November 27, 2012  |  Condolence

Hon. Murray Lewis Byrne, CMG

I too would like to speak briefly on the life of Murray Byrne and the contribution he made to the people of Victoria. Murray died on 7 November this year aged 84. He was elected as an MLC for Ballarat Province in June 1958 at the age of just 29. 

As we have heard, that made him the youngest MLC across Australia and at that time the youngest member of the Victorian Parliament. He served for 18 years in the Parliament before retiring in 1976. Murray was described by his son Andrew as ‘a people’s person’ who loved helping people, and that was certainly my experience of Murray on the occasions I met with him and during the opportunities I had to follow his life in more recent years.

He was also a man of great vision. Even in the years before he entered Parliament he showed an amazingly strong commitment to and involvement with the Ballarat community. In those early years, before entering Parliament at the age of 29, he was the founding member of Ballarat Jaycees, a founding member of the Wendouree Youth Club and a founding member of the Ballarat Caledonian Housing Societies. He was involved in a number of other groups, including the Skipton Youth Club, as well as other associations that continued to develop over his time both in Parliament and beyond his life in Parliament. 

He was very supportive of many individuals and organisations, not just in Ballarat but across the state and beyond, and he was supportive regardless of the political persuasion of that person. I met with Murray on a number of occasions over the years, both before I entered this place and after, and on every one of those occasions he was incredibly friendly and engaging. He would offer me — as he did ahead of my election in 1999 — support, advice — — 

An honourable member interjected.

Mr HOWARD — He did; he offered political advice and observations about broader issues that needed to be pursued in Parliament, and I was appreciative of that. On subsequent occasions I met with Murray he was very happy to spend time talking with me about issues that should be pursued. He offered political insights, and they were always very much appreciated. His insights were very sound.

Murray attended St Patrick’s College, Ballarat, from 1939 to 1947. I was pleased to be present at a special dinner held at St Pat’s in 2003, where Murray was honoured as a legend of the college. As usual, Murray made a very engaging speech on that occasion, sharing many of his memories of his time in government, as well as amusing memories regarding his other community involvements in Ballarat.

In 1970 Murray was appointed Minister of Public Works, and from 1972 to 1976 he was Minister for State Development and Decentralisation. As we have heard, he was the first minister in Australia to have responsibility for decentralisation. 

He was also, very passionately, Minister for Tourism and Minister of Immigration at that time. He was always passionate about these issues, as well as about the need to stop Melbourne’s urban sprawl and to build regional communities by building their capacity to develop industry and by building the infrastructure associated with that. We have heard about his involvement in bringing McCain Foods and Mars to Ballarat, but this was among many things he did to contribute to regional Victoria.

Murray also saw that infrastructure needed to be developed. He saw the commencement of the duplicated highway between Ballarat and Melbourne, something that Ballarat is very appreciative of these days. His philosophy was to recognise that you need to not only build facilities in towns but also extend links back to Melbourne so that towns can flourish. He was passionate about his support for tourism. He took an active interest in the development of Sovereign Hill and many other tourism developments across Victoria. 

As we have heard, at the age of just 19 he became one of the founding members of the Young Liberals in Ballarat.

Other members have spoken about his inaugural speech. When you look at inaugural speeches of former members you often get an insight into the thinking of those people. The speech made by Murray Byrne in 1958 was quite remarkable. As we have heard, while he started by talking about Great Britain as ‘the motherland’ — the phrase used at the time — he went on to make visionary statements about the need to recognise that Australia is on the doorstep of Asia and about the need to work to recognise and build our relationships with Asia so that we can continue to prosper in years to come. In that speech he also made the statement the Deputy Premier read, which I repeat, that there is ‘no room for class or racial hatreds that destroy the community and national unity’. These are important words. It is great to hear that they were spoken in 1958. They are always very apt. 

It is important to see that we can build our society by recognising that there is no place for class or racial hatred in our community.

As we heard, Murray also went on in that speech to talk about the need for people to have the opportunity to own their own homes. He pushed the commonwealth government to provide a loan of up to 50 million so that that money could be put aside to provide low-interest home loans as well as a range of other support to get people into their own homes. He explained that there were important social reasons why people ought to be able to have that goal or vision of owning their own home so they can build their family life and so on. He went on to talk about the need to provide opportunities for young prospective farmers to get on the land — something that the parliamentary Rural and Regional Committee, on which I serve, has been looking at in this term. 

He suggested the concept of a cooperative farming scheme similar to cooperative housing societies so that young prospective farmers could be supported in cooperative groups to get onto the land and learn the appropriate skills. That was another of the visions he outlined in his inaugural speech.

Murray spoke about the need to support young people in our community through the funding of youth clubs and facilities for young people, again based around the social framework of recognising that we need to provide positive opportunities for young people to ensure that they do not go down the negative track of getting into trouble with the law. He wanted to find ways for the community to support young people by providing a range of positive opportunities through the establishment of strong youth groups. Throughout his political life and beyond Murray continued to show his passion for these and other issues. As I indicated earlier, all those who met Murray found him to be engaging, supportive and constructive in his support of them. 

He was also a committed family man, as we have heard, with his wife of 61 years, Adele, 8 children and 12 grandchildren, of whom he was very supportive.

His son Andrew and other family members at the funeral and since have related a number of stories about Murray, some of which we have heard this afternoon. Clearly he was a loved parent, grandfather and husband. He was unconventional, to use Andrew’s word. He was a source of enjoyment and fun. Andrew related the story of Guy Fawkes night. The older members here will remember when Guy Fawkes night used to be cracker night. Murray used to pride himself on developing a significant arsenal of the biggest and best fireworks to show off to the neighbourhood. It was great fun for his family and those around. He had a great sense of fun as a father and grandfather, and he continued in that vein. He continued to be involved and interested in life right up until recently, in terms of both taking an active interest in community life and in going into BJT Legal on up to two days a week to meet with staff and occasionally some of the clients who still wanted to have Murray’s advice on one issue or another.

So many people have clearly benefited from the outstanding contribution Murray Byrne made in his life. I extend my condolences to his wife, Adele, to his 7 surviving children and to his 12 grandchildren.