Monday, 2 May 2016
Patterson, Dr Rex Alan
It is with great pleasure, and a little bit of sadness as well, that I speak on this motion of condolence for the late Rex Patterson, the former member for Dawson. He was a member for the Labor Party, but he was a member who was respected by many Country Party voters in the seat of Dawson who have gone on to become National Party then LNP people. Certainly respect has been bestowed upon Rex by people like his successor, Ray Braithwaite, and by people who actually ran against Rex. They have talked to me in recent weeks about what a formidable opponent Rex Patterson was politically and what a great citizen of Mackay he was—a great citizen of North Queensland and a great Australian. Before becoming involved in the parliamentary scene, Rex was a senior public servant in the Menzies government. In fact, he headed what was then pretty much the office for northern Australia, very much having a key influence in the development of northern Australia with a strong advocacy for agricultural development in northern Australia. I understand he became somewhat frustrated with what he saw as a lack of focus or delivery from the then government for northern Australia.
Apparently, I am told, there was a strong belief that Rex Patterson was a Country Party man, that his family was Country Party, but, because of that frustration, he stood for the Labor Party in the 1966 by-election that was held in Dawson due to George Shaw vacating the seat. Dr Patterson surprised everyone by winning the seat. He won it with support from right across the board, whether it was from traditional Labor voters or even farmers in that area—he had a great rapport with local farmers and the sugar industry. The seat was, back then, primarily a sugar industry seat.
There is a myth—I am not sure if it is a myth or a truism—that that by-election was what made Gough Whitlam. The leader of the Labor Party at the time did not go and do any campaigning in the seat; they sent Gough to do it. Gough's on-the-ground campaigning in the seat of Dawson, bringing what was a safe Country Party seat into the Labor Party fold, paved the way for him. Like it or not, we in Dawson may have been responsible for the Whitlam government. Luckily they have seen their senses since Rex's time and have gone on to elect conservative members. As I said, Rex was a great northern Australian—as such, he was promoted very quickly to the front bench in the Whitlam government, as the Minister for Northern Australia. He went on to be the Minister for Agriculture.
During his time as Minister for Northern Australia and Minister for the Northern Territory, as the Leader of the Opposition outlined in parliament earlier today, Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin and devastated that city. There were mass evacuations and basically the whole place was flattened. It was a scene of destruction that you would see in a war zone. It was Rex who took control of that situation and helped rebuild Darwin. I think one of the enduring legacies of his time in parliament as a minister has been the rebuilding of Darwin.
I understand there were some things that Rex was able to do for the development of northern Australia but it was not as much as he would have liked to achieve. Given that he joined the Labor Party because of his frustration at what he saw under the Menzies government and the non-delivery of certain things, in his mind, for northern Australia, we can share his frustration, certainly in North Queensland, with the ongoing lack of focus in the north from state and federal governments. I probably put it down as a great regret that I never went and spoke to Rex in the few years since we brought down our northern development policy. I wonder what he would have had to say about it. I think that Rex would have appreciated that finally a government had started talking about northern development in modern times when the last one that talked about it in any great depth was back in the seventies. I think that he would have seen that as a great boon for the nation. I did not know Rex personally but I did bump into him once at a local event and we had a bit of a chinwag. It was before I was the member for Dawson—I was a local government councillor at the time. He predicted the future by telling me that I was going to be the next member for Dawson. That was a very good omen, getting that from a previous member who was of a different political colour.
Rex, in his life post-politics, was not a person who went out and stuck his nose into political affairs. He really retired into private life and completely from public life, apart from one incident when I was on the Mackay Regional Council. We were fighting for rock walls to be established in areas where it was erosion prone and for council to do some of the funding to actually get those rock walls erected, whereas state government bureaucrats and a bunch of these extreme greenies were saying, 'Just let nature take its course and have the houses wash into the sea.' Rex came to us. And it just showed what a practical and forthright person Rex was. He foresaw the erosion situation and, before all of the governmental rules and regulations and the environmental types came and mucked it all up, he made sure that his property was going to be sacrosanct. He got a whole heap of rocks and he buried them in a rock wall formation right around his house. I have got to tell you: in that patch of coastline, Rex's house is the last one standing. And it is still standing. All of the others have been washed out into the ocean, including one he used to point out—apparently, there is an old outhouse that you can see still sitting in the water: 'There's the dunny in the sea.' So Rex's house was still standing. And, you know, in the minds of many, Rex's memory will still stand, and will continue to for a long time to come, as a great northern Australian, a great citizen of Mackay—as a great Australian. I pay my respects to him as a former member for Dawson.
I thank the member for Dawson. I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places. I ask all present to do so.
Honourable members having stood in their places—
I thank the Federation Chamber.