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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 14451


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:30): On behalf of the opposition, I join with the Prime Minister and the government in offering our condolences to John Herron's many dear friends and colleagues, and all the members of the mighty Herron clan. John Herron lived a long life full of accomplishments—a surgeon, a senator, a cabinet minister and Australia's Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See—but he always said that his greatest achievements were his marriage and his family.

In preparation for these remarks, I reached out to Nick Herron—Nick and Naomi Herron are very good friends of Chloe—and I asked what would be his words about his father. He said that his father really enjoyed his time in politics. He thought it was public service, and he did cherish friendships across the political aisle, including the late Con Sciacca.

John Herron came to parliament relatively late in an already distinguished life. A highly regarded surgeon, from his very first speech, he always spoke with clarity, authority and passion about the challenges facing Australia's health system. For example, he undeniably influenced a generation of parents about young people and the effects of alcohol on developing brains. He used his considerable knowledge of science and medicine to unpack the competing claims of lobbyists and interest groups. Of course, John Herron was a very proud, very loyal and fierce Liberal, not just through his two terms in the Senate but also through his two stints as president of the Queensland Liberal Party—a job I am sure that made him miss the relaxing atmosphere of the operating theatre!

In our adversarial democracy, when the time comes to pay tribute to party warriors from either side, I believe we owe them the respect of our continuing disagreement. I can't imagine that John Herron would want Labor people seeking to minimise the philosophical differences. He wouldn't want us to try and blur the sharp lines of distinction on policy that he could seek to draw. But his views were not adopted from convenience or crafted for an audience; they were drawn from a deep well of principle and faith. You need only to look at his work in Rwanda to understand how firmly he believed in helping others and to get a glimpse of that resilience amongst adversity.

I know that there are many sitting opposite who knew him very well and I understand your sense of loss. He was always courteous, civil and good humoured in his parliamentary contributions, with an avuncular exterior that had steel underneath it.

In his first and second Howard governments, Senator Herron served as minister for Indigenous affairs. Labor did not always agree with his decisions, but no-one could ever question the sincerity of his views, the depth of his convictions or the determination with which he pursued them. Interestingly, I noticed that when Senator Herron announced his retirement in a brief and typically affable way, the Leader of the Government, Senator Hill, rose to respond saying:

As a minister he got the short straw, some might say, in the Aboriginal affairs portfolio, which was always seen as one of the most difficult of portfolios.

Mr Speaker, I submit that Senator Herron never viewed Aboriginal affairs as the short straw, precisely because he knew it was one of the most difficult portfolios. He didn't come to public life seeking an easy ride. He came to do difficult things, because he knew, as we all do, that the toughest things are the ones which make the biggest differences. We salute his service to Australia. May he rest in peace.

The SPEAKER: As a mark of respect, I ask all present to signify their approval by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

Debate adjourned.