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Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Page: 67

Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (17:38): by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 13 October 2013, of the Honourable David Scott Thomson, MC, former minister and member for Leichhardt, places on record its appreciation of his long meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Today we pay tribute to a true Australian hero. As the newly elected member for Leichhardt, David Thomson was one of those disparagingly described by the then Labor leader, Mr Gough Whitlam, as a 'oncer', one of those members elected to parliament for the coalition in the 1975 double dissolution landslide election. Leichhardt in North Queensland was a seat the ALP had held for nearly 25 years. The former Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, had no understanding of the new member's tenacity and courage.

Mr Whitlam believed that Mr David Thomson would last only one term, but he held his seat—the most marginal in the country—in the 1977 election and again in 1980 before finally losing it with a change of government in 1983. During this time he rose to become Minister for Science and the Environment in 1979 and Minister for Science and Technology in 1980.

David Thomson was born on 21 November 1924 in Sale, Victoria, and grew up on his family's farm at Clydebank. He was educated at Melbourne Scotch College. His ancestor Robert Thomson was elected as a member of Victoria's first legislative council in 1856 and served until 1863. He attended the Royal Military College Duntroon and in 1943 was commissioned to serve in World War II. When David Thomson resigned his commission in 1972, he was a brigadier and had served in the south-west Pacific, Japan, Korea and Malaysia and, finally, as army commander of North Queensland.

Mr Thomson was a true war hero. As a young officer of the 2/16th Australian infantry battalion, he took part in the amphibious landings in Borneo in 1945 and was shot by the Japanese defenders. He was wounded again in the Korean War. He was awarded the Military Cross while serving as a company major of the 1st Royal Australian Regiment in the Korean War in 1952 for leading a successful raid on Hill 227 in Operation Blaze. There had been two unsuccessful raids on it, and he proposed a daytime attack because the Chinese would not expect it. According to his widow, he insisted that the bagpipe player accompany them on the raid and that he keep playing throughout it. He thought that the Chinese would think, 'Listen to the Australians playing their stupid music.' More seriously, Senator Scullion will be in his contribution detailing the citation for his Military Cross.

After commanding a battalion during the Indonesian Konfrontasi in 1966, David Thomson reluctantly retired in 1972 for family reasons. From 1972 to 1975, David and his family bought a motel at Palm Cove, just north of Cairns, and developed it as a popular tourist resort where visitors were treated as personal guests. The Brigadier's Bar stands there in his honour. Gough Whitlam wrote his 1974 election policy speech at Thomson's Reef House Motel and was going to hold his now-infamous 1975 meeting with Indonesia's President Suharto there until David informed Mr Whitlam that he had been chosen as a candidate for the then Country Party.

David's life was the Army, and in his maiden speech he made special reference to defence:

Everywhere I go throughout my electorate people express concern about our inadequate defences.

…   …   …

It is my firm conviction that the first duty of any government is the security of the nation, a duty dangerously neglected by the previous Government.

As a backbencher he spoke about the problems faced by his Indigenous constituents. His support for autonomy for the Mornington Island and Aurukun Aboriginal communities against the stance of the Queensland Nationals state government received strong support in usually very strong pro-Labor booths. While in parliament David served on the Standing Committee for Aboriginal Affairs and the Joint Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defence. As minister he was concerned with the welfare of the Great Barrier Reef and its protection from drilling. He also campaigned for greater industry involvement in innovation in products and processes.

Throughout his life David exhibited the qualities of courage and loyalty: courage as a soldier, as a campaigner in his marginal seat and courage in dealing with health issues. He was also known as a complete gentleman and for his loyalty to his Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. In all his endeavours he was ably supported by his wife, Judy, who has been variously described as 'vivacious', 'charming' and 'extremely capable'. The Nationals leader in the Senate, Senator Scullion, will appropriately amplify these brief remarks.

On behalf of the government I offer condolences to Mr Thomson's family: to his amazing wife, Judy; to his sons, Campbell, Andrew and Alistair; and to his grandchildren. May he rest in peace after a full life of service to our nation.