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John Clarkson Maddison (1921–1982)

by Chris Puplick

This article was published:

John Clarkson Maddison (1921-1982), solicitor, barrister and politician, was born on 4 September 1921 at Chatswood, Sydney, elder surviving son of New Zealand-born George Edgar Maddison, company secretary, and his Queensland-born wife Frances Mary, née Patterson.  John was educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (BA, 1942; LL.B, 1948).  Commissioned in the Militia on 3 November 1941 and transferring to the Australian Imperial Force in August 1942, he served as an artillery officer in Australia until 1945 when he was posted to the 1st Australian Naval Bombardment Group that supported the landings in Borneo.  After the war he was an interrogation officer with the 3rd Australian Prisoner of War Reception Group in the Philippines.  His AIF service ended in January 1946.  He rarely spoke of his war experiences but remained an active member of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia (Returned Services League of Australia).

Admitted as a solicitor on 28 May 1948, Maddison was a partner in Sillar & Maddison.  He joined the Liberal Party of Australia and held numerous offices in the Pymble branch and the Bradfield federal conference.  Treasurer (1959-62) of the New South Wales division, he also served on the federal council of the party.  On 14 October 1953 he married Suzanne Berry-Smith at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney.

In 1962 Maddison was elected member for Hornsby in the Legislative Assembly; from 1973 he represented Ku-ring-gai.  His progressive views were stated in his maiden speech:  'Parliament should be a living organism, should be flexible and keep pace with the social, economic and political changes going on around it'.  From the outset he advocated constitutional and legal reform.

On the election of (Sir) Robert Askin’s government in 1965 Maddison became minister of justice; he held this portfolio until the advent of the Labor government in 1976.  Admitted as a barrister on 5 February 1975, Maddison also served (1975-76) as attorney-general, succeeding Sir Kenneth McCaw, with whom he had worked closely.  As a minister he was able to enact many of the reforms that he had espoused in Opposition.  These included the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act, appointment of the State’s first ombudsman and establishment of the Privacy Committee.  He attended United Nations congresses on the prevention of crime in 1970 and 1975.  Next year he was a contributor to the Australian Constitutional Convention held at Hobart.

Late in his parliamentary career two events dominated.  In 1975, when Premier Tom Lewis appointed a non-Labor candidate to the Senate vacancy created by the retirement of a Labor Senator, Maddison was forced to defend publicly this precedent-defying decision that he personally opposed strenuously.  In 1978 the royal commission into New South Wales prisons, established after a serious riot at Bathurst gaol in 1974, found that Maddison, the responsible minister, had been deceived by the commissioner of corrective services about the state of the prisons.  Commissioner McGeechan was severely criticised for his failure to implement reforms advocated by the minister.

Maddison contested the leadership of the State parliamentary Liberal Party in 1974, 1977 and 1978 but was defeated by conservative forces within the party.  He served (1975-77) as deputy-leader.  A supporter of younger progressive Liberals, he helped to advance the parliamentary careers of Nick Greiner, John Dowd, Tim Moore, Terry Metherell, Peter Baume and Chris Puplick.  In 1980 Maddison retired from the Legislative Assembly dissatisfied with the poor quality of party leadership and lack of progressive thinking while in Opposition; he subsequently regretted this decision.  Readmitted as a solicitor on 7 November 1980, he joined the firm of Sly & Russell.  He continued to support the Law Foundation of New South Wales.

Interested in sport when he was younger, Maddison also appreciated music and theatre.  His greatest joy was in his immediate family and his younger brother, David Maddison.  John Maddison was 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall with bushy eyebrows; he wore glasses, dressed soberly and had a well-modulated voice that one journalist described as 'authentic judiciary, with a nice touch of Sydney Grammar'.  Survived by his wife, their son and two daughters, he died of myocardial infarction on 29 August 1982 in his home at Turramurra and was cremated.  He was one of the most significant and influential progressive leaders of the Liberal Party in New South Wales, a committed law reformer and an advocate for the rights of young people and the disadvantaged.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 11 September 1962, p 274
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 14 September 1982, p 659
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 56, no 10, 1982, p 562
  • Australian Liberal, July 1960, p 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 August 1974, p 13
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 August 1982, p 10
  • B883, item NX150356 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information
  • personal knowledge

Citation details

Chris Puplick, 'Maddison, John Clarkson (1921–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Maddison, 1965

John Maddison, 1965

State Library of New South Wales, 28653

Life Summary [details]


4 September, 1921
Chatswood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


29 August, 1982 (aged 60)
Turramurra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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