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Tribute to Sir Alexander Downer

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I move that this House expresses its deep regret at the death on 30 March 1981, of the Honourable Sir Alexander Russell Downer, a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a Member of this House for the Division of Angas from 1949 to 1964 and a Minister of the crown

from 1958 to 1963, and Australian High Commissioner in London from 1964 to 1972, and that this House places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his widow and family

in their bereavement.

Alexander Russell Downer was born in 1910, ten years after the birth of the Commonwealth of Australia itself. His father, Sir John Downer, was one of the founders of this Commonwealth as well as being a Premier of South Australia and Alexander Downer followed with conviction and dedication in the tradition of political life and service

to the community.

He was educated both in Australia and in England. He took the degree's1'of M.A. and Diploma of Economics and political science at Oxford University, he was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in London in 1934, and was

admitted to the South Australian Bar in 1935.

In 1940 he enlisted as a gunner in the A.I.F. He went to Singapore on active service in 1941, and was reported missing. He spent some 3% years as a P.O.W. at the Changi camp until the recapture of Singapore in 1945. It is

greatly to -the credit of Alexander Darner, a tribute to his character, that a major effect of his experience in those years was a st^en<-?thened belief in the value of closer intern ational co-operation.

He entered this House as Member for the Division of Angas in 1949, and was returned successively in the next five elections. He served with distinction on a considerable number of Parliamentary Committees, Library, Hansard, privileges, and constitutional review , and was a well known, widely respected and greatly liked Member of this House.

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He had close friends on both sides of the House, and there was a widespread appreciation of his work both on the backbench and as a Minister. He became Minister for Immigration in 1958, and served in that portfolio until 1963. He worked devotedly and effectively as Minister for Immigration, .

travelling to the UK and Europe and also to the USA to discuss various issues concerning migration. _

It will doubtless be regarded as a particular tribute to his work in that particular portfolio that the late Mr Arthur Calwell took the opportunity to say how pleased he was both with Alexander Downer's appointment to it and with the way in which he handled it.

Alexander Downer resigned from this House on 23 April 1964 in order to take up the position of Australia's High Commissioner in London. On the occasion of his resignation, the late Sir Robert Menzies said of him, "He is an extraordinarily popular Member of this House and he will take to London with him a great background of tradition.

He is a man of high education, of wide information, of great courtesy, and with an uncommon capacity for getting on with people and presenting his views without forfeiting friendship". I think that paragraph very accurately describes much of the Alexander we remember. I echo

those judgements as will other Honourable Members.

Sir Robert went on to say how ideal were the qualifications and attributes of Alexander Downer for the post he was shortly to take up in London. And so they proved to be in the event. He was made a Knight Commander of the British Empire in 1965. His term of office in London was extended

three times and..he insisted that the third renewal should be the last.'

Alexander was a great believer in the link between Australia and Great Britain and his period in office in London was a period during which considerable adjustments were made to some aspects of that link as the United Kingdom moved into the European Economic Community. Alexander had his own views about that move, and about its implications for his

own country. Throughout this whole period, he was a great ambassador for Australia, and for Australian interests. During his entire period of office in the United Kingdom he used his position and also his private resources to further

as much as he could the interests of Australia. He was, of course, a great lover of England. But it was in Australia that he chose to live as one would expect at the end of his period of office in London.

Alexander Downer had a fine career - much was promised, and much was given. We are grateful for his life, and for his notable service to this country. This is a time of particular sadness for his family. And, it must be something which passes through the minds of all of us on these occasions,




whatever we say of the history of the reqord of the man, not much we can say does much to ease the hurt of immediate family in these circumstances and I think we are conscious of that. To his wife, May, who gave him immense support and

dedication, and to his children Stella, Una and Alexander, we extend our deepest sympathy at this time. - .

I would also add that Alex Downer was a great personal friend Of many people in this House, including myself, and he is a* person who showed great fortitude in recent years as he fought off an insidious and inevitable illness. He was an admirable

example to many of us in many w a y s . H e was much loved and much admired.

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