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Wednesday, 23 June 1999
Page: 7254

Mr BILLSON (7:50 PM) —Since he arrived in Melbourne in October of 1997, the American Consul General F. Allen Harris, or simply `Tex' to all those who meet him, through his enormous enthusiasm and generosity has strengthened and deepened the US-Australian relationship. His posting shortly concludes, and I rise tonight to pay tribute to his service and to wish him and his family well with the new adventures ahead. I found Tex to be a forthright advocate for the United States, sincerely interested in and receptive to Australian views and concerns, generous with his time, genuine with his friendship and prolific in his communications.

How did this man survive before email? Tex sent me two in the time either side of midnight last night while I was working on this speech. He is the type of disarmingly frank, gregarious, egalitarian and open individual Australians warm and relate to. Tex is the sort of robust character with whom you can strongly exchange views, even agree to disagree with, and know that the overriding strength of the relationship will endure. He might not have always agreed with Australian views, but Tex made sure that the people who needed to hear such perspectives in the State Department and the US Administration heard these views.

Tex and his way with people mirrors the broader Australia-US relationship. It is hard to imagine a person better suited to the role. Whether it was addressing a group of 600 sceptical college students, discussing farm issues with the head of the Wheat Board, entertaining the leaders of business and politics on board the flagship of the US Navy's 7th Fleet, coordinating a flyover of US aircraft to signal the beginning of our Remembrance Day celebrations or negotiating the fine points of US policy on climate change, Tex has always embraced the relationship with honesty, accessibility and Texas style humour. He remembers as one of his many magical moments marching with the American delegation at the Anzac Day celebrations in Adelaide and that the cheering from the crowd demonstrated the length and breadth of the US-Australian relationship.

His outreach to the community in four Australian states embodies the close relationship our two countries share and should be a model for the future course of that diplomacy. I am not sure if he seeks the action or if the action seeks him, but I once called Tex the `Forrest Gump of US diplomacy' because it did not matter what was on, he was there amongst the action—always charming and good natured.

Given his love of adventure, Tex applied for the US State Department as he went through law school. Soon a lawyer, he was sent to Latin America and decided to marry Jeanie before she got away. Within the first month he was invited to `the fanciest social event of the season' where he and Jeanie arrived in jeans and borrowed boots to represent the `young Texan look' while other guests simply settled for tuxedos and evening gowns.

During his career, Tex handled legal issues in the State Department where his first international decision on a law of the sea issue was roundly denounced by the UN Secretary General. He also worked on international environmental issues, trade issues, refugee issues including in Africa and the Middle East, and tricky human rights issues in Latin America and apartheid-era South Africa. He worked tirelessly to create progress in South Africa in the nine-year period before Mandela left prison.

Tex has had funny assignments such as an anti-dumping study on dog food and more dangerous assignments that included unplanned midnight `dialogue' with four carloads of armed men who wanted to send the signal that his human rights reporting was not appreciated in Argentina. For a near single-handed effort over two years to list 10,000 cases of disappearances in Argentina, Tex was almost drummed out of the State Department but years later was given the department's highest award for this achievement.

Over the course of his career, while he never picked fights, he certainly never avoided complex issues needing patience and negotiation to reach agreement. Throughout all this, Tex has been lucky enough to have love and support from a wonderful immediate and extended family including his wife, Jeanie, and his children, Scott, Julie and Clark. He has been blessed with extremely hardworking and supportive colleagues at each leg of his international travels and a multitude of special friends in the more than 125 countries where he has visited and worked.

On a lighter side, this two-metre tall Texan said he regrets that he has had but one waistline to give for his country. We say as he now moves to new challenges: good on you, mate, and thanks for being here to share you and your family with us here in Australia.