mr Mandela was no saint but a political leader engaged in a bitter struggle against apartheid, she said.

Despite this, his struggle had what Ms Plibersek called a “perfect moral clarity”.

“Dividing a country based on race and class is wrong. Denying a person his or her inherent rights based on the colour of their skin is wrong,” she said.

“Fighting racism is right, and uniting a troubled country through reconciliation and forgiveness is right.”

During a separate condolence motion in the Senate, Australian Greens leader Christine Milne said Mr Mandela’s achievements were “testament to the power of resistance and grassroots engagement”.