FITZGERALD, Joseph Francis (1910–1985)
Senator for New South Wales, 1962–74 (Australian Labor Party)

Joseph Francis (Joe) Fitzgerald, anti-Grouper and loyal supporter of H. V. Evatt during the Labor Split of the 1950s, was born on 5 January 1910 at Randwick, NSW, the son of Kathleen Hosey. In 1913 Kathleen married Patrick Fitzgerald, a labourer, and in 1921, Joe formally became Fitzgerald’s foster child. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and, from 1924 to 1925, at the Junior Technical School, Paddington, now Paddington Public School. After leaving school, Fitzgerald was employed in the Eveleigh railway workshops. At an early age he was an active member of the Federated Ironworkers’ Association. With his family living at Waverley, 6 kilometres away, he walked to and from work each day. In 1933 he joined the Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, and may have been employed as a pastrycook at remote sites during his early years there. From 1939, based at Leichardt depot, he worked as a clerical labourer and then as a complaints officer, and was seconded to the Deputy Director of Manpower from 1942 to 1946. Fitzgerald joined the Commonwealth Public Service in September 1948 and was engaged in the employment division of the Department of Labour and National Service. On 17 April 1937 he married Mavis Mary Alexander, a machinist, at St Barnabas Church of England, Sydney.[1]

Fitzgerald joined the Randwick North branch of the ALP in 1929, transferred to the Waverley branch in 1947 and re-joined Randwick in 1967. He was secretary of Randwick North for approximately fifteen years, president of Waverley for ten, and secretary of the Waverley State electorate council for twenty-five years. His wife Mavis,was an office-holder in the latter body. Fitzgerald was a member of the ALP’s New South Wales Central Executive from 1941 to 1948 and from 1956 to 1961, and held other senior positions in the NSW branch. He served as a member of the Central Executive organising committee for twelve years, and was an executive officer of the Henry Lawson Labor College. In 1943, Fitzgerald was Jessie Street’s campaign director when she contested the federal seat of Wentworth.

Fitzgerald’s parliamentary career began in 1949 when he was elected to the House of Representatives as the member for the new federal seat of Phillip. One description of him as a ‘hard working but unspectacular’ MHR was true enough. He had arrived in Parliament through hard work and determination, with little desire to be ‘spectacular’. Like many in the ALP at that time he was content, even proud, to be a representative of the people and his party. Fitzgerald was re-elected in 1951, and again in 1954, when political tensions were exacerbated due to the defection of Vladimir Petrov, third secretary at the Russian Embassy in Canberra.[2]

After the 1954 election, which saw the defeat of the ALP, the meetings of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party (the Caucus) were turbulent in the extreme, with divisions widening between those for and against Evatt. Fitzgerald, a member of the faction in New South Wales that opposed the Groupers and B. A. Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement in Victoria, remained strongly ‘pro-Evatt’. On 5 October Evatt issued his ‘surprise’ press statement in Sydney, accusing ‘a small minority group’ in the Victorian party of disloyalty. As Robert Murray has written, this widely publicised statement unleashed ‘such passion and force that the Labor Party would be hopelessly rent within months’. Matters came to a head when, on 20 October 1954, Senator George Cole moved for a Caucus spill. His motion was vehemently opposed by Fitzgerald: ‘I say quite deliberately, that if it wasn’t for some of the traitors inside this Party Dr Evatt would have won the election’. Fitzgerald went on to accuse the Member for Gellibrand, Jack Mullens, and his ‘mob’, of a ‘filthy whispering campaign, to brand our Leader a Communist and unfit for office’. Evatt survived as leader of the party, and Fitzgerald was secretary of the Caucus during 1955. At the federal election of 10 December 1955, Labor was decimated, and Fitzgerald was among those who lost their seats. In 1956 Fitzgerald became one of the minority group of pro-Evatt members of the new caretaker New South Wales Central Executive.[3]

After the loss of his seat in 1955 Fitzgerald became Evatt’s private secretary. In 1958 he again contested Phillip, and again, was unsuccessful. When A. A. Calwell succeeded Evatt as Leader of the Opposition in 1960, Fitzgerald became Calwell’s private secretary, a position he filled until 1961, when he successfully contested a New South Wales seat in the Senate.

Fitzgerald’s first speech in the Senate, on 21 August 1962, reflects the interests that were evident throughout his life, such as improvements to benefits for civilian widows with children, and increases for aged and invalid pensioners. He referred also to issues that were indicative of ALP policy at the time—abolition of the Senate, government stimulation to home building, an increase in family reunion migration and a more efficient defence system. In his 1963 budget speech, he said that more money should be spent on the development of northern Australia and that wheat surpluses should be sent to the starving people of India to provide a ‘buttress against communism’. In 1967 he opposed conscription for the Vietnam War. On more than one occasion, he sought increases in government grants for surf lifesaving.

In mid-1965, Fitzgerald made the headlines when he pursued a thief who had broken into his daughter’s Bondi Junction home, hitting the offender over the head with a cricket stump. Mavis died in December 1965, and on 27 December 1968, at the Sydney Central Registry Office, Fitzgerald married Patricia Delaney, the daughter of Harry Delaney, a former vice-president of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Workers’ Union.[4]

Poor health prevented Fitzgerald from contesting the simultaneous election of 18 May 1974, his Senate term concluding with the double dissolution of 11 April. In retirement in the Sydney suburb of Randwick, he continued his support of a range of community organisations, such as the Bondi Junior Chamber of Commerce, and local charitable and sporting associations. He had long taken an interest in the Matthew Talbot Hostel for homeless men, and causes connected with the mentally and physically handicapped. In 1974 he became a member of the National Advisory Committee for the Handicapped, holding the position until 31 December 1980.

Fitzgerald died at home on 1 November 1985, survived by Patricia and the four children of his first marriage. He was a great raconteur, and his unquestioning commitment to the ALP and to the union movement were the dominant themes of his public life. He often said, ‘I would prefer to be called dishonest rather than disloyal when it comes to union matters’, and he liked to quote Henry Lawson’s lines, ‘I don’t care if the cause be wrong/ Or if the cause be right … I’ve been Union thirty years/ And I’m too old to rat’. In 1979 Fitzgerald received a citation as a life member of the New South Wales party from Premier Neville Wran.[5]

Gwynneth Singleton

[1] Paddington Public School, Admissions register, 1/6083, SRNSW; CPD, 12 Nov. 1985 (R), p. 2464; The editor is indebted to Fitzgerald’s son, Paul Fitzgerald; Fitzgerald, Joseph Francis, Employment cards, Sydney Water Corporation.

[2] The author acknowledges the assistance of Susan Tracey, NSW Labor historian, in obtaining information on Fitzgerald’s position in the ALP; ALP, NSW branch, Paddington Waverley SEC minute book, 1958–61, MLMSS 2083/486, item 1249, Central executive minutes, 1941–61, MLMSS 5095, items 464x–469x, SLNSW; SMH, 10 Nov. 1985, p. 19; Don Whitington, Ring the Bells: A Dictionary of Australian Federal Politics, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1956, p. 60.

[3] Robert Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 179–80, 278, 301; Clyde R. Cameron, The Confessions of Clyde Cameron 1913–1990, as told to Daniel Connell, ABC Enterprises, Crows Nest, NSW, 1990, p. 110.

[4] SMH, 23 Dec. 1955, p. 1, 8 May 1960, p. 38; CPD, 21 Aug. 1962, pp. 339–46, 10 Sept. 1963, pp. 406–8, 28 Feb. 1967, p. 129, 23 Apr. 1970, p. 1038, 7 Nov. 1968, p. 1755; CT, 18 June 1965, p. 3; Age (Melb.), 28 Dec. 1968, p. 3.

[5] CPD, 5 Nov. 1985, pp. 1497–9, 12 Nov. 1985 (R), pp. 2463–4.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 412-415.

FITZGERALD, Joseph Francis (1910–1985)

NSW Labor collection, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for New South Wales, 1962–74

Member of the House of Representatives for Phillip, NSW, 1949–55

Senate Committee Service

Joint Committee of Public Accounts, 1964–72, 1973–74

Estimates Committee B, 1970–71

Standing Committee on Health and Welfare, 1970–72, 1973–74

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1973–74