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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8459

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (11:42): As the member for Melbourne Ports, I am very pleased to be speaking on this resolution about my predecessor, Clyde Holding, who died on 31 July aged 80. I join the member from La Trobe, in her remarks today, and the Prime Minister, in her remarks yesterday in the House, in saying that we express the appreciation of the Australian people and people in Victoria for his life and work in politics.

Yesterday at the National Gallery of Victoria many people across the political spectrum made very generous comments. The beautiful singing of Deborah Cheetham was an appropriate response to his life and work in politics. The speeches of former Prime Minister Paul Keating, whom Holding served as Aboriginal affairs minister and immigration minister, and former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, now Chancellor of the Australian National University, were particularly memorable. I congratulated former Senator Evans on particularly picking up the larrikin element that Clyde had, in a very affectionate kind of way.

Clyde represented Melbourne Ports for 21 years from 1977 to 1998 and is remembered with great respect by Labor people, by his many supporters in my electorate and by people of goodwill. He belonged to that generation of Labor men and women whose political careers were formed in the fires of the great Labor split of 1955. He was the son of a police officer, and both of his parents were from Northern Ireland. He was president of the Melbourne University ALP Club while he was a law student. He was president of Victorian Young Labor at the height of the split, from 1955 to 1957.

Clyde grew up in a very tough political school, fighting with both the DLP on the Right and the Communists on the Left in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. In the 1955 election he was the campaign director for Jim Cairns in the then seat of Yarra, which covered Richmond and Collingwood. The campaign is regarded as probably the most violent single election in Australian history, and I am sure it was, from everything that I have read, with both groupers and wharfies brawling in the streets of Richmond and Collingwood—the Collingwood Football Club does not have its reputation and its supporters for no reason—prior to that election, because of course the seat prior to the split was held by the Labor anti-Communist, later DLP, Stan Keon, and the contest was between Jim Cairns, with Clyde as his campaign manager, and Stan Keon. From that point, Clyde Holding was recognised as a person on the way up in the then devastated Victorian Labor Party. His chance came with the by-election for the Victorian state seat of Richmond in 1962. In the meantime he had been co-founding with Mr Ryan and Peter Redlich—who has played such a prominent role in Victorian public life both in running various companies and in setting up his own law firm and nurturing so many people in politics, human rights and the law—an industrial law firm. They set up this industrial law firm which nurtured many generations of Labor talent—the member for La Trobe being a very recent example.

Clyde became a prominent civil libertarian, campaigning against censorship, White Australia and the death penalty. Senator Evans described a most amusing incident where, as Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the member for Richmond, Clyde Holding, was actually there are on the front line protesting against the hanging of the last man who was hanged in Victoria, Ronald Ryan. Clyde was actually arrested. Can you believe that? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition in Victoria was at the demonstration against hanging in Victoria and was asked by a policeman for his occupation, according to Senator Evans, which he reported as parliamentarian and lawyer and then was asked by the copper if he could read or write. Obviously the two things were not connected in the policeman's imagination.

In 1967, aged only 36, Clyde Holding became leader of the Labor opposition in the Victorian parliament. He modernised the party's platform and made a good impression on voters who were emerging from the oppressions of the split. In 1970 the Bolte Liberal government had become very tired and arrogant and Labor was set to make big gains. Unfortunately, however, their campaign was sabotaged on the eve of the state election by the extreme Left faction in the then Victorian central executive, led by Bill Hartley. They issued a statement in blatant and obvious opposition to federal Labor policy and to Mr Holding's announced public policy. They said that the Victorian Labor government would cut off funding to Catholic schools. As a result, a furious federal Labor leader, Gough Whitlam, refused to campaign in Victoria and the Bolte government was re-elected and Clyde denied his chance to become Premier of Victoria.

This was the last straw for many people in Victoria. The Button-Duffy group participants, including Michael Duffy—a very famous federal minister who was there at the ceremony yesterday at the National Gallery—and Bob Hawke and Clyde Holding, together with Gough Whitlam, engineered probably the most important event in the modern history of the Labor Party—the 1971 federal intervention in the Victorian and New South Wales branches. This ended the factional dictatorship of the hard Left in Victoria. It got rid of the influences of Crawford and Hartley, and it laid the foundations for Labor's subsequent successes in Victoria and federally. In fact, former Prime Minister Keating made the point to Premier Baillieu that ever since those days Victoria has been the jewel in the Labor crown. He said, 'We have lent it to you, Ted, and we will get it back soon.' I thought that was a very affable way of handling political differences.

Unfortunately for Clyde he was not the beneficiary of the long-term revival of Labor's position post the split in Victoria as state leader. The appeal to Melbourne voters of a modernised Liberal Party of Dick Hamer was too strong for Clyde to overcome and he was defeated in the 1973 and 1976 elections. So when Frank Crean, one of five members who had been the member for Melbourne Ports, retired as the member for Melbourne Ports in 1977, Clyde was ready to switch to federal politics.

Clyde was an early and strong believer that Bob Hawke was the man to lead Labor back to office after the heavy defeat of 1975. Clyde was a tough operator and played the dual roles of parliamentary headkicker and numbers man for Bob Hawke with great skill. Together with my dear friend and mentor Barry Cohen, he was one of Bob Hawke's numbers men. It was a tough decision that the Labor caucus had to make in those days, but I think the 1983 election result was proof of the wisdom of their undertaking.

No less an authority than Graham Richardson described Clyde Holding as tough, resourceful and utterly ruthless. He was the main organiser of Hawke's challenge to Bill Hayden in 1982 and of Hawke's rise to leadership on the eve of the 1983 election. His reward, a strange reward—in fact it was something that was made very clear yesterday in the National Gallery of Victoria—that was requested by him was the Aboriginal affairs portfolio in the Hawke government. This is to his great credit. This choice surprised some people because it was, and still is, a difficult and thankless portfolio. You would not have thought it was the choice of an ambitious, hard-headed factional warrior. It was not the choice you would expect him to make. But Clyde was not just a political operator; he was an idealist and he wanted to make a difference for Indigenous people. As he expected, he found the portfolio frustrating. He had some great achievements. We all remember the appointment of probably the most prominent Aboriginal Indigenous leader of the time, Charles Perkins, as the first head of the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and the return of that great Australian landmark, Uluru, to its traditional owners.

The member for Brand, the Special Minister of State, pointed out to me that these great decisions, including the resumption of Uluru to Aboriginal ownership, had political consequences; nonetheless Clyde was indomitable and it was the right thing to do. He also provided personally the funding that allowed Eddie Mabo to take his historic case to the High Court. All of us who have seen the film The Castle know about the vibe around Mabo, but it actually began with private funding of a case that wended its way through the High Court and ended up with a decision that authorised some of the things that Clyde had been thwarted on earlier. His great ambition was a uniform national Indigenous land rights act. That had been thwarted by the mining lobby and the WA government and, some people would say, the unwillingness of the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, to stand up to them. I notice that Bob Hawke has since expressed his regret about that episode and I think that his judgment is correct. Clyde's reward came in the support, as I said, of the Mabo case, leading to the landmark 1992 ruling by the High Court, which has revolutionised Indigenous land claims in Australia.

From 1987 to 1990 Clyde held several other portfolios in which he made an important contribution, particularly in the arts and immigration. We heard about both of them yesterday in great detail, particularly about his contribution to the arts and the purchase of homes of very important Australian painters, including Arthur Boyd, for the National Estate. I must note also Clyde's staunch and unswerving support for the Australian Jewish community, which began long before he was the member for Melbourne Ports. He was the founder of Labor Friends of Israel, an organisation which is still going strong. He has a forest in Israel named in his honour, and deservedly so.

It is less than three years since we in Melbourne Ports farewelled the member for Hotham's father, Frank Crean, our federal member from 1951 to 1977, and we are now farewelling his successor, Clyde Holding. They were both great Labor men. What they had in common was a deep and lifelong commitment to the values of the labour movement: fairness, social justice and the rights of workers and the disadvantaged. Melbourne Ports has changed a lot since their day, but I think they are still the values that are supported by voters in my electorate. On behalf all Labor members and supporters in Melbourne Ports, I extend my sympathies to Margaret Holding, his first wife; to Judy Holding; to their children, Peter, Jenny, Danny and Isabella; and to Clyde's four grandchildren who, from the pictures at the National Gallery of Victoria, obviously held him in great affection. It was a wonderful video presentation of his life from the great state conferences of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which I can remember as a teenager, in the black and white films, right through to his last days in a nursing home in Castlemaine.