Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2020


Madigan, Mr John Joseph

3:34 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 16 June 2020, of Mr John Joseph Madigan, former Senator for Victoria, places on record its appreciation for his service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Earlier this year I, along with other senators, was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of former senator John Madigan. Elected as the first senator for the Democratic Labor Party in 37 years, John was a humble and down-to-earth blacksmith and boilermaker from Ballarat who fought to improve the lives of average Australians.

Born on 21 July 1966 in Melbourne, John was one of four children to John and Patricia Madigan. Growing up in the Melbourne suburbs, John's interest in the blacksmith trade started at an early age. He would reminisce that at around age eight or nine, during his paper round in the suburb of Caulfield, he would stop and watch Bernie Dingle, a local coach builder, wheelwright, blacksmith and horseshoer, at work. Mesmerised by what he saw, John would return to watch night after night. The flying of the sparks intrigued young John, who, recognising that coach building, wheelwrighting and blacksmithing were dying trades, turned his attention to welding and boilermaking instead. His fascination with the trade led him to Newport TAFE, where he undertook an apprenticeship in structural steel fabrication. From Victorian Railways to his own blacksmith's forge at Hepburn Springs, in the Victorian Central Highlands, John spent 28 years working as a blacksmith and boilermaker.

Becoming a politician was not something that was on John's list of things to do. But, during his childhood, politics was never too far away. He grew up in what he called a DLP family. As a young boy he handed out how-to-vote cards for the DLP. In 2006 John became a member of the DLP. A few years later, after being persuaded by DLP old believers and his wife, Teresa, he decided to run as a Senate candidate in the 2010 federal election. It is safe to say that John's election to the Senate in 2010 came as a surprise to many. He joked that at 11 pm on election night, when the ABC's Antony Green announced, 'We appear to have a DLP senator', many would have been searching the internet for a reference to this 'new and obscure group'. The DLP was, of course, far from being new or obscure.

In July 2011 John entered this chamber as the first DLP senator since 1974. He referred to himself as 'the most outside of outsiders—a tradesman and a member for the DLP, an oddity and a leper'. They were his words. But he was a strong supporter of the manufacturing sector, true to his values and a voice for Australian workers and farmers in his community.

Throughout his time in the Senate, John remained connected to his original trade as a blacksmith and boilermaker. He would load up one of his many beloved one-tonne utes with his portable forge and would give blacksmithing demonstrations at primary schools across Victoria. His was perhaps one of the most practical examples of constituent and electorate engagement that any member of this place has ever given in reaching out to schools and communities. It was a lot of work but John gained enormous satisfaction from connecting, particularly with young people. Many people, he said, would laugh at this and ask: 'What's the point? Blacksmithing is a dead craft.' To this, John responded: 'But that's not the point. I do it because I hope it gives young people hope. It's about showing them they can do practical stuff with their hands. It's about engaging with our next generation of community leaders.'

I have particularly fond memories of spending a day with John in rural Victoria around his beloved Ballarat, of visiting a local school and seeing a program designed to engage young people in trades and the passionate conversations had with John about those issues. We travelled on to visit Ballarat business Gekko Systems together, and we talked about the engineering processes and manufacturing opportunities that a company like that was delivering in supplying equipment to mineral-processing businesses and the policies necessary to support further manufacturing activity.

John, indeed, started the Australian Manufacturing and Farming Program to help narrow the divide between politicians and working Australians. His advocacy for them to me and the trip that he took me on were examples of his willingness to bridge those gaps wherever he could. The aim of the program was to give politicians the opportunity to visit factories and farms and to get a better understanding of our industries and the lives of those who worked there. He launched the program in late 2011 with former senator Nick Xenophon and the Hon. Bob Katter MP—'the three amigos', as Bob would often refer to them.

In 2015, during an appearance on the ABC's Q+A program, John referred, in his passionate argument for Australian manufacturing, to submarines as being 'the spaceships of the sea'. This reference gave John an almost cultish following for a period of time, for those who may recall the various images and, indeed, I think even T-shirts that that reference spawned. In 2015, after troubles within the DLP, John decided to start his own political party, John Madigan's Manufacturing and Farming Party. However, it would last only briefly, until the 2016 election, when, after six years in this place, John would retire from politics.

During his time in the Senate, John was committed to advocating for those Australians who felt their voice had been lost. Known for his determination to do the right thing, John stood for what he believed in, no matter what it cost him personally. When asked what he wanted to achieve during his time in parliament, John said:

All I worry about at the end of the day is being true to myself, true to my family and friends and putting my head on the pillow at night. And when I leave parliament, whenever that may be, that I will walk out with my friends, my family and my faith intact.

John achieved that. Faith was incredibly important to John. He was a devout Catholic whose faith inspired others to be better and to do better.

It is a tragedy that, at the age of 53, John was taken from us and particularly from his loved ones far too soon, after a battle with cancer. He leaves his wife, Teresa, and two children, Lucy and Jack, who, along with his mother-in-law, Carmel, are here with us today to pay tribute and to celebrate John's life and achievements. We thank you for doing so. We thank you for the patience in waiting to be able to be here in this troubled year.

On behalf of the Australian government and the Australian Senate, I extend to you, John's loved ones, and all those who cared for him, our sincerest condolences and gratitude for sharing him with the nation and with us.


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