House debates

Monday, 2 May 2016

Statements on Indulgence

Lewis, Hon. Thomas Lancelot (Tom), AO

2:08 pm

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on indulgence to acknowledge the passing of the Hon. Tom Lewis, former Premier and Treasurer of New South Wales, on 25 April. I want to place on record the House's appreciation of his service to the parliament and the people of New South Wales and tender our profound sympathy to his family. Tom Lewis served not only New South Wales, and eminently, but Australia. He was in the Australian Imperial Force during the Second World War, stationed in the Celebes, Java and Borneo. He worked at our embassy in Washington in the late 1940s and he entered the New South Wales parliament in 1957. Mr Lewis represented the people of the state electoral district of Wollondilly for more than 20 years. He was a minister in the Askin and Willis governments and was Premier between 1975 and 1976. When he was not at parliament, he was skiing, flying his own plane or farming at Castlereagh on the Nepean River, and later at Moss Vale. He was known by his staffers and colleagues to be impatient, wanting everything done yesterday, but he was also regarded as a good administrator and admired for his efficiency and ability to cut through red tape. He was a veritable bundle of enthusiasm and energy, as I discovered when I came to know him in my capacity as a very, very young reporter in the New South Wales press gallery of that era.

Tom Lewis, as Minister for Lands, founded the National Parks and Wildlife Service for New South Wales in 1967, and that is a great legacy for all of us who have marvelled at and enjoyed the beauty of the New South Wales national park system. A generation of Australians can also be grateful that, in order to promote the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Tom Lewis gave permission to film the iconic Australian television series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo at what became known as Waratah Park.

In recognition of his services to the environment, the community and the parliament, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. We recognise his service again today. On behalf of honourable members and the government, I offer our deepest condolences to Mr Lewis's wife, Yutta, to his children, Mark and Jon, to his stepchildren, Phillip and Michelle, and to his grandchildren, Tom, Amelia, April, Holly, Lucy, Molly and Annie.

2:11 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

So often there is a melancholy symmetry to the passing of old political warriors. Having just honoured a man brought down by the Dismissal, we now offer our respects to someone whose actions helped trigger that constitutional crisis. Tom Lewis's decision to fill the casual Senate vacancy created by Lionel Murphy with the conservative mayor of Albury, Cleaver Bunton, set the Senate on a path to the gridlock and obstructionism that eventually brought down the Whitlam government. And yet, just as Malcolm Fraser's part—and, indeed, Gough's part—in the bitter conflict of those times does not define those leaders or their legacies, Tom Lewis, someone who served New South Wales as Premier and Australia as a member of the AIF, deserves a larger part in history than a cameo from 1975.

In particular, today, as the Prime Minister and also the Premier of New South Wales have noted, we pay tribute to Tom Lewis's foresight in establishing the National Parks and Wildlife Service of New South Wales. Like all great decisions, hindsight makes it appear so obvious, but, in the early 1970s, it was courageous in the Yes Minister sense. Tom Lewis had the fortitude and the integrity to take on elements in his own party and constituencies in his own support base who bitterly opposed locking up land. That is real leadership, and its legacy lives around us and has enriched the lives not just of the people of New South Wales but of all who have been drawn to visit the natural beauty of that state. I think that Tom Lewis's contribution to preserving some of our most beautiful country illustrates the truth at the heart of that ancient piece of Greek wisdom:

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

Labor offers its condolences to Tom Lewis's family and all who feel his loss. May he rest in peace.