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Monday, 30 May 1994
Page: 836


Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) —On behalf of opposition senators I join the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Gareth Evans) in expressing regret at the death of the Hon. Sir John Oscar Cramer on 18 May. One of the founding members of the Liberal Party of Australia, Sir John was a long-serving, dedicated politician and a larger than life character.

  Born late last century in rural New South Wales, as was said by the minister, he worked on the family farm until the age of 21 and then moved to Sydney. Clearly not content in his first job as a clerk at Paramount Pictures, he attended night school classes in bookkeeping and accounting. Completing his studies, he and his brother established a real estate business which became very successful.

  His political career began in local politics. He was elected to the North Sydney Municipal Council as an alderman in 1932 and was mayor from 1939 to 1940. Three years after joining the municipal council, he was also elected as a councillor to the Sydney County Council, a position he retained for another 21 years until 1956, being chairman for three of those years.

  It was in 1941, when he ceased to be mayor of North Sydney, that he began to take an interest in the federal political scene. As a member of the United Australia Party, he became very involved in the delicate, lengthy and often frustrating negotiations which eventually resulted in the Liberal Party of Australia being formed in 1944. It was thanks to the work of Sir John and his colleagues that talks persevered between the different parties, that branches were formed and that the new Liberal Party was eventually created, remained united and has, of course, gone from strength to strength. During these years he was a dedicated and tireless worker, totally committed to the goal of a united, Commonwealth-wide, anti-socialist political party.

  After the party's formation, he served on the federal executive until his election in 1949 to the House of Representatives as the Liberal member for Bennelong. He represented this electorate for 25 years, being re-elected nine times before finally retiring in 1974 at the age of 78. Sir John was Minister for the Army in the Menzies government for a record eight-year term from 1956 to 1963. This was a particularly significant portfolio during this time, his reign spanning the height of the Cold War and the beginning of Australia's involvement in hostilities in Korea and Vietnam.

  As a member of parliament, Sir John was regarded as a spirited and robust performer. He was outspoken and extremely dedicated both to his constituency and to the Liberal Party. As one journalist remarked, `His enthusiasm for the Liberal Party, its virtues and its objectives, were happily unrestrained.' In a newspaper interview when he was 76 and the oldest Liberal in the federal parliament, Sir John, in typical manner, assured the interviewer of his enduring virility and ability. Indeed, although he retired two years later, he went on to live for another 20 years. Sir John was knighted in 1964 in recognition of his public service. Apart from his childhood in the country, Sir John lived in North Sydney all his life and was well known in his local community.

  Sir John was a member of the North Sydney Rotary club for nearly 63 years. I am told that members well remember his last visit to this particular club when, at the age of 93, he took to the podium in his classic hearty, vociferous manner and instructed members on an issue he felt strongly about, that of single sex clubs. On that occasion he lost the debate.  Sir John's wife, Lady Mary Cramer, who died in 1984, was honoured by the Queen in 1971 for her 40 years of community service to the North Shore.

  Sir John was an uncompromising and unconcernedly irreverent man unashamedly dedicated to the future of Australia and the ideal of democratic freedom on which the Liberal Party was based. It is a great shame that Sir John will not be proudly participating this August in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations for the Liberal Party which he was instrumental in creating. On behalf in particular of Liberal senators I extend our deepest sympathy to his family.