DEATH OF THE HONOURABLE LEON ASHTON PUNCH, A FORMER DEPUTY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF THE CROWN
Mr GREINER (Ku-ring-gai - Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Ethnic Affairs) [3.12]: I move:
(1) That this House desires to place on record its sense of the loss this State has sustained by the death of the Honourable Leon Ashton Punch, a former Deputy Premier and Minister of the Crown.
It is with great regret that I move this motion of sympathy for the late Leon Punch and to offer on behalf of the House my deepest sympathy and that of my party to his wife,
Sue, and their sons, Tom and Justin. It is always sad when we lose a former member of this House, but I think it is especially sad when we lose such a prominent member, one of the true characters of the Parliament, whose memory will now become an important part of the rich history of this Chamber. The passing of a former member of the House is a time to pause and reflect on the continuing and developing history of this Parliament. In paying tribute to the man, Leon Punch, and his work for New South Wales, we are remembering enduring themes and events in the State's history and giving them a contemporary relevance. With the recent visit of Her Majesty the Queen, for example, it is interesting to note that Leon once said that one of his greatest moments in public life was when he was Minister for Public Works and the Queen officially opened the Sydney Opera House. It is through such recollections at a time such as this that we can keep our continuity with the past and ensure that the people and events that have made this Chamber what it is are not forgotten.
Of the many descriptions and headlines written about Leon during his long political career, I think he would have most appreciated something similar to the one in the Sydney Morning Herald of 2nd May, 1985, which began: "Leon Punch, one of the most rugged and dangerous foes of the Wran Government . . . ". The qualities expressed in this description - the quality of ruggedness or toughness and the qualities of political ability and effectiveness summed up in the term "dangerous" convey, I think, the essence of Leon Punch's parliamentary career. He was certainly tough, a man of great principle who fought strongly for what he believed in and relished the cut and thrust of politics, especially in this Chamber. He was certainly a highly skilful politician, with a keen, intelligent political sense, who was effective both in government and opposition. In our profession we should never be afraid to honour these qualities of toughness and effectiveness because in doing so we honour the spirit of free and vibrant debate that is so essential to any democracy. In honouring Leon today we honour our Parliament and system which he so proudly upheld from 1959 when he entered this Chamber at the age of 30.
As honourable members know, Leon attended The King's School at Parramatta, then followed his heart to the land and became a successful farmer, grazier and racehorse owner. He entered Parliament in 1959 as the Country Party member for Upper Hunter, moving then to the seat of Gloucester in 1962, which he held until his retirement in 1985. In 1973 he was elected Deputy Leader of the Country Party, holding the ministry of public works and ports. In 1975 he had the honour of being elected to the leadership of his party and therefore Deputy Premier of New South Wales. He was instrumental in carrying through major reforms to the Country Party that were designed to broaden its electoral appeal and that saw its name change to the National Party. As I have said publicly since his death - and I reiterate now - he was a great coalitionist and his political skills and vision in the early 1980s, when the Liberal Party and National Party were in a state of severe decline, laid the foundation for the electoral gains in 1984 and the coalition's great victory in 1988.
It is true to say also that his deep commitment and hard work in fighting against corruption in all aspects of public life paved the way for such things as the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the freedom of information reforms that this Government has been able to introduce. He will always have a deserved reputation as an anticorruption crusader. We can say without question that his pioneering work was a major contribution towards the rehabilitation of this State's reputation. Leon's parliamentary career was long and distinguished. He served in Parliament for 26 years. He was Chairman of Committees, a Minister, Deputy Premier and led his party for almost a decade. In all that time his integrity, good humour, hard work and deep commitment to the people of New South Wales were clearly evident to his friends and foes alike.
Before concluding I shall divert from my prepared text to say something personal about Leon Punch. I suppose in many ways Leon Punch and I were about as different as chalk and cheese. We are 20 years apart in age, differing perhaps in a whole variety of personal attributes and in our attitudes towards intellectual pursuits. He was obviously very resolute in his country ties and his country attitude. In many ways people may have thought that Leon Punch and I would have great difficulty co-operating as leaders of the two parties in opposition. It is fair to say that despite those differences we had nary a disagreement in the three years or so that he and I were leaders of our respective parties. That was basically because Leon Punch always called a spade a spade. He was always very straight in his dealings with the Liberal Party, with which he had had some jolly good fights, also while I was leader of the Liberal Party. Nevertheless, he was always very straightforward and clear-cut in his attitudes and dealings, privately and publicly. He held the simple view - a view that the present Leader of the National Party equally holds - that if a deal or arrangement was made between the leaders and between the parties, that meant exactly that and it was to be honoured.
I say personally that there is no doubt that Leon Punch played a very key role in that revival of the fortunes of the coalition parties in New South Wales by the strength that he exhibited and indeed by his willingness to work with the Liberal Party and form a united opposition, because it was obvious to him - as it was to any sensible person - that you needed to have a united opposition in order to be able to run an effective united government. I say personally to Sue on my behalf and on behalf of Katherine how much we recognise the important role that Leon's family played. He was extraordinarily proud of his sons. He did support the wrong school, as I recall, in a variety of matters. Occasionally they seemed to beat the school that I was supporting. But he did have a very real father's affection for his sons and for their achievements, and of course for Sue and the contribution she made not only personally but in his public life. On Katherine's behalf and my behalf, as well as formally on behalf of the Liberal Party, I extend our sincere condolences to the Punch family. In conclusion I say simply that by this motion we honour Leon Punch's life, his work and his memory today, as we all sympathise with his family for the loss of a great man and certainly a great New South Wales parliamentarian.
Mr CARR (Maroubra - Leader of the Opposition) [3.21]: On behalf of Australian Labor Party I second the motion moved by the Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Ethnic Affairs. The Premier is correct when he says that in reviewing the career of Leon Punch we are reminded much of the history of this place, especially the history of the rural based conservative party in New South Wales politics, which under the leadership of Leon Punch went through the trauma of a name change. His career does suggest a lot of the traditional Country Party or National Party approach to politics: his background in agriculture and his participation in local government in rural New South Wales. Leon Punch was elected in March 1959 as the Country Party member for the State seat of Upper Hunter, the start of his 25-year parliamentary career. As a result of a redistribution of the boundaries which saw the abolition of the seat of Upper Hunter, Leon Punch successfully contested the State seat of Gloucester. He remained as the sitting member for that electorate until his resignation from Parliament in May 1985.
As the Premier pointed out, Leon Punch served this Parliament in a number of capacities: Chairman of Committees, and on occasion Acting-Speaker; between 1973 and 1975 Minister for Public Works and Ports; he was Acting Minister for Decentralisation and Development; from April to June 1975 he served as Acting Minister for Local Government and was Deputy Premier from 1975 until 1976. He will be remembered by those who appreciate the flavour of debate and of contest in this Chamber for the sparring
that occurred between him and Neville Wran, those of us on this side of the House cheering Neville Wran and our opponents cheering on Leon Punch. Certainly those encounters were memorable, and always in the spirit of the robustness that has been one of the features of debate in this Parliament, going back to the time of great colour in late nineteenth century politics. It is important that that be respected as a tradition here. The Parliament ought to be a lively and colourful forum. People ought to know that their representatives in this place are participating daily in argument about politics, policy and the implementation of policy. That is how it ought to be: the place ought to be interesting, rather than dull; it ought to be a lively Chamber. That was the spirit in which Neville Wran and Leon Punch were engaged in those set piece parliamentary jousts.
As the Premier said, Leon Punch was a character. He had the job of leading his side of politics, for the most part while the tide was running against them - the big defeats inflicted on conservative politics in New South Wales form 1978 to 1981 - and also, as the Premier said, being part of the reconstruction of the conservative side of politics first manifested in the election of 1984. On behalf of the Labor Party I acknowledge the contribution his career represents to the conservative side of politics, and his contribution moreover to participating in debate in this Chamber which keeps politics in New South Wales lively and of interest; keeps sport off the front pages and politics on the front pages. That is how it should be. On behalf of my parliamentary colleagues of the Australian Labor Party I extend my sincere condolences to his surviving family, his wife Sue and two sons, Tom and Justin.
Mr W. T. J. MURRAY (Barwon - Deputy Premier, Minister for Public Works and Minister for Roads) [3.25]: I join with the Premier, Treasurer and Minister for Ethnic Affairs and the Leader of the Opposition in speaking to this condolence motion for Leon Ashton Punch. I tender the sympathy of the Parliamentary National Party and members of the National Party right across New South Wales to Sue and her two boys. As has been said, Leon was born on 21st April, 1928, at Inverell. He was educated at Inverell High School before going on to The King's School. His father, the late Thomas Sydney Punch, was a medical practitioner at Inverell. Many are the stories about the Punch boys and their early life around the town of Inverell. Leon lived there until 1947 and from then until 1951 he worked on his father's property at Jerrys Plains; from 1952 until 1959 he managed that property and then moved to the family property at Barraba. Leon Punch was a person who left school without having a great deal of knowledge of the agricultural scene, and yet spent seven years in the dairy industry around Jerrys Plains before returning to the grazing industry on the family farm at Barraba. Each of those excursions into the agricultural scene, and later on his dairy property near Gloucester, meant that he had a direct input to the agricultural thinking of this party that was practical, widely spread, and in which he fervently believed.
In 1956 Leon Punch was elected to the Barraba Shire Council and was a delegate to the North West Local Government Association and the shires conference. At that time he was also a councillor at the University of Newcastle. It is interesting to look back at his time with the Barraba Shire Council. One of the first things that council did after constructing a new building was to invite Leon Punch back to officiate at the opening. The work he did for that council over the period during which he was a councillor was much appreciated and recognised by the people of that shire. On being elected to the New South Wales Parliament in March 1959 as the member for Upper Hunter, replacing Mr D'Arcy Rose, who was the member for Upper Hunter for nearly 20 years, Leon gave the first insight into his political determination. Leon was literally a 100 to one chance, first, to win endorsement by the Country Party at that time and, second, to win that seat.
From memory, there were five people who stood for preselection. Leon moved from his home town of Barraba and went down to the Upper Hunter electorate to contest preselection, mainly on the basis of his former ownership of land at Jerrys Plains and the fact that he did know a few people in that part of the world. I believe it also gave a very strong indication of future demands which he made upon the members of his party. The fact that he was endorsed as the Country Party candidate for Upper Hunter and won the seat very convincingly taught many of us that we have to work hard if we want to win a seat and have to continue to work hard after winning that seat.
The system that Leon Punch used in the preselection and in that campaign was really a system of which people should take a great deal of cognisance in future campaigning. It set a standard which has been adopted by this party for many, many years. Following an electoral redistribution, Leon Punch moved from Upper Hunter to Gloucester in 1962 and continued to represent the constituents of Gloucester until his retirement from politics in 1985. This again reflected his determination in politics, because when the redistribution occurred Leon Punch was not the endorsed candidate of the Country Party for the seat of Gloucester; the endorsement went to another person, who was also a sitting member at that time. Leon's determination brought the decision of the Central Council of the Country Party to endorse both people for the seat of Gloucester. Leon Punch romped in, and remained there until his retirement from politics in July 1985. He served in 10 parliaments from 1959 to 1985, spanning some 25 years, a long time in the battleground of the New South Wales Parliament. During the Forty-second and Forty-third Parliaments, from March 1968 to January 1973, he was Chairman of Committees and Acting-Speaker for a period during April 1969 and from May 1972 to July 1972 as evidenced by the plaques on the walls of this Chamber. It was during Leon Punch's early years in this Parliament that his intentions and thoughts really came through in regard to agriculture and decentralisation and their impact on the future of country New South Wales. In his maiden speech on the Address in Reply on 20th August, 1959, he made these comments:
(2) That this House extends to Mrs Punch and family the deep sympathy of the members of the Legislative Assembly in the loss sustained.
As we look at what is happening in this city and around this State today, it is timely to reflect on those words. When Leon came into this Parliament we were going through the 1965 drought. At the end of that drought he was appointed by the government of the day as chairman of a parliamentary select committee which toured this State to assess the effects of that drought and consider programs which were being put forward to battle the droughts. I well remember the 1938 drought, which ended in 1946. From 13th September, 1946, right through until 1965 there literally had not been a break in the seasons of New South Wales, except for a bit of a hiccup in 1957. But until recent times the 1965 drought had really been the daddy of them all. I remember Rex Jackson being a member of that particular committee when I gave evidence before it in Moree in 1966. It is interesting to reflect back on that time, when I promoted the piping of all the artesian bores to provide water to offset the effects of droughts. It is only in the last six months that that particular project has been taking place in this State with the support of this Government.
During the Forty-fourth Parliament Leon Punch served in the Askin-Cutler Government as Minister for Public Works, and subsequently Minister for Public Works and Ports, from December 1973 to December 1976. For a short period he was Acting Minister for Local Government. It was in that particular capacity, during the construction of the Opera House, that he took over from Bill Davis-Hughes, and made some of the important decisions from which we continue to benefit today. The building to the back of this Parliament was contracted for and commenced during Leon Punch's term as Minister for Public Works. He brought the design together. He signed the contracts. Having resided in some of the old buildings, I well remember Gary West and I sharing a room in the old records office alongside the police box. At that stage, if I wanted to gain access while Gary was already in the room, he had to stand while I went in, shut the door and sit down again. It was a tight area. However, the new building in which we members are now accommodated is a great endorsement of the planning, design and other activity of Leon Punch.
Leon Punch became Deputy Premier in 1975, when he succeeded Charles Cutler as the Leader of the New South Wales Country Party, and continued to play a forceful role in opposition, after the Wran Government took office in 1976, as the Leader of the National Country Party and later the National Party. He was instrumental in guiding the coalition back to office. It is interesting to look back on those days when he, in his various capacities as Deputy Premier, toured this State. I well recollect the circumstances regarding a problem in the northwest with the distribution of water from the Copeton Dam. At that particular time the government of the day, the Liberal Party-National Country Party coalition, was going to create two large off river irrigation areas north and south of the Gwydir, east of Moree. I was not in politics at that time, but a number of people in the Moree area were violently opposed to such a proposition. The battles that occurred between Wal Fife, Leon Punch, George Freudenstein, myself and a number of others really become somewhat heated. It was when Leon Punch came to Moree that I learnt of his use of the phrase "stop stuffing around". At the time it became necessary to have some very decisive action in the operations of the Government.
Leon Punch spoke to us during his visit and made decisions on the spot. As a result of those decisions we now have, within northern New South Wales, a production in the cotton industry that is really keeping this State afloat. The decision that was made then for the distribution of that water across the enormous flood plains of the northwest has meant an input not only to the north and the northwest of New South Wales but also to the whole of Australia as the cotton crop is now the third biggest export earner in Australia. When we realise that 80 per cent of cotton production is generated in that area, we know that the decision Leon Punch made was correct.
In the car on the way back to the airport he said to me, "Are you going to stand for Barwon?" I said, "I don't know". He said, "Well, you had better make up your mind and stop stuffing around if you are going to". That was the start of that phrase. It is a phrase that should come to mind when decisions must be made. Whenever a decision had to be made during Leon Punch's career, he got in there, did his homework and made the decision. There was no stuffing around with Leon Punch. He was a great man of courage, strength, tenacity and the utmost integrity. He earned the reputation in this Parliament of being a tough and shrewd political infighter who gave no quarter and expected none. He sometimes reduced Neville Wran - and I well remember sitting on the backbench and seeing it - to red-faced rage and sometimes to utter speechlessness. His verbal scraps in this House with Neville Wran were legendary. Anyone who reads the Hansard debates of days gone by will know how severe the clashes were. Leon Punch believed passionately that what he was doing was right. He believed passionately in the
country way of life and his political efforts were directed tirelessly to representing their interests in this Parliament.
One of the great changes that Leon Punch promoted was the change of name for this party - the change from the Country Party to the National Country Party and from the National Country Party to the National Party. In large part those changes were of his doing. But it was his drive that ensured the changes were successful and were accepted right across this State for reasons of realism in politics and recognition of the fact that for this party to survive it had to change with the times. We could not remain in the old days. The old system that was so often depicted by Doug Anthony with an ear of wheat growing out his ear could no longer continue. The only disagreement Leon Punch and I had was on the debate about the amalgamation of the National Country Party and the Liberal Party. We never did agree on that. It was one matter on which we agreed to disagree and to leave it at that.
Leon Punch held the coalition together when the Liberal Party experienced a significant loss of seats in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. At that time the National Country Party found itself in the role of major opposition party in the Legislative Assembly with more seats than the Liberal Party. I must admit that neither party had many seats and, if my recollection serves me correctly, it was 14 and 13 respectively at that stage in a Parliament of 99. The temptation was strong for Leon to claim the leadership of the Opposition. He did not. In that process he provided rock solid support to the various leaders, who were changing fairly regularly at that time, so that the Liberal Party could get its house in order. There were some changes. My recollection is that there were seven leaders in seven years. I think, Mr Speaker, that at one stage you and I were joint deputies. There were a number of problems in keeping a group of people together. Yet that was done and it was done strongly and effectively. There can be no doubt about Leon's efforts to keep the two parties together, to maintain the principles of country representation of the National Party and to allow the Liberal Party to decide where it was going and what it wanted to do within the coalition as the basis for the 1984 and 1988 elections, resulting in election victory in 1988.
There can be no doubt about the efforts made by Leon Punch to reveal corruption within the government of the day and that this contributed greatly to the defeat of the Labor Party in 1988. His dogged pursuit of corruption covered a period in New South Wales history when we saw a chief magistrate gaoled, a Minister gaoled, a deputy commissioner of police sacked, and a New South Wales District Court judge and a High Court judge before the courts. They were incredible times. They were times in which Leon Punch spent an enormous amount of effort providing details of corruption. I must admit that it was not always possible to fill in the background, though we knew the problems were there. The insults and barbs hurled across this Parliament are now history. To Leon Punch these insults were like water off a duck's back. He would smile and retaliate with a barrage of criticisms, giving as much as he got.
One of the great thrills for Leon Punch came during his time as Minister for Public Works when Her Majesty the Queen opened the Sydney Opera House. That building is now accepted worldwide as one of the great monuments of this city. He was proud also to have been involved heavily with the development of Westmead hospital, with the third coal loader at Newcastle and with the deepening of Newcastle Harbour, making it a better harbour more accessible for shipping that was essential for that city. Above all, he was a proud family man. He was a devoted husband to Sue and father of Tom and Justin, and those two boys are a great credit to Leon and to Sue. Many people have gone through this House and many more are to come. At some time many people
who are here today will be recognised for their efforts in this Parliament, but I say, looking across 25 years of history and achievement, that there will be none greater than Leon Punch.
Mr COLLINS (Willoughby - Attorney General, Minister for Consumer Affairs and Minister for Arts) [3.48]: I join with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Premier in paying tribute to the late Leon Punch, both on my behalf and on behalf of my wife. It is easy in this Chamber, in Australia's oldest Parliament, to assume that few things change, that we belong to a permanent institution and that some of the giants of parliamentary history are indestructible. I believe that Leon Punch was one of those giants in recent times. I came into this Parliament in 1981, the same year as the now Deputy Leader of the National Party. It was certainly a low ebb for this side of politics. To sit on the other side of the Chamber at that time was a daunting experience almost every day the Parliament sat because, as the Deputy Premier said, I think we had 13 members each and one expected a tongue-lashing every day, and usually got it. One of those who could fight back and who showed great combative skill was Leon Punch; we could always count on him to get in there and slog it out on our behalf. He did so; he gave no quarter and did so often with great success and style. He will be remembered as a man of great personal style, of charm, and with an ability to cut it with the best.
He was usually sparring with the then Premier, Neville Wran - one of the most formidable politicians to have trod the parliamentary stage anywhere in Australia in the last couple of decades. There is no doubt whatever that Leon Punch gave as good as he got. As a couple of speakers have already said, he was also a team builder. In 1981 he could have taken an opportunity but he did not. That laid the foundations for lasting co-operation between the Liberal and National parties. The good will engendered by Leon Punch and his decision not to seize that historical moment and accident of numbers stand the coalition in good stead. I think that it laid the groundwork for the 1988 election win. It also led the way to reciprocation by the Liberal Party in, for example, not to run a candidate in Northern Tablelands. That is indicative of the strong good will developed by Leon Punch in 1981.
Like most members on our side of the House, I came in for a tongue-lashing by Leon Punch on various issues. He was never one to beat around the bush. He was very direct. He did not play his cards close to his chest. If he thought you were wrong, he told you you were wrong and you had it out with him. That was one of the strengths of the man: you knew exactly where you stood with Leon Punch. I was shocked to hear of his death because he had been a man of such vigour and style. He has left an indelible mark on this place and those of us who benefit from the good will he engendered and who learned so much from him as a parliamentary performer. I pay tribute to Leon Punch. My wife and I extend our condolences to Sue, his wife, and their two sons.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs) [3.53]: I join with previous speakers - the Premier, the Deputy Premier, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and the Leader of the Opposition - in expressing my condolences to Mrs Sue Punch and sons Thomas and Justin on the loss of a husband and father and one of New South Wales' true statesmen, the Hon. Leon Ashton Punch. Previous speakers ably outlined Leon Punch's life and history and much of his career, both private and professional, in this Parliament. Since the foundation of this Parliament the great majority of the many hundreds of members who have represented their constituencies in this place have come and gone staying on one side of the House. They may have served on committees. A few are privileged to serve as a Minister. Very few attain the office of Deputy Premier and very few sit in your chair, Mr Speaker. The Hon. Leon Ashton
Punch managed to achieve all of those things and to sit on both sides of the House. It could be rightfully claimed that very few members of Parliament have contributed more to this place. Few have left a greater imprint on this place than Leon Ashton Punch.
He was adaptable and willing to work to succeed. In all of the offices he held he truly succeeded. Mr Speaker, I am sure that you would agree with me that as an Acting-Speaker he was vibrant, intelligent and definite and he gave leadership to this place. We have already heard much of his successes as a Minister, including the refurbishment of our present premises. In addition, he had a proud record on country water supplies and on Botany Bay, Newcastle and Port Kembla development when he was Minister for Public Works. His involvement in the Sydney Opera House has been mentioned. He oversaw the completion of the Opera House in the 10 months before it was officially opened by the Queen in 1973. Honourable members will recall that there were very torrid periods in the finalisation of the Opera House regarding its management. Leon Punch was called on by the government of the day to oversee the completion of the project. What a grand project it is. Every one of us would be extraordinarily proud after retiring from this place to leave as an achievement something that is recognised as one of the world's great attractions, the Sydney Opera House.
The Deputy Premier quoted some of Leon Punch's maiden speech in this place. He spoke of a vision for decentralisation. Decentralisation has been a large part of my responsibility as a Minister in the last few years. We have successfully relocated the Department of Agriculture head office from Sydney to Orange. That is the sort of thing that Leon Punch had visions about. That is the sort of recognition of country New South Wales that Leon Punch stood for. He was an achiever and he had a light on the hill. Those are the sorts of projects that appealed to Leon Punch. I am delighted that the National Party, his party, the old Country Party, has been able to achieve Australia's largest government decentralisation in history. A large part of Leon Punch's career in the latter stages was involved with the anti-corruption fights. The headline in the Daily Telegraph Mirror on 30th December, 1991, paying tribute to Leon Punch, said, "Tough Punch scourge of evil". So he was. But he was a little different from many people who take on crusades in this place: he meant it. He was genuine. He was not playing politics. He was not looking for a headline. He was not looking to build himself up. He meant that evil was evil. He was dedicated to cleaning up this State. That is why he fought so strongly. He took on all comers both inside and outside this place.
Leon Punch was strongly pro-country as he was pro-Australia. One of the reasons he was a successful member of Parliament was his depth of understanding and recognition - both in the country, his natural base, and here in the city. Very few members of Parliament can claim to have the confidence of both the city and the country. It is sad to say that but that is the way it is. New South Wales has suffered from this division between country and city for 200 years. Leon Punch had the background in both areas, the recognition in both areas, the feeling for both areas and he did much to pull together the relationships between business and the social strata of city and country New South Wales. Being from a farming background, he understood all about hard work. I remember Leon Punch charging up the corridors when I first came into this place with the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the Attorney General, in 1981. Question time would finish and away he would go. He walked at about 20 miles an hour. Everything he did he did with precise movement and he worked hard. He did not stop at all. He would arrive here each morning at about 8 o'clock as regular as clockwork. He would leave after dinner at night at about 9 o'clock, as Leader of the National Party, and he did not stop all day. He had that wonderful work ethic and he was available to people.
As the Attorney General has said, Leon Punch was straightforward in telling people what he thought. It is no secret that Leon Punch and I did not always agree. I respected that I always knew where I stood. He looked me in the eye and I knew then that I had an argument on my hands. He was dead straight and knew exactly what he wanted to achieve. Leon Punch believed fiercely in the democratic system. Since Leon Punch's retirement, across Australia increasing numbers of sensible thinking people have been worried about the democratic system of this country. Members such as Leon Punch did so much to give us a democratic foundation and to create true democracy. In the 1990s when we talk about change, republicanism and all the other rot that minorities go on with we should remember that it was the Leon Punches of the world who gave us true foundations, opera houses, water supplies, public works developments, pride and prestige. They stood for good Christian morals and virtues, allegiance and history. I speak with a great sense of loss today and extend my sympathy to Mr Punch's family.
Mr SCHIPP (Wagga Wagga - Minister for Housing) [4.0]: I wish to speak briefly to this condolence motion and, on behalf of my wife, to express sympathy to the family of the late Leon Punch, to Sue, Justin and Tom. Mr Speaker, you will remember that I served for almost a decade of the period served by Leon Punch - from 1975 through to his retirement - and you served for a few years longer. My relationship with Leon was that of a teacher and pupil. He taught us the way to go about things. As other speakers have said, he was always direct and came quickly to the point in party considerations. I believe he was the driving force in the unity of the coalition parties. I had that insight because from 1978 onwards I was the sole surviving country member of the Liberal Party. Mr Speaker, at that time you held a semi-rural seat but I held the seat of Wagga Wagga, so at that stage I was really a foreigner in the coalition.
I recall those dramatic days in early 1981 when there was a lot of pressure on Leon Punch - I do not think it has been emphasised enough today - to take over the reins. This pressure did not come only from his own party. I know that there were divisions within the National Party - or the Country Party as it was called at that stage as to whether he should take over the reins. I recall statements in the media that, because of problems within the Liberal Party, it might be better for someone with stability and longer service to take over the reins for a short time to settle the coalition down. There was a dramatic 24-hour period when it could have gone either way. But in discussions I had with Leon the night prior to the period I am talking about he said, with clear foresight, it was not right, it was not proper, it would be short term only and cause so much turmoil that he could not make that decision. From that point on he welded the coalition together - into a force which came through at the 1984 election, when we had great success at the polls and increased our numbers significantly. I need to correct a statement made earlier by the Deputy Premier: at one point it was more like 13:13. We built on our numbers and went through to our March 1988 win. If Leon Punch were serving with us today he would be delivering this same message: if we do not stay together we will come apart. I think there is a message in that because we are living in challenging times. People ought to remember his wisdom in that difficult period. I repeat that he welded us into a fighting team that had one objective. We achieved that objective even though he had left the Parliament.
As a country boy I believe that one of the great buildings in this city is the addition to Parliament House. Leon Punch had the major ministerial responsibility for overseeing that project. The new building was so well blended with the old Parliament House that it does not violate the buildingscape of Macquarie Street. People do not realise that such a large building is nestled at the back of old Parliament House. Even from the perspective of the Domain it blends in well with a range of neighbouring
buildings and parkland. Apart from all the other matters for which Leon Punch was responsible as a Minister, that addition is a great tribute to him. His vision was to build something that suited the needs of the Parliament and was befitting the area. We will all miss Leon. I pay tribute to his contribution over two and a half decades. One often wonders how a person's performance will be remembered. When I read the media coverage after Leon's death was announced I thought it was a tribute to him. It came through in positive terms, given his experiences in this place with the Premier at the time. That is a tribute to his positive contribution to this place. It will stand his family in good stead.
Mr PEACOCKE (Dubbo - Minister for Local Government and Minister for Cooperatives) [4.5]: I extend my sincere sympathy to Leon Punch's wife, Sue, and his sons, Tom and Justin. I had a deep regard for Leon Punch, for his capacity as a leader and for his total commitment to honesty in his great fight against corruption. Leon could be and was a close friend and loyal ally. To me he was a great leader of the Country Party, as it was when I first came to this place, and later of the National Party. Leon was an extraordinary character. I do not want to canvass the matters covered by other speakers, which are all true, but I recall that in 1981, when I first became a member of this House, I went going to Government House for the usual reception by the Governor. There I saw Neville Wran, who was then the Premier of this State. I had known Neville Wran for many years - my firm had briefed him for 15 to 20 years - and he was a personal friend. Quite naturally, I went up to Neville to have a bit of a yarn with him, and I talked with him for about 15 to 20 minutes. I did not think anything of it until I got back to Parliament House and I received a message from Punch. He said, "Come up to my room". I went up there thinking that he was going to give me a drink or something. Instead Leon asked, "Why were you talking to Wran?" He quizzed me closely about that and I said: "I know him well. I just had a bit of a yarn with him".
I well remember, as would everyone who was in the House at that time, the titanic battles between Leon Punch and Neville Wran. Those battles were really something to behold. One day they culminated in a great battle when Neville Wran called Leon Punch a piece of green slime. I believe that was the apogee of their great battles. I used to watch Leon as he mounted his attacks. Honourable members will recall his red hair, and he had a fiery temper to match. His face would get redder and redder as he went into battle. But there was much more to Leon Punch than his battles with Neville Wran. Obviously those will be the things for which he will be remembered. People remember the colour of this House and the liveliness Leon contributed to it. As a parliamentarian Leon Punch did many great things, not just as leader of the National Party. He was dedicated to the country people of New South Wales. He worked hard for them over a long period. He was dedicated to the State. As we have heard from earlier speakers, a number of major projects were completed under the control and direction of Leon Punch. In his latter years he was also a city person. He, Sue and the boys lived in the city and took an active part in city life. As someone said earlier today, one of the features of Leon Punch is that he was as well known in the city as he was in country areas.
I was deeply shocked to learn of Leon's death. Even now I find it hard to believe that he is no longer with us. After he retired from Parliament I used to see him on a fairly regular basis. I would often see him walking along Macquarie Street and we would have a yarn about how things were going. I will miss him. I know that Sue and the boys will miss him deeply because Leon was a very good family man. He had a great love for Sue and the boys and took a great and consuming interest in them and their welfare. For their sake I am deeply sorry that Leon died at such a relatively young age.
However, I am grateful that he spent a considerable period of time in this Parliament and contributed greatly to the welfare of the people of this State. I should like to conclude as I began, by extending my deep and heartfelt sympathy to Sue, Tom and Justin, but in doing so to say that they have a great deal to be grateful for, having had a husband and father of such stature in this State.
Mr CAUSLEY (Clarence - Minister for Natural Resources) [4.11]: I join with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the National Party and other ministerial colleagues in paying tribute to Leon Punch. I dare say the only reason that I am a member of this House is because of Leon Punch. There are times when I curse him because obviously being a member of Parliament is a difficult job which stretches one's patience on many occasions. If nothing else, Leon Punch was tenacious. Prior to my election I suppose I was regarded as a leader in the sugar industry on the North Coast. We did not hold the seat of Clarence. At that time the Hon. Don Day held the seat for the Labor Party. On a number of occasions Leon Punch asked me to stand for the seat. At one time I made what I suppose could be regarded as the famous statement that I was not interested in politics, even though I was a member of the National Party, and that he had better look for other candidates. On one or two occasions I was campaign manager for those candidates. On one such occasion Don McRae stood against Don Day and went very close, within a few hundred votes, to winning the seat.
However, Leon would not give up. I remember arriving home with my wife at about 8 o'clock one night after planting cane. The honourable member for Coffs Harbour, Matt Singleton, was sitting in a car parked outside my house. He had been sent on an errand by Leon Punch. The errand was to try to persuade me to stand for the seat of Clarence. Again I declined. However, Leon finally wore me down and I got to the stage where I said: "Yes, I am interested in politics. I am not very pleased about the direction we are going in at the present time. I will probably stand for the seat of Clarence if I get the endorsement of the party". Leon was quite excited about that, but I warned him that he may regret the day I entered Parliament because I could easily clash with him. I was fairly well known for being forthright. Leon's reply was, "Let's test that. We will see if we can work together". Leon was very astute in politics. That has been referred to by other speakers. He did not overwhelm new members with advice, but the advice he gave was very wise. I know very well that he was a stickler for the traditions of this Parliament and for the Westminster system. Early in my parliamentary career he said to me: "There are some unwritten traditions about this Parliament. There are conventions; you abide by those conventions". Members of this Parliament should understand the history and heritage of this institution and preserve them. Leon Punch was very much aware of those traditions and he certainly instilled in me the feeling that members should abide by them.
Leon had some very pithy ideas. When speaking to me one day about writing press releases, he said: "Son, you abide by the KISS system - keep it simple, stupid". Obviously a member of Parliament has to relate to everyone in his electorate and get the message across as clearly and as plainly as possible. I have never forgotten the message he gave me about relating to my electorate. He always believed that one should get out into one's electorate. He used to say to young members, "You must get out there and work your electorate, you must get to be known by the people". I know that in the latter days he was accused by Neville Wran of living in Sydney, in Darling Point Road, and not visiting Gloucester. The fact that he worked the electorate so hard in the past was probably shown in his results in the ballot box because he used to win his seat with about 80 per cent of the vote. Obviously the people in his electorate had got to know him and remembered him for what he was. As one of the previous speakers said, the debates
between Neville Wran and Leon Punch were fairly spirited. There were some memorable retorts. I do not think they should be repeated because they were not friendly. There is no doubt that there was a certain mutual animosity between the combatants. Nevertheless they both had a role to play. One was the leader of his party and Premier and obviously Leon Punch, as a senior member of the Opposition, had a role to play as well. He fulfilled that role.
As most of the previous speakers have said, Leon was fearless. I clearly recall some of the fearless questions he asked. On several occasions he was threatened by certain people. He probably did not say too much about it but he put his family on the line by some of the stands that he took against crime and corruption. Unfortunately that will always be the case for people who do that. I do not suggest that anyone should resile from it, but people who make such allegations will certainly receive threats. I know that some of my colleagues have been through that experience. Nevertheless, Leon never swayed from his convictions, what he believed in and the direction he thought was right and just. He carried on in that direction and he will be remembered for that. As I said, he was abrasive. As an earlier speaker said, his red hair was well known. On occasions he flared. He has flared at me; I think he has flared at many members of the Country Party or National Party. Those members could probably relate such occasions. Notwithstanding that, he was a good leader. He moulded a team. He believed in a team spirit, in supporting one another, and I believe that the National Party, formerly the Country Party, has demonstrated that regardless of the fights we might have about different ideas which are forthrightly put, eventually we support and stand strongly behind one another. Leaders like Leon Punch have moulded that spirit and it remains today.
I remember also another attribute of Leon Punch. He did not believe that he should do the work for other members; it was up to them to do their own work. Soon after I entered Parliament, a crisis occurred in the sugar industry, from which, as I said, I had come. The Government had promised certain funds to the sugar industry and we in the industry believed it was reneging. As a member of about five minutes' standing, I said to Leon Punch: "We should move a suspension on this. We should highlight the fact that this industry has been promised something and that the Government is not carrying out the promise it has made". Leon looked me straight in the eye and said: "I think that is a great idea. You do it". I have to say that was a rather daunting prospect because I had not been in this place very long and Neville Wran was the Premier. There is no doubt that he had a certain reputation. However, it was a baptism of fire and that is the way Leon liked it: if a member knew something about a particular matter, and believed in it, he should have the courage of his convictions. In retrospect, I believe that was a good thing. It enabled new members to gain experience, learn about the procedures of this place and be able to cope with them.
I have a small insight also into Leon Punch's early days in politics. At that time one of my good friends on the North Coast, the Hon. Ian Robinson, was a member of State Parliament. He was assigned to Leon Punch when he first won preselection. As the Leader of the National Party, Wal Murray, has said, Leon did not rate much of a chance when he first came out of the hills to contest the seat. He was an unknown. He was, I suppose, as some of us were, rough around the edges and brash. He was not given much chance of winning, but he won preselection. That was his spirit. Ian Robinson was given the job of helping Leon fight his first campaign. There are some lovely stories about Leon and his car and how he campaigned. Leon did not know much about campaigning. He was guided in his first campaign by Ian Robinson, the so-called older member of the Parliament. He must have been a fast learner, for he won his first campaign and went on to win other elections and to become the Leader of the National Party and Deputy Premier of this State.
Leon never lost sight of where he came from or the fact that he was a National Party member and represented country people. He was proud of that. He was absolutely resolute in his resolve to put forward those policies and the policies that he believed protected and affected country New South Wales. Following his retirement, he was unlucky to contract a virus, which obviously affected his heart muscles. Few of us knew about that, because he was not one who complained. He would not say that he had a problem. I learned subsequently from Leon's good friend Matt Singleton that he suffered a heart attack in the United States of America while on holiday and was not at all well when he was brought back to Australia. Few of us knew about his illness because knowledge of it was kept fairly close to the family.
Ian Robinson tells stories also of how Leon, the confirmed bachelor, used to turn up at Parliament House with a little nurse. I think at the time Ian Robinson may still have been a confirmed bachelor. He married late in life. Honourable members know that Leon subsequently married Sue and they had two fine sons, Justin and Tom, of whom the House has heard today Leon was very proud. I dare say it was good that Tom had just returned from the United States of America a few days before his father died. It would have been a sad occasion for Tom, but at least he saw his father before he died. As other speakers have said, Leon Punch will be missed. I spoke to him only a fortnight before his death. He was still full of fire and ideas. He still had the fire of politics in his belly. I am sure he would have died that way because he lived and breathed politics. He loved New South Wales and his country. His only desire was to see the right things done by it. I should like to pass on to Sue and the boys the sympathy of my family and the electorate of Clarence at the passing of Leon Punch. He was a great National Party member and a great New South Welshman and I am sure that he will go down in history as a great Australian as well.
Mr YABSLEY (Vaucluse - Minister for State Development and Minister for Tourism) [4.23]: I join with the Premier, the Leader of the National Party and other honourable members in saluting the life and times of Leon Punch. Most honourable members would not know, but perhaps they would not be surprised to learn, that Leon Punch was for me a great friend and confidant long before he became a colleague and a former colleague. That great friendship and political relationship was consolidated when a delegation from the class of 1984 went to see Leon in early 1985, from recollection, as rumours were spreading about his imminent retirement. I think there were five or six in the group. I am sure the Leader of the National Party will not take it amiss if I say that we wanted to convey the message that we believed our side of politics in this place would be a lot weaker if rumours of his imminent retirement from politics proved true. With characteristic style, flair and determination, Leon Punch told us a few home truths. He said that he most objected in political life to those people who did not know when it was time to retire and those who thought of themselves as indispensable. I clearly remember his using the age-old expression that no one is indispensable. Clearly, he was saying that about himself.
Though at that time Leon Punch's health was not the best, he was obviously not to know that it would deteriorate rapidly, as other honourable members have recalled, fairly soon after his resignation in 1985. From those days onward Leon and Sue were, for Suzie and me, wonderful friends. We spent many happy times together, both in a personal sense and through our mutual interest in politics and various other mutual friends that we had around the eastern suburbs. I remember the Redfern blitz of 1984. I remember Leon spending polling day in 1988 at St John's Church at Darlinghurst and in 1991 at Vaucluse High School. I count it a great privilege that in his days of retirement some of the rare political outings he made were to support me. But the real support was
the support that he gave me constantly and faithfully. That is something for which I will always be grateful. I remember sitting through his analysis the night the Queensland Government was defeated in 1989. As honourable members can imagine, there was a fair bit of animation in that analysis. But Leon was the consummate bomb thrower, the consummate corruption fighter. In many respects, the two go comfortably hand-in-hand.
As many other honourable members have recalled, the ire of Neville Wran is the ultimate testament to Leon's effectiveness. Did we not see that on many occasions? I shall always count it a great privilege, though some might consider it a perverse privilege, to have sat in the House through many of those exchanges. Following Leon's death, the Sydney Morning Herald recalled in an obituary that during one debate Mr Wran said he left instructions that if he died and Mr Punch attempted to speak during the condolence motion, the gag should be moved. Perhaps that was the only wish that Leon Punch ever granted to Neville Wran, albeit unintentionally. That is a measure of the sort of relationship to which so many have referred. In some of our more introspective moments in recent times in the New South Wales Government we have talked about being too soft on our opponents. A way of paraphrasing that would be to say that we do need a bit of the Leon Punch spirit back in the place - a preparedness to fight, to be tenacious and to show all of those characteristics for which he was so renowned.
To sum up, Leon Punch had said to me in the past and would say to any of us, in this order, "Look after your family and always allow time for them". The family relationship he had with Sue, Tom and Justin was extraordinary and exemplary in every way. I think he would say, "Maintain your integrity and at the same time try to do something positive for the State". But he would say also, "Make sure you collect a few scalps along the way". As the bell has tolled for Leon Punch we recall his exemplary standards. I pay tribute to a great friend and confidant, someone whom I shall miss greatly. Suzie and I join honourable members in conveying our most profound sympathy to Sue, Tom and Justin.
Mr TURNER (Myall Lakes) [4.29]: I join with my colleagues from both sides of the House today in speaking about the passing of Leon Punch. I knew Leon but not as well as the other speakers. However, I represent most of the area he represented in the former seat of Gloucester. My colleague the honourable member for Port Macquarie, who succeeded Leon in 1985, would agree with me that through the many years since 1962 Leon Punch, as the member for Gloucester, left that seat and the area in a wonderful state for the National Party and everyone in the electorate to build on. We are certainly indebted to him for that. Earlier the Deputy Premier said that Leon Punch became the member for Gloucester in 1962. I had the privilege of reading the minutes of a fairly volatile branch or electorate council meeting at which Leon Punch indicated that he wanted to be the member for Gloucester after moving from the Upper Hunter. His friend and mentor, Allan Wansey, with whom I had the privilege of being associated for many years, both before and after I was elected, and I spoke of the tenacity of Leon Punch in those days in obtaining his preselection for Gloucester. I can assure honourable members that that tenacity is reflected in the minutes I saw. The tenacity he exhibited on that occasion was a mark of the man we were to see in this House.
Regrettably, I heard him speak only once on the floor of the House. During the latter part of Leon's term in this House I recall witnessing one of these stoushes with Neville Wran, about which we have heard. Neville Wran was on the receiving end of Leon's tongue and was turning that red colour about which everyone has heard. Then it was Neville Wran's turn to respond. I remember the disdain with which Leon treated the occasion. He wandered around the Chamber talking to a few members. Suddenly
he produced a white handkerchief which he merely waved in the air, beckoning to Neville to sit down and indicating in a mocking way that he had won. However, never did Leon Punch wave the surrender flag in this House, and never did he wave the surrender flag in the pursuit of National Party interests in this State. Leon Punch was a man dedicated to taking the fight to this Parliament and to the people of New South Wales for the betterment of the State.
Leon Punch was an outstanding performer on the floor of the Parliament. He was also a very genuine man. I recall in 1984 he assisted me in my Federal aspirations. We were engaging in some old-fashioned stumping in Beresfield. I believe one of the assistants to the present Deputy Premier was with Leon Punch on that occasion. A lady had locked her keys in her car. We did our stumping, and our wandering around. Leon saw that the lady had a problem, went over to her and offered to try to help. From memory, she did not have any money. He gave her the money to make a telephone call and offered to drive her home to obtain a second set of keys. It was a simple thing but it was important for him to be able to take time out to show that he was a genuine person within his community. Leon Punch is still spoken of in glowing terms in the electorate I represent. He is highly regarded and people in the area of Taree, Gloucester, Forster and Dungog, which I visited on Friday, all speak very highly of him for what he did for that community throughout his long period of public life. On behalf of the constituents of his former electorate, which has now sadly passed into history but which is, in fact, Myall Lakes, I certainly pass on to his family their condolences, together with my own. Leon Punch was a great leader, a great representative for the area and a great man.
Mr BECK (Murwillumbah) [4.33]: I join with the Premier, Deputy Premier and my ministerial colleagues, the Leader of the Opposition, and members on this side of the House in passing on my condolences and those of my family to Leon Punch's family. I served in this House with Leon for a little more than 12 months from March 1984 to July 1985 when he retired. During that time it was indeed a pleasure to listen to the thrust of his contributions to debate and to witness the very important contribution he made to this Parliament. When Leon and Neville Wran were in the House together, it was a little like the Punch and Wran show. We all looked forward to question time on those occasions. In 1984 when I was elected to Parliament, four of my colleagues were also elected. They were Ian Causley, Robert Webster, Bruce Jeffery and Adrian Cruickshank. Leon's office was on the eleventh floor. His leadership and guidance at that time were very important to each of the new members elected at that time. As Bruce Jeffery said, it was also a very good party room. I had known Leon for some 20 years before his death. My family knew Leon and Sue and their family very well. Over that 20 years we had a great friendship. I wish to pass on from my family - my wife Lynne and Elizabeth and Allison - sincere condolences to Sue, Tom and Justin on the sad loss of their husband and father, Leon.
Members and officers of the House standing in their places,
Motion agreed to.
We all live under the continuous threat that unless we develop and populate this great country of ours, it may be lost to the teaming millions in the north. To me as a young man who hopes to live in this wonderful country for very many years, it is a tragedy - indeed, a sheer disgrace - to envisage the possible loss of this great heritage. The Government of New South Wales must take drastic and prompt action to halt this conglomeration of industry and population in the city and move some of it to country areas for proper development. Until this large continent is divided into several new States we shall live in constant dread of the adverse effect of a policy of centralisation of industries and people. In doing so we are merely tightening the noose around our own necks. The present policy of restricting expansion to the large cities must not be permitted to continue.