House debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Riordan, Hon. Joseph Martin (Joe)

6:36 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to add my personal condolences to the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the chamber yesterday on the death of Joe Riordan. Much has been said about Joe Riordan in recent days in this House, in the other house and in other places. It has been said that he was a loyal son of the labour movement. That is true. It has been said that he was a loyal son of the trade union movement. That is true. It has been said that he was a good family man. That is very true. It has been said that he was a good Catholic. I understand that to be true. All these things are true. But what I want to say today is that he also had a first-class intellect. He was a deep thinker, a fine communicator, an adornment to the labour movement and an adornment to this parliament.

He served in the parliament for only three years. He was elected in 1972 and defeated in 1975. In 1975 he served briefly as Minister for Housing and Construction in the Whitlam government. His work for working people, for the Labor Party and for the labour movement would have justified a much longer term in parliament, as would his work for the people of the then seat of Phillip. But it was not to be. The sands of political fortune often do not discriminate against good people and hardworking members of parliament and, when that tide turned against the Labor Party, Joe Riordan's political career came to an end. But his working life certainly did not come to an end and his commitment to Australia did not come to an end.

He went on to serve as head of the New South Wales Department of Industrial Relations, as Senior Deputy President of the Australian Workplace Relations Commission, or the Industrial Relations Commission as it was then known. He served in a number of capacities as chair and deputy chair of government boards and instrumentalities, all of which he put a great effort into and made a great contribution to. He saw none of them as a reward for effort or services rendered; he saw all of them as an opportunity to continue to contribute.

In a previous capacity before entering parliament I had the opportunity to work tangentially with Joe Riordan when he conducted a review of the hire car industry in New South Wales. I actually recommended him to the then government to conduct that review, along with the Hon. Milton Morris, a former Liberal Minister for Transport in New South Wales, because I knew he would bring rigour, intellect and thought to that process.

I did not know Joe Riordan well but I do know his family well, particularly two of his sons, Peter and Bernie, both of whom I would regard as friends. Joe Riordan instilled in both of them the Labor ethos and the commitment and service to the nation as well as of course family values and, I am sure, the faith which is shared in the family.

So I do wish, personally in this chamber, as I have done directly to Bernie, to extend my condolences to his widow, Patricia, and to their children, John, Peter, Michael, Bernie, Kathy and Maureen, who I know would be feeling the loss of their father deeply, feeling the loss of his presence in their family and his ongoing guidance. But they can also justly be proud of his contribution not only to their family but to our nation, a contribution which is not duly recognised by his three years of service, which was actually much deeper and longer lasting than that. Frankly, for many of those people who served in this parliament for a short time of three years, 40 years later it would be unusual for them to be recognised in significant speeches in this House and in the other House, but Joe Riordan's contribution in a short period in this House was enormous. His contribution throughout his life was remarkable. He will be missed but his life will also be celebrated and remembered by many.

6:41 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We mourn the death, yet celebrate the life of Joseph Martin 'Joe' Riordan, AO. Sydney-born Riordan was educated at Patrician Brothers School and Marist Brothers College. He had a Labor pedigree. He was the nephew of Darby Riordan, the Labor member of the House of Representatives for Kennedy from 1929 to 1936. Joe married Patricia Watkins in 1955, and they had six children. From 1958 to 1972 he was the federal secretary of the Federated Clerks Union, a bastion of anticommunist social democrats. Riordan was elected as the Australian Labor Party member for the federal seat of Phillip at the 1972 election. He was the Minister for Housing and Construction from June 1975 until the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

I spoke this afternoon to the Country Party member for Riverina at that time, John Sullivan, who at age 83 has just been re-elected to the Narrandera Shire Council. John wanted me to record his comments about his former colleague. He said he was old-style Labor. He said he was there on behalf of the people. 'He was a gentleman who always had reasoned debate. He was never vitriolic about anyone or anything.' Mr Sullivan was quite fond of Joe Riordan, as were—as we have heard in many of the eloquent speeches in this place—many of the people who knew him. They may not have served with him, but they certainly knew of him and they knew the great contribution he made to the Commonwealth parliament. They knew of his great contribution to the Australian Labor Party. May Joe Riordan rest in peace.

6:43 pm

Photo of Robert McClellandRobert McClelland (Barton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I compliment the speakers to the motion and the member for Riverina. Indeed, Joe Riordan was an old-style Labor representative. But, like so many of his generation, Joe was and remained a true believer, a genuine believer, of the Labor movement and all that it stood for. He was a staunch trade unionist all his life, and he was devoted to the welfare of his fellow Australians. Joe was a legend. He was a remarkable man. His service to Australia and Australians can now be written into Labor's folklore. For his outstanding service to this parliament and Australia he, quite properly, was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. Most appropriately, his AO was given pride of place on his coffin last Friday, and he would have been very proud. No-one could have been more deserving of such an honour than Joe Riordan.

Today I want to speak about Joe, the man who I came to know so well. People before me have already mentioned the tremendous heights he climbed to in his career. Really, that continued until his 82nd year in the service of the people of Australia. Because of time constraints, suffice it for me to say that Joe always remembered his humble beginnings. He never forgot where he came from or who he represented. His enormous achievements are now renowned and we in the labour movement, but most especially his loving wife Pat, his four sons, two daughters and numerous grandchildren, have every reason to be enormously proud of his accomplishments.

Joe left school at 15 years of age and in his lifetime through long experience, hard work and perseverance he graduated with an honours degree from the university of hard knocks. Indeed, may I say, it was touching to see not only every one of his immediate family at our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church at Caringbah last Friday but also the hundreds of others from all walks of life, from former prime ministers Hawke and Keating to an old knockabout from a long way back who Joe had helped in his capacity as a member of parliament to obtain a pension all those years ago. They all came to pay their respects.

I want to speak about Joe as the man I knew. My father, Doug, and Joe were close friends from the 1950s. In the early days of their political lives they did not always agree with each other. They would often sit and discuss various options for the road ahead but they always remained good and loyal friends despite a few areas of disagreement. My dad and mum last visited Joe in Kareena Private Hospital at Caringbah about a fortnight ago. According to them, Joe's short-term memory was poor but his ability to recall longer-term events, they said, was really quite amazing. In talking about the old days, Joe dug out from the back of his mind comments on his old friends like Pat Hills, his predecessor in the seat of Phillip, Joe Fitzgerald, Fred Campbell, Charlie Oliver, Terry Sheahan and also his colleagues from the Whitlam times: Lionel Bowen, Les Johnson, who was also at the funeral, and Bill Morrison and of course not forgetting Gough himself.

Joe rekindled to my mother and father what is now quite a famous story. In the last months of the Whitlam government, Gough went up to Queensland to kick the football off in a game between New South Wales and Queensland—before the formal state of origin clashes. In those dying months it is fair to say that the Whitlam government was not the most popular government in Australia. After Gough kicked the ball off there were resounding boos and cries from the audience. Apparently, on the way back from the stadium, Gough said to Senator Ron McAuliffe, 'Comrade, we will have to look at your endorsement up here. I did not know you were so unpopular.' Joe apparently laughed with great gusto at the tale that he delivered to them. He also talked about the time that Pat and he visited my mother and father when they were residing in England. They were very content that that conversation had brought so much happiness to him.

I am proud to say that one of Joe's sons, Bernie, is one of my closest friends and with our respective families we often meet up and Joe would often attend. He was always very much part of the scene but in any discussion he would never hesitate to communicate his point of view, which was always pretty sound and pretty solid, and you walked away with no misunderstanding of what his point of view was. Terry Sheahan, the former president of the ALP, and Bernie last Friday gave two of the best eulogies I have ever heard and I compliment them on their wonderful tributes to Joe.

The last time I saw Joe was when Bernie was sworn in as a commissioner for Fair Work Australia. I know Joe was tremendously proud of him and indeed of all his children and grandchildren. Joe was also a great friend of my former boss and mentor as a lawyer, Roy Turner, who started up the firm of what became Turner Freeman. In fact they were born and reared not far from each other in Surry Hills. I am proud and privileged to have had both of them involved in my early career as a lawyer. I could not have had two finer mentors than I had in such fine men.

All of us who knew Joe Riordan are going to miss him terribly. People of his strength and quality are hard to find today. As the member for Riverina said, he was genuinely old Labor. His life was one of outstanding service, of devotion to his family and dedication to his fellow human beings. Joe was indeed a deeply religious man. He did not wear that on his sleeve but rather it was self-evident from his character and deeds.

Joe, I know your wife, Pat, and every one of your family loved you. Your friends respected you for your sincerity of purpose, your enormous strength of character and your devotion to your fellow Australians. I thank you for your friendship to me and also for your wise counsel and I thank you for the enormous contribution you have made to Australia. You have indeed served us well.

6:50 pm

Photo of Simon CreanSimon Crean (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to pay my respects to Joe Riordan. The member for Barton so eloquently spoke and I know how close he was to the family and to Bernie in particular, one of the six children. I first met Joe Riordan in 1971. I had commenced with the Federated Storemen and Packers' Union, as it then was. I was a research officer and Joe was the secretary then of the Federated Clerks Union of Australia. He was New South Wales based. He was one of those people who always struck me as being prepared to take on and nurture the younger generation coming on. I was fortunate in my career in the trade union movement that there were many of those mentors and supporters from all around the country. When we look at where the trade union movement went in the eighties and nineties, it was because of the foundation that was laid in the seventies—and Joe Riordan was an essential part of that foundation.

He became secretary of the clerks union in 1970, having been its assistant secretary for a very long period before that. He made sure that the clerks union represented not just its members' interests; he grew the membership base of that union. He was not frightened by the advent of technology. I can remember in the early seventies people not wanting technological change because they thought it would put people out of work. This was a very common strain. But Joe, as the secretary of his union, not only understood the importance of it but also believed it should be accessible to all. He would have applauded, and did applaud, what this government has done with the National Broadband Network, enabling the whole of the country to be better connected and better served as a result.

Joe went into the federal parliament in 1972 with the election of the Whitlam government. There was another overlap because while we lost Joe from the trade union movement he became an essential part of the Whitlam team, and my father was the Treasurer and subsequently Deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam government. Interestingly, Sunday is the 40th anniversary of the election of that government and a great milestone, and our caucus talked about that today.

Joe was a product of the Depression. He was a Sydney boy who grew up during that Depression, and that forged—like so many of them—the strong conviction for social justice and lifting people out of poverty, ensuring that those dreadful strains of recession/depression, no jobs and loss of dignity should not be repeated. If you listen to all the speeches that have been made about Joe, this commitment to social justice comes through.

He became the minister for housing. He succeeded Les Johnson. His parliamentary term was all too short: two terms; three years. He lost in the 1975 election. On the day of the Dismissal, when the then Governor-General had dismissed Gough Whitlam, Fraser began a censure motion in the parliament against the government of the day. Immediately the parliament resumed after lunch, my father was on his feet having to defend the government against this censure motion. We—and when I say 'we' I mean the Labor Party, the then government; we still considered it to be the government—turned the censure against Fraser. The government passed a lack of confidence motion against Fraser when the penny dropped as to what the Governor-General had done. Interestingly, Joe Riordan said that when he came into the parliament—he had come in to sign ministerial correspondence—my father was on his feet and someone next to Joe said: 'Don't sign any more of that correspondence. You're sacked.' The commission had been withdrawn; he no longer had the authority. When we talk about pennies dropping, there were lots of them dropping all around the place. I will not go into the history of how all of that could have been avoided and what wrongs were done, except to make the point that it was a traumatic time.

Joe did lose his seat. I think the parliament lost a great contributor—someone whose time was cut all too short. After that election, he went on to head up the New South Wales Department of Industrial Relations. Between 1986 and 1995, he was a senior member of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. These were two areas in which I had a lot to do with him.

There was Joe's time before parliament, his engagement whilst he was in parliament, particularly through my dad, and then his life after parliament in the industrial relations sphere. The whole period from 1983 through to 1996 was spent on the development of the accords. The labour movement was engaged in advancing the social wage, superannuation, minimum wage rates, enterprise bargaining and transfer payments as part of the wages trade-off. There was all of that agenda, and we needed a framework in which to do it. The Industrial Relations Commission was an important part of that framework, and Joe Riordan played an essential role as a senior member of the industrial commission.

Fittingly, his career ended as it started: he held the position of chair of the WorkCover Authority of New South Wales. Joe was a person who gave a lifetime of commitment not just to the labour movement but also to the betterment of working Australians. This was a man who was always prepared to engage and who had the passion, the commitment and the conviction. He took the defeats and the successes, but he always moved on.

I pay tribute to his lifetime of service not just to the labour movement but also to the country. I also offer my condolences to Joe's widow, Pat, and his six children—and Bernie is the one of them whom I know best of all. I offer my sincere condolences to them in the knowledge that Joe's was a proud contribution to a nation at a vital time. He went into all of these jobs with the very best of intentions: to serve the public. That was his conviction from his early childhood, and he discharged it with great vigour and with great distinction.

6:59 pm

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable member s having stood in their places—

I thank the chamber.

Photo of Anthony ByrneAnthony Byrne (Holt, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.