I rise also to support the motion of condolence. David Thomson grew up on a property outside Sale, and we have heard already that the date of his birth was during the Great Depression.
I think most of his friends would reflect on his toughness. In almost any circumstance, he just did not seem to waiver from the course that he had chosen.
Many people reflect that it was pretty tough during the Depression. His mum died when he was seven years old. His father returned from the Great War after serving with the Australian Light Horse. Sadly, he was affected by a debilitating illness. So, growing up basically without a mum and a father who was very limited in his capacity to assist his son, he grew up to be a pretty tough young bloke.
But he did get a break. His grandmother left him 100 pounds, and in those days that was like a small fortune. It was certainly enough to take him on his chosen road of getting an education. So he entered Scotch College in Melbourne. When he graduated from Scotch College, he decided that the military was his calling. He graduated from Duntroon in 1943.
I was reflecting on a number of quotes in the media earlier today. Quite clearly, this was a man who men would follow. He was already picked out in Duntroon as somebody who was going to make a real impact in his military career. Less than two years after stepping out of Duntroon in 1945, he was part of a force that embarked to take the beach at Balikpapan. Any people who are interested in history would know that this was a very, very nasty part of the world to be in and very heavily defended. He was shot as part of the advance, stayed on and continued to lead his troops through that particular period of time in Borneo.
His courage and leadership were already noted. It was unsurprising to many that in 1952 he was awarded the Military Cross while he was serving as a company major of the 1st Royal Australian Regiment in the Korean War. It has already been mentioned that this particular military event took place on a hill, sadly, with simply just a number—Hill 227—as many were named in that part of the world. It was nothing more romantic than that. But a lot of people lost their lives on that hill. This event was the third attempt. The convention was to take these places at night. There was not a great deal of cover, and these were the days when if you could not see someone it was pretty hard to shoot them. Nowadays of course we have far greater technology. So the conventional method of warfare was to go in at night. Normally, you would just count up your numbers and hope for the best. But in a very daring change he decided that this would be something that would take place during the day. As a distraction, he asked a band to play the pipes. It was quite a distraction, because on the day he was able to take Hill 227 and, despite being injured himself, was able to hold the day. He continued his military career by commanding a battalion during the 1966 Indonesian confrontation. After his very notable service there, he retired in 1972.
I would like to offer David Thomson’s family and loved ones my heartfelt condolences. As a former member for Leichhardt, I would particularly like to note his contribution to the lives of Aboriginal and Islander people in his electorate. Senator Abetz has already mentioned the work he did around Mornington Island.
I do not think that is so surprising, but, if you think about the times, he was a conservative individual and a member of the National Party. I think he went, particularly in those times, out of his way to simply represent the interests, the views and the values of all his constituents. It takes courage and bravery to do the things that are not easy, and I just cannot imagine how tough it would have been for David Thomson in that particular regard.
People should not have been surprised. He highlighted in his maiden speech on 24 February 1975 that at that time there were probably more than 20,000 Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders living in Leichhardt, which is about 16 per cent of the population. That is very high and is second only to one of our electorates in the Northern Territory. Unfortunately, after all this time, many of the issues that we knew about and were relevant then continue to be pertinent now. In his maiden speech he gave expression to the view that policies needed to encourage independence and empowerment of Indigenous people in all the decisions they make. Even today it has only been in recent history that we have understood that if particularly Aboriginal and Islander communities do not have some ownership in the process to deal with a decision that affects them then we are much less likely to get the outcome that we are all requiring. Back in 1975, Mr Thomson was articulating what we know now to be an absolute fundamental about moving forward in these areas.
He was very passionate about Indigenous people being consulted in matters that concern them. So rather than leave it to others, it was in fact David who used to sit down amongst the Aboriginal and Islander people in his electorate and around those areas and ensure that he spent time with them. Rather than allowing others and the department to consult, he made sure that he was a part of those communities and could genuinely reflect on the views of those communities.
I think, while some things have not changed, there is much in the lives of Aboriginal and Islander people that has improved. I would like to honour the special contribution that Mr Thomson made in his role as the
member for Leichhardt and to the National Party.
I think it is also useful to remind this place that it was because of his determination that the north of Australia and our Aboriginal and Islander people would not remain out of sight and out of mind and that moving forward would have to be in partnership with our first people as we shaped the future of that rich part of the world. He was a courageous and committed member and he had a true Australian entrepreneurial spirit. In his time as a minister he showed that he was happy to take on the big issues, as he was with Aboriginal and Islander issues, and particularly when it perhaps would not have been the most popular thing to do.
As a minister he was always concerned about the welfare of the Great Barrier Reef. He was one of the first at that time who said there should be no drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. He was the one who said, ‘They
will drill the Great Barrier Reef over my body’—
A National Party person indeed, Senator Boswell. I am not so sure how far our opponents would say we have proceeded ahead on that matter, but he was certainly well in front of his time.
Of course, when you are ahead on these issues and you are reflecting the values and the aspirations of your
community, you get the support of that community.
That is why he was so popular in his seat of Leichhardt. He also had a number of people in Leichhardt who
were very keen to ensure that the ban on kangaroos was lifted. It was a very important issue for Australia then, particularly for people in the bush and for people who relied on culling kangaroos and selling them. He was a great advocate and he was definitely a part of the US decision to allow the import of kangaroo products into the United States and the lifting of a ban on native fauna.
While David was in parliament he served nobly on the standing committee for Aboriginal Affairs and on the joint committee for foreign affairs and defence. On behalf of the government, I offer condolences to his
family. Vale, David Thomson.
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2013-11-12 Scullion condolence.pdf