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PM: Obituary Speeches 9 November 2005

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Tributes to
the late
Rt Hon David Lange
Rod Donald
Hon John Falloon
Jack Luxton

Parliament Wellington

Wednesday 9 November 2005

It is a privilege for me to move these two notices of motion:

the first honouring the memory of the late Rt Hon David Lange, a former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the second honouring the late Rod Donald MP, co-leader of the Green Party.

The House will today also observe a minute’s silence in memory of the Hon John Falloon and of the former Member of Parliament for Piako and Matamata, Jack Luxton.

Each of these men made a significant contribution to this House and to public life. Theirs were lives of note.

David Lange’s life story is one familiar to many of us. All Prime Ministers live in a goldfish bowl, with their lives from birth on rather keenly scrutinised for insights into their personalities and characteristics.

In David’s case, he filled in the gaps on the public record by writing his autobiography, which was published shortly before his death.

The book gives one real insights into life in Otahuhu in the 1940s and '50s, where David grew up and where his father was the local doctor.

It tells of David’s legal education and entry into the law profession, and his rite of passage on his OE, through Australia and South East Asia to India, and on to the United Kingdom. India in particular was a country he was to visit and revisit many times during his life.

David came to Parliament in the unusual circumstances created by the Mangere by-election in 1977. His National opponent was Hon Clem Simich, whose election as Deputy Speaker was unanimously supported by the House yesterday.

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Prior to that, David had run for Labour in 1975 in the Far North seat of Hobson, where he had connections related to his father’s years as a rural doctor in the Hokianga.

I was also a candidate that year in a seat held by National, held as it happens by the late Jack Luxton.

Candidates in strongholds for another party seldom get much nationwide publicity, but I do well recall Television New Zealand assembling four of us from each of Labour and National, placing us in a studio rigged up as a boxing ring, and leaving us all to slug it out. It should be said that in every respect in that contest, David was a heavyweight.

I had previously met David in the course of the 1974 election for the Auckland City Council, when we were both on the Labour Party ticket, with, among others, Cath Tizard, and Jim Anderton, and withTitewhai Harawira, whose son, Hone, has just been elected to this House.

David’s election to Parliament came about fifteen months after Labour’s loss in the 1975 election, when it was left with a rather small caucus. He was from an early stage singled out as a likely future leader of the party.

David was a big man in every way – not only in stature, but also in his ability to think broadly and to express his ideas brilliantly and extempore, and because he had a big heart for his fellow human beings.

He had an ethos of service to the public which was strongly influenced by his family, by his church, and by the legal firm he entered, led by Frank Haigh, which always had a reputation of acting for those with little means.

David’s entry to Parliament came at a time of considerable turmoil for Labour. It took nine years for the party to return to government, and as all those who have experienced opposition know, the years on those benches strain friendships and relationships to the limits. Factions develop which can last for years.

David came through those years, not only to lead Labour, but also to lead the party to victory, and to become one of our most notable Prime Ministers.

He was an extraordinary New Zealander. He put our country on the map. He made so many of us feel proud of being New Zealanders. Under his leadership, our small country stood up for big ideas, and for values critical to the survival of human kind. New Zealand’s nuclear free status is his legacy.

I served under David in his second term as Prime Minister, by which time the differences within the government were difficult to contain. I don’t recall those years as happy ones, and nor did he. But nor should they detract from his remarkable achievements of twice leading his party into government, and enhancing New Zealand’s reputation as a member of the family of nations.

Despite scaling our country’s political heights, David remained very much a man of the people, happiest at home in Manukau City, and cherishing his old friendships across Auckland’s multi-cultural communities.

David’s health was poor for several years before his death, and he underwent a good deal of difficult and traumatic treatment.

Notwithstanding that he remained good humoured and generous spirited. In his last few weeks, his ability to stay cheerful in the face of overwhelming odds was truly inspirational.

To his wife Margaret, his children, and his extended family, it is important to say that many New Zealanders took great pride in David’s achievements and believe our country is a better place for his contribution.

David Lange was a truly memorable Prime Minister and an outstanding New Zealander. His like we will not see again.

I turn now to pay a tribute to the late Rod Donald, whose untimely death a few days ago has shocked us all.

I offer my heartfelt condolences to Rod’s partner Nicola Shirlaw, his three daughters, Holly, Emma, and Zoe, his extended family, and friends, and his Green Party colleagues.

Rod Donald was a conviction politician, with strong roots in his home community in Christchurch.

From his mid teens, he was a campaigner, first for the environment, and then for fair trade, the developing world, decent housing, human rights, and electoral reform.

Rod became a household name nationally in the debate about electoral reform in the early 1990s. In the lead up to the two referenda which led to huge changes in our electoral system, our Parliament, and indeed to our governments, he was a leading advocate for change.

Rod was elected to the first MMP Parliament as a Green Party member within the Alliance. His maiden speech reflected his interests in a forthright way.

Over the past six years I have had many dealings with Rod Donald in his capacity as co-leader of the Green Party.

He and Jeanette Fitzsimons have been regular visitors to my office. Their goodwill and constructive approach has been indispensable to me and to our government.

To me, Rod Donald always was an honourable person, a straight-forward person, and a very likeable person.

Of course we didn’t always agree – that’s the nature of politics. But I felt we always understood why each of us took the positions we did.

Rod was a constructive person – always looking for ways to resolve an issue. He held fast to his point of view, but could work with those who didn’t share it. He was deeply democratic in his approach to political life.

Rod was unfailingly energetic and enthusiastic. He had a zest for life which few could match. It’s hard to believe that he won’t return to this place, but I know he will live on in our memory.

Madam Speaker, I wish to conclude by also paying my respects to the memory of the two other former senior Members of Parliament who passed away while the House was in recess.

Both John Falloon and Jack Luxton were among Parliament’s true gentlemen – unfailingly courteous, pleasant, and decent people.

John Falloon came to Parliament in a by-election in 1977, shortly after David Lange. By the time I arrived here in 1981, he was already a Minister.

He was a strong advocate for New Zealand’s rural communities and for our land based industries.

John was greatly respected by Labour members. The Hon Jim Sutton, who cannot be here today, described him as “a good, generous, tolerant man, who had no enemies in Parliament”.

I can only add that he was also a public spirited and well motivated human being who worked hard for his constituents and his community. I offer my sincere condolences to his family.

The late Jack Luxton I first met in 1975 when I ran against him in his Piako stronghold. It said something of the size of the challenge that Piako’s was the last Labour candidacy to be filled.

Jack was known as an outstanding farmer, and had made his name in Federated Farmers and in dairy company administration before he came into Parliament. He was well regarded in this House as Deputy Speaker.

It is said that he was prepared to stand up to the late Sir Robert Muldoon, an action which required considerable courage.

After Jack retired, I would occasionally see him and his wife Margaret at Waihi Beach, where they had a holiday home and my parents had retired.

I know that Jack cared for Margaret at home for a considerable period of time. He was a very strong family man and a devoted husband. To his son John, also a former colleague, and to the whole Luxton family, I offer my sincere sympathies. Jack was a good and decent man.

May our four late colleagues rest in peace.


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