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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2504

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) (21:51): I rise tonight to speak of a good man; a humble, hard-working man—a man who made a real difference for his community and in the management of water in Australia. I speak of Henry Jones, who we lost as a champion of the River Murray and of his community in South Australia recently.

He is someone who made an enormous difference in the life that he led. Henry's love for, and knowledge of, the river—particularly the Lower Lakes, Alexandrina and Albert, and the Coorong region—was life long. As a young boy he would go and spend time with his mother's family in the Riverland and throughout the system. Of course, he was part of many generations of commitment to that region. His was a childhood spent learning how to fish and learning about the river, its estuary and systems.

When he finished school he took up residence on the banks of Lake Alexandrina at Clayton. Clayton Bay is nestled there on the bank of the lake in South Australia. It was 1961; there was no electricity at Clayton, and he was the first permanent resident to establish there. Two years later he married his wife Gloria—a marriage that would last 50 years—and they built the home where they raised their family: daughters Christine, Susie and Julie. They have given a lifetime of service to their local community, which was built around them—so much under their own influence.

As a commercial fisherman operating in the Lower Lakes and the lower Murray system for more than half a century, Henry Jones witnessed firsthand the declining health of the environment and river systems, including the disappearance of Murray cod, silver perch and catfish from the Lower Lakes and Coorong. When drought closed the Murray mouth for the first time in 1981, Mr Jones decided it was time to act—to spread the message about what was happening in his area of the Murray-Darling Basin at the mouth of the River Murray, and to be someone to move and create positive change.

Henry has often been described as a man of few words. He would be embarrassed at the many words that have been spoken about him since his passing. Yet when he did speak he used his words wisely, and people listened. His considered presence, his learned knowledge, and his practical experience of the region and the river made you want to listen to him.

Anne Hartnett, a friend of Henry's, reminisced at his funeral, saying: 'Those of us who have lived here for some time remember Henry passionately delivering his 'dead, dead, dead' speech about everything that would die if the river is continually starved of water and not cared for. Now, after 33 years of Henry's advocacy, we have to believe there are a lot more critters alive and living more comfortably than there would have been without the voice of Henry Jones.'

Anne was one of many people to recognise that Henry never gave up his fight to protect the River Murray. People tell me that shortly before he passed away, despite being very unwell after a long battle with cancer, he was still intently reminding them from his sick bed that the work to protect the river system needed to continue, and he urged people not to lose ground or sight of what governments had achieved and promised to achieve, in recent years.

Always warm, always gentle and always humble, he was a man to be respected and admired. But he was a man who gave freely of his time in his cause and for his community and our great river system. Henry was a long-standing representative on many Murray-Darling Basin Commission committees and, later, Murray-Darling Basin Authority committees. The Murray-Darling Basin Community Reference Group, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority Native Fish Advisory Panel, the River Murray Advisory Committee, the Living Murray Community Reference Group and the Basin Community Committee all benefited greatly from Henry's contribution.

Through these groups he gave thousands of hours to provide knowledge and perspective on issues related to the fisheries and the lakes that he lived alongside, and worked in. In 2008, he was awarded a Pride of Australia Medal for a lifetime of achievement in fostering Australian values and making Australia a better place to live. In 2012, Henry sat on the steering committee overseeing a project to assess the benefits of the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan. He contributed considerably to evaluating the commercial and recreational fishing aspects of the reforms. As a Basin Community Committee member he attended meetings of the Independent Audit Group for Salinity, and was thanked by the Basin Salinity Management Advisory Panel for his significant contributions to the 2009-10 Independent Audit for Salinity.

Henry attended many public meetings in the development of the Basin Plan throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, travelling beyond his home base at the lower reaches of the system. And he helped to ensure that all voices were fairly heard, in a considered and calm manner, through the basin community consultation processes. This is a particularly outstanding contribution given the contentious nature of the reform and the sometimes heated atmosphere at public meetings which occurred during the development of the plan. Henry was able to defuse these meetings through his calm discussions on the sidelines.

Henry, with wife Gloria, was also a great host. Although, through his part in the river system's management, Henry spent time attending and organising all of these meetings, if you turned up to their home you would not only be greeted warmly by Henry and Gloria and ushered into a lovely room of their home surrounded by maps and images of the lakes and river, but you would be met by the delicious aroma of the spectacularly cooked Coorong mullet that Henry would have caught himself in the river system. Meanwhile Gloria would generously serve up salads and wine to accompany the meal and ensure that Henry's message of reform was not only well heard but well lubricated. It was a generosity that I enjoyed, and that I enjoyed in the company of his local MP, Jamie Briggs. I know that many other members of this place, who have been part of the reform process, enjoyed that generosity over the years, as well.

But that hospitality was nothing, of course, compared with the knowledge, experience and insight that he brought. In January 2013 the MDBA awarded Henry a River Murray Medal, and earlier this year he was named a state finalist in the Senior Australian of the Year Awards. The River Murray Medal is usually granted to staff within the MDBA or other relevant river management agencies, for their outstanding services to the River Murray. Henry's award was the first time there was a compelling case to award the medal to a community member instead, and he was most worthy.

Beyond his immediate actions with the MDBA or its predecessor organisation, Henry held leadership roles as chairman of the South Australian fishing industry council, spokesperson for the Rivers, Lakes and Coorong Action Group and councillor for 10 years with the district council of Strathalbyn. He established the country fire service in his home town of Clayton and was captain there some 20 years. He was included in the book One place, many stories: Murray-Darling Basin prepared by the Department of the Environment, a book showcasing water aspects of the basin, its environment, industry and communities which features notable people who have made a significant contribution to the basin, and there are few more notable than Henry Jones.

Henry and his wife Gloria were invited to this place by then federal minister for the environment Tony Burke to be present in the parliament when the Basin Plan was passed into law in 2013. His passion and tireless pursuit for the health of the Lower Lakes, River Murray and Coorong, his leadership in developing his community and his commitment to his strong beliefs will be sorely missed. Henry lost his battle with cancer on 15 April at the age of 72. Fittingly, his funeral was held on 19 April in the Clayton Bay community hall, reflecting his personal commitment to that area. As his wife Gloria said, 'It was fitting that he died at 3 am on Tuesday, as we always get up at 3 am on Tuesdays to take the fish to the market.' Henry, thank you for all you have done. Rest in peace.