Tony Abbott has revealed the time a senior NSW Labor politician tried to recruit him to the party

Tony Abbott and Labor leader Bill Shorten Photo: Getty / File

One of the quiet giants of the Labor party died last week.

John Richard “Johno” Johnson, spent 25 years in the New South Wales Legislative Council, including 13 years as president between 1978 and 1991. He retired from politics in 2001 and was given lifetime membership of the Labor Party.

Johnson, born in Murwillumbah on the NSW far north coast in 1930, he died, aged 87, in Sydney on August 9, and a state funeral will be held this Friday.

A devout Catholic, he was given a papal knighthood in 2006 and two years ago, Pope Francis appointed Johnson one of just 22 people worldwide – Sir Peter Cosgrove is another – as Knight Grand Cross of the First Class of the Order of St Gregory the Great.

Johnson’s passing was mourned by all sides of politics, with federal ALP leader Bill Shorten calling him “the heart, soul and sinews of NSW Labor”.

Another paying tribute to Johnson was former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott, who rose in Parliament last week to laud Johnson as “a fine Australian” and “friend to many on this side of politics too”.

Abbott recounted how for many Johnson tried to recruit him to the ALP before he became the MP for Warringah.

The future PM had been working for Liberal leader John Hewson who’d just suffered a disastrous loss to Paul Keating in the 1993 “true believers” election.

Tony Abbott recounted what happened next to parliament:

After the 1993 election I was an unemployed ex-Hewson staffer and Johno called to say “It’s time you came back to your true home”.

“I’ve never left the Church,” I replied.

“No,” he said, “the Labor party.”

“‘I could almost be tempted,” I said, “except for Paul Keating and his crusade to make Australia a republic.”

There was a long pause: “Comrade there’s no hope for you,” he said, and hung up the phone.

Johnson epitomised the ideals of duty and service, Abbott said in farewelling his friend.

Here’s his full eulogy.

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