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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 297

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (3:36 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 1 February 2009, of the Honourable Peter Howson, CMC, former federal minister and member for Fawkner and Casey, and places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Mr Peter Howson was born in London on 22 May 1919. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated with a masters degree in arts. In 1940 Peter enlisted in the Royal Navy as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm and progressed to the rank of lieutenant. In 1946 Peter was discharged from the Navy and moved to Australia. Before entering politics, Peter worked as a company director in Melbourne for several years before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1955 as the Liberal Party member for Fawkner. Peter served in five successive Liberal governments from the mid-1950s until the 1970s. He was the Government Whip from 1963 to 1964 before being appointed to his first ministerial position during the final Menzies ministry as the Minister for Air. He held this position from 1964 to 1966. With the transition to the Holt Liberal government in 1966, Peter retained his position as Minister for Air and also became the Minister Assisting the Treasurer. These ministerial appointments were also retained during the McEwen and Gorton governments. In 1969, the seat of Fawkner was abolished and Peter was elected as the first member for Casey.

As part of the McMahon government, Peter was appointed as minister in charge of tourism activities in 1971. He also became the first Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. During his parliamentary career, he served on a number of committees, including the Privileges Committee and the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs. In particular, he was elected to the House of Representatives Select Committee on Voting Rights of Aborigines in 1960. The committee travelled around Australia over the following year, gathering much of the evidence that informed the 1967 referendum on the constitutional status of Indigenous people. Peter was also an active participant in the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, both internationally and nationally at the Commonwealth of Australia branch level. He was instrumental in the creation of the executive committee of the General Council of the CPA and became the first chairman of the executive committee. Serving in that role from 1968 to 1971, Peter led a number of delegations to CPA conferences, including to Jamaica in 1964, Canada in 1966 and Trinidad in 1969.

After he left parliament in 1972, Peter retained a strong interest in CPA matters. He continued as an associate CPA member and was made a life member of the branch in 1983. Through his ministerial and committee work with Indigenous people, Peter developed a lifelong passion for Indigenous affairs and remained active in the area long after retiring from politics. He regularly wrote newspaper and journal articles on Indigenous issues and was a founding member of the Bennelong Society, a think tank that focuses on Indigenous policy. Until his death, Peter was an office holder with the society. The society president, Dr Gary Johns, is quoted as saying that Peter was tireless in trying to help Australian Indigenous people. He said, ‘I think his greatest achievement was to persist in the knowledge that Aboriginal people were to become part of Australian society.’

On behalf of the government, I offer my condolences to his family, particularly his son George, daughter-in-law Marie and grandchildren Natasha, Theresa, Rebeckah and Hannah. I thank the Senate.