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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 57

Senator HARRADINE —by leave-I did not know Mr Collard, but I did meet Stan Keon on a couple of occasions, one about 31 years ago and the other only last year. I was impressed on both occasions by his knowledge of social philosophy and practical political events.

Stan Keon was born on 2 July 1915. From his boyhood Stan had acquired and developed a strong sense of pride in his Irish-Australian heritage. His early schooling at St John's Parish School in East Melbourne-one of his teachers was later to become Mrs Arthur Calwell-and later at St Ignatius's School in Richmond provided him with the grounding that allowed him to develop an incisive intellect and a rare cultural sensitivity, without the opportunities or benefits of higher education. His Catholic faith from his earliest years had been a central influence in his formation, and his continuing devotion and loyalty to the church had always been reflected in his strong moral and social convictions.

In his early working years Stan was an active member of the Federated Clerks Union of Australia and the shop assistants union. He became a delegate to the Victorian Trades Hall Council as the Geelong Trades and Labour Council fraternal delegate. In 1940 he took up the position of secretary of the Victorian Public Service Association and built it up from a relatively ineffective body to a quite powerful industrial organisation. As secretary of that Association he was responsible for the introduction of the system of competitive examinations for entry into the Public Service, thereby opening the doors to many capable young people from poorer families often with limited schooling, previously denied opportunities for a career in this area.

Active as a reformer in Richmond local politics, he was instrumental in establishing a variety of facilities for the aged, long before other local councils or even State governments and Federal parliaments had looked at any general approach to provide practical support for the aged. He worked for the introduction of a free chiropody scheme for elderly pensioners early in his political life, motivated by concern that local residents should not be denied an opportunity to be active and mobile just because they were pensioners with limited means. Stan took it upon himself to organise local residents into wood-cutting teams which travelled regularly at weekends from Richmond to Broadford to cut firewood that was distributed to the needy pensioners of Richmond. He was responsible for the introduction of a rates rebate scheme for local pensioners, a move soon to be adopted by other municipal councils.

Stan joined the Australian Labor Party in his early teens and from the start was a tireless worker in his locality for pensioners and families, for the needy and for the underprivileged. He quickly earned the admiration and respect of fellow members of the Labor movement at the local level and subsequently throughout the State branches. He was elected to the Victorian central executive of the ALP in the mid 1930s, a position he held for nearly 20 years until 1955. Prior to his election as the State member for Richmond in 1945 and as Federal member for Yarra in 1949, he chose to confront the corruption that had been endemic in Labor politics in that area, replacing the then political machine with his own supporters and a system of `clean' pre-selection ballot procedures.

As a State and Federal parliamentarian he was an outstanding debater and a staunch advocate of the principles of social justice. Janet McCalman, the author of a book on Richmond, writes of the time in 1946 when Stan Keon challenged Bert Flanagan, the communist secretary of the Ironworkers Federation, to a debate in the Richmond town hall. Five thousand people crushed in and around the town hall, but the would-be debaters were drowned out by screaming, singing and counting out. She said that Keon embarrassed the State Government with his attacks on communist union officials and his campaign for faster action to be taken by the Housing Commission to abolish slums. He spearheaded what was to become the `State aid' campaign that eventually brought some measures of justice into education funding, breaking down in part the blatant discrimination against children whose parents exercised their right to choose the kind of education their children should receive. He was one of the first Federal parliamentarians to draw attention to the fact of the destruction of human lives through deliberate abortion. He was recognised for the clarity of his thinking on defence and security matters. He became known as an outstanding debater and was recognised for his tactical abilities, quick wit and incisive mind. John Cain senior described him at one time as `the most promising political material he had ever encountered', a not unexpected compliment to one who on entry to the Federal Parliament was anticipated to rise quickly to become a Cabinet member and a potential Prime Minister. The purge which led to the split in the Labor Party saw Stan Keon and others rejected by an electorate which was divided by sectarianism. In the election following the split Stan lost his seat of Yarra by 791 votes to Dr Jim Cairns. He contested further elections for Yarra until the mid-1960s when diabetes forced him into political semi-retirement. For the historical record it should be noted that during the late Stan Keon's busy career he had a number of community interests, including athletic interests. I seek leave to have a list of those interests incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The list read as follows-

A keen athlete and active member of a variety of athletic and sporting clubs (including Richmond Football and Cricket Clubs and was a Vice President of the Richmond Swimming Club and a Trustee of Olympic Park).

Secretary of the CYMS Amateur Athletics Club.

Delegate and Patron of the Victorian Amateur Athletics Association.

Foundation member of the Richmond Historical Association.

President of the Irish Nationals Association-Editor Irish Review.

Editor of a Ukrainian Community news publication.

Proprietor and Editor of the Richmond News.

Managing partner in a wine and spirit firm.

Senator HARRADINE —Stan Keon was steeped in the traditions of the Labor movement. He was hurt by the Depression years. His quest for social justice for families was prompted by genuine, heartfelt concern for the ordinary people he represented. He also understood that any reconciliation within the Labor movement needed to be preceded by understanding and sacrifice centred around a common ideological purpose. It would have been very easy for this man and many others of his time to preserve their parliamentary and industrial careers by adopting a pragmatic or accommodating approach. Stan Keon will be remembered in Australian political history as a man who sacrificed what was regarded by friend and foe alike to be a promising career in Federal Parliament rather than compromise his firmly held political principles.