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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 62


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (16:12): I rise on behalf of the opposition to acknowledge the passing of former senator and member of the House Donald Scott Jessop, who passed away on 21 May 2018 at the age of 90. I begin by conveying the opposition's condolences to his family and his friends.

Don Jessop described himself as 'a reluctant politician'. Yet the flying optometrist from Port Augusta would become first a local councillor, then a member of the House of Representatives and finally a senator. When faced with significant policy decisions, he didn't always follow the party line. On a number of issues, he was probably ahead of his time. His political approach was grounded in strong personal faith and values, which endured throughout his life. He grew up in the suburbs in the southern part of Adelaide, and attended Mitcham Primary School and Unley High School—a feature he shared with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. However, I suspect that's where the similarity ends. Sport was a great metronome between the seasons throughout his life, of tennis in summer and footy in winter, and he was a lifelong supporter, and later vice-president, of the local Sturt footy club.

Taking up university study in optometry led Mr Jessop to practise in country South Australia—in Port Pirie and Jamestown—and for two years in Broken Hill. In 1955 he decided to open his own practice in Port Augusta. It was in this city, which is known as 'the crossroads of Australia', that Don Jessop first became involved in politics. Having been nurtured in the ways of the Liberal Party by his parents, who were members of the party's forerunners, he joined himself in his first year in what was then a pretty working-class town and built up the local branch. He was elected to local council in 1960, but midway through the period he won his first election to a more substantial political office: that of a federal parliamentarian.

At the 1966 House of Representatives election there were no rivals when Don Jessop accepted an invitation from the Liberal Party to be preselected as its candidate for Grey. The seat, which includes the industrial heartland around the 'iron triangle' at the top of the Spencer Gulf, in the form of the cities of Port Augusta, Port Pirie and Whyalla, had been held by Labor since 1943. However, to the surprise of all, he won with a 7.8 per cent swing handing him a three per cent margin. History could have been different had his Labor opponent been an alternative one. In its obituary, the Port Pirie Recorder suggested Mr Jessop might have had a rival for the seat in the form of future Prime Minister Bob Hawke, had the latter not delivered his nomination form a day late. After commending the efforts of the former Labor member in his first speech, Mr Jessop sought to put Grey on the map—one of his colleagues having apparently asked where in Victoria it was located.

In the three years as the member for what is still one of the larger seats in Australia, Don Jessop took up issues which would return throughout his parliamentary career. He campaigned for the expansion of resource development in outback South Australia, seeing that there was great potential for mineral and gas resource development. His electorate contained a cross-section of primary and secondary industry, from lead smelting, shipbuilding and steelmaking to vast agricultural and pastoral holdings. Perhaps in a sign of the times, Mr Jessop also campaigned for improved radio reception for his constituents. Well served throughout his time in politics by a wonderful sense of humour, he once delighted in explaining to a Texan that Grey was actually bigger than the Lone Star State. His tenure in Grey was the only break in Labor's then 50-year hold on the electorate, which ultimately ended in 1993.

Defeat in 1969 brought only a brief interlude to his parliamentary career. He was successful in obtaining preselection for the second position on the Liberal Party Senate ticket, going on to win the election in 1970. He would be re-elected a further five times. Amongst the matters he took up as a senator were reform of social security, superannuation and taxation. In particular, he campaigned for changes to the excise on wine and advocated for improved transport corridors for agricultural and industrial products as well as a growing tourism industry.

In 1973 he first warned of the dangers identified by scientists of the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and championed nuclear power as an ostensibly clean alternative power source to coal. One of his greatest policy contributions concerned the Murray River, a policy area of continuing and paramount importance to those of us from South Australia. So, in a fortnight when the Senate will debate the Water Amendment Bill, we should recall his advocacy for a national water authority. Senator Jessop also used his position as member and Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment to pursue this and other ideas. One of Mr Jessop's enduring contributions was to the select committee that recommended a separate appropriations bill on parliamentary appropriations and led to the establishment of the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing.

Don Jessop was always an independent decision-maker. He crossed the floor of the Senate 27 times during his career representing South Australia. I understand that places him seventh on the all-time list. Along with one of those above him on that list, Senator Alan Missen, he opposed the deferral of supply in the party room in 1975. He didn't agree that the necessary reprehensible circumstances existed, and he publicly canvassed voting against the rejection of supply. This was an act of political bravery at a time when the nation found itself at a constitutional crossroads and a government commanding a majority in the House of Representatives was derailed by the actions of its opponents in the Senate. After his dismissal as Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam acknowledged Mr Jessop as the only Liberal who cared to write to him.

Mr Jessop successfully opposed the abolition of pensioner funeral benefits by his own Fraser government. He was also a vote against the same government when it came to the establishment of the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee in 1991, of which he was in favour. Don Jessop was also key to the inclusion of eye examinations in health benefits available under the original Medibank, and, no doubt, his professional experience and authority was of assistance in this regard.

It might not necessarily have been for these reasons that Mr Jessop failed to secure re-endorsement on the Liberal Party ticket for the 1987 election, although they may have contributed. He told The Age that his tendency to always tell the party leader what he thought they should know rather than what they wanted to hear may have worked against him. Contesting the 1987 double dissolution election as an Independent Liberal, Mr Jessop secured over 25,000 first-preference votes, and his scrutineers reported a large number of informal below-the-line votes. Perhaps, if the 2016 Electoral Act changes had been in place, he could well have been re-elected.

A defender of the rights of the Senate, the late Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, acknowledged Mr Jessop's role in protecting this chamber's place in the bicameral system in a letter written after Mr Jessop's departure. One of his greatest contributions in the area was to parliamentary privilege. The 1980s were a time of great development in the area of privilege, culminating in the passage of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 and the Senate's privilege resolutions. Mr Jessop had an integral role in bringing this legislation and the resolutions into fruition.

After leaving the Senate, Don Jessop first returned to his profession of optometry, practising in Adelaide and again in Port Augusta, but his political life did not end with his defeat at the 1987 election. To draw on the words of his grandson Nick in his eulogy for his grandfather, 'You can take the man out of politics but you cannot take politics out of the man.' It was a mark of the commitment Don Jessop had to public service and to public policy that he wanted to continue to contribute on the same issues that had preoccupied him during his parliamentary career. Nuclear power and the River Murray were dominant themes in his frequent letters to The Advertiser as well as to many federal and state members of parliament. To these he added some additional refrains: the end of the era of statesmanship and, especially in later years, aged care. He also produced a memoir entitled Reminiscences of a Reluctant Politician.

Family continued to be a great source of pride and joy for Mr Jessop, and he delighted in his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, of which he had a total of 17. 'Pop' proudly showed them around Parliament House in Canberra and took them to lunch in Adelaide together with Nanna Barbie. He was a role model for values, wisdom, leadership and love.

Don Jessop passed away quietly just a few weeks ago after farewelling his beloved wife, Barbara. Mr Jessop's funeral, which was attended by many senior Liberal politicians and others, including a member of my staff, was held at the Malvern Uniting Church in Adelaide on a cool and breezy but clear day—Monday, 28 May 2018—in the same church in which he had married Barbara 69 years ago and in which they had worshipped together in their later life. He always attended church on Sundays in a tie and blazer, complete with his senator's pin, an indispensable accompaniment to his outfit. Officiated by member of the congregation and close friend the Reverend Neale Michael, OAM, RFD, the service honoured Mr Jessop's memory and gave praise to the God he loved. Mr Jessop had laid out detailed plans for his funeral, from its commencement with Mario Lanza's rendering of the Lord's Prayer to hymns, including 'Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer', and the John Williamson accompaniment to the photo montage, the quintessential 'True Blue'. We were then and we remain reminded that Mr Jessop's Christian faith was a defining feature of his life.

Above all, Don Jessop always stood up for what he believed was right. He was a man of deep Christian faith for whom a strong moral compass was his guide throughout his political career. Whilst a reluctant politician, he loved being a senator. He was passionate about the causes in which he believed but also imbued with great love for his country and his family. So we again extend our sympathies today to Don Jessop's relatives and friends at this time, particularly his wife, Barbara; his children, Meredith, Lynne and Michael; and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.