‘We owe him a lot’: ALP’s Johno farewelled

Both sides of politics have turned up to farewell John ‘Johno’ Johnson, the man described as “the heart, soul and sinews” of the NSW Labor party, at his state funeral.


More than 1600 mourners filled St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on Friday to farewell the man former NSW premier Bob Carr described as “a character with character”.

Dignitaries at the funeral were led by NSW Governor David Hurley.

Politicians included former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke and other former premiers Barry Unsworth, Nathan Rees and Morris Iemma and Kristina Keneally.

Mr Johnson’s political foes, but personal friends, former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott and former Liberal premier Barry O’Farrell also attended.

Four bishops, including the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher and more than 20 priest celebrated his Pontifical Mass of Christian Burial.

Mr Johnson, who served as the NSW upper house president from 1978 to 1991, and won respect from all sides of politics, died in Sydney last Wednesday aged 87.

He was a staunch Catholic and made a papal knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great in 2006. Pope Francis promoted him in 2015 to the top echelon of the award.

Mr Carr delivered the eulogy, saying the separation of Church and State was not a fetish for Johno as “he adored the Cross on the Calvary and rallied to the Light on the Hill”.

“‘I owe you a lot’, I said on my first and last visits to Johno on his sick bed,” Mr Carr said.

“We all owe him a lot,” he told the service.

Mr Carr said Mr Johnson was loyal to leaders.

“Johno treated Neville (Wran) with awe, Barrie with unstinted affection. He saw me as a co-conspirator and a useful fellow traveller who would protect his interests in his church.

“He was charmed by Kristina but thought she lived in theological error.

“He saw Luke as an altar boy … of great promise.”

Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher also paid tribute to Mr Johnson describing him as a man of integrity, who was a “true believer… a decent man with deep commitments, a man who practised what he preached with energy and compassion.”

He also spoke of Mr Johnson as a champion of Catholic social teaching.

He said his ideals made him a champion for the rights of the unborn and the elderly.

The same ideals “made him campaign for workers from those would exploit them and the needs of the homeless from those who would neglect them”.

And in a lighter vein, referring to his fame for ALP fundraising, Archbishop Fisher said he could see “Johno selling raffle tickets to St Peter or organising a faction in purgatory”.

A poignant moment during Friday’s funeral came when one of Mr Johnson’s young relatives was lifted up to place the politicians’ trademark trilby hat on the pile of white flowers on his coffin.