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Punch, Leon Ashton (1928–1991)

Leon Punch will be remembered for three things: his fearsome parliamentary debating, his anti-corruption campaigning, and the role he played in reshaping the Country Party.

The former Deputy Premier and Leader of the National Party, who had a history of heart problems, died at his northern beaches Sydney home on Saturday night. He was 63.

His 9½ years as NSW leader of the Country, National Country, and finally National Party, covered a turbulent period for the conservative parties. During his tenure, the Liberal Party had six leaders.

Leon Ashton Punch inherited an interest in politics from his father, an Inverell doctor. He attended the King's School at Parramatta, and his father wanted him to study medicine but, "being fairly wild and irresponsible as a young bloke, I didn't like the idea of all that work, and said I'd go on the land".

He became a farmer and grazier. His love of horses was also inherited from his father, and he was a successful racehorse owner.

It was during Villiers' Day at Randwick racecourse in 1959, while "stuffing tenners into my pocket" after his horse, Great Blaze, had won its third successive victory, that he met his wife, then Miss Suzette Meyers. They were married in 1960.

A year earlier he had entered Parliament as a member for Upper Hunter, only to see the seat abolished in a redistribution. He moved to the seat of Gloucester, which he held from 1962 until his retirement in 1985.

He became deputy leader of the party in 1973, holding the Ministry of Public Works and Ports, and leader of the party and Deputy Premier in December 1975.

During the dispiriting years of the Wran Labor Government, Leon Punch was one of the few Opposition politicians who refused to be cowed by the dominating style of Mr Wran. Their parliamentary clashes became legend.

During one debate, Mr Wran said that he had left instructions that if he died and Mr Punch attempted to speak during the condolence motion, the gag should be moved.

However, with the crime fighter Bob Bottom as Mr Punch's press secretary, the clashes were mainly over allegations of corruption.

Mr Punch pursued the Wran Government over The Age tapes, the Cessna-Milner court case, the conduct of the former chief Stipendiary Magistrate Murray Farquhar, and many other long-running controversies.

As the Premier, Mr Greiner, acknowledged yesterday, he was instrumental in reforging the Coalition in 1983, laying the groundwork for the gains of the 1984 election, and its eventual victory in 1988.

The Deputy Premier and Leader of the National Party, Mr Murray, said: "Leon was a politician who gave no quarter and expected none."

Mr Punch is survived by his wife and two sons.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 December 1991, p 2

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Citation details

'Punch, Leon Ashton (1928–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/punch-leon-ashton-14646/text26103, accessed 10 December 2019.

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