Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2020


Madigan, Mr John Joseph

3:43 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the opposition to express our condolences following the passing of John Joseph Madigan, a former senator who passed away so young, at 53. I start by conveying, and on behalf of the opposition, my personal condolences and sympathies to his family and friends, and I welcome the members of his family who are here today with us.

I don't think John Madigan would mind me saying that he reminded us of a different time—a blacksmith by trade who represented the Democratic Labor Party in this place, a party that had risen to prominence under the guidance of activist Bob Santamaria in the 1950s and had lost its last Senate seat in 1974. I hadn't even arrived in Australia. Yet Mr Madigan served in this Senate in the second decade of the 21st century. He did so grounded in the values that had endured from his early life and that had been borne out in his career, and from these he never wavered.

His family said in a statement following his death:

He was a generous and compassionate man who gave his life to the greater good and had great faith in the people of Australia. He considered his time in Parliament a privilege and he sought always to discharge his duty to all Victorians, regardless of their political persuasion.

In addition to this generosity and compassion, John Madigan showed great respect to others—respect to colleagues, even when we disagreed, and respect to this institution. That was something I appreciated in him greatly, even on those occasions when we were not in agreement.

John Madigan did not adopt the DLP; he was born into it. He grew up in a loyal DLP family in Melbourne and he joined the youth group run by BA Santamaria. Prior to his entry into the parliament, Mr Madigan completed an apprenticeship in structural steel fabrication and worked as a blacksmith and boilermaker from 1983 to 2011. As my colleague Senator Birmingham said, this was a choice of trade that came about after being fascinated by a local blacksmith in his youth. He undertook his apprenticeship and then worked for a decade in Victorian Railways, where he was also a proud member of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, or the metalworkers as we would colloquially call it. Following this, he relocated to the town of Hepburn Springs, in the Victorian Central Highlands, and there he set up his own business in the same trade. He lived there with his wife, Teresa, and their children, Lucy and Jack, who are here with us today. It's also where he passed away.

Before his election, John Madigan held senior leadership roles inside the DLP. He was vice president of the state branch in Victoria from 2008 to 2009, and then its president from 2009. In the same year, he also became vice president of the federal DLP. John Madigan served one term as a senator for Victoria. He was elected in 2010, commenced office in July 2011, and was then defeated at the general election in 2016. Of the re-emergence of his party in federal politics, he joked that it had been 'a long time between drinks'. As a teetotaller himself, I suppose he had the patience to bide his time.

From the outset, John Madigan sought to give a voice to the workers, families, farmers and small businesses with whom he engaged. He felt many had been alienated by decisions of successive governments in the opening up of the Australian economy to the world. In this vein, John Madigan's commitment to manufacturing was a constant theme throughout his time in the Senate. He consistently returned to it, grounded in his own personal experience. He argued, 'The great economies of the world have strong manufacturing bases.' He wanted to see government doing more—much more—to support and invest in Australian manufacturing.

This is a principle that we in the Australian Labor Party agree with, although at times we would differ from former Senator Madigan on how this might be achieved. He advocated for the re-establishment of worker and farmer cooperatives and for strengthening regional banks and credit unions as a first step in revitalising regional Australia, accompanied by a commitment to decentralising our industries and the public sector. One area of local manufacturing about which he was particularly passionate was shipbuilding. I recall him, in 2015, asking questions of the then deputy leader of government in this place, former Senator Brandis, about the failure of the Abbott government to commit to the development of our local shipbuilding industry through a local build of Australia's future submarines. When asking former Senator Brandis whether he would also commit to purchasing an Australian made T-shirt he was holding in support of Australian manufacturing, jobs and charities, Mr Madigan made the following comment:

Minister, two of the things I believe in are that a country is what a country makes and that submarines are spaceships for the ocean.

Not only was 'submarines are spaceships for the ocean' perhaps his most memorable quote in his time as a senator—the slogan first came to light in an episode of Q&A earlier in the year and even made it onto T-shirts themselves—but this statement went to the heart of his philosophy. 'A country is what a country makes' was foundational to Mr Madigan's political ideology. For the record, former Senator Brandis replied that he would proudly advocate for Australian industry, including by wearing such a fetching garment. But I don't think he followed through on that commitment.

Mr Madigan was also a vociferous opponent of free trade. This was something on which he and I were out of step, but I am prepared to acknowledge that on this he had views that were not completely friendless within the Australian Labor Party. Whilst I didn't agree with his views on these issues, I always respected that he wanted the same outcome that I also sought: a fair and prosperous life for working Australians.

His commitment to fairness went beyond the material conditions of working people and included refugees who sought asylum in this country, as well as multicultural communities who were discriminated against. So, whilst he was an economic nationalist, he did not sound a jingoistic or racist bell.

Despite being a member of the crossbench, for whom committee positions are harder to come by, John Madigan served on many committees, including the Joint Statutory Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, and chaired the perhaps very famous Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines. His sincerity and passion for those who found his committee to be an important outlet for their grievances was not doubted.

Mr Madigan finished his service as an independent senator, having fallen out with others in the DLP in 2014 and, as Senator Birmingham said, forming his own political party, launching the John Madigan Manufacturing and Farming Party, through which he sought to tap into the 'increasing discontent among voters, particularly in rural and regional areas, about the mainstream parties'. He sought to give greater prominence to farmers and manufacturers as the backbone of the Australian economy. This echoed the commitments he made in his first speech, when he spoke of his desire to represent 'Australians who feel that they have lost their voice and that no politician from either side of the fence could give a damn'—to use his words—'about their future or the future of their families and communities'. However, this new political venture wasn't sufficient to return him in the 2016 election, and there his journey as an elected member of the Australian parliament ended. I understand that, after briefly joining the Country Party, he was recently welcomed back into the DLP, which seems fitting for the prominent role it played in his upbringing and his political career.

John Joseph Madigan was a man of strong convictions, and this meant we didn't always agree. On issues from trade policy to marriage equality, we would find ourselves on opposite sides of the argument. But, as I acknowledged in the debate on the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill in 2013, Mr Madigan contributed his views in a respectful way.

Following his passing, his son, Jack Madigan, sent me a moving note, sharing his own and his father's reflections, and I want to thank Jack. At a time of his own grieving, it was a distinctly generous act and it displayed a dignity and kindness that would have made his father proud.

John Joseph Madigan was a genuine man. He was a decent man and he was an authentic man, and, perhaps most of all, he was true to himself, which is the aspiration all of us in this place should have. So I again on behalf of the opposition express my sympathy and condolences, following his passing, to his family and friends.


No comments