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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 877

Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (20:04): I make this contribution to this evening's adjournment debate with mixed emotions. I am saddened by the fact that the individual I am about to pay tribute to has now passed away, but, at the same time, I am enormously humbled and grateful for this opportunity to talk about his enormous and lasting contribution to Western Australia. I think it is very important that Liberals make every effort to recognise the contribution of those whose life's work leaves an enduring imprint and legacy not only on their own political party but also on the community they work so tirelessly to serve.

In the case of Western Australia, the Honourable Peter Jones, AM, who sadly passed away last month, is someone who well and truly earned a place in the great pantheon of WA Liberal heroes. Peter's name is probably not well known to those living outside of Western Australia. To the extent that there is an awareness on the east coast of those who have effectively created the modern state of Western Australia in an economic sense, it is generally limited to names like Sir David Brand and Sir Charles Court. Yes, they were political giants, but naturally they did not work alone and their governments could not have achieved the things they did without the assistance of loyal and talented ministers. I do not think it is overstating the case to say that, were it not for the life and work of Peter Jones, WA would have been a vastly less prosperous and less dynamic place over recent decades.

Peter was not someone given to boasting about his own centrality to the economic transformation of Western Australia. Indeed, he was not given to boasting at all. His quiet humility was amongst his finest qualities. Peter Jones was born in Tasmania, moving to Narrogin in WA's Great Southern region in 1968 where he became a successful wool, meat and grain producer. In 1974, his respect within his local community resulted in his election to state parliament as the member for Narrogin. Although originally elected as a National Country Party MP, his capacity for hard work and creative thinking quickly won the respect of the newly elected Liberal Premier, Sir Charles Court. After little more than one year as a member of state parliament, he was promoted to the ministry.

In fact, between his ministerial appointment in June 1975 and the defeat of the WA Liberal government in early 1983, Peter Jones held a total of 13 portfolios. Little wonder he was colloquially known as 'The Minister for Everything'. In a career that included service at various times as the minister responsible for housing, education, tourism and the environment—all crucial portfolios—it is nonetheless probably Peter Jones's period as Minister for Resources, Development, Mines, Fuel and Energy that will prove his lasting legacy. The crippling oil crisis of the late 1970s and accompanying economic downturn hit WA's resources sector especially hard. It is widely recognised that, without Peter Jones's skills as a negotiator, the giant North West Shelf gas project, which was a game changer for WA, would likely have collapsed and never begun gas production.

Likewise, Peter was among the first to understand the central role Asian markets would play in WA's future prosperity. This was evident from the very first days of Peter's parliamentary career. His maiden speech, delivered on 7 August 1974, displays an appreciation for the importance of engaging directly with Asian markets to better understand their needs:

I would like to refer to one other aspect of rural marketing; that is, we do not know enough about our customers and what they really want. One of the reasons for my trip in Japan was to deliver a speech to a businessmen's association there. After I had completed this very pleasant task, a considerable number of questions were directed to me. These questions really brought home the lesson that we do not know very much about our customers. For example. I was asked how much I knew about the Japanese distribution system, financial arrangements, and the dietary habits of the people whom we wish to buy our products. I had to admit that I knew very little, and it was quite obvious that whilst the Japanese knew a great deal about us and our production and business methods. we knew very little about theirs.

I assure members that when I returned here I made a very strong recommendation that we must make every effort to know more about those with whom we deal and what they want from us.

So said Peter Jones in his first speech to the Western Australian parliament in 1974. The fact that, as a newly elected MP, Peter Jones saw fit to include those sentiments in his first speech is very instructive. He clearly saw cross-cultural understanding and engagement as crucial to WA's economic expansion, and it was a principle that informed his approach to policy development throughout his ministerial career.

One obvious example was in his approach to dealing with China. Peter clearly understood that the China of the late 1970s and early 1980s was a nation of great economic ambitions but one which lacked the resources to meet those ambitions. With remarkable foresight, he established regular 'technical missions' where Chinese technologists came to Western Australia to learn about the capacity and quality of our own recourses sector and its products and how to develop productive infrastructure in remote locations. This direct engagement with China had the effect of significantly boosting WA's profile and potential export markets in a nation that was about to begin one of the largest economic transformations we have ever witnessed in the world.

Having helped to transform his state, Peter Jones would have been entitled to enjoy a quiet retirement from public life. But his desire to serve continued long after he left parliament in 1986, including two years as President of the Western Australian Liberal Party from 1989 to 1991 and six years as a federal vice-president of the Liberal Party from 1990 to 1996. His period in both roles came at times when the party was dealing with the challenges of opposition, and his judicious stewardship helped the Liberal Party organisation to do the work that it needed to do to return to office a Liberal government. And so it was under his stewardship in 1993 that Richard Court became the Premier of WA and federally John Howard was elected Prime Minister in 1996.

During Richard Court's eight years as WA premier, Peter was a frequent and welcome source of counsel, again helping his state to position for advantage in the coming resources boom. In addition, he served in Western Australia as the inaugural chairman of the Water Corporation for seven years and was appointed by the Howard Government as Chairman of the Defence Housing Authority during a period when that organisation was undergoing major change.

Peter was also generous in devoting himself to charitable work, including with the Hackett Foundation at the University of Western Australia, the board of the Perth International Arts Festival and the Diabetes Research Foundation of WA. Then there was Peter's unofficial charity service, serving as a source of encouragement and wise counsel to those beginning to make their way in the WA Liberal Party.

This year marks 30 years since I first joined the WA Liberal Party, so Peter Jones's parliamentary career had already ended and his time as state president occurred relatively early in my membership. But even then he was generous with his time, unfailingly approachable and warm, and always prepared to share his perspective on contemporary political events through the lens of his considerable experience. I will be forever grateful for the encouragement and patient advice Peter offered to me, first as a Young Liberal some 30 years ago and continuing right up to these times as a federal parliamentarian.

Peter's passing last month was an enormously sad moment for the entire Western Australian Liberal family. However, all Western Australians have reason to be grateful for his lifetime of service to our great state and, importantly, for the quiet determination he showed in shaping its economic transformation. This evening, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to Peter's wife of more than 50 years, Toni, their three children and their seven grandchildren.