PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra:
I did not know Don Randall as well as Ken Wyatt and some of the other contributors have known him, but over the years I did get to know him quite well. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to Julie, his wife, and to Tess and Elliott and other family members on the unimaginable grief that they must be suffering. I would also like to offer my condolences to his close friends, to his staff and, importantly, to his party members and the community members back in his electorate. I do so because I reflect upon the comments I continue to get as the member for Aston.
As you would know, the last member of this parliament who sadly passed away in office was the late Peter Nugent, who in 2001, I think at a similar age to Don Randall, also had a heart attack while in office. There would barely be a week that would go past, even to this day, that local people do not raise with me Peter Nugent and his contribution to the Aston electorate. There would barely be a week that goes past that some of the staff members who are still in my office, who initially started with Peter Nugent, do not reflect upon him and what he did.
I say that knowing that the memory and the contribution of Don Randall will live on for years and for decades, and to future members of Canning, they will hear about Don Randall for years and for decades to come as well—and quite rightly so.
I think the Leader of the House put it quite well when he said that when a person that you know well passes too early, you are reminded that life can be short and it can be unfair, and you are reminded to live each day as if it is your last, to enjoy each moment and to try to make a contribution to our broader society in every day that you have available. I think and I know that Don Randall certainly did this.
When you go back and look at his first speech, he said abundantly clearly that the worst thing that could happen to Australians is if they begin to believe, to quote the former Prime Minister, that ‘this is as good as it gets’. Yes, Don was at times controversial because he told it how it was, but he never ran away from the tough fight, from calling it how he saw it, and he thought that we as a country and as a people could always do better, and he would always push the envelope further and further to make it so.
I first met Don Randall back when I was a senior staff member, working at the time for Dr Brendan Nelson, the then Education Minister. It was Don who came to see Brendan Nelson and myself, attending those meetings and subsequently we were dealing with Don over an initiative which Don saw going on in his electorate at a little school called the Clontarf secondary school.
He saw the profound impacts that were occurring at that school for young Indigenous boys, using football as a mechanism to engage the boys—but it was not about football; it was actually about their learning and having men who were there to mentor them through football and to keep them at school, and by being at school they would learn and go on. Don was an absolute champion for what he saw in this little school, and he believed that if it could work there at that one school—at Clontarf secondary college—it could work in other schools as well, not only in that state but right across the country.
He pressed for Brendan Nelson to provide some public funding to what was an initiative called the Clontarf Foundation, headed up by Gerard Neesham. Don was successful in getting that funding, and he continued to press education ministers subsequently in years to come for further and further public funding to be provided to the Clontarf Foundation.
As you may know, today, that little foundation which Don prosecuted, which Don supported and which Don was so very passionate about has grown from operating in one school with a couple of dozen boys to now operating, I think, in about 70 schools supporting 3,700 boys today, and it continues to grow. Just at the last budget we put an additional several million dollars into that foundation.
I think if there is one lasting legacy from this place, certainly from my perspective, it is the Clontarf Foundation which he so strongly supported, got off the ground and has seen roll out across the country, and it will hopefully forevermore continue to support thousands of young Indigenous men and support them in their education and in their employment prospects.
I joined Don in the parliament in 2010. It is from there that I started to see Don’s other attributes and his other passions. I saw him being an absolutely relentless advocate for his community. He was unbridled in his passion for his causes everywhere he went. I enjoyed reading the column from one of his Western Australian colleagues, Senator David Johnston, who wrote in the column: ‘Don had doorknocked every house in the seat of Canning several times. He could not walk down to the local supermarket or grab a coffee without running into someone he had spoken to and, importantly, helped. He was a giant in the community. The people of Canning knew that if they had a problem they could not fix, Don could and Don would.’
That was the person that I got to know, and he had that fierce reputation for being an absolutely passionate advocate for the members of his local community, and in doing so he became a model for myself and for other members of the community who had seats which they were representing and which they were fighting for. I got to know Don as being a fierce defender of the family as the key social unit in our society. I reflect on his maiden speech, where he said that it was the most important asset the nation has.
I also remember and recall Don as being a very passionate advocate for the people of Sri Lanka, not only because he had many Sri Lankans in his electorate but because he deeply believed in seeing Sri Lanka become a peaceful and prosperous community again once the civil war was over. I think that the comments which the high commissioner and the Sri Lankan community themselves made in relation to his contribution to them say it all.
Finally, I will remember Don for his courage. Don was, as all of us on this side of the chamber know, one of the absolute characters in our party room. Whenever Don stood up to take the call, we knew we had to stop and listen. He would often challenge us, he would challenge the Prime Minister and the cabinet, and he would do so because he fundamentally believed in what he was saying—it was important to his electorate, it was important to his values and what he stood for.
I think that is a courage that we do not always see amongst parliamentarians. He had it in spades—deeply rooted in his convictions and in his desire to serve. It is certainly something that I absolutely admired in him. Don was a great parliamentarian who left his mark on our nation. I have been proud to know him as a colleague and as a friend.