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Wednesday, 19 April 1939

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) (Prime Minister) . - It is with the most profound regret that I, as Prime Minister, make to honorable members the formal announcement of the lamented death of the late Prime Minister, the Right Honorable J. A. Lyons.

The Australian nation, shocked and grieved by the suddenness of its great leader's passing, has laid at his feet a tribute such as few princes could claim. It remains for the Parliament, in the surroundings where he was held in particular affection and honour, and where his great services to his countrymen were best revealed, to record as a body the crushing sorrow which every member has felt as an individual.

Members of the Government are aware of the great responsibilities with which Mr. Lyons was burdened in recent months, but did not suspect for a moment that these cares were bringing him to his grave. If those who had spoken and worked with him daily learned with such deep shock of the course his illness had taken, what must be the feelings of honorable members generally, who last saw him as he stood in his place uttering his genial wishes to all of us for the year which was to find him gone from our midst before the dawn of Easter ?

It was after a momentous series of Cabinet meetings - he had also, in the previous week, presided over a meeting of Premiers at which the National Council was formed - that Mr. Lyons left Canberra on the evening of the 4th April. It was his intention to fulfil on the following day the traditional duty of a national leader of speaking at the official opening of the Royal Show in Sydney. Unfortunately, in the course of the journey he became ill, and was later admitted to St. Vincent's Hospital with what then appeared to be a severe chill, but which proved upon full examination to be a fatal condition of the heart. We were to learn on the 6th April, less than two days after many of us had sat with him dealing with questions of the utmost consequence to Australia, that he was sick beyond hope of recovery. I was one of those who remained at the hospital through the night, hourly expecting the end, doing what we could to sustain, though we could neither aid nor console, the valiant woman who supported her husband to the last. At 10.40 a.m. on the following morning, when worshippers were gathering to pay their homage on the Day of the Crucifixion, Joseph Aloysius Lyons completed the sacrifice he had made for his country. At 11 a.m., it was my solemn task to announce over the whole of the broadcasting network that he had passed away.

We all know that by his death Australia has lost a distinguished son and leader. Joseph Lyons had a firm belief that Australia was destined for national greatness, and he worked under the inspiration of that belief. He believed, too, that his fellow countrymen were capable of fulfilling the high destiny he had in mind for Australia. And the people of Australia responded to his leadership in a most compelling manner, for they had faith in him. He was the friend of the Australian people whom he so gallantly served. That fact may, perhaps, explain why Joseph Lyons has made such a distinguished mark upon our national history.

It is not for me, at this time, to assess his place among the statesmen who have played a conspicuous part in the development of the Commonwealth - that task must be left to the historian - but I am certain that whatever is written in the future about this man, none may deny that he gave of the fullness of his talents to the country that he loved.

Even the formal record of the public services of Mr. Lyons in the Parliament of Tasmania and in the Parliament of the Commonwealth conveys some indication of the contribution which he made to our national life.

Mr. Lyonsentered public life when aged 29 years. He was elected to the House of Assembly, Tasmania, for the electorate of Wilmot, in April, 1909. His death occurred on the 7th April, 1939, at which time he was Prime Minister of the Commonwealth and the representative in the Commonwealth Parliament of the electorate of Wilmot, Tasmania. It will thus be seen that he was engaged continuously in public life from April, 1909, to April, 1939- a period of 30 years.

This period of service in the two parliaments was divided as follows: Mr. Lyons was a member of the Tasmanian Parliament for more than twenty years - from April, 1909, to September, 1929, when he resigned. He then contested successfully the federal electorate of Wilmot, and he was re-elected at the general elections of 1931, 1934 and 1937. He was thus a member of the Commonwealth Parliament from the 12th October, 1929, until the 7th April, 1939 - a period of nine and a half years.

We should note, too, that Mr. Lyons was Prime Minister of the Commonwealth for a longer period than any of his predecessors, excepting the Eight Honorable William Morris Hughes. Mr. Lyons became Prime Minister on the 6th January, 1932, and he held that office at the time of his death on the 7th April, 1939. Had he lived until the 23rd April - next Sunday - he would have achieved the longest period of service in that high office of any of our Prime Ministers.

The services of Joseph Aloysius Lyons to Australia and to the British Commonwealth of Nations were accorded public recognition by His Majesty the King on the 10th June, 193:2, when he was made a Privy Councillor, and on the 23rd June, 1936, when he was made a Companion of Honour.

The portfolios held by Mr. Lyons in the Tasmanian Parliament were as follows : -

Treasurer, Minister for Education and Minister forRailways - April, 1914, to April, 1916.

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