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Dobie, James Donald (Don) (1927–1996)

by John Winston Howard

from Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives)

condolence motion

I move:

That the House expresses its deep regret at the death on Monday, 25 November 1996 of the Hon. James Donald (Don) Mathieson Dobie, a member of this House for the division of Hughes from 1966 to 1969, and for the division of Cook from 1969 to 1972 and 1975 to 1996, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister from 1971 to 1972, Deputy Chairman of Committees from 1970 to 1971, 1979 to 1983 and 1987 to 1994 and member of the Speaker's Panel from 1994 to 1996 and places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious service and its profound sadness at his passing.

Mr Speaker, Don Dobie was born on 28 July 1927 at Glasgow in Scotland. He was educated at Brisbane Grammar School and went on to complete a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Melbourne University and a Master of Business Administration degree at Columbia University in New York.

Before entering federal politics, Don worked for the old Bank of New South Wales from 1943 to 1966. He also served with the 2nd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery (Citizen Military Forces) with the rank of gunner between 1951 and 1952. He became a member of the House of Representatives in 1966. I recall having served on his preselection committee, and I can honestly say that I voted for him in the preselection ballot.

Mr Melham—Did you show it to anyone?

Mr Howard—No, there were no deals involved. He won the New South Wales seat of Hughes, defeating the former member for that seat, Les Johnson, who subsequently, I think, returned to parliament. In his maiden speech in this House in February 1967, he placed on record his total commitment to the welfare of his constituents and spoke on a range of issues, including housing finance for young Australians, education and the need to ensure quality of teaching, services for the disabled, and the importance of international trade for Australia's economic future.

Don Dobie was Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Mr Bill McMahon, from 1971 to 1972. He was Deputy Chairman of Committees from 1970 to 1971 and 1979 to 1983, Chief Opposition Whip from 1983 to 1985 and a member of the Speaker's Panel from 1994 to 1996.

During his long service in this parliament, Don also contributed greatly to the work of House of Representatives committees, including the Committee on the Environment, Recreation and the Arts, the House Committee, the Privileges Committee, the Long Term Strategies Committee, the Community Affairs Committee and the Members' Interests Committee. He also served on a number of joint committees, including Foreign Affairs and Defence, the Australian Capital Territory, the New Parliament House, the Parliamentary Zone, and Public Accounts.

When a member dies who has recently been with us and therefore was personally known to a large number of people in this House, it is always a little bit different from when one dies who left the parliament a long time ago and may not be personally known to many people. I knew Don for a very long period. As I say, I sat on his preselection committee as the then Liberal Party state executive member representing the St George and Cronulla area of Sydney. I went to his original campaign launch in 1966, which, of course, was the election when Harold Holt led the coalition parties to victory over the Labor Party led for the last time by Arthur Calwell.

Don was a great local member. He had a special affinity with the surf lifesaving movement. He had a very deep connection with the Cronulla Leagues Club. I know many people in that part of Sydney who were very respecting of his work as a local member. He was one of the most unfailingly conscientious local members that you could ever find. No matter what was happening in the electorate of Cook, which he was later to represent, Don would know about it and he would be there. He became a legend so far as local representation was concerned.

I think it is fair to say that, although some of the demographic changes in that part of Sydney would have aided the Liberal Party side of politics, it is also fair to say that Don did build up a significant personal following. All of us are prone to exaggerate the extent of our personal followings and we can all produce some statistics to prove that somehow or other, if it had not been for our outstandingly stunning personalities, there would have been a 10 per cent swing in favour of the other side and the seat would have been lost years ago and, if it was not for a brilliant understanding of the electorate, then it would have been a Labor Party stronghold. Many of those stories, of course, are entirely without any merit and completely fallacious on both sides of politics.

When a huge swing comes along, it sweeps out the good with the bad and the indifferent. Many people on our side of politics discovered that in 1983 and many on the other side discovered that only seven or eight months ago.

Don Dobie did have a following. He had a following because he identified himself with the electorate. Cronulla causes were Dobie causes, and I think he was in that sense a quintessential local member. I know there are many people in the Liberal Party who will want to say something about Don's contribution not only to the Liberal Party but also to the parliament.

Don was one of those characters who lost their seats in 1972 when Gough Whitlam was elected. He was defeated by Ray Thorburn in 1972. I scrutineered the very close count and watched with dismay as Don's tenuous overnight lead of about 45 slipped away and Ray ended up having a win which, if not huge, was comfortable enough.

Don then came back in 1975 and remained a member right through. He survived the swing against the Liberal Party in 1983 which elected the Hawke government and he con tinued to hold his seat with significantly increased majorities in 1987 and 1990. The result he achieved in 1990 was probably, in relative terms, the best result achieved by any Liberal member in New South Wales in what was for us not a particularly good election—we lost; those elections are never particularly good.

Don had many friends, not only in the parliamentary party. In different guises, he and I shared membership of the New South Wales executive of the party over a very long period of time—Don as a parliamentary representative, me as a regional president before I entered parliament in 1974; he as an elected member from the convention of the New South Wales party subsequently and me as party leader and, ultimately, as Prime Minister. Together we attended a couple of meetings of the New South Wales executive subsequent to the election.

I will miss Don. I regret very much that, because of the government's program this morning, I was not able to attend his state funeral at the Cronulla Presbyterian Church. I was represented by my colleague Philip Ruddock. I know that many of Don's former colleagues were there. He was a cheerful soul. He was a good parliamentarian. He was a good Presbyterian. He retained a lot of that stoicism of his Scottish birthplace.

I know he was very devoted to his late mother, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on many occasions. I remember very vividly greeting Don by accident at Sydney airport during the 1984 election campaign. He was hurrying off to, I think, the Gold Coast where his mother lived at the time. He had just received news of her death. Not surprisingly, he was very greatly distressed. His mother was a very active member of the Liberal Party in Queensland.

So for all of those reasons and many others, he will be very greatly missed. I thank him for his service to the people of Hughes and Cook, his service to the Liberal Party and, most importantly, his service to Australia as a member of the national parliament.

Original publication

  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), 2 December 1996, p 7405

Other Obituaries for James Donald (Don) Dobie

Additional Resources

Citation details

John Winston Howard, 'Dobie, James Donald (Don) (1927–1996)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/dobie-james-donald-don-18343/text29968, accessed 22 April 2019.

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