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Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Page: 31


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development) (17:39): Thank you, Prime Minister, for giving me this opportunity to talk about Brigadier David Thomson. He gave great service to the nation in many areas. He particularly was a champion of the north. Brigadier David Thomson said in his first speech in this House:

I urge all honourable members to go north and to see for themselves the problems imposed by the tyranny of distance and to see also the vast potential of the area.

He went on to talk about the size of his electorate, which in those days was even bigger than the electorate of Leichhardt is today. He said that it was 1,200 kilometres from Innisfail to the north of his electorate, which was only a couple of kilometres south of Papua New Guinea. His electorate extended from the Barrier Reef west for 1,200 kilometres to the Northern Territory border. If you took in the sea and the islands it was roughly four times the size of the state of Victoria. He observed that Victoria had 34 members in the House of Representatives at that time. He also went on to comment that his electorate had 12 times more length of coastline than the state of New South Wales, and they had 45 members of parliament at the time. I think he was trying to say that he was doing the work of 79 members. He certainly spoke out strongly on behalf of the people of Leichhardt and those of the north.

Those sorts of words summed up his commitment to the people of the north and his vision for what Northern Australia could do for our nation. There was a need for a determined national effort to ensure that those prospects were fully realised. I am sure that he would very much appreciate the announcement by the coalition on its determination to develop a Northern Australia strategy and for that to be a key policy initiative of the new government.

David Thomson's parliamentary and ministerial career in the 1970s and 1980s followed his long and distinguished service in the Australian Army. Both these career phases were linked by an outstanding commitment to this country and to its people.

David was part of one of the truly great generations of Australians. He was born in Sale in Victoria in 1924. His leadership qualities were already very clear in his early years. He graduated from Duntroon and was commissioned as an officer in 1943 aged just 19. During World War II he served in Borneo, New Guinea and Japan. After the war David continued his military career and, again, saw active service in Korea in 1951. As a major he was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of outstanding skill and gallantry for his service in Korea. He also served in the Malayan Emergency in 1965 and 1966. I believe that exemplary gallantry and exemplary service summed up David's character, his career and his life.

He was the first commander of the 4th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment and was Patron of the RAR Association right up until the time of his death. From 1967 to 1970 David Thomson was the Director of Infantry and Regimental Colonel of the Royal Australian Regiment.

He was not only an officer but a gentleman. He had a really delightful manner and was greatly loved by those who knew him. He proved his diverse talents by operating a tourism business in the 1970s before his entry into federal parliament.

David achieved a notable political goal by winning the seat of Leichhardt, for what was then the National Country Party, in 1975. This was the first time that the conservative side of politics had won Leichhardt in 24 years. It was typical of David's character that he paid a genuinely gracious tribute to his Labor predecessor in his maiden speech.

He had a remarkable feel for both the opportunities and the intricate problems of his electorate and of Northern Australia. He also had a particularly good understanding of the importance of developing a close relationship with New Guinea and knew how important it was going to be to have a cooperative approach so that the interests of both our countries were preserved.

He equally understood the diversity of his electorate's people and their interests. As he said in his maiden speech, he would spend a whole day under the trees where Indigenous people would bring their concerns directly to him. His military background also gave him a highly informed perspective on the defence and security of Northern Australia.

He served in this House for eight years until 1983. He embellished an already fine record as a natural and, indeed, visionary leader by serving as Minister for Science and the Environment from December 1979 to November 1980 and then continued to serve as minister for science until March 1983. He was very active in placing the essential concerns of northern Australians on the Fraser government's agenda, ensuring that each of the outer Torres Strait Islands finally received their first public telephone after he invited Eric Robinson, the then Minister for Post and Telecommunications, to come to the Torres Strait. He also played a key role in the decision to build a new runway and domestic and international terminals at Cairns Airport. That single decision probably did more than anything to boost tourism to Northern Australia and deliver a generation of tourism related growth to the north.

Although he was defeated at the 1983 federal election with the Fraser government, he continued his interest in politics and the North. He regularly attended National Party conferences, he was chairman of the board of John McEwen House from 1984 to 1997 and he was instrumental in its redevelopment and the new building that was opened in 1996.

My own party and the coalition are certainly proud to be picking up the baton for David's vision of developing Australia's north, and this will be one of our key policy objectives in the term ahead. So it is fitting that today the member for Leichhardt is in the vanguard of that charge for the North's growth and prosperity.

David died on 13 October in the presence of his wife Judith and son Alistair. May David Thomson rest in peace while his beloved North marches on. I extend my condolences to his family and to those who admired him and worked with him over the years and acknowledge his great service to our party and to the people of Australia.