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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 14450


Mr MORRISON (CookPrime Minister) (14:25): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 25 February 2019, of the Honourable Dr John Joseph Herron AO, a former Minister and Senator for the State of Queensland from 1990 to 2002, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Dr John Herron was a surgeon, a parliamentarian and a true humanitarian. John Herron was a man of faith and a man of great compassion. The Bible speaks of those who repair the ruins, and those restorers are called 'the repairers of the breach'. Repairing the breaches—that's what he did in this place, that's what he did throughout his life, and that's what he especially did in Rwanda.

John Herron's kindness was legendary around this place. It was to John Herron, the doctor-turned-senator, that so many MPs and senators turned in the most difficult moments of their lives. He supported Labor MP Con Sciacca through the devastating loss of his 19-year-old son to cancer, and they went on to work together to support other families facing similar tragedies. When Cheryl Kernot lost her house in an arson attack in 1991, it was John Herron who reached out. Of course, John had understood what to say and do because he had watched his own house burn to the ground in 1967, leaving his family with literally just the clothes on their backs. He didn't let this place change his very essence. He was always a doctor, a father, a Catholic, a Queenslander—always trying to be authentic all the time in his life. It's why he was trusted by all in this place.

John Herron's greatest achievements, though, I don't believe were in this building, though those achievements are many and deserving of honour; they were on another continent, in Africa, in Rwanda. It was during 1994, while driving, that Senator Herron heard on the radio that Care Australia was looking for doctors to volunteer in Rwanda, a nation ravaged by one of the worst genocides in modern history—a million dead in a genocide against the Tutsi people. Rather than, as he put it, sitting around in opposition in the Senate doing nothing, he made the life-changing decision to spend the next two months in Rwanda. He saw the unimaginable, the unspeakable. He saw man's inhumanity to others. He saw murder. He saw genocide. He saw hell itself as best it can be replicated in this world. He spoke of seeing the bodies of thousands of people machine-gunned in a sports field and trucks gathering the bodies. There was cholera and dysentery. There were thousands of orphans, children as young as three, numbed by what they had seen. He experienced abject terror when child soldiers aimed their AK-47s at him.

John Herron came back to Australia a changed man, traumatised indeed by what he had witnessed. He would go on to become a fierce advocate for the establishment of the International Criminal Court. But he also suffered what he then called a nervous breakdown, crying at night and weeping for no reason. Indeed, it was PTSD. The doctor who had given so much to others paid a high price himself for his compassion.

John Herron was in many ways an accidental politician. He considered himself apolitical. As he put it: 'I never took any interest in anything outside. I didn't read the newspaper—no politics, nothing.' But, after asking a question of a Labor politician at a meeting and feeling like he got fobbed off, John Herron joined the Liberal Party. He served the party and, in time, the nation with great distinction. He was President of the Liberal Party in Queensland twice. He was a senator for Queensland for 12 years. As Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in the Howard government, he focused on and championed improving the health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

John's service to Australia did not end when he retired from the Senate in 2002. He served as Australia's Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See and continued to champion medical causes throughout Australia. One cause he was particularly passionate about was Down syndrome. He was instrumental in establishing Down Syndrome Queensland after his first child, Maryann, was born with that condition. John Herron touched the lives of people across at least two continents. His dedication to serving others, his love for his family and his country, and his enduring compassion for people everywhere serve as an inspiration to us all.

I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife, Jan, and their nine surviving children, as well as their extended family. To John Herron, we simply say: thank you for your service.