Mr Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation to this high office.
During parliamentary sitting weeks I begin my day with a run into Parliament House. It is, for me, a tranquil 40 minutes as I take in the sights and sounds of Canberra mornings before the turbulence and noise and intensity of parliament descends. Over many years my early morning run has been punctuated by a bright spot—a daily encounter with Don Randall, as he walked the same route but in the opposite direction. I looked forward to this brief conversation invariably along these lines: 'Morning, Don! What mischief are you up to today?' 'Morning, Jules! Just you wait and see!' Don became a close friend, a trusted friend. He made me laugh. He had a droll, often irreverent sense of humour. We had a shared passion for the West Coast Eagles. When I was on the board of the AFL club during a rather low patch in its fortunes, Don never missed an opportunity to tell me precisely what was wrong with the team and precisely how it could be fixed—and he always ended with: 'In my humble opinion.' There was a larrikin streak within Don's personality. He was a larger-than-life character, often speaking his mind without any regard for the consequences. He was loyal to a fault. There was a side to Don that was far softer, more caring than perhaps his public persona. Don had an uncanny way of knowing when his mates were feeling down, knowing when to contact them. He was always there for them—and he had many, many close friends.
On 17 July last I was attending the national memorial service in Canberra on the first anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17. It was a very emotional day for the family and friends of the victims who were here in Canberra. It also happens to be my birthday. I received this text—and I have kept it: 'Hi Julie. On what is obviously a sad day for you and others about you, I hope you take time to enjoy and celebrate your birthday. Cheers, Don.' I am so pleased that I took the time to respond to him: 'Thanks, Don. So very sweet of you to send me a birthday text—emoji, emoji—Cheers, Julie.' That was the last communication between us.
Over my eight years as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party I have been asked by the leader, from time to time, to have a word with Don, invariably after Don had done or said something that had caused headlines—and not in a positive way. At first Don was rather curt with me and clearly defiant, but over the years the tone of our conversations changed to the point where, after any particular incident involving Don when I would contact him, he would say: 'What took you so long? I've been waiting for your call!' Recently, his beautiful daughter, Tess, told me that Don's staff had dubbed me 'the Don Tamer'.
Throughout his parliamentary career, Don never lost sight of his role as a local member, first elected by the people of Swan in 1996. The GST election of 1998 saw his seat change hands in a swing against the federal government in the west. It was a momentary setback for Don, but he returned in 2001 as the member for Canning, a responsibility which he cherished and to which he was devoted. His political career spanned almost 20 years and included seven elections—and Don was a superb campaigner. He was at home amongst his constituents. He listened to their concerns. He fought for and, if necessary, defended their interests. When new members would ask me for tips on retaining their seat, I would always suggest they spend time with Don Randall. He understood better than most how much time, effort and nurturing had to be dedicated to an electorate.
Don also cared deeply for the people of Sri Lanka. He had a significant Sri Lankan constituency and he became involved in the life of their country of birth, supporting charities that worked with the victims of the civil war, particularly in the northern region. He loved Sri Lanka and was loved in return. Let me read from a letter from the Sri Lankan foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, that I received just after Don's death: 'We will continue to honour and value his consistent support for our country in the Australian parliament, including the steadfast advocacy for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. As the architect and chair of the Australia-Sri Lanka parliamentary group since its inception, Don contributed significantly to promote our bilateral relations, people-to-people contacts and interparliamentary outreach. In the passing of the Hon. Don Randall, Sri Lanka has indeed lost a true friend and kindred spirit.'
Don's greatest love was his family: his wife, Julie, his daughter, Tess, his son, Elliot. They were the centre of his universe. He believed in the sanctity of the family unit. As he said in his first speech to parliament:
This is where young Australians learn about responsibility for themselves and where older Australians learn responsibility for others.
Don Randall was from the West; he was of the West. He spoke in the vernacular. He championed the values, the interests of the West. As a teacher, horse trainer, marketing consultant and local councillor he brought a breadth of experience and insight and community perspective to the Australian parliament.
This morning, as I ran along my route to Parliament House, I felt quite painfully the loss—that Don was not there. I ran past a man I had not seen before, and he called out, 'I'm so sorry to hear about Don Randall.' I stopped and spoke to him. He was a retired public servant—and apparently he got to know Don through the morning walks—and he said to me: 'I walked with him every morning he was here, but I'm taking a different route from now on. It just won't be the same anymore without Don.' I could not agree more. To Julie, Tess and Elliot: you are in our hearts. Don Randall was a good man. He will be missed. Vale, Don Randall.
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