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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2925


Senator McMULLAN (Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services) —I join my colleagues in supporting Senator Robert Ray's motion of condolence for former Senator Justin O'Byrne. I do not often speak on condolence motions here. Many of the people who have come here have been known better by others—they have been closer to them and have worked with them—and I sometimes feel that it is a bit gratuitous to add one's comments. But on this occasion, it is somebody for whom I feel a very deep affection, developed over 20 years of friendship and association.

  It struck me at the time—in retrospect, it strikes me even more strongly—that when I first met Justin O'Byrne he had already been in the Senate for 27 years, which seems in itself to be a terrible thought. I have been here for five. The thought that one might serve here for 27 years is beyond comprehension. But he then was nowhere near the end of his effective contribution as a senator.

  Justin was on the national executive of the party. He had been in the Senate for 27 years and I was 25 years of age, so it was all a bit hard for me to come to grips with—this man, who did not seem old enough to have been in the Senate for 27 years, who had that impish humour about which so many people have spoken and who made sensible, worthwhile contributions to the debates, on that senior body of the Labor Party.

  I knew Justin for 20 years after that. In a sense, my initial impressions were confirmed and reinforced continuously over 20 years of association. He was a man of great integrity. Others have spoken about that; I merely support it. He was a man of great humour; others have spoken about that. I suppose all those who knew him were once or twice the butt of that humour—not that he was a person who embarrassed others with his humour. He did sometimes tell a joke at our expense, but never with that sharp edge with which people sometimes misuse their humour. He sang the words of some songs that nobody but Justin had ever heard before; he always sang them in a very entertaining way, often with a bit of a message.

  He also was a person of great commitment. I was always impressed by the fact that in his contributions there was always a core of the principle which underpinned the position that he was articulating. He tried to progress from that principle to the conclusion. I do not want to pretend that I always agreed with Justin O'Byrne. He would be stunned; if at any time when I had known him I got up and pretended that, he would have been the first to ridicule such a suggestion. We had some wonderful arguments, but I always respected the fact that he articulated his case from a position of principle, even when they were principles with which I did not agree. He always had the capacity to smile and to share a pleasant conversation after the disagreement. Sometimes they were pretty vigorously argued, particularly if you were able to do it behind closed doors.

  He was a person who cared and who sought through his life to make a contribution to his country, to his state and for his family. I think he would be pleased if he thought—and I believe that it would be true to say—that he improved each of those through his efforts and his commitment.

  I had the privilege on some occasions of staying at his home in Launceston when I visited that city. His friendship, warmth and humour and that of his family was something which I greatly appreciated. It is a memory which I will treasure. He was a very good friend and a great political supporter and source of encouragement, giving great consideration to important issues. I have already written to his wife and family expressing my sympathy. I welcome the opportunity to stand here this evening and put on the public record a formal recognition of those things which I conveyed privately to Anne and to the family.