Oct 6, 2020

CONDOLENCES – Fahey, Hon. John Joseph, AC – Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the Opposition) (14:10): John Joseph Fahey was a great bloke. That is the greatest thing you can say about an Australian male—that, we all aspire to. He was a very decent man. He was a man of principle, of faith, and of courtesy. He had a deep humility about him, steeped, no doubt, in his poor but happy childhood. Yet he rose to the very heights in a career spanning state and federal politics. He may have been born across the ditch, but he became one of the most enthusiastically embraced types of Australian—the successful Kiwi! Once upon a time, Labor might have had some expectation that the young John Fahey might make it into our ranks. After all, as the Prime Minister has outlined, his parents were ALP supporters—they handed out for Gough Whitlam in 1972. As it turned out, though, the apple fell some way from the tree. But political differences never got in the way of his instinct to treat others with respect. That’s what keeps coming through about John—just how much he liked people. He remembered their names. He loved to chat. He was not a stranger to a convivial drink and a smoke—or two—and he was also an optimist.


During the years that we overlapped in this place—we were elected on the same day, in 1996—I don’t remember his having an enemy, not on this side, nor, more importantly, on his own side, which is something that does take some doing. He was respected by all. He was a man of courage. While many speak of putting themselves on the line, John did it literally when he defended Prince Charles from an attacker on Australia Day in 1994. He launched himself into action, his reflexes impeccable, finely honed, no doubt, during his years playing rugby league for Canterbury-Bankstown. The assailant was tackled and the heir to the throne was safe. Not even John’s republican leanings could slow him down. He was, after all, a good Irish Catholic.


He was a man of action in other ways. During his time as New South Wales premier, he appointed New South Wales’s first minister for the status of women. His government ushered in the Disability Services Act and the New South Wales seniors card. As the Prime Minister has said, he was called the accidental premier by some. But Bob Carr, in his fitting and sincere tributes, has said that defeating John Fahey was a Herculean task in 1995, because John Fahey was so well liked in the community, including by many people who would consider themselves good Labor people.


He was one of the few to successfully make the transition from state to federal politics. Not one to shy away from a big task, John took on the job of finance minister. He treated the portfolio with the respect, the gravity and the stamina that it demands. When lung cancer accelerated his exit from politics, he stood in this place and declared that he had had a blessed life.


He didn’t lose momentum after politics. We saw him in a wide variety of roles. Among them was the very important position of being president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He had a passionate opposition to the use of drugs in sport. He regarded it as just something that needed to be stamped out. He was chancellor of The Australian Catholic University and chair of the Australian Rugby League Development Board.


Away from his career, his family was core. We can only begin to imagine how hard it was for him and his wife, Colleen, to lose their youngest daughter, Tiffany, in that car crash in 2006. The last thing that any parent would want would be to outlive their child. Yet this cruel reality was thrust upon them. But in their grief, John and Colleen threw themselves into the task of raising Tiffany’s children. What a profound love those children must have been raised in. It is a love they will carry with them always.


Let the sadness at John’s passing be softened a little by the memory of his famous Olympic leap and how it was a foretaste of all the happiness that would flow from those games seven years later. I offer my condolences to Colleen, his surviving children, Melanie and Matthew, and his grandchildren, Amber and Campbell. He will be dearly missed. May he rest in peace.