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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 3

Mr TURNBULL (Leader of the Opposition) (2:13 PM) —I rise today to join the Prime Minister in offering the condolences of the opposition on the passing of Peter Howson, former minister. One Canberra journalist recalled Peter Howson as ‘active, energetic, ambitious and full of confidence’. I think that all those who knew him would regard that as an understatement—he was a true enthusiast. He settled in Australia, coming from the United Kingdom, in the 1940s and believed passionately in his adopted country, Australia, so much so, that in his maiden speech to parliament on 6 March 1956 he suggested that we should promote Australian products to British housewives by coining the slogan ‘Get Australia on the Front of the Can’.

He then went on to serve in this parliament in many capacities, including as the Minister for Air, the Minister Assisting the Treasurer and the Minister in charge of Tourist Activities. However, his most notable appointment—his most memorable one—was, as the Prime Minister noted, his appointment as the first minister for the environment and also, as part of that role, as the first minister for Indigenous affairs. His title was Minister for Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. We on this side of the House are very proud that it was a coalition government that appointed Peter Howson as the first minister for Indigenous affairs. We are proud of his record, and indeed our record, in leading the support for creating equal rights and opportunities for Indigenous Australians. We are proud that it was a Liberal government, under Prime Minister Harold Holt, that in 1967 took the vote to the people in a referendum that was carried to remove the impediments for the Commonwealth government to make special laws with respect to Aboriginal people and, on removing the impediments, to count Aboriginal people in the census. We are also on this side proud to have elected Senator Neville Bonner in 1971, who in 1972 became the first Indigenous Australian to be elected to any parliament in Australia, serving the good people of Queensland for 12 years until 1983.

Peter Howson, in recognition of his services to the parliament and to the community, was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in December 1980 and in 2001 was awarded the Centenary Medal in recognition of his long and devoted service to improving conditions for Indigenous people. Peter Howson was Vice President of the Bennelong Society and he campaigned tirelessly for real outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

Peter Howson led a long and full life of public service. He made a great contribution not just to this place, not just to the many issues and responsibilities he took on as a minister but, after he left this parliament, to the cause of justice for Indigenous Australians, and he continued that hard work right up until his death. It was a long and good life and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.