Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Statements by Senators

Harper, Mr Robert Malcolm 'Bob'

12:48 pm

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak briefly about the life of Robert Malcolm Harper, who recently passed away in my home state of Queensland. Bob Harper was a giant in our political movement and previously in what was the predecessor Liberal Party in Queensland. Whilst we lose many colleagues and members over our time in parliament, I think there are very few who whose lives were so exceptional that they attract a speech onto the Hansard. But in the case of Bob Harper, that is particularly warranted.

It could be said that Bob was born with Liberal blood in his veins. His parents bestowed upon him the names of two of their personal friends—one being Sir Robert Menzies, and the other Bob's godfather, Sir Malcolm Ritchie, who was the founding president of the Australian Liberal Party. Bob was the youngest of four children, with brother and sisters Neville, Dot and Jan, and he was born to Neville and Hazel Harper at Nundah Private Hospital in Brisbane. And, with the exception of his experiences in the bush—where he worked for a long period of time at Wandoan on a cattle property; his brother, Neville, was a respected minister in the Queensland parliament at that stage in Bob's life—most of his life has been concentrated in and about metropolitan Brisbane. In 1972 Bob married his darling wife, Rhonda. I attended his funeral, and there was evidence that Rhonda was not an easy catch for Bob: he had to spend some serious time in pursuit of the woman who went on to be his darling wife for so many decades.

As I deliver this speech, I will add that many of my colleagues from the Liberal-National Party in Queensland have contacted me this week to ensure that it is on the record that they support my speech. In particular, Senator McGrath wanted me to note that he attaches himself to my remarks, and will be delivering a tribute of his own to Bob in the fullness of time.

Bob's love of family and of his wife were matched only by his love of politics. It's fair to say that Bob devoted his life to politics, both as an active member of a political movement and by going on to represent his local area in the state parliament. Of course, this is after Bob had run for the state seat of Nudgee in Queensland. During the course of that campaign he was chased down the road by a man with an axe. Despite this, Bob persisted in his pursuit of politics not only as a member of the state legislature but also—in my time knowing Bob, and for so many of his friends and colleagues—as a very serious and influential honorary member of our political movement, to which he devoted so much of his time over such a long period of time. Bob was the second-ever nominated life member of the Liberal-National Party on amalgamation, behind the father of the party, the honourable Lawrence Springborg. With an inaugural party membership that touched on some 14,000 people, to be granted the second-ever life membership—second only to the father of the party—I think in and of itself speaks massive volumes about Bob's contribution.

As a state member, he made terrific inroads for his electorate: he got the Mount Ommaney Police Station—this is now a thriving, quite dense suburb in Brisbane in my home state—the Centenary State High School and the war memorial for his constituents. He served as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and then as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Premier and the Treasurer. Bob lost his seat in 1998; however, that wasn't the end of his political career. He went on to administer the office of our current Attorney-General. Bob's devotion over a long period of time and over many thousands of hours needs to be properly noted.

Bob was, I think, almost without peer as a campaigner in my home state, particularly in state politics; although he was responsible for supporting many of our federal members, and I think can be credited with maintaining two of our federal seats and at least one of our state seats. That was as a direct result of his stewardship.

I think what most of us will recall about Bob Harper is the intense honesty of the man. Bob always believed that politics played a significantly important role in the stability of our communities and he believed that the people ought to know what was on the minds of candidates who were seeking their endorsement in this framework of representative democracy as we know it. Bob believed that the calibre of the candidates came first. He often successfully supported candidates.

Bob was a man of great influence. You hear about people having the numbers around political parties. Bob had his share and someone else's at most times. Particularly in metropolitan seats, he had great influence around the success or otherwise of candidates. I know from conversations that I had with him over a long period of time about the value that Bob put on the family circumstances of candidates, people who were experienced in business and in life. He would always come back to where he started and say that they had to reflect the standards and values of honesty and integrity that people expected of themselves and therefore expected in their members of parliament.

He was a strong man, although he presented himself in a gentle form. Bob wasn't prone to raising his voice or inflicted by one of the conditions that I suffer from, from time to time: using shearers' language. He put his cases very simply and plainly, and as a result he was much respected and had great influence. When I started, I said Bob was a true warrior. There are so many things that attract people into political life and political influence; but it's the true warriors and the true believers, who believe in the ideology and the value that they believe that their political franchise or political movement brings to life, who are the most dangerous. They don't bend, they don't sway and they don't come in the dead of night. They are out there and rely upon their intellect and their ability to communicate their position and their own great personal values. This fellow was front and centre, and head and shoulders, above his peers in relation to his approach to this. He believed in his state and he believed in his nation, and it reflected the way that he operated. He wasn't just a true warrior; he was an inspiration to multiple generations of political activists and practitioners on the conservative side of politics. He was a campaigner extraordinaire. There was no question about that. I think many who didn't know him personally but remember him professionally will remember that first and foremost.

More importantly, he was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and uncle to so many. His three daughters paid him the most enormous tribute at his funeral. I leaned over to my wife and said, 'If there's a possibility, I want to hire those three girls to deliver the eulogy at my funeral.' It was a wonderful, moving presentation by those girls. Bob will be fondly remembered and respected, notwithstanding that he's no longer with us. He made a substantial contribution to state and national affairs. I say: Bob, you'll be well remembered respectfully by so many of us.