Senate debates

Monday, 9 August 2021


Martyr, Mr John Raymond

3:37 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death, on 18 June 2021, of John Raymond Martyr, a senator for the state of Western Australia from 1981 to 1983 and a member of the House of Representatives for the division of Swan from 1975 to 1980. I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

3:38 pm

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

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its sorrow at the death, on 18 June 2021, of Mr John Raymond Martyr, former member for Swan and former senator for Western Australia, places on record its gratitude for his service to the parliament and the nation and tenders its sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

On 18 June this year, we learnt of the passing of the former senator and former member of the House of Representatives John Martyr. John Martyr was first elected as the Member for Swan to the House of Representatives for the Liberal Party in 1975 and later served in this place as a senator for Western Australia from 1981 to 1983. John Martyr is remembered for being an avid and tough politician true to his beliefs.

John Martyr's journey into politics was nothing short of unorthodox. Born on May 25 1932 in Melbourne, he was the eldest of two sons to Ernest and Ellen Martyr. When John was just three years old, his father passed away, leaving his mother to raise him and his brother in East Brunswick, where they lived until 1944 prior to making the move to Caulfield.

John took an interest in politics from early in life, joining the Australian Labor Party before he and his future wife, Doris, were expelled from the then Elsternwick branch in 1955 after the split in the Labor Party in Victoria. The next year, in 1956, John would marry Doris at St Patrick's church in Murrumbeena on 14 April. John and Doris would soon also go on to become foundation members of the newly formed Democratic Labor Party, from 1957.

John cut his teeth as a campaigner during the Victorian state election in 1958, where he would direct the DLP campaign for the seat of Scoresby. He brought to the role the experience he had gained as a sales representative, skills he had developed from being an active member of the local debating society and his experience as a member of the Federated Clerks Union. A few years later John threw his own hat into the ring as a candidate for the DLP in the federal seat of La Trobe at the 1960 by-election. However, it was a move to Western Australia in 1962 that would change the course of John's political journey. He had been asked to relocate to Perth to reignite the National Civic Council in a full-time undertaking as its state president. By this point the DLP had developed as a federal organisation, with branches in all states, and in mid-1964 John Martyr became state secretary of the Western Australian branch of the DLP.

The journey to electoral success, though, was still a long and tough fight ahead for John. For seven years John contested every state and federal election for the DLP until his resignation as the DLP's Western Australian state secretary in 1971, followed by his resignation from the DLP in early 1972. John then spent some time applying himself to economic and political consultancy. Then, in June 1972, John and his former DLP colleague Frank Pownall emerged as vice-presidents of the Victoria Park branch of the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party. Just a few short years later John Martyr would be preselected again, but this time as a Liberal candidate—a Liberal candidate for the seat of Swan at the 1975 federal election. In that landslide election victory he would defeat the Labor incumbent, and was returned by the people of Swan at the 1977 election prior to his defeat at the 1980 election.

Unsurprisingly, for a man of his values and a founding member of the DLP, John was remembered particularly for his vigorous promotion of pro-life policies. On election to the parliament, John notably broke convention by interjecting in the chamber before delivering his first speech to the House of Representatives, for which he would later reflect upon by saying, 'You become a shareholder in the parliament when you're elected, not after you make a speech.' John held deep convictions on a number of issues, particularly what he described as 'a move away from the virtues of self-help, self-reliance and dependence on your own abilities'. John felt strongly that the trend towards greater government involvement not only in people's personal lives but also in the whole of the economic structure was 'fundamentally bad'. He saw resilience as residing in the role that families play in supporting individuals and one another. In his second term in parliament, John played an active role in notable debates about moral issues around divorce and the rights of the unborn child.

Whilst John was defeated at the 1980 election, he would return to the parliament in fairly short order in 1981—this time in the Senate—upon securing preselection for a vacancy created by the resignation of then senator Allan Rocher. On delivering his maiden speech to the Senate, in characteristic fashion, John would reference his first maiden speech delivered in the House, saying:

It is not every day, or even every year, that a blushing neophyte like myself has a chance to be a maiden-twice!

John would go on to express his deep-seated belief that there was a growing issue of government over-reliance, noting, with somewhat typical hyperbole:

… part of the reason for people believing that life is really difficult today is the constant feeding of soothing syrup in social welfare handouts from government … everybody expects the Government to pick up his personal problems and carry them.

In the Senate, John continued his strong advocacy on the issues he had focused on in the House, around family law and pro-life issues. He also took a strong interest in defence and international affairs.

Whilst John's firm commitment to his principles and his somewhat fiery debating style may have created the impression of a potentially disagreeable fellow, this actually wasn't the case at all. In tributes to those who had left the Senate in 1983, Senator Don Chipp, founder of the Australian Democrats, said:

John Martyr was an extreme, avid, fanatic right-winger and he was very proud of that. The extraordinary thing was that, notwithstanding this massive difference in our philosophies, we were very close personal friends. John Martyr had a great capacity to love and to be loved. Those who had the privilege of getting to know him would have found out the true meaning of affection and love.

John Martyr's political life was a reminder of the importance of persistence and patience but also the importance of people, principle and passion providing a voice in our democratic institutions that can be valued even by those who may have often, or virtually always, disagreed with it. John's term in the Senate ended on 4 February 1983, when the two houses were dissolved.

Throughout his parliamentary life, throughout his long contribution to politics, throughout, of course, his long interest in policy and values, and, most importantly, throughout all of the personal aspects of his life, John was supported by his wife, Doris. He leaves behind, along with their seven children and their spouses, 23 grandchildren and, at this stage, 12 great-grandchildren, with, no doubt, more to come. On behalf of the Australian government, the Liberal Party and the Australian Senate, I extend to John's loved ones our sincerest condolences and our thanks for his service.

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.