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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12214


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:06): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the Prime Minister for his words and I join him in saluting President George Herbert Walker Bush's long life of service and statesmanship. It may seem strange to say this about a man whose own son would follow him into the Oval Office but, in many ways, President Bush was the last of his kind—the last president who served in the Second World War, the last president to lead the United States during the Cold War. And he had a self-effacing modesty, an instinctive courtesy, that with every passing day seems to belong to a vanished political age.

The Prime Minister touched on President Bush's all-American CV: war hero, college sport superstar, Texas oilman, UN ambassador, CIA director, two terms in congress and eight years as Vice-President. Former Prime Minister's Hawke and Keating have paid tribute to the open mind and willing heart he brought to America's role in our region, and his clear-eyed calm when he presided over a time of dramatic international power shifts. President Clinton, as we have heard, has shared some moving words about the remarkable humanitarian contribution that President Bush made after he left office and the deep and genuine friendship that these two former opponents shared.

President Bush was also perhaps the most prolific writer of thankyou notes and courtesy cards to ever occupy the Oval Office. In particular, many have shared words from that generous letter he left for his successor. But he corresponded not just with the great and the good but with millions of ordinary Americans—indeed, people from all over the world. So many recipients of vice-presidential and presidential correspondence have come forward in the past few days to express how deeply moved they were by a few personal words from this man who they greatly admired.

Throughout President Bush's political life this preference for what his inaugural address called 'kinder, gentler politics' was often presented as weakness, timidity—what critics called 'the wimp factor'. I watched some footage yesterday from the 1979 Republican primaries when candidate Bush was met with this charge. He was asked: 'Are you tough enough? Are you too nice a guy to be President?' He replied:

I don't equate toughness with just attacking some individual. I equate toughness with moral fiber, with character, with principle, with demonstrated leadership in tough jobs where you emerge not by bullying somebody, but with the respect of the people you led … and if I happen to be decent in the process, that should not be a liability.

Those words are the measure of the man, a reminder that politics is better when we appeal to what another great Republican President called the 'better angels' of human nature. In many ways, President Bush typified the qualities of what author Tom Brokaw christened 'the greatest generation': a life pledged to others, dedicated to duty, a character of sheathed steel and tempered resolve, and a record of quiet achievement—no false bravado, no empty boasting, no attempt to build yourself up by talking others down, just the understanding that deeds speak louder than words and courtesy costs nothing.

George Bush was one of 16 million Americans who enlisted to serve in the Second World War. That was roughly 11 per cent of their population. Here in Australia, 990,000 Australians enlisted, over 10 per cent of our population. Of this greatest generation of Australians who saw active service, now less than 19,000 are still with us today. Some are now the last of their battalion, their squadron or their ship. As we mark the passing of President Bush, the last leader of the free world drawn from the greatest generation, it's given me pause to reflect on the heroism, the selflessness and the sacrifice of all who served the cause of freedom in that deadly conflict, ordinary people who left cattle ranches in South Dakota and sheep stations in South Australia, who walked off assembly lines in Detroit and out of the factories of Melbourne, from Wall Street and Main Street, from coast to bush, in America, in Australia, in Britain, in New Zealand, in Canada and in all of the Allies—the greatest generation, all of whom, no matter where the rest of life's journeys took them, fought side by side to preserve, protect and defend the liberties that we enjoy today.

Our condolences to President Bush's family and to his fellow Americans. May he rest in peace.

Honourable members: Hear, hear.

The SPEAKER: As a mark of respect, I ask all present to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The SPEAKER: I thank the House.