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Tuesday, 12 March 1968

Mr GORTON (Higgins) (Prime Minister) - Mr Speaker, I move:

That this House expresses its deep regret at the death of the Right Honourable Harold Edward Holt, C.H., M.P., a member of this House for the Division of Fawkner from 1935-49 and for the Division of Higgins from 1949 to 1967, for many years a Minister of the Crown and for almost 2 years Prime Minister of Australia; places on record its appreciation of his long and distinguished public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his widow and family in their bereavement.

I do not suppose that in the history of Australia there have ever been more dramatic circumstances associated with the loss of a Prime Minister in office than occurred towards the end of last year - circumstances which I think we all will agree shocked the whole nation. It is not my intention now to read through the long list of distinguished offices which were held from time to time by the late Prime Minister for these are but the bare bones of a parliamentary career and of a career of service to the nation.

We know of his distinguished record at school and university, culminating in his practising in Victoria as a solicitor, and of his entry to this House as member for Fawkner, being elected on 17th August 1935 - more than three decades ago. There will be few in this House today who would have sat here when the late Harold Holt was first elected. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in the public gallery of this House on my first visit to Canberra and seeing the late Prime Minister in 1939 being introduced to the House as a Minister without portfolio in the Menzies Government, because it was in 1939 that he first achieved ministerial office. In 1940 in a reconstruction of the Ministry Mr Holt left the Ministry and enlisted as a gunner in the Australian military forces but before being able to proceed abroad with those forces, the House will remember, there was a tragic air crash in which many Ministers were killed. The late Prime Minister was then recalled to take up his ministerial duties.

In 1940 he was appointed Minister for Labour and National Service. In that capacity he was responsible at that time for introducing child endowment into Australia. In 1949, after an interregnum on the front bench of the Opposition, he was appointed Minister for Labour and National Service and Minister for Immigration. In his capacity as Minister for Immigration he expanded that immigration programme which had been initiated by the first Minister for Immigration, the Right Honourable Arthur Calwell. In that field and in the field of labour and national service all those who came in contact with him could not have failed to note his personal involvement with the problems of individuals who came before him or with problems which were brought before him by members of this House from any party, seeking his intervention and his assistance in an endeavour to overcome individual problems. I think we will all agree that that kindliness, that genuine concern which was so much a facet of his nature, was clearly evident in Bis conduct of these two portfolios. He became Prime Minister in 1966 and was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1967. We all know the tragic events of December last year. As I said, these are, even as I have put them to the House, but the bare bones of a political career.

This was a man who for more than three decades served in this House the people of Australia. There has been a national memorial service, but that was a memorial service for the nation. I suggest that it is fitting and proper that here, in the chamber which was his chamber for so long, in which his work lay for so long, where he was known more closely and more personally, we may as a House tender our last respects to him. Here he was known as a man of courage, both physical and moral. As an example of that moral courage may I take honourable members' minds back to 1961 when economic action which was hurtful to many in the community was taken by the Government. I take their minds back to the calumny which then was visited upon the head of the late Prime Minister, Treasurer as he then was, and take their minds back to the fact that, although what was done was a Government decision and not a personal decision and what resulted was a Government responsibility and not a personal responsibility, never once did the late Prime Minister, upon whom this was visited, seek to evade, to excuse or to remove himself from that area of controversy.

Me was known as a man of industry and of kindliness, one who was prepared to give of himself to each member who had brought to him some point of view which might have differed from that which he had suggested or proposed some course with which he did not agree. He showed clearly that he would always consider that point of view and would always take that course into his mind and test whether what he had intended to do was in his view right or not. He was above all a man of peace and a man who was interested, perhaps more than most, in the cultural life of this nation of Australia and in advancing it. It is ironical that, being a man of peace, he should have presided over one of the greatest build-ups of military power that Australia has found itself engaged in. But he did this because he felt that it was right and that it was in the interests of Australia. From what I have said and from what we remember of him we will all agree that he would never shrink from doing what he felt was right and what was in the interests of his country. He was a great Australian and when the chips were down, he always came through. I commend the motion.

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