Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
I join with the Prime Minister and I thank him for his fine words in honouring the life of Anthony (Tony) Allan Staley AO.
A graduate of law, two of Tony’s passions were drama and politics.
Both stages were open to him in life.
Indeed, he was even encouraged by an English actor to pursue the former.
But after completing a master’s degree in politics, and working as a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, he chose the tougher political stage.
Following a brief fling with the Labor Party as a young man, Tony saw the light and joined the Liberal Party in the 1960s.
In 1970, he was elected in the seat of Chisholm at a by-election, joining John Gorton’s government.
He would go on to proudly serve the people of Chisholm for a decade.
In his maiden speech of 1971, the mind of an intellectual man was on show.
Tony nominated a number of issues that meant a lot to him.
Relating to public order, to protests, to universities, freedom of speech, and education.
Indeed, his observation on protecting democracy has lasting and amplified relevance across the Western world today.
‘In time of peace, wishful thinking and dreaming will not keep institutions alive and well. They must be defended as any human institution must be defended when it’s under attack.’
Upon being re-elected in 1972, Tony found himself in Opposition with Billy Snedden as the Liberal leader.
The following year he was promoted to Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition.
Tony had a deep personal regard for Snedden’s honesty and for his decency.
But he lost faith in his leader’s ability to lead the Liberals and joined a growing chorus who threw in their lot with Malcolm Fraser.
Tony described the events as ‘difficult’ and ‘unpleasant’.
But he never regretted his actions, later saying:
‘I’m not prepared to be the sort of politician who won’t stand up for his beliefs’.
Tony’s backing of Fraser was a pivotal decision.
Author and journalist, Paul Kelly, acknowledged:
‘… without Staley’s decision, Fraser would not have won the Liberal leadership at the time he did, and consequently, would probably not have won it before the Liberals were returned to office.’
Kelly noted that Tony was unlike his party colleagues, describing him as a theorist who enjoyed philosophising.
Such traits came naturally to the academically-minded Tony – a man who loved poetry and the classics.
If Tony was atypical in this regard, he was also exceptional in being a politician who shaped Australia’s political history in two pivotal ways.
First, in helping to lift Fraser into the Liberal leadership and eventual prime ministership.
And secondly, in helping to bring down Gough Whitlam’s Labor government.
Interviewed in 2015, Tony acknowledged that Fraser benefited when Whitlam – post-the Dismissal – focused his attacks on Governor-General John Kerr.
In Malcom Fraser’s government, Tony proved to be a steady hand and effective minister.
First, as the Minister for the Capital Territory.
Then, as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Arts.
And finally, as the Prime Minister rightly points out, as a very successful and effective Minister for Posts and Telecommunications.
The mettle of the man was not only evident in his political career, but also in how he handled his personal setbacks.
Even after that devastating car accident in 1990 which almost killed him and left him partially paralysed and in terrible pain, Tony never complained.
He described his first steps eight months after being hit by the drunk driver as ‘big moments in a little life’.
After leaving office, Tony served as the Federal President of the Liberal Party between 1993 and 1999.
There is no question that his steadfast leadership in dark times was a factor in helping the Coalition return to government in 1996.
Tony told Liberal Party members that if he could come back from the dead, so could the Liberal Party.
‘…life, like politics, is about turning adversity to advantage.’
As Tony finished his presidency, then Prime Minister, John Howard, described him as ‘a great servant of the Liberal Party’ who ‘always put the Party first’.
Howard highlighted Tony’s three great qualities:
His ‘immense personal courage’, his ‘great sense of humour’ and his ‘considerable grace and eloquence’.
Testimony to Tony’s achievements, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2007 for his service to politics, to the telecommunications and arts sectors, and to the development of the Liberal Party.
I was so pleased to be able to visit Tony in Melbourne in the days before his passing.
I pay tribute to all of his children, in particular Sam, who set up camp there beside his father and provided loyalty right to the end – as did all his children.
He was as sharp and erudite then as he always was.
We will all miss him – and I know he will be missed by so many in the Liberal Party and others, who more widely were touched by his life and his contribution.
Tony Staley’s service to the Liberal Party was the gold standard, and the Liberal Party has been enriched by his service.
I want to say thank you to the Member for Maribyrnong, representing the Prime Minister at the funeral last week.
There was an occasion for each of Tony’s children to stand up and one outdo the next as they provided their eulogy – their own touching words in relation to their father: their love of him, and the way in which he contributed to their lives.
On behalf of the Coalition, I offer my heartfelt condolences to Tony’s family, his friends and colleagues.
As Tony always finished a conversation:
May he rest in peace.