Australia today is mourning the passing of the Hon John Fahey AC.
John was an Australian and Liberal original.
Twenty years ago today, Sydney was about to host the Olympics – an event that defined both our city and our nation.
As John leapt to his feet on hearing the news his Government had secured the Sydney Olympics for Australia, he seemed to be embodying the shared joy of every Australian.
The securing of the Sydney Olympics by the Fahey Government, by John Fahey, working together with Bruce Baird and Rod McGeogh, in many ways led Australia out of the 1990s recession. It gave Australians hope and belief.
But it was also the image of John as Premier on his knees at St Mary’s in Sydney as fires ravaged NSW that spoke to his quiet faith and humility.
John Fahey was an optimist, who believed in Australia, because he knew how much it had enabled him in his own life.
John’s was truly an Australian story of his generation. He gave more than he received. His cheery and cheeky smile was what always left his impression on you, long after the topic or issue had passed.
In his day, John was not your typical Liberal. A Catholic, rugby league player and smoker from South West Sydney. As a Liberal he broadened our outlook and connected us with an ever widening aspirational population.
He was notoriously slow at working a room, but that reflected the deep connections John formed with so many he met. John Fahey gave everyone his undivided attention.
John described his liberalism as: “hard head, soft heart”. It was an approach he would take as Premier and as Federal Minister for Finance.
As Federal Minister for Finance, John Fahey, along with John Howard and Peter Costello drove the historic turnaround in Australia’s finances in the late 1990s. As well, they set in train a service revolution in telecommunications.
After 17 years in State and Federal politics and a distinguished career of public service, John left politics in 2001 due to ill health. John said at the time: “I want to do some more things. I want to continue to give to the community. I intend to continue to work.”
He got that wish.
John went on to be a director of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, chairman of the Rugby League Development Board and fittingly given his history, chairman of the Sydney Olympic Park Authority. In 2007, John became chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, one of the most significant sporting administrator roles in the world.
John was a tremendous Liberal. He was a mentor to many, including Joe Hockey and Marise Payne.
He was one of a kind who had an earthy and tested faith and who was sustained by his loved family.
To John’s wife Colleen, and his surviving children Melanie and Matthew, and his grandchildren Amber and Campbell, Jenny and I extend our deepest condolences.