DAN TEHAN | Warrnambool Standard | August 31, 2015
Dan Tehan, Member for Wannon pays tribute to his mentor’s career:
For 27 years, Dr Denis Napthine has poured his values and intellect into Victorian public life. His retirement yesterday marks a day to reflect for our community and also for all those he reached out to across the state.
Denis was more than just a community leader. He was also a father, a husband and a friend. All of these speak to why those who have worked with, for or against him have been lit with the decency of the man.
His strength of character has meant that in the chaos and noise of politics Denis has kept both feet rooted in reality. Moments after taking over as Premier of Victoria, Denis joked that this certainly hadn’t been what he was expecting when he had his Special K.
His self-deprecating humour is a hallmark of his relationships in either Parliament or in Port Fairy. People often can’t escape a meeting with Denis without a tried and true dad joke. This easy-going nature has always meant that no one feels uncomfortable around him.
My mother was a mentor to Denis and there are few who have been stronger in marking me with the importance of people before politics. Starting out as a candidate in 2010, I asked if Denis would join me in Portland to launch my campaign. Despite the fact that it meant an eight hour round trip for the Shadow Minister, he leapt out of the car beaming and ready to help.
Denis will be remembered as a great voice for the Victorian country. From his experiences as a child selling piglets from the family farm at Winchelsea to crossing the state as a veterinarian for the Department of Agriculture, his understanding of rural life allowed him to colour the policy of government often driven by the city.
In no arena was this seen more than with Denis, Minister for Racing. A racing fanatic, Denis knew what country racing meant to the community and to the economy. His advocacy, in particular for jumps racing, injected energy, enthusiasm and financial strength into the industry.
Indeed, in his maiden speech Denis used the Portland Cup as a metaphor for how the electors of Portland and Hamilton, both then in his seat, could work together to achieve great things. The 1988 victory of the Hamilton-owned Majestic-Apex in the Portland Cup showed how mutually beneficial both communities could be for each other.
In public life, Denis has held a number of significant roles in government and in opposition.
In his time as Premier, he brought in a vision for Victoria’s infrastructure, signed us up to a sensible model for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, reformed the justice system for a fairer outcome for victims and brought the state’s finances back into shape.
Yet his actions often spoke far louder than the soundbites offered by other politicians. In 1996, as the Minister for Youth and Community Services, he was confronted by the tragedy of the Kew Cottages fire only days after being sworn in to the office. Denis learnt of the disaster by reading a newspaper while waiting for the 5:30am train at Newmarket Station.
Instead of standing around on the platform, Denis took a cab. He did not head to the office and a media scrum but to Kew, where he consulted and consoled where he could. Putting people before politics has been his instinct since his first day in office.
Years and experience might have dulled this sense of public service. Not so with Denis.
After the November 2014 election campaign you might have thought that the former Premier would be looking to some well-earned rest after leaving office. But that would be to assume that this former Premier wasn’t Denis Napthine. Instead of recuperating, Denis was awarding school trophies and certificates at Warrnambool Secondary College and getting on with the work of being a local member for his constituents.
In a job where self-promotion and egos dominate, Denis Napthine’s career and success will be marked by a decency rarely seen. His hard work, sincerity and humour reaffirm a character which has won over opponents and solidified loyal, life-long supporters.
In his maiden speech, Denis dedicated himself to work for all Victorians. We should be thankful that he did it so well. It may be a long time before we see his equal again.