House debates

Wednesday, 7 October 2020


Fahey, Hon. John Joseph AC

10:30 am

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand today to pay tribute to the legacy of John Fahey, who sadly passed away on 12 September this year. Born in New Zealand to Irish migrant parents, John led a life of service in many ways. In his lifetime he was a true asset to the people, serving as Premier of New South Wales between 1992 and 1995 and then entering federal politics as the member for Macarthur between 1996 and 2001 and during that time serving as the Minister for Finance. In his role as the NSW Premier, John introduced the Disability Services Act and the New South Wales Seniors Card and appointed the first minister for the status of women.

John was known for his humility, bravery and integrity. The momentum driving his political decision-making was defined by his sense of compassion and egalitarianism for all Australians. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that this comes down to John's 'hard head, soft heart' approach to governing, an approach that will hopefully inspire many of the parliamentarians who follow him. In 1996, he entered federal politics. He was elected the member for Macarthur and served as the Minister for Finance in the Howard government, a challenging portfolio to take on in the mid-1990s when Australia was still climbing out of recession. He made hard decisions, sometimes unpopular decisions but, nonetheless, necessary ones in order to limit government expenditure and get the budget back on track. His decision making fortifies us now as we face Australia's worst recession on record, due to the coronavirus.

While John would never have known it at the time, he profoundly shaped my seat of Reid. He is best remembered for his role in the successful bid for Sydney to host the 2000 Olympics. It was his bid that planted the seed for 'the best Games ever.' Reid's Sydney Olympic Park is evidence of his legacy as Australia's most iconic national and international entertainment and sporting precinct. It is also a bustling business and residential area, as well as being home to beautiful parklands and recreational facilities. Following his career in politics, John also took on the role of Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, who have a campus in Reid. As Chancellor, John encouraged the Australian Catholic University to develop into a university of stature. Under his stewardship, the Australian Catholic University underwent sustainable expansion.

John's faith was an important part of his life and strengthened his fighting spirit. He battled lung cancer almost 20 years ago, and he also survived the tragic loss of his daughter Tiffany in 2006. John led a life of service in many, many ways. I send my condolences to his loved ones and feel certain his impact will be long felt by the people of Australia.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the honourable member for Macarthur.

10:33 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I do indeed rise as the member for Macarthur to offer my condolences to the family of John Joseph Fahey. Macarthur has had some interesting members over the years—going right back to the original member for Macarthur, Jeff Bate, who later married Harold Holt's widow. It is my view that there has been no better member for Macarthur than John Joseph Fahey.

He led a life of faith, of family, of service and of humility. My friend Jim Marsden describes John as a man who changed Jim's life forever for the better. Jim was working as a solicitor in Wollongong because he didn't get on with his brother, John Marsden, who ran the Marsdens practice in Camden, and it was John Fahey who visited Jim several times and talked him into coming back and joining his brother John in the Marsdens Law Group, which has gone on to become a very influential group of lawyers in south-western Sydney and beyond. Jim credits John Fahey with, as I said, changing his life for the better and never asking any credit for that and never, in his own humble way, requesting any favours because of that. Jim knew John Fahey very well.

I met John Fahey on several occasions since I started my medical practice in 1984, at the same time as John started at Marsdens solicitors in February 1984. He was always known as a very good lawyer, a very decent man and a man who believed in both his faith and his family. John Fahey was almost a baby boomer, born in January 1945. He took the best of both those generations, the war generation and the baby boomers, throughout his life, showing such great attributes as hard work, humility and, once again, faith and family. He played football initially at St Anthony's for the Picton Magpies. He went to school at St Anthony's primary school in Picton, which still exists, and later went to high school at Chevalier College and then on to Sydney University. He played lower grade rugby league for the Canterbury Bulldogs and they remained the love of his sporting life throughout his life. He married Colleen McGurren, a coal miner's daughter in 1968 and they had three children, Matthew, Melanie and Tiffany. Tragically, Tiffany was killed in a motor vehicle accident at the age of 27, and Tiffany's two children, Campbell and Amber, were brought up by John and Colleen as their surrogate parents. By all accounts, they did a wonderful job as parents the second time around.

John had multiple achievements. There are too many to name them all. He won the seat of Camden for the Liberal Party in 1984 in the state parliament and transferred to the Southern Highlands seat in 1988. He then replaced Nick Greiner as state Premier in 1992 after Nick Greiner was forced to resign after an ICAC investigation. John Fahey described that as one of the saddest days of his life, interestingly, because he believed that Nick Greiner had been unfairly persecuted. John went on to become a very good state Premier, being defeated, however, by Bob Carr in 1995. In 1996, John became the member for Macarthur until 2001, when he resigned because of his first bout with malignancy. He lost a lung to lung cancer, after a long history of cigarette smoking, and then went on to achieve even greater things, including as the President of the Bradman Foundation, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency from 2007 to 2013, and Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. He was, of course, a devout Roman Catholic and practised his faith throughout his life, until his death. His legacy is huge. As a member for Macarthur, if I do 10 per cent as well as John Fahey did, I will have done very well. Vale, John Fahey. He will be missed. He was a great servant of the state and its people and he will be missed.

10:39 am

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (Wentworth, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was March 1994, and a young 18-year-old was in the wings of the Darling Harbour convention centre rather nervously, wearing an ill-fitting suit belonging to his father, waiting to go up onto the stage to meet then Premier John Fahey. That 18-year-old was me—I'd graduated from high school the year before—and I was receiving an academic award, a NSW Premier's award, for my HSC results. This was the biggest occasion I had been involved in, up until that time, in my life, and I remember waiting nervously for my name to be called out and to bound up onto the stage and shake the Premier's hand. As always happens on these big occasions, you can often overthink things, and, as I reached the top step of the stage, I tripped and stumbled and sprawled my way across the floor and slid into the feet of the then Premier John Fahey. I can't imagine a more ignominious entrance to receive an award, but John, the gentleman and truly decent man he was, quickly pulled me to my feet, made a joke about it, put me at ease, shook my hand and, I think, probably gave me more of a rousing send-off than any of the other following recipients, who didn't do what I had done in slipping up and falling on the stage.

John had moved equally quickly two months earlier on Australia Day in 1994 when he'd moved to shield Prince Charles from an attack at the time. But, like many Australians, I think my most vivid memory, my first memory of John Fahey, when he pierced my consciousness, was the night when Sydney won the right to host the Olympic Games in 2000. This was in September 1993, and it was his jump for joy alongside the head of the bid committee, Rod McGeoch—he's still with us today and still a constituent of mine in Wentworth—when the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, declared in his distinctive Spanish accent, 'The winner is Sydney!' It was John's jump for joy alongside Rod McGeoch, his unbridled joy and his enthusiasm, which I think spoke to a genuineness of character and authenticity, which was one of his most defining characteristics as a person and one that he carried through with him into public and political life. This was a man who was very deeply grounded in the ideals of service.

John was first elected as a state member of parliament in 1984, to the seat of Camden, rising to become the Premier of New South Wales from 1992 to 1995. He then moved to federal politics in 1996, winning the seat of Macarthur and immediately joining the ministry of the first Howard government, serving as finance minister for five critical years, helping to turn around public finances at the time and presiding over the privatisation of Telstra. He left the federal parliament in 2001 after 17 years of parliamentary service, both state and federal, due to ill-health, only to embark, once his health had recovered, on another career of service. John went on to be a director of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, chairman of the rugby league development board, Chairman of the Sydney Olympic Park Authority and, most significantly, Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, one of the most significant sporting administrator positions in the world.

On top of this lifetime of service, John was a deeply committed family man. He was a loving husband to Colleen. He was a father. He was a grandfather. Whilst I can't pretend to have known John personally—and I know we only met on a few occasions, and, although he loomed as a significant figure in my life, I was undoubtedly not one in his—I do recall a recent encounter with him at a dinner held just last year in the Great Hall of Parliament House for the 75th anniversary of the Liberal Party. John was there with his wife, Colleen. Although it was a crowded night, he made a point of searching me out and congratulating me for my electoral success in my second attempt to win the seat of Wentworth. This personal touch—that he would bother, with so many others vying for his attention, with so many others he knew better at the dinner that evening, and with many others with whom he would have preferred to be having a conversation, no doubt—was a touching gesture, and I remember it well and I remember it very fondly. I think, without wishing to flatter myself here, it spoke to the fundamental decency and deep humanity of the person who was John Fahey.

I know faith was important throughout John's life, and I hope that faith provides some comfort to those he leaves behind—his wife, Colleen, his surviving children, Melanie and Matthew, and his grandchildren, Amber and Campbell, to his daughter Tiffany. May they have all comfort in this difficult time, and may John rest in peace.

10:44 am

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

May I begin by associating myself with the remarks of the member for Macarthur, the member for Wentworth and other members that have spoken about this wonderful Australian, John Fahey.

About five years ago, The New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a wonderful book called The Road to Character. In a column in The New York Times about the same time, he wrote an opinion piece which really summarised the central theme of his book. He said:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral—whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that, fundamentally, those eulogy values are more important than the resume ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching us about the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities that you need to radiate that sort of inner light we so rarely find. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external character than on how to build an internal character. One of the things about John Fahey is that throughout his life he built both the external character and the internal character.

John Fahey was a remarkable man: a chain-smoking, rugby league playing Irish Catholic, solicitor, former trainee priest, and a bloke who was in law firm practice with the very controversial John Marden. John Fahey's presence in our party was a reminder to us and the Liberal Party that the party at its best is a party that represents all Australians.

John was a member of the New South Wales Parliament for 11 years. He was Premier of New South Wales for almost three years. As everybody else who has spoken about John has remarked, John is most remembered for winning the Sydney Olympics—and 'the jump for joy', as the member for Wentworth said. The Olympics were an extraordinary moment in Australian history, and everyone who lived through that moment saw the best in our country as our city showed what it was really like when everything worked like clockwork for that magical fortnight and when we were on display and showed our values and our way of life best to the rest of the world. John is also remembered for that heroic action—a strange heroic action for a republican—in rescuing Prince Charles from an attacker, David Kang, who today is a Sydney barrister.

John later served as a member of the Commonwealth parliament for five years, and he served all that time as Minister for Finance. The Howard government had inherited $96 billion of debt—which, at that time, was an enormous amount of debt, though it doesn't seem quite so big in today's standards—and both John Fahey and Peter Costello had the herculean task of starting to repay the debt and to get the budget back in order. Peter Costello, in his memoirs, talked about the first budget and that first expenditure review committee, and I thought it was worthwhile quoting him here. He said:

The room in which the ERC met had no windows, no fresh air and no telephones. During that first winter we generally would be there for twelve hours a day.

A brotherhood tends to develop among the Ministers on the ERC—and it was particularly strong during our first year in Government. I got to know John Fahey, former premier of New South Wales and the Government's first Finance Minister, well. He became a valued friend during this process. He was a great raconteur, Like all the Irish, he could talk. Sometimes as a punishment for long-winded Ministers, I would ask John to reply to their arguments. He could go a lot longer in reply than they did in making their submissions. Letting John loose was a tactic designed to wear down even the most loquacious of the other Ministers.

John's political career was sadly cut short by his diagnosis of lung cancer and, in 2002, he ultimately lost a lung. Anybody who spent time with John—and the Speaker told the story yesterday in the House—knew it was hard for John to go upstairs and it was hard for John to walk around generally.

Today I want to reflect on some my own experiences with John Fahey. John had a seminal and formative experience in my own political journey. The first campaign that I ever worked on as a political apparatchik, as it were, was as 18-year-old in John's last campaign as the member for Southern Highlands, the same year that he was Premier of New South Wales, in 1995. I was 18 years old. I'd gone to the birthday party of a friend of mine and impressed her father, who happened to be John's SEC president in the Southern Highlands, who said to me, 'Why don't you come down and campaign for John, and you will get to meet him and it will be a great experience for you? You obviously have an interest in politics. This would be great.' The father of my friend Clare—whose party I had been at—Murray Branch, who is no longer with us either, was a legend in Goulburn and a legend in the Liberal Party in that part of the world. I remember that hot day in February 1995. It was a big garden party out on their lawn in Goulburn, and Murray had arranged for me to have some time, just one on one with John—which was so generous. John was the Premier of New South Wales at that time.

I remember three things about John. Firstly, I remember that he had security guards. I had never seen a politician who had security guards before. In 1995 the world was a less dangerous place, but even then the Premier of New South Wales needed to have their own security. Secondly, John was taller and more engaging in the flesh than he was on television. I think that's probably true of all of us.

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Not me!

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Maybe not my friend to the right here! Thirdly, John was really generous in talking and sharing his wisdom with a complete political neophyte like me.

That February it seemed as if John Fahey couldn't lose the election. He was incredibly popular. He had won the Olympics, he had saved Prince Charles' life, he had managed the hung parliament well and he seemed to have the common touch. So it surprised me on election day, having spent the whole day handing out how-to-vote cards and scrutineering at Goulburn East, to come back to the party with the results in to find that John had retained his seat but lost the election. After the election, John wrote me a generous thankyou note and we kept in touch from time to time at party functions over the years.

But I really got to know John well when he became Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, which is where I spent four years prior to being here. I joined ACU in 2012, and John became chancellor in 2014. He had huge shoes to fill. The previous chancellor had been Sir Peter Cosgrove, who was well loved by everyone at the university as well as a national hero and who went on to be Governor-General. But John did a fantastic job, with his humility and his common touch. Being the chancellor of a multicampus university is a difficult task, but I think the chancellor of a catholic university has additional issues. You have to manage the highly important church politics as well as dealing with educational and health stakeholders. John having been a former premier of New South Wales was particularly useful because anybody who's had interactions with the New South Wales education ministry and its very large bureaucracy will know what a difficult beast that can be.

John presided over the university's 25th anniversary celebrations, and he saw campuses open in as diverse places as Rome and Blacktown. While John didn't get to host the Sydney Olympics because Bob Carr was the Premier at that time, he did get to host the International Federation of Catholic Universities conference, which is like the Olympics for Catholic universities. This was a great event and it was a defining event of John's chancellorship. It really put the university on the map.

The story of ACU under John's leadership and under the leadership of Greg Craven is of a university that was at the margins of the Australian education system and at the margins of the global Catholic education system moving to be the largest Catholic university in the English-speaking world, the largest producer of nurses and teachers in this country and a global success story for a church that was facing an extensional crisis the likes of which it had never seen. John's role in leading and stewarding the university and providing that good news to people in the Catholic Church not only here but around the world—and to Australians—was a terrific thing.

I was honoured by the support John gave me in my own role and was delighted and touched that he came to my farewell in 2016. At a mass offered for John's life at ACU last week, Greg Craven provided the vice-chancellor's insight into John's approach to his role. He said: 'We, his university family, knew and loved John as chancellor. He was a wonderful chancellor, as only a vice-chancellor can fully know. He was wise, loyal and supportive. If I did something he thought was right, he would ferociously defend me. If I did something he thought was stupid, he would tell me I was an idiot in private and then ferociously defend me in public. If I did something he thought was dumb and which he later decided was right his defensive plays were of a type that would have got him sent off when he was playing for his beloved Bulldogs.'

Vice-President of the university, Father Anthony Casamento, reflected on John's deep sense of purpose. I think this quote from Father Anthony Casamento is really fundamental to who John was and why he was such a centred person. He said: 'When John began his term as chancellor, he shared with me an idea that he picked up in a copy of John Henry Newman's work The Idea of a University. I think that Newman is eminently insightful as well as quotable in a manner that can lead to reflection and prayer. One of the most significant quotes is this:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

I know John believed that and I believe that he saw his work, his extraordinary work, as a means of being that link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons, a preacher of truth.' Those are the words of Father Anthony Casamento.

John Fahey was one of the most decent and honourable men ever to go into Australian public life. If any of us have half the career that John Fahey had, we can count ourselves lucky. But if we can both come here and leave our parliamentary careers here with reputations for integrity as high as John Fahey, we will have done a good thing. To Colleen and John's family, we send our condolences. May John's memory be a blessing.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal 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 members having stood in their places—

I thank the Federation Chamber.

10:55 am

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.

Sitting suspended from 10 : 56 to 16 : 00