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Monday, 10 August 2015
Page: 7820

Mr LAMING (Bowman) (17:13): This guy, Don Randall, was a very special bloke, and let those simple words never disappear among the many lesser speeches that we give here. He was a MacArthur. He lived through the finest of political margins, and that made it part of his longevity. When, in 2004, I was elected, I remember looking at the swings and hearing about this Don Randall who had pulled off the nine per cent impossible result. I looked forward to meeting that guy not just for his stories of campaigning but because Cheryl Kernot was my English teacher and, for five years, my debating coach. So, with some equanimity, I wanted to know who this Don Randall was. Of course, I had spent my boarding house years peering through the window, watching the movements of my English teacher and, at other times, wondering about whether I would ever be able to tell her about a life in parliament sitting next to Don Randall.

He was a frank and fearless bloke—with many battles fought and many of them won. He won them for his people—canny as he was Canning. He was obviously the last thing we would want as a minister. Don won far greater battles by not being a minister and not taking on that role. A Praetorian Guard of people have spoken today—mates recalling our moments, never forgetting his style, the people he served and the nation that he aided. Yes, sure, he spoke his mind unapologetically, regardless sometimes of the consequences. That might be somewhat unfashionable in our circles, but today let's celebrate that. Let's mourn that we have one less of the few amongst us still prepared to do it.

This place has its hereditary peers, those of our colleagues who hold down seats that have never been held by the other side of politics—at least not in living memory or in a generation. Don was part of that ephemeral group who fight harder than most of us can imagine to hold a seat to hand incumbency to political parties and yet do not necessarily advance through the ranks quite simply because they have an electorate far too demanding to allow them to do it.

The other thing I loved about Don was that he could never suppress a laugh, even—or particularly—at his own jokes. Sure, he would try, but his shoulders always gave it away. You could see him sniggering away with the largest smile on his face, a little like a child, a bit like playing a violin like no-one was listening or drinking a great red wine with it barely showing.

The last electronic record I had on my phone of being in touch with Don was from back on 24 February. It was the Sri Lankan dinner. We met there. There were, it seemed, almost interminable servings of tea. It was only Don Randall who could lean across to the ambassador and say, 'Can we get this show on the road? The food is getting cold.' The rest of us would not dare say anything like it.

But his approach to nations was little different to his approach to his constituents. He talked to those in his office about the one per cent—the one per cent of people who you focus on because your intervention can truly make a difference. If you look after that one per cent, it is extraordinary how everything else will follow. We devote enormous amounts of time to people for whom the energy we devote does not manifestly change things. But Don never lost the ability to do it. I note the countries that he served—Sri Lanka, Japan, Cuba and Mongolia. These were all countries that needed Don so badly to do what he did best.

His approach, then, was focusing on really making a difference when he devoted energy to something. He was not sycophantic. He told Cuba things straight. At the last dinner that we had together in the dining room, he invited the Cuban ambassador and a coterie. He refused to accept any money for this dinner for 20 people in the parliamentary dining room. In the end, we had to find a way to cancel his transaction and then a number of us paid because we thought it was completely overly generous to fund the entire luncheon himself. But he was determined to do so. During that discussion, there was not a romanticisation of Cuba. During the discussion, he called the ambassador to account when he spoke about property being for sale for the first time. Don said, 'No, it's not.' The Cubans said, 'Yes, it is. Here are all the properties.' He said, 'There's no fluid real estate market in Cuba—no way. You can't show me properties that are for sale in ordinary towns that can liberate a family and allow them to devote their resources into some other area.' He was holding them to account, far from sucking up to them. Coming from the fellow frontier state of Queensland, I really respected that. I would love there to be more people like Don here in Canberra.

Don also had a fascination with health—although, as I am learning, he had a fascination with each of us. I thought I was special! I really thought that Don really, really liked me, and I could not work out why. I did not feel worthy. Don could reel off your resume; it was embarrassing! He would send visitors to this House down to you. He would say, 'You've got to go and meet the member for Bowman. Go and tell him about this issue.' He would reel off your resume and these people would come down thinking you were a cross between Fred Hollows and the Dalai Lama! But now I realise that Don had this incredible regard for a lot of people in this building.

My great regret is that I never ever invited Don to the gym. As the only practising doctor in parliament, I try to keep a sharp eye out for people who I think should come along and swim a couple of laps with me or spend a bit of time in the gym in the morning as a way of building camaraderie but also often to turn a corner in health. I do not think it is right to feel some guilt that I did not do that with Don. He always seemed so happy, I just never raised it with him.

We often talked about fate, and I think that was a great thing. I used to explain to Don that there was a doctor I trained under who said, 'There are three doors in life that we all have to go through one of eventually. One is cancer. One is dementia and Alzheimer's. One is a heart attack. Overwhelmingly, we are going to have to pick one of those three doors.' Don, you found another bloody door and you took us completely by surprise. I guess my great fear up until now has always been of dying alone. In that first moment, that is what I thought had happened to Don. But I guess what I have realised since is that Don did not die alone. I want to talk more about that in a few minutes. In a world where we often call each other fearless advocates for our electorates, you were the metaphor, Don Randall, not just the chief adjective. He did so much to reach out that many people do not know about. I think that is partly a measure of him.

I wonder if the highest honour in politics is to have your surname turned into a verb. I am not sure if people have been 'Kellyed', 'Ewaned' or 'Keenaned', but I know plenty of us here have been 'Randalled'. Bringing wine was usually the first way of being 'Randalled'. I have to confess that I love my wine but, when I head out to a dinner, I am more than likely going to take a bottle I do not care if I never see again. But when you would turn up for dinner, the first thing Randall would do is pull out a 10-year special, open it and fill your glass to the top. Then he would fill his glass halfway and then grab a cheap recent red and top it up, as has already been referenced. It was a bizarre practice. He would say old wine had too much alcohol in it and he insisted on blending. It was absolute sacrilege, but Randall got away with it.

We will all never forget exactly where we were when we heard the news about Don. For me, I was at home, sitting with my two kids, and it came up on the autotext on Sky News. It just made no sense at all. Like many of us, we thought it was a typo, or a mix-up. I rushed to the computer: there were just two paragraphs there, but I think I then believed it. This was obviously an incredible tragedy. It is tragic if it happens before your time. It is very tragic if you have an unreconciled relationship, or words that you have never said. But I can pretty comfortably say—without speaking for his most intimate friends and family—that Don really had said it, and felt it, and meant it. I remember then I just turned to my phone, like most of us do in the generation of electronic media, and I found the last SMS that I had sent to Don—I had written it in response to his but I had never pressed 'send'. And I had this sort of strange feeling, like we do when we are in an aircraft flying up out of telco range, that if I quickly sent the message, he might get it. So I said to him: 'This is the message that I typed to you, Don, but I never sent it. It was back in February when we had that wonderful dinner together at the embassy. I am going to miss you, my best mate in parliament, and I am going to give the speeches in your name if ever you need me to.'

This job of politics, of course, is not one with a punch clock, overtime or penalty rates. Sometimes we think that we tread a unique course. But today is not the day for parliamentary exceptionalism. We do a hard job, but there are plenty of people out there who work much harder. They do antisocial hours and, in many cases, they are taken away from their families too often and for too long. I know Don had many other jobs before politics; he would have done those jobs exactly the same way that he did politics. Our job is trying; it is difficult, but far from the hardest one in the game. Don put his heart into everything that he did. Many of us only learned about it at the funeral. I always thought Don was roughly my age—he felt like my generation. I was stunned to discover that he had 15 years' start on me. Evidence only came when I saw these black-and-white photos from the 60s being shown at the funeral. I was just stunned at where he had been and what he had done.

I think that deep down, though none of us ever articulate it, our deepest fear in doing this job is that when we come to the end, we will discover that we do not know our own children. I have two little girls: Isobel has turned three, and Sophie-Claire is seven. My great fear as a parent is that their childhood will escape me completely. That is why what was incredibly inspirational at the funeral were the speeches of Tess and Elliott, and not just because, as two children, they stood up and held it together—and because they did, I think everyone else realised they had to as well. I do not have a son, but Elliott's speech in particular really meant a lot to me. He talked about kicking a football and how he remembers that dad always found time to do it, and how the ball always ended up on the roof of neighbours, and how Don had no problem with knocking on their door and crawling onto the roof—I suspect, Don, that you kicked at least half of those balls yourself! Don also gave up on golf when his son was old enough to be playing regular football—and that was a passion of Don's. But I will never forget the story from Don's big send-off, which was that the boys in Elliott's team said: 'Is that your dad playing goal umpire? Isn't that a little bit beneath a politician?'—well then, you do not know Don Randall. Don, those words from Elliott and from Tess were really special. They inspired everyone who was there. What I walked away with—and I think I said it to Michael Keenan at the time—was that this job of politics never ever thieved you from your children. That was incredibly special. If nothing else, I challenge everyone here: to return to our own kids, to our own families, to those that we love most, and make sure that we do what Don has done—that we look after those people in our lives and make that same pledge to them that I know Don did. A lot of us go through our lives in an emotional gridlock—we are focused on net preference, politically; having superficial conversations; avoidance; sometimes being passive-aggressive; asking the same old questions; blurting things out and then regretting it; not saying other stuff, and regretting that too. That cannot be said about you, Don. Forget the timidity, the diplomacy—you were able to retell it after you had done it, laugh about it and, I am telling you now, from today onwards you will never apologise for it.

We have managed to pull together a few fabulous quotes, as the member for Boothby has also done. I want to run through these very quickly. Back during the climate change debates in 2013, Don Randall said:

I do not think calling the member a clot is unparliamentary.

In 2012:

Saying 'Is anyone home?' is not unparliamentary, but to assist the House I will withdraw.

On an MPI on small business:

Mr Randall: Is 'clown' unparliamentary?

From questions without notice:

Mr Randall: Mr Speaker, I did not know 'Juliar' was unparliamentary. But in this case I will withdraw.

Don Randall on asylum seekers:

Mr Speaker, saying ‘soft on crooks’ is not unparliamentary.

In debate on a West Australian gas explosion:

Mr Randall: It was not unparliamentary, Mr Speaker. The word ‘Gollum’ is not unparliamentary.

During questions without notice:

Mr Randall: I withdraw that statement about being on the bottle, Mr Speaker.

And on the migration amendment:

Mr Randall: It was not an imputation. I am not going to withdraw.

And we have to smile at that resilience and determination.

So Don, I want to remember the times every one of us spent together. They have been articulated today. I will excuse the Russian patriarchal wisdom, but they say—and apologies to Tess—every man must have a son, build a house, and change the world in a tiny way. Hundreds were at Don's send-off simply because they were touched in that way. They referred to 'the Lotto life'. But for Don Randall, it was not the trappings—the Comcars, or souveniring the hot chocolate for his beloved family at the Chairman's Lounge—but it was the privilege of serving, and the bizarre notion of being paid for something you really love doing. This is a profession where we all feel and look a little older than we are. As Tolstoy would have said of Don's life and his impact: you cannot measure the time, but later by the furrow left behind when he is gone. Thanks Don: you have lived that life so precisely that, in the quiet moments, many of us wish we did. To family, to special friends: I know your loss is really raw and insoluble, but at the same time, each of us here is a better person because of the job Don has done for his people and his friends. As we walk past the cartoons in the window of his parliamentary office one more time, I will be expecting Don Randall to be there at the door, gesticulating quickly, 'come in, come in, come in'. He always had a story to tell.

Mate, you are in our hearts forever. You are missed, loved and admired—sometimes misunderstood; that is what is special about you—and always passionate and unerring. Vale the Don.