John grew up on a farm at Gawler River and attended Prince Alfred College and Gawler High for his secondary years. Following school, John attended Glenormiston Agricultural College and gained an Associate Diploma in Farm Management, as well as Adelaide TAFE studying Freelance Journalism.
Prior to his election to Parliament, John worked as a primary producer before becoming an Electorate Officer to the Hon Neil Andrew MP, the Hon Alexander Downer MP and Senator the Hon Nick Minchin. John was involved in the farming of Stud Dorset and Suffolk Sheep at Gawler River, and worked with a range of agricultural groups including the Australian Society of Breeders of British Sheep.
John was elected to the Legislative Council of the South Australian Parliament in 1997. He served as Opposition Whip in the Legislative Council from 2002 to 2018. From 2018 to 2020 he served as the Premier’s Advocate for Suicide Prevention before his election as President of the Legislative Council in September 2020.
John has served on a number of Parliamentary committees, including as chair of the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee from 2018 to 2020. He currently serves on the Joint Parliamentary Service Committee.
John has been a member and supporter of many community clubs and organisations, including:
- Returned and Services League of Australia
- Rotary Club of Gawler
- Two Wells Football & Netball Sporting Club
- Adelaide Plains Football League
- Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal
- Operation Flinders
- Gawler River Uniting Church
- Northern Agricultural Shows Association
For many years John has been a leader on the subject of mental health and suicide prevention within Parliament. As chair of the Premier’s Council on Suicide Prevention, John worked with experts in the field to plan and deliver on initiatives to prevent suicide across South Australia. In 2020, John was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Suicide Prevention Australia in recognition of his “sustained dedication and achievement for suicide prevention”. John recognises the importance of a community approach to suicide prevention, and is a strong advocate for South Australia’s local Suicide Prevention Networks and volunteer groups.
John has worked for over a decade to improve South Australia’s surrogacy laws in order to enable more people to start a family. Mr Dawkins first took up the issue of the legalisation of surrogacy and associated Births, Deaths and Marriages changes in 2005. In 2018, the South Australian Law Reform Institute reviewed the state’s surrogacy laws and provided recommendations for a standalone Act regulating surrogacy in South Australia. Following consultation with stakeholders and the community, the Surrogacy Bill passed Parliament in 2019. The Bill created a framework for altruistic surrogacy and a register for surrogates, making it easier for people looking to have a family through surrogacy to be able to do so.