Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2020


Madigan, Mr John Joseph

4:09 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

On 16 June this year Australia lost one of its quintessential sons, a family man, a hard worker, a man of faith, a man of values—of timeless values, might I add—and a man of courage. John Joseph Madigan, a Victorian senator for too short a period, was all those things and a lot more. With former Senator Madigan, what you saw was what you got: sincerity, believability and a desire to be a genuine servant leader within his community. There were no manoeuvrings or duplicitous agendas for John. He either agreed or disagreed with a general proposition at stake; he was willing to talk and accommodate on the mechanics, but not on the fundamental principles.

Australian democracy should celebrate the fact that we had Senator Madigan grace the Senate. The blacksmith from Hepburn Springs came to the Senate and gave voice and expression to shared Australian values. Starting as an apprentice with Victorian Railways and a proud member of his union, he learned in the university of life, bringing an earthy and realistic understanding of social justice and the requirements and expectations of our fellow Australians from government as it developed public policy. Be it championing the sanctity of human life, manufacturing sustainability in Australia or concerns about China's human rights record, Senator Madigan was across the issues. His approach to his new-found and unexpected role as a senator was best summed up by him in his first speech. He said: 'We are the representatives of the Australian people, not their masters.' For Senator Madigan, that statement was not just words; it was meant with deep conviction, as he conducted himself accordingly.

Senator Madigan was the type of senator who had the potential of giving the labour movement a good name. I observed that Senator Madigan's seat in the Senate was one that had been previously occupied by Senator Harradine. He was by instinct a Labor man. Senator Madigan did tell us, 'I have often said that the best government for Australian is a good Labor government, and the worst is a bad Labor government.' As can be imagined, I agreed with him 50 per cent of the time!

I first met Senator-elect Madigan in 2010 in an office in Melbourne, as tired as I am now, with Senator Madigan in work clothes, using someone's office where the senator-elect had quoted a blacksmithing job and was discussing details. We used their coffee facilities to have a chat. His hands were callused, like the hands of all those who work so hard to build and keep our country going. I last spoke with him to discuss what, if any, protocols applied for his funeral—knowing his life was coming to an end. Between his departure from the Senate and his departure from this life, I had the pleasure of catching up with him for a coffee in Ballarat a couple of times with his family. There was also a substantial number of telephone calls—always genuine, always concerned, always offering insights and suggestions.

To his widow and children: some of us know the journey you've been through—the shock diagnosis, the battle to stay with loved ones, and yet the assurance of knowing a better place awaits. Whilst the Madigan family are listening from the splendour of the presidential gallery in this place, they know that their husband and father, who was an excellent servant of the people of Victoria, is listening from a gallery of exceptionally greater glory than here. To Mrs Madigan, Teresa; Lucy and Jack; and Carmel: thanks for lending John Joseph Madigan, your father, your husband, your son-in-law, to the service of this nation. He did himself and you proud in his service. May he rest in peace, and my condolences to you.


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