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Monday, 10 August 2015
Page: 7817


Dr SOUTHCOTT (Boothby) (17:00): Don Randall was elected to the federal parliament the same day John Howard became Prime Minister. He was part of a bumper crop that year—the class of '96. Just like the '49ers, who were the backbone of the Menzies government, to be part of the class of '96 is a badge of honour in the Liberal Party, celebrated from John Howard down. Don was very proud to be part of this group. Over the last 20 years, we have witnessed the great national events, the ups and downs of politics, and have each been through the fire more than once. As a result of this shared experience, the bonds of friendship are very strong.

I first met Don when we were seated next to each other on the plane heading to the new members orientation in Canberra in 1996. It was like Harry Potter meeting Ron Weasley on their first day at Hogwarts. We were thrown together—different in some ways. He had heard that some of the South Australian Liberals were less ruggedly individualistic than would have been acceptable in Western Australia. I must have reassured him, because we got along well and have been great friends ever since.

Don became the convener of the class of '96, and over the next 20 years the group would hold an annual dinner. Guest speakers included Laurie Oakes, Pamela Williams, Alan Ramsey, Michelle Grattan, John Howard, Chris Uhlmann and Janet Albrechtsen. It is somewhat ironic that, while Don had a love-hate relationship with the media, he never had any problems securing the very best journalists to speak at his dinners. A difficult relationship with the media is really part of politics. Don understood, as a public figure, he was fair game. But, when his family was dragged into it, it broke his heart. For Don, loyalty was such a big part of his personal code that he could not understand why journalists he had trusted could be so personally nasty. In the end, he felt quite burned by the fourth estate.

Most adjournment speeches in parliament sink without trace. They are recorded in Hansard but otherwise unreported. It is almost unheard of for a Thursday night adjournment speech to grab national attention, but in 1998 Don achieved this rare feat. As a shadow minister, Cheryl Kernot was due to visit his electorate, and Don decided to launch a pre-emptive strike. It was an explosive speech. It did reverberate around the country. But there was a lighter side to the aftermath. It was the day before the Liberal Party's federal convention in Brisbane—the first time we had held this. This was a key set piece for our re-election later that year. The press were out in force and the only pollie they wanted to speak to was Don Randall. Journalists were sent to Brisbane Airport to meet each plane coming in from Canberra. A tall man with silver hair in a suit disembarked, and one journalist thought, 'Got him!' Witnesses describe a journalist with a mike following his target, saying: 'Will you apologise?' 'No.' 'Why won't you apologise?' 'What for?' The journalist hounded this man through the terminal, and he only gave up when the unknown businessman finally shouted, 'I'm not Don Randall!' I should thank the new Speaker—and congratulate him—for providing me with that story.

It is now safe to reveal Don's undisclosed location. While the media were scouring Brisbane Airport for him, Don was actually bunkered down with his family in the Qantas lounge. What followed was like a John le Carre novel. Don was given detailed instructions: a car would arrive; Don and his family would travel to a safe house on the Gold Coast; they would go down such and such a corridor; a hotel room was booked under a false name; tickets were waiting for him to take his family to the theme parks. Don was asked to wear sunglasses and a baseball cap and disappear over the weekend. I do apologise to senior members of the Liberal Party for revealing some of our tradecraft here! A Labor senator spotted him as he was leaving, and Don would often recount how he could see her through the car's rear window frantically dialling her phone to alert the media as his car sped away.

This was a win-win situation. Tess and Elliott got to go to Movie World, and Elliott still remembers getting his Tasmanian Devil cap on that trip when he was only four years old. So, for them, this was great—they got to the theme parks. For John Howard, he had a successful federal convention, and I think for Don Randall, who was a family man and also a team man, he would have regarded that as a pretty good outcome as well. But, in all seriousness, for a new member it was a chastening experience. Not for the last time, the media were camped outside his house. Don apologised for it. He learnt from it. But years after that speech he would say with a big, cheeky grin, 'Well, I was right, wasn't I?'

As previous speakers have said, Don lost the seat of Swan in 1998. About six months after he lost his seat, Don came over to Adelaide, and my wife, Kate, and I took him for the day to the Barossa Valley to show him some of our favourite places, including the Rockford and Greenock Creek cellar doors. He remained a lifelong fan, and we had planned to drink a special bottle of Rockford Basket Press Shiraz the next time we caught up. This will shock members, but, while Don was in every sense a champion of all things Western Australian, in all the time I knew him he did much prefer the big Barossa shirazes over the silky cabernets of the Margaret River. Perhaps, much like Don, faced with a choice between big and bold and refined elegance, Don would choose big and bold every time.

On that trip we were also able to show Don the world famous Lindsay Park Stud, given his interest, but, most importantly, make a pilgrimage to where his father and grandfather had come from in Angaston. We visited Randalls Road, named after his family. That trip was very special to all of us. I know Don really appreciated that, while he had lost his seat, he had not lost his friends.

Don, as previous speakers have said, learnt a lot from his defeat in 1998 and from his time out of parliament. It was time that he was able to reflect, and it did show his depth. It was a real credit to his persistence, grit and determination that Don was able to make himself known in another seat and win that in 2001. There are not many members who have done that in the history of federal parliament. As the Prime Minister said, he and Bob Baldwin were the two MacArthurs who had returned to parliament after losing.

On this side of the House, we all have fond memories of Don's blunt talk in the media, and here are some of my picks for Don's highlights reel. Don would often say things that others could not or would not. During the 2004 election campaign, Don was waiting for John Howard to arrive for a meet and greet with constituents at the Perth Christian Life Centre in Canning. This is Don in his own words:

I think it's quite opportune and quite the decent thing to have the Prime Minister at the centre such as this, being a Christian. I don't know if Mark Latham would feel quite as comfortable here.

The journalist asked:

Why not?

Don Randall said:

Being an agnostic or atheist or whatever he calls himself these days.

Just in case the point was missed, Don repeated that in his introduction of the Prime Minister. That night, a story ran on PM about religion in politics, and it may just have helped inform faith based voters of something that they did not already know about Mark Latham. Marion Maddox, in her book God Under Howard saw this as a very sinister, Karl Rove Republican inspired, sophisticated political tactic, and quite deliberate. In my view, that interpretation is wrong, but what I do think is that Don had good political instincts. He was making a pitch. I do not think Don was especially religious, but he did have those good political instincts, and I think that it certainly did help some voters in that election make a decision about the two leaders.

We will all miss Don on the doors. He was always worth listening to, and he was certainly colourful. He was not one to read bland talking points, but he would make substantial political points in language that people related to. In March 2007, when the polls were predicting a wipe-out for the Liberal Party, Don drew on his horseracing and horse-training experience. This is what he said:

I think of things like the Melbourne Cup where Kiwi came from well back in the field and barnstormed home.

The ABC journalist did point out that 'well back' was right, the only horse running behind Kiwi was lame and that Kiwi only did it once, failed the next year and was retired to the farm. At the very least, thanks to Don, the 7.30 Report that night had footage of Kiwi's great run in the 1983 Melbourne Cup in the middle of its political report. Don also was often proven right. This is Don on Kevin Rudd in 2007:

I liken Mr Rudd to a sparkler. It's all glitz and it's fascinating everybody, but eventually it goes out and you've got a burnt stick in the end.

Compare that with John Howard who's like the eternal flame.

Catching up with colleagues over a bite to eat was important to Don. Over the last 20 years, it has been an important part of our Canberra routine. MPs spend long hours in the house on the hill, so these dinners were an important way of chewing the fat on the issues and sharing the challenges we all face. If it was Don's choice, it was always Italian, and we trusted his judgement better than any restaurant reviewer. Don loved his Italian food, and he had a real knack for finding the best ones in Canberra. His favourites were La Capanna, La Cantina, Italian and Sons, and Santa Lucia. He loved teasing Gino at La Capanna, who was a Canberra institution for 20 years. It will be very hard going back to these places without Don. It will never be the same.

Don could be remembered in so many ways. People have mentioned his role in delivering the Perth to Bunbury highway, his role with Gerard Neesham and the Clontarf Academy, and his role in helping families with autism. I have seen Don in action: speaking Italian at his local small businesses; on the floor of the Western Australian State Council; at the Royal Perth Golf Club, one of his favourite places; and at his blockbuster Matilda Bay fundraisers. When you saw him doing these things, you came to a realisation that Don liked people and loved life.

He was highly effective as a local member, as a campaigner and as a fundraiser, and he had worked incredibly hard to carve out his place in federal parliament. Everything had finally come together for Don, and he was in a great space. Don was a loyal and generous friend. He always had a twinkle in his eye. He was a mentor to young people and colleagues alike. He was also full of surprises. He was a blunt, straight-talking MP, who kept bees and doted on his British bulldogs—his latest one: Bruno Randall. He was an Aussie bloke, a man's man, who was at the same time perceptive and thoughtful with wide interests. He was a larrikin from the Western Australian wheat belt, who was deeply interested and engaged in foreign cultures including Sri Lanka, Italy and Japan.

Don should be remembered as someone who was always up for the fight and was prepared to have a go on behalf of those who had no voice. The fight of his life really was the 2010 campaign against the member for Perth. Don knew this was a serious challenge, and he was relentlessly focused on that campaign. I really welcome the remarks from both the member for Perth and the member for Brand, who are probably the members of the opposition who knew Don the best. As David De Garis said, Don had a very healthy respect for the member for Perth as a campaigner, and he knew that 2010 was the fight of his life.

Don had a big heart, and he was a great person to have in your corner. Above all, he had a strong and loving marriage with Julie for 31 years and raised a wonderful family in Tess and Elliott, whom he was so proud of, whom he loved so much and whom he looked out for. He had so much to live for and so much he was looking forward to. Words cannot describe how much Don will be missed by his friends and colleagues. See you later, mate