Condolence - John McCain

10 Sep 2018
Prime Minister

Mr Morrison: (Cook—Prime Minister) (14:03): I rise, on indulgence, to acknowledge the recent passing of United States Senator John McCain. It is not the usual thing in this House to express condolences for overseas politicians who are not the heads of governments or heads of state, but I think all in this House would agree that Senator John McCain is a worthy exception. We honour him in this House today because of his service to the United States and his service to this country as well, through his friendship.

From Prime Ministers Hawke to Turnbull, John McCain was a steadfast friend who understood that our alliance is a reflection of two similar peoples. As he put it, we are both societies of immigrants and pioneers:

… who put our faith in the rule of law, and who believe that our destinies are inseparable from the character of the broader world order.

His understanding of our Australian character was something passed on to him by his own family's service. His grandfather, the first John Sidney McCain, first came to Australia aboard the Great White Fleet in 1908 and later commanded US air forces in Australia's defence during World War II. His father was a submarine captain based in Perth during the Pacific War, and later, as Admiral McCain, he became Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command, during the Vietnam War. In time, Senator McCain's own sons, Jack and Jimmy, would serve alongside Australia's soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the Naval Academy, Senator McCain, the son and grandson of two admirals, came 894th out of a class of 899, but that's not where his distinction would be recorded. That would occur in Vietnam. The sailor became an aviator and, on his 23rd mission, his plane was shot down over Hanoi. As we all know, John McCain was injured in the crash and captured by the enemy. Vietnamese medical treatment of POWs was rudimentary at best. As the son of an admiral, he was offered repatriation and he declined because the honour code demanded that any repatriation be first given to POWs who had been in captivity the longest—character. During the ensuing 5½ years, John McCain would withstand torture, years of solitary confinement and was tested to the point where eventually he would say, 'Every man has his breaking point.' What kept him going during these darkest times, in his own words, was: 'Faith in God, faith in fellow prisoners and faith in country.'

Somehow in a hell hole, John McCain became stronger. He learned to rise above the times. He took that strength and perspective into politics. He was elected to the US Senate six times and was, in 2008, the Republican nominee for President of the United States. I had the great privilege, as members of this place did recently, to meet him in person, and it was a great honour for all of us. And though he always talked straight, even at the end he did so also. He left an admonition I think to politicians all over the world—in his own country but also here in this country. He said:

We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times.

There is grace in his words and a lesson for all of us. On behalf of this House and our nation, I extend our deepest condolences to Senator McCain's wife, Cindy, his family and the American people he served so magnificently. May he rest in peace. God bless.