Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 February 2007


Mr Thomas William Leggett

7:19 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This evening I rise to pay tribute to the late Tom Leggett, who died suddenly a few weeks ago. I would like to acknowledge the presence in the gallery this evening of Tom’s widow, Doreen, and his son, Brendan.

It was my honour to speak at Tom’s funeral at All Saints Anglican Church in Parramatta on 29 January where many had gathered to remember and celebrate the life of a man whom so many held in the highest regard. Indeed, as a testimony to the respect in which Tom was held, I read a message on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard MP, in which he paid tribute to the loyalty and contribution that Tom Leggett had given to the Liberal Party.

Thomas William Leggett was born on 31 December 1939 at Barnsley in New South Wales. Tom had a very interesting childhood growing up in the Newcastle area—an area dominated by Labor-union politics from the nearby steelworks and surrounding coalmines within the area. Having myself grown up in the industrial heartland of the Illawarra, I understand well the environment of past union domination of areas such as Newcastle and Wollongong.

Following his parents’ separation, Tom and his brother moved to Goulburn where they lived at the then Goulburn Boys Home, now Gill Memorial Hostel and nursing home. Tom regularly took part in the local Salvation Army band, marching down the main street of Goulburn every Sunday. It must account for his musical interest.

Tom started his working life at the age of 15, having the choice of becoming a mechanic or working for the Commonwealth Bank. Tom chose the Commonwealth Bank, where he worked for almost 40 years, giving dedicated service. During that time, Tom undertook various activities, including running a variety of branches and also moving into lending and repossessions.

Tom’s early life had not been easy. He learnt valuable lessons. He well understood the ethic of hard work, dedication and commitment. It was the very essence of the man.

Tom was called up in 1959 to undertake national service. He was sent to Wacol in Queensland and then served in the Citizen Military Forces, now the Reserve. Tom was a traditionalist who respected the institutions that are important to our country: our flag, our constitutional monarchy and our military traditions. It was pleasing to see Tom’s national service recognised at his funeral service through the participation of the Parramatta RSL Sub-Branch, of which he had been a member.

Tom also enjoyed travelling. During his younger years his travels included working on a kibbutz near the Golan Heights in the late 1960s. I understand he also was one of the first foreign tourists to travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway into the then Soviet Union.

It was during the early 1990s that Tom, through his work involving repossessions, saw firsthand the impact of the Keating years. Tom vividly understood the pressures and mess that Labor’s recession placed on Australian families and small businesses. He saw daily the impact that high interest rates of up to 17 per cent for homeowners and 22 per cent for businesses, coupled with record high unemployment, had on a cross-section of Australians. These daily experiences moved Tom’s support towards the Liberal Party. He always reminded people of the high interest rates Australians had to face under ‘the recession we had to have’. Brendan has told me that Tom also enjoyed helping our youth gain their first jobs. One of the things that ended Tom’s support for Labor was when Paul Keating said to a young Australian, ‘Go and get a job.’ The high youth unemployment at the time meant that there were few jobs for young people.

Tom joined and began his support for the Liberal Party during the 1996 election campaign. He continued his support until his passing. Indeed, Tom was a true Liberal stalwart. He was a dedicated Liberal who served the party with loyalty. His first commitment was to the Liberal Party. But it was in the seat of Parramatta that Tom made his greatest contribution. Elected as the Parramatta Federal Electorate Conference President in 1998, he faced the challenge of a redistribution which saw the federal seat of Parramatta become notionally 3.5 per cent to Labor. Tom took up the challenge. He knew that the Liberals could win. He was a great role model for his team. Tom related the story that on election night 2001 the first call made by the Prime Minister was to Ross Cameron. I am told that Tom was very proudly standing by when that call came in. Prior to his death, Tom was getting ready for the next battle, the 2007 election. He and I spoke recently of this and of his confidence that the Liberals could win back the seat of Parramatta at the next election. Tom’s optimism was constant.

Tom was a good leader in the good times and in the bad times. At the last election, he and the Parramatta conference faced great challenges. Tom led his team under great difficulties and pressures. His commitment was always to do the best possible for the Liberal Party. His concern was not only his own area. He was always there to lend a hand to the surrounding hard luck state and federal Labor areas. Liberal candidates and supporters in these areas did it tough and were grateful for the support that Tom and his team were willing to give. With an office in Wollongong, I well understand the gruelling nature of political life in hard luck seats, but this is changing and people like Tom, who are prepared to lend a hand, help foster that change.

Tom was always there when hard work needed to be done. He led his team by example. Tom, however, could not have done what he did without the support of Doreen and Brendan. The Leggetts were always there as a family. Tom was a strong believer in family values. They were so very generous in so many ways. They opened up their home so often for Christmas functions and fundraising activities, and did so as a family. I am sure that Tom’s memory will live on in future gatherings. Indeed, the Parramatta Federal Electorate Conference was the Leggetts’ extended family, and many in the Liberal Party will remember fondly the great times that were had at the Leggett home.

Tom was a great talker. He always had a story to tell. He loved to have a chat. Having been a bank manager for so many years, he knew many people. He knew so many stories about many interesting people. It made for interesting listening.

Tom understood the diversity of Parramatta. He knew his area well. He understood its aspiration. When I first met Tom, he and I spoke of my family’s migrant history. Tom understood what many migrants to this country faced. He was able to relate to my family story. Through the bank, he had helped many migrants get a start for their families. He understood their aspiration and their commitment to Australian values and building a better life for themselves and their children. Tom embraced this diversity because he understood its underlying commitment. The diversity of the Parramatta conference is a testimony to this understanding.

He was especially proud of his son, Brendan. Tom would often tell us what Brendan had been up to: his success at university, his great work at SWR FM 99.9, a community radio broadcasting station in the Blacktown area, as well as his achievements in the party and in the Young Liberals. I would like to pay tribute to the courage that Doreen and Brendan have shown at the sudden loss of Tom—it was a shock to everyone who knew him. I pay particular tribute to his wife, Doreen, who faced the difficulties of actually being there. Doreen, your professional training as a nurse and experience in that field demonstrates your strength of character.

Tom enjoyed respect across the party. He gave respect and he received respect. He was well liked and will be missed by many. Tom was always active in community service, including community activities on the Parramatta Traffic Committee and serving on the Baulkham Hills Shire Council’s Orange Blossom Festival. He was always willing to lend a hand.

Tom, those of us in the Liberal Party who share your mainstream Liberal values will especially miss you. We will miss your warmth, understanding, willingness to help, dedication to the cause, guidance and great stories. I am sure I speak for many in the Liberal Party in paying tribute to a good man and a good Liberal. Tom, may you rest in peace.