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Newman, John Paul (1946–1994)

by Rodney Smith

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

John Paul Newman (1946-1994), politician, was born Johann Grauenig on 8 December 1946 at Villach, Austria, son of John Arch and Helene Grauenig. After his father’s death, his mother married Peter Naumenko. The family migrated to Australia in 1950 and settled at Cabramatta, western Sydney, where John lived for the rest of his life. He attended Cabramatta Public and Liverpool Boys’ High schools, before beginning work as a clerk at the engineering firm Borg-Warner (Australia) Ltd.

Newman became a local delegate for the Federated Clerks Union of Australia in 1969. He worked as a State organiser for the union from 1970 to 1986, anglicising his name by deed poll in 1972. On 12 October 1973 at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Cabramatta, he married Mary Kosabudsky, a typist-clerk. He joined the Canley Heights branch of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and served on Fairfield City Council between 1977 and 1987 (and as deputy mayor 1985–86). In December 1979 his pregnant wife and son were killed in a car accident.

A fifth-dan karate master, Newman trained young people at his local club for many years. Among several leadership roles in Australian sports organisations, he was president (1978–87) of the Federation of Australian Karate-do Organisations. Within the Labor Party, he chaired the New South Wales policy committee for sport, recreation, and tourism.

In February 1986 Newman entered the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as member for Cabramatta after a by-election caused by the resignation of the Labor minister Eric Bedford. On 12 March, in his inaugural speech, he detailed the needs of his disadvantaged, multicultural electorate, themes that he would pursue relentlessly over the next eight years. His contributions to parliamentary debates focused on crime and traffic safety. He served on the joint standing committee on road safety from 11 May 1989.

A tenacious correspondent in pursuit of local constituency matters, Newman publicly criticised ministers, bureaucrats, and police when he thought their responses were inadequate. He developed few friendships among fellow parliamentarians. Colleagues and friends described him as generous but abrasive.

By 1994 Newman had established a reputation as a crime fighter, particularly against local Asian gangs. He received death threats and had his property vandalised. On 5 September 1994 he was shot dead in the driveway of his house after returning from a local ALP meeting. He was survived by his fiancée, Xiao Jing (Lucy) Wang, a Chinese-born interpreter. Unusual for a backbench parliamentarian, he was accorded a State funeral, which was held at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church at Mount Pritchard, where he had regularly attended Mass. The mourners included Prime Minister Paul Keating, New South Wales Governor Peter Sinclair, and Premier John Fahey. He was buried in Liverpool cemetery. In 2002 a swimming pool at Prairiewood was named after him.

Although various motives for the crime were canvassed, his murder was quickly labelled Australia’s first political assassination. The story was reported internationally and intensified Australian debate about multiculturalism, immigration, and organised crime. The Cabramatta businessman and Fairfield city councillor Phuong Ngo was convicted of Newman’s murder by joint enterprise in June 2001; the shooter and the driver have not been established. Ngo had joined the ALP after the 1991 State election and built a local power base. Newman had repeatedly accused him of links with criminal activity. A 2009 judicial inquiry, ordered in response to a submission raising questions about evidence in his trial, found no ‘unease or disquiet’ (Patten 2009, 209) about Ngo’s conviction.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘The Newman Murder.’ Four Corners. Television program. Chris Masters. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, first broadcast 19 September 1994. http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/special_eds/20080407/newman/default.htm
  • New South Wales. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, vol. 242, 13 September 1994, 28882907
  • Parliament of New South Wales. ‘Mr John Paul NEWMAN (1946–1994).’ Accessed 13 September 2016. https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/members/Pages/profiles/newman_john-paul.aspx. Copy on ADB file
  • Patten, David. Report to the Chief Justice of New South Wales (The Hon JJ Spigelman AC) of the Inquiry Held Under Section 79 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 into the Conviction of Phuong Canh Ngo for the Murder of John Newman. 14 April 2009
  • Priest, Tim. On Deadly Ground: The Assassination of John Newman MP. Sydney: New Holland, 2010
  • Wang, Lucy. Blood Price. Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia, 1996

Additional Resources

Citation details

Rodney Smith, 'Newman, John Paul (1946–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/newman-john-paul-19949/text31131, accessed 14 November 2018.

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