Senate debates

Monday, 9 August 2021


Martyr, Mr John Raymond

3:47 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the opposition to express our condolences following the passing of John Raymond Martyr, a former senator and member of the House of Representatives, at the age of 89. To begin, I express our sympathy to his family and friends as we join with the government in this condolence motion.

John Raymond Martyr was born in Melbourne on 25 May 1932. He was the elder of two sons of Ernest John Martyr and Ellen Mary, nee Goodwin. Ernest died when John was just three years old, and Ellen and the boys lived in East Brunswick and later Caulfield. John Martyr joined the Australian Labor Party at an early age and was active in BA Santamaria's Catholic Social Studies Movement, which was formed in Melbourne in 1941. John and his future wife, Doris Helen Dent, were expelled from the Elsternwick branch of the ALP when the split took place in Victoria in 1955. The following year, John and Doris were married at St Patrick's church at Murrumbeena. They became foundation members of what would soon become known as the Democratic Labor Party.

Living in Ferntree Gully, John worked as a sales representative, was a member of the Federated Clerks Union and was active in the local debating society. He directed the DLP's state election campaign from Scoresby in 1958, and he ran for the DLP in a by-election for the federal seat of La Trobe in 1960. In 1964, John became the Western Australian secretary of the DLP. I suspect he took over from Mark Poser, who had by then moved to South Australia. Over the next seven years, he unsuccessfully contested every state and federal election for the DLP before resigning as state secretary in 1971 and from the party in 1972. He became a consultant working for clients including mining magnate Lang Hancock.

By June 1972, Martyr had become the vice-president of the Victoria Park branch of the West Australian Liberal Party. In 1975 he was preselected as the Liberal candidate for the federal seat of Swan and defeated the sitting Labor member, Adrian Bennett, at that election. Holding Swan by a narrow margin, John Martyr's early focus was on working for his constituency, but he was also outspoken on some contentious issues, including the secession of Western Australia. Martyr warned parliamentary colleagues not to underestimate the strength of support for the idea, telling parliament, 'Sometimes we get the feeling that you do forget us.' He wrapped up that speech by highlighting the importance of mining in the Australian economy and later argued in favour of Australia's mining and exporting of uranium.

John Martyr achieved a surprise win at the 1977 election, beating his ALP opponent by 689 votes. In June 1979 The Australian described him as one of the toughest men on the Liberal backbench but noted, 'He shuns publicity and rarely speaks in parliament or in the party room.' Martyr said, 'The only way to hold a seat like mine is to knock on doors and tramp along footpaths.' But in 1980 he lost Swan to future Labor leader and now Governor of Western Australia Kim Beazley. Not long after that loss, he beat 12 other candidates to win Liberal preselection for a casual Senate vacancy. He reportedly impressed the preselection committee, made up of a Liberal state council of more than 100 members, with a fiery speech. He later told the Senate, 'I was very surprised that they chose me for, in my blunt way, I said a few things to them which may not have been at the time in my best interests.' His nomination was endorsed by the WA parliament and he was sworn in on 24 March 1981. In true form he asked a question without notice before delivering his first speech. When he did make his first speech he referred—and this was a quote that the Senate leader referred to in his comments—to his earlier parliamentary first speech saying, 'It's not every day or even every year that a blushing neophyte like myself has a chance to be a maiden twice.' Martyr was not elected in the 1983 election, which saw Bob Hawke lead Labor to victory and into government.

One issue that John Martyr pursued in both houses was the case of Christopher Derkacz, a young boy with Down Syndrome. Christopher was admitted to a WA hospital after developing croup and, according to Martyr and others, was not given adequate care because he had a disability. Having first raised the issue in the House of Representatives in 1979, John Martyr strongly supported Brian Harradine when he raised the same issue in the Senate in 1981. Their advocacy resulted in bipartisan support for a motion noting the case and calling for particular attention to be given to ensure the preservation of life and proper health care of disabled persons who incur some additional form of illness.

Speakers paying tribute to those who had left the Senate at the 1983 election recalled Martyr's capacity to discomfit them and to drive them mad. However, as the Australian Democrats leader, Senator Don Chipp, said, 'John Martyr had a great capacity to love and be loved.' Shortly after his defeat, Martyr experienced a health scare and, in his own words, slipped into the background. John Martyr died at home on 18 June. Throughout his career he was firmly supported by his wife, Doris. He is survived by Doris, their seven children and their spouses, 23 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. I again express the opposition's condolences on his passing. Our sympathies go to his family, friends and former colleagues.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.


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