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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2920


Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia) —I would like to associate the National Party in the Senate with the condolence motion moved by the acting leader of the government, Senator Robert Ray. Today I had the honour of representing the National Party at the state funeral for the Hon. Justin O'Byrne, held in Launceston. The Church of Apostles was overflowing with mourners paying their last respects to a man that they held in high regard. Many hundreds—I would not like to put a figure on it, but the church was overflowing—came to pay their respects to this remarkable man, who died at 81 after dedicating 40 years of his life in service to the Australian people, firstly as a RAAF fighter pilot during the Second World War and then as a long serving senator for Tasmania.

  Justin O'Byrne represented the people of Tasmania in the Senate for over 34 years, a great achievement and a near record. During his eight terms in parliament he received a first-hand view of the shifting fortunes of various governments as they rose and fell around him. He saw eight Prime Ministers come and go from Chifley in the late 1940s to Fraser in the early 1980s.

  Justin O'Byrne was educated at St Patrick's College in Launceston. He left Tasmania at the age of 18 to go north to Queensland in search of work. During the depression years he worked on the land in a variety of jobs: drover, fencer, bullock driver, tank sinker and station overseer. When I was in Launceston today one of the federal members of parliament down there provided me with a local article which described Justin O'Byrne as a `road' scholar, saying that he had learnt a lot on the road.

  Justin O'Byrne took flying lessons under the empire training scheme and subsequently served as a RAAF fighter pilot during World War II. He took part in the defence of London during the blitz before being shot down over France in 1941. Justin O'Byrne was detained as a prisoner of war in various German prison camps, being sent to the notorious Stalag Luft III camp for fighter pilots, where he spent the remainder of the war. He was a courageous and a defiant prisoner. He spent his incarceration planning escapes, digging tunnels and keeping morale up among his fellow prisoners. He helped plan two legendary escapes which I think became famous.

  Mr O'Byrne was able to put his traumatic POW experience behind him and not long after his repatriation to Australia he was elected as senator for Tasmania in 1946. Through his long career in the Senate, Mr O'Byrne served on many committees including defence, resources, war gratuity and public works. After 10 years as opposition whip, Mr O'Byrne became government whip in the Senate in 1972, a position he held for two years.

  In 1974 his hard work, basic decency and integrity were recognised by his parliamentary peers when he was elected to the position of President of the Senate. He held this position with distinction for two years, not an easy job when we reflect on what a place the Senate was at that time. For the remainder of his time in the Senate, Mr O'Byrne continued his hard work to promote the interests of the people in Tasmania.

  He retired from the Senate in 1981 at the age of 69. Even at that age he continued to be involved in the local community, serving as a justice of the peace. Mr O'Byrne was a great Australian who made an enormous contribution to public life, fighting for his country and working tirelessly for the people of Tasmania. I am sure all honourable senators will join with me in extending sympathy to Mrs O'Byrne, Mr O'Byrne's family and their many friends.