A veteran Australian Jewish community leader and former cabinet minister in the Victorian Parliament will receive a state funeral Thursday. Walter Jona, who was credited with making Victoria the first state in the world where wearing seat belts was mandatory, died Sunday night from cancer. He was 81.
Jona was awarded an Order of Australia in 1986, in particular for his services to the Jewish community. He was former chair of the Victorian Union for Progressive Judaism, former president of the Victorian Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and former president of the Australian Friends of Tel Aviv University.
Jona, a Liberal Party member of Parliament from 1964 to 1985, was chairing the Road Safety Committee when it recommended making seat belts compulsory in 1970. It would take more than a decade before Britain and the United States followed suit.
In an interview last year to mark the launch of his autobiography, “People, Parliament & Politics,” Jona told the Australian Jewish News: “Rescuing people’s lives or giving them the strength to cope with their burdens was a theme that has run through my public life because it reminds me of the Talmudic saying that is sometimes associated with Magen David Adom: ‘He who saves a life, it is as if he has saved the world,’ ” said Jona, who has been chair of MDA in Australia for 40 years.
Jona was also appointed Victoria’s first-ever ethnic affairs minister in 1976.