By Hugh Ryan
Prominent former Independent MP and outstanding pro-life campaigner, the Hon. Philip George Pendal died at his home in South Perth on Tuesday morning.
He is thought to have died of a brain aneurism he had had since he was 32.
One of his last public appearances was at the pro-life rally held at Parliament House last Thursday to mark the tenth anniversary of the passing of WA’s abortion law.
Phil Pendal and another former MP Bill McNee were awarded the papal honour Croce Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross for the Church and the Pontiff) on April 14, 2005 while the funeral of Pope John II was being conducted in Rome.
Archbishop Barry Hickey said it was entirely coincidental, but appropriate that the presentations should be made at such a momentous time.
Pope John Paul made the awards shortly before Easter that year and they were received in Perth before his death on April 2, 2005.
The awards recognised the two men’s fidelity to Catholic principles and values in the world of politics, and particularly their commitment to the Gospel of Life during long debates in Parliament and the community on life issues such as abortion, the destruction of living human embryos for medical research, medical care of the dying and related issues.
Archbishop Hickey said the Pope’s recognition of Phil Pendal and Bill McNee was an affirmation that Catholics could remain true to their faith at all levels of community life.
Personal integrity was the key word in understanding the awards, he said.
The two local MPs honoured by the Pope took their Catholic moral values into their public life and explained and defended them in ways that opened many minds.
“Others who stood with them should understand that they, too, are being recognised in these presentations,” the Archbishop said.
“They lost the battle over abortion, but they have not lost the war. There is deep concern around Australia that things have gone too far, and that is largely the result of the strong defence of life that was presented in Western Australia in 1998,” he said.
Phil Pendal grew up in a family of mixed religion and mixed politics, but never had any doubt about his own religion or politics.
His mother Marie (nee Buswell) was a staunch Catholic and a strong supporter of the Labor Party, as were most of the Buswells in and around Bunbury.
His father, A.H. (Reg) Pendal, a builder in Bunbury, was an Anglican who was very supportive of his wife raising their children as Catholics, and very involved in the Liberal Party.
Phil told The Record in 2005 he was never going to be anything but a Catholic and a Liberal, but believes that growing up in a family where politics was part of the staple diet taught him respect for the integrity of people holding opposing points of view.
This, combined with strong formation in his many years in the YCW, was a source of strength to him in the vigorous parliamentary battles on life issues which characterised the last seven years of his parliamentary career – the years that earned him his Papal honour.
“I was always able to remember that Jesus told us to preach the Gospel to every creature, but did not tell us to belt the tripe out them until they agreed with us,” he said. Phil Pendal was born in St John of God Hospital in Bunbury on February 4, 1947. He was educated at St Joseph’s Convent (now the art gallery) and Marist Brothers College (now Bunbury Catholic College) before the family moved to Perth in 1959.
He completed his schooling at St Francis CBC East Victoria Park (now part of Ursula Frayne College) doing his Junior Certificate in 1961.
His first job was with the Olympic Tyre and Rubber Company and then he joined the Commonwealth Bank. While working with the Bank in Boulder in 1963-64, he began studies for his matriculation with a view to doing law, an area that had always appealed to him, but in 1965 he applied for and won a cadetship in journalism with WA Newspapers. He began his new career with the South Western Times in Bunbury (owned by WAN) in January 1966, and in March 1968 he was posted to the Manjimup-Warren Times as editor and one-man staff.
In the same year he met Maxine Mayrhofer, a teacher at Kooinda Primary School in Bunbury, and they married in Perth on August 23, 1969.
Phil had been transferred to Perth’s evening newspaper, the Daily News (also owned by WAN) in March 1969. There his career flourished and in 1970 he was appointed State Political Roundsman, covering the last 15 months of Sir David Brand’s Liberal Government, the three years of John Tonkin’s Labor Government (1971-74), and the first year of Sir Charles Court’s Liberal Government (1974-75).
In 1975, he was asked to take on the role of travelling Press Secretary for Sir Charles and went with him to Japan on Sir Charles’s first overseas trip as Premier.
When not travelling, he worked as Press Secretary for Minister for Justice Neil McNeil, Minister for Local Government, Urban Development and Town Planning Cyril Rushton, and Minister for Labour and Industry Bill Grayden.
During this period he became active in the Liberal Party and sought endorsement for the Legislative Assembly seat of Clontarf for the 1977 election, but lost the ballot by one vote.
He was elected to the Legislative Council as a Liberal in 1980 and thus began a parliamentary career that continued until February 2005.
His first encounter with life issues in Parliament occurred in 1984 when the Burke Government introduced legislation to end capital punishment. He crossed the floor in the Legislative Council to vote with the Government and two other Members followed him, Peter Wells and Tom McNeill, to give the Government the numbers to pass the Bill.
In the 10 years in Opposition from 1983 to 1993 he was Opposition spokesman in a number of areas and it was generally considered that his handling of the environment portfolio had a significant effect on the green vote in the 1993 election won by Richard Court. At that election, he retired from the Legislative Council and won the Assembly seat of South Perth in succession to Bill Grayden.
It came as a surprise to many people that he was not named in Richard Court’s Cabinet after that election.
In 1995, he resigned from the Liberal Party because of its failure to take appropriate action to correct pre-selection rorts and other internal problems.
He won South Perth as an Independent in 1996 and 2001. In 1998, during the abortion law debate, he became the unofficial convenor of a diverse group of MPs and lay advisers who worked to defeat the abortion law and to salvage what was possible from the wreckage.
It was the most intense debate seen in Parliament, occupying the time of Parliament almost to the exclusion of all else, and with almost all MPs speaking, many of them frequently. “We lost the vote comprehensively, but for the first time in a generation pro-life and anti-abortion issues were put before the Parliament and the people,” he said.
“Abortion had been entrenched in people’s minds for a generation because of the illegal but unchallenged practice of it, but I think we were able to get many people to see that there is more to it than a mere routine medical procedure.
“By the time the embryonic stemcell debates came around, many people, who still did not support us, were more open to consideration of the claims of human life in a living embryo.
“The period 1998-2004 was a watershed time for consideration of life issues in Parliaments around Australia.
“The supporters of life lost, but I think the debate is far from over. People are now more aware, reluctantly in many cases but aware nonetheless, that embryos and babies in the womb are alive and human, and their claim to life will have to be considered.”
He said that Fr Walter Black and Fr Joe Parkinson, of the L.J.Goody Bioethics Centre had played significant roles in the ongoing debates.
“We could introduce them to individuals and groups, and their intellectual prowess and clarity of thought would take people into new and deeper understandings of what was at stake.”
Phil Pendal said he had retired in 2005 partly because he felt he was in danger of passing his use-by date, and partly because he wanted to pursue other interests.
In 2004, he co-authored with David Black a 100,000-word history of both Houses of Parliament called House to House. In 2005 he wrote a history of the South Perth Community Hospital for its 50th anniversary next year.
He also worked with David Black on the 2007 publication for the 175th anniversary of the first Legislative Council meeting.
He had completed writing the history of Catholic education in WA for publication in September.
Phil is survived by wife Maxine and their three adult children, Sasha, Simon, and Narisha who is married to Luke Garswood, and their two children, Oscar and Mayr.