I too would like to echo the celebration of a great Australian leader in this chamber this afternoon. Doug Anthony was a leader that I don't think any other country in the world could have produced. He was quintessentially Australian, identifiably Australian. Perhaps he might not be the type of leader we ever see again in Australia. I hope not; I hope we haven't lost his down-to-earth nature, his country charm and, of course, his larrikin spirit. Doug was our longest-serving Deputy Prime Minister. He led our country through great change and transition—changes and transitions that impacted the then Country Party, now the National Party, greatly—and he did so extremely successfully. As I said, he was a real Australian larrikin as a leader. That comes through in the stories that have been told here this afternoon—the beachside caravan, the calls from the Prime Minister on the payphone that his kids were operating.
There's another story I'd like to tell as well, which I learnt through Senator Davey's father's history of the National Party. As a young MP, Doug Anthony at Old Parliament House was getting a little bit bored. Sometimes we're here for long periods of time; sometimes we're here late at night. He and some other members of parliament decided to engage in some late-night kicking of the football, although it just so happened that they'd be doing that kicking in King's Hall at the front of Old Parliament House there, which you can still go and visit. It's a big expanse, but I've never really thought of kicking a football in there; I thought that might be a bit disrespectful. But Doug, as a real larrikin, was kicking the football around. Unfortunately this stray football hit one of the large portrait frames, of a kind that still appears in our equivalent of King's Hall here. This frame fell to the ground and the glass smashed all over the floor. Doug and his partners in crime quickly swept all the glass up and hung the frame back up as best they could, and apparently the broken frame went years without being detected until, finally, someone realised that the glass needed to be replaced. I'm sure they said, 'It was like that when we got here.'
He was a great, great leader. As I said, Doug became Leader of the Country Party in 1971. He followed in the huge shoes of John 'Black Jack' McEwen. Prior to his time as leader, the three previous leaders—there was, I think, a transitional leader, but these were the three previous major leaders—were Earle Page, Arthur Fadden and John McEwen, absolute giants of Australian politics who all became Prime Minister at some time in their careers. So Doug had a real tough act to follow.
At the same time the Country Party was facing enormous challenges, with farming employment declining as part of the Australian economy, a broader shift in Australian society on a number of issues, and the trading relationship pressures that my colleague Senator McKenzie mentioned. He tackled this issue front on, which was always going to be the only successful way to tackle it. At Doug's first press conference as Leader of the Country Party, he summed up quite nicely what I think became the manifesto of the National Party in his term. He said, 'I think we service that responsibility well'—to look after people outside capital cities, not just farmers. Indeed, his definition lasts on in the logo of the National Party: 'For Regional Australia'.
Perhaps there is a dividing line in our party's history between pre Doug Anthony and post Doug Anthony. Pre Doug Anthony, the party probably was primarily focused on farming issues. It started as a farmer's party and retained that focus through its first 50-odd years of life. But perhaps in the second half, the second 50 years, of the National Party's history—the party celebrated 100 years last year—there has been a broader focus on people who live in regional Australia, including, of course, farmers, who by definition do live outside capital cities, but also a broader focus on those who face challenges living away from our major centres, who don't have access to the same services as those in capital cities and who are desperate to see our country grow and develop. He also oversaw the broadening of the base of the National Party to those who work in mines, to small-business people and to families in country towns. The way he did that was through making good leadership decisions, especially in his role in different portfolios.
As I mentioned, when you think about when he became Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Country party it was at a time when the UK had just joined the European Commission. At the time, in the late 1960s, the UK imported 80 per cent of Australia's butter. Eighty per cent of our butter went to the UK—imagine that. Our dairy herd, after the UK joined the EC, fell from four million to 2.4 million head in the space of just a few years. Fruit exports crashed and millions of trees had to be pulled up because we lost markets for tinned fruit and vegetables. It was a major challenge in rural Australia. The groundwork had been laid in agreements that John McEwen had signed—with Japan especially—but it was really Doug who took those agreements and made them into the full opportunity that was there for Australia. He pushed the development of extra exports to the Japanese market. He also opened up and looked at new markets, signing what really was the first modern free trade agreement, not just for Australia but for the world.
Bridget mentioned the story of Doug being frustrated with boring departmental written agenda items, and I share some sympathy, as a former minister, with his frustration—perhaps 'Why am I going to this meeting? There doesn't seem to be much that we're saying to each other'—but Doug took action. He decided, 'Well, why don't we add some things to the agenda and actually make some decisions.'
What came out of those discussions was not just the first free trade agreement of that nature for Australia but really the first in the world. When you look, there's a massive difference between that, which kicked off our modern trade environment, and the agreement we signed with Japan in 1957, signed by John McEwen. That one was a letter—it was an exchange of letters, just 10 or so pages—whereas the New Zealand comprehensive economic relationship, as it was called, covered a vast swathe of different areas and sectors, which serve as a template for the multiple free trade agreements that we have today. It has been replicated by many countries, by NAFTA and in other trade agreements around the world. He also established new trading links with the Middle East. He pioneered the development of that.
Doug was the, I think, first, and certainly the last resources minister before I was the resources minister, from the National Party. That's something that goes uncommented a little bit, the role he played in developing our nation's resources. He oversaw the development of our uranium exports for the first time—a controversial issue that he championed. He also negotiated very toughly, very strongly with Japanese steel mills who were buying our iron ore, and pushed them for higher prices. Indeed, there's a great story where, he as acting PM, just made a decision to refuse to put export controls on iron ore. The then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was not too happy about that, but Doug stuck to his guns and did get better prices for our iron ore because of his action.
He did work productively with Liberal leaders. He was a coalitionist, as Senator McKenzie said, but we shouldn't forget that he stood up very strongly for his own party's interests in discussions with the Liberal Party. At one point he led, with his cabinet colleagues, three walkouts in three days from cabinet over a discussion on the exchange rate.
I think Doug's action in moving the National Party to a broader base but doing so consistent with a strong leadership that has always existed within the National Party helped ensure that the second half-century of the National Party continued to be a successful one. We have been rewarded politically because we have fought for regional areas by supporting the development of dams, the development of new mines, the protection of industries like live cattle exports. We've opposed taxes and regulations that would inhibit job growth and production in regional areas. We've taken up the fight, just like Doug did in his time. We've done so with no airs or graces; happily living in caravans or going back to our own families and communities and just being, as much as we can, close to the people and defending their rights and interests, regardless of what people might say about us down here.
He was a great lesson to our party. He was a great leader for our country. His passing is a great loss for Australia, but especially for his family, and I want to pass on my deepest condolences to his broader family and to Margot, the love of his life. Vale Doug Anthony.