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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 2

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) (2:09 PM) —I move:

That the House expresses its deep regret at the death on 1 February 2009, of the Honourable Peter Howson CMG, a former Federal Minister and Member for Fawkner and Casey, and place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Peter Howson was born on 22 May 1919 in London to Major George Howson and Jessie Howson. He was educated at Stowe School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received a Master of Arts. He enlisted in the Royal Navy as a pilot and in the Fleet Air Arm in 1940 and progressed to the rank of Lieutenant. He left the Navy in 1946 and came to Australia.

Mr Howson served in five successive coalition governments under Prime Ministers Menzies, Holt, McEwen, Gorton and McMahon from the mid-50s until the 1970s. He first entered parliament in 1955 as a Liberal Party member representing the Victorian seat of Fawkner. After the abolition of that division in 1969, he represented the seat of Casey until his defeat in the 1972 election. Peter Howson held the position of Government Whip from 1963 to 1964, before being appointed as the Minister for Air, a defence portfolio that oversaw Australia’s air defences. He held that portfolio from 1964 to 1968. In 1971 Peter Howson became Australia’s first environment minister when he took responsibility for the portfolio covering the environment, Aborigines and the arts.

Through his parliamentary life Peter Howson served on a number of parliamentary committees, including the Privileges Committee and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs. In 1960 in particular he became a member of the House of Representatives Select Committee on the Voting Rights of Aborigines, which travelled extensively around the country amassing a great deal of evidence that laid the foundation for the referendum on the constitutional status of Aborigines. This was important and very good work. That committee work lead to an enduring interest in Indigenous affairs, and Peter Howson continued to contribute to policy debates in recent years in newspapers and publications such as Quadrant.

Peter Howson was an active participant during his parliamentary career in the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association both in Australia and internationally. After he departed Canberra in 1972 he continued as an associate CPA member. His contribution to parliamentary affairs was recognised in 1980 when he was awarded a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. Throughout his life he retained a strong interest in parliamentary matters and was in touch with the Parliamentary Relations Office as recently as December 2008 seeking assistance with some research that he was undertaking. Peter Howson also made an important contribution to the political history of his era and in particular of conservative politics when he published The Howson Diaries: the Life of Politics—a publication that was put onto the bookshelves of the book stores of the nation back in 1984. Peter Howson was a true veteran of the Liberal Party. He was a great contributor to the life of this parliament and I make particular mention of his contribution to the great work of extending proper recognition to Aboriginal people in this country. On behalf of the government I offer our condolences to his family.