Malcolm Turnbull has hailed Bill Leak as a talented satirist and fine painter while giving a eulogy at a public memorial service at Sydney’s Town Hall.
The Prime Minister was among dozens of politicians and journalists who attended the service to farewell the controversial News Corp cartoonist, who died suddenly last Friday from a suspected heart attack, aged 61.
Mr Turnbull, whose portrait by Leak won People’s Choice at the Archibald Prize exhibition in 1994, lauded him as a witty artist who could “puncture the pompous” and challenge the powerful.
“Right through his far too short life, Bill was always a good humoured sceptic of anybody and anything in authority, a superb satirist who wrote and talked as well as he painted … the best and funniest raconteur,” Mr Turnbull said.
The nine-time Walkley award winner’s contentious depiction of Indigenous Australians, Muslims and the LGBTQI community stirred debate.
Last year, one of his cartoons depicting an Aboriginal man who could not remember his son’s name was investigated by the Human Rights Commission after allegations of racial discrimination.
However, Mr Turnbull said Leak’s cartoons — including that one — “united Australians”.
“In recent times he was accused of racism because of a cartoon — because of a cartoon,” he said.
“A cartoon that united Australians, united them in defence of freedom, freedom to draw it, agree with it, freedom to disagree with it.
“Political correctness did not silence Bill, any more than terrorists did, every cartoon he drew was an exercise of freedom.”
— ABC News (@abcnews) March 17, 2017
Former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott were among the mourners, as was entertainer Barry Humphries and former Federal Labor leader Mark Latham.