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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 11634

Address at Memorial Service for The Hon Dr David Tonkin, Adelaide

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 11/10/2000

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 11634


Prue and your children and their families, your Excellency, Premier, Julie, Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

When I think of David, I think almost instinctively of three words - I think of decency, I think of optimism and I think of reasonableness. And in many ways those words encapsulate the experience I had in my various dealings with him. I always found him a decent, honest, straightforward man, you always knew whether you were going to reach an understanding with David. All those years that if an understanding were reached, he'd honour it. There was never any double dealing, there was never any trickery, there was never any posturing in public that was different from private advocacy. And I found in my dealings with him as Premier of South Australia, myself as then Treasurer in the Commonwealth Government, I found that kind of trust a priceless thing.

I always found him optimistic. I remember a conversation with him I think in front of a very delightful fire in the family home over a drink just at the commencement of the 1979 election campaign when circumstances happened that I was in Adelaide just after the election had been called. And at that stage his prospects were not rated all that highly but that was to change very rapidly in the course of what was a very skilful campaign. And he was optimistic, although realistic about the challenge ahead. And he had that same sense of reasonableness and optimism when three years later I rang him from Sydney to commiserate the fact that he'd been defeated in the 1982 election. And I had a sense that he had enjoyed the privilege and the opportunity of doing things while he was in government. But he was not going to allow defeat to get him down and that a lot of life lay ahead of him as indeed it did.

I had some very happy personal experiences with David. It sometimes happens in political life, you deal with somebody on a political formal level and then you unexpectedly have the opportunity of dealing with them on a more personal level. And as circumstances happened, on the advice of a doctor in Sydney that the best man to do the job was in Adelaide I came to Calvary Hospital in December of 1985 for a major ear operation. And I couldn't fly for a few weeks, but that's in the literal sense - some of my critics said I couldn't fly anyway - but that's another matter. And it was suggested that I should stay in Adelaide for a while and David and Prue extended a very warm invitation to stay with them. And I found in that two week period a delightful experience of getting to know somebody on a more personal, family basis that you weren't able to do so much in more formal setting and I will always remember the kindness and hospitality and civility that both of them and their families extended to me. And then later on I had the opportunity of being the recipient of some wonderful Tonkin hospitality in London when David was the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

I think Roger's message from the Pitjinjarra people was wonderfully evocative of the variety of things that David was able to achieve in his political life. And he did apply those principles of decency and optimism and reasonableness in all of his dealings and that is why this wonderful gathering of the cross-section of the people of Adelaide representing the people of South Australia is evidence of the mark that he made on this State. I found in my dealings with him as Premier of this State that he was always a fearless advocate of its interests. He saw rightly that his first responsibility was to prosecute the case for South Australia, to advocate the cause of South Australia, but he never lost sight of the fact that he led a State that was part of the nation and he was always above all a very passionate Australian and a great believer in the national goals of our wonderful country.

To have achieved excellence in three endeavours is a remarkable accomplishment for any person. He achieved high rank and great esteem and great excellence in a humanitarian profession. He then devoted his life to politics and he became Premier of his State, a very respected national figure in the Liberal Party of Australia and I was so glad only a few weeks ago to have the honour on behalf of the Liberal Party of Australia in presenting David with an outstanding service award on the eve of the South Australian Division's Conference. And I am just so happy that we had the opportunity of marking his great contribution to our party.

But most importantly of all, and I know that he and all of you would agree, that he achieved excellence in what is after all the most important thing in life and that is to build a happy family environment. And the evidence of that is here with us. What a wonderful example of his and Prue's life as a couple and their wonderful family, is a very vivid testament to what he achieved in after all the greatest endeavour of all. He made a great contribution to the people of South Australia. He is well remembered by all of us who knew him well around Australia and to you Prue and to all the members of your family I extend my condolences and that of the Federal Government. He's a person well loved and well remembered and one who made a wonderful contribution.


Transcript 11634