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Tuesday, 8 February 2011
Page: 2

Senator CONROY (Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate) (12:34 PM) —I move:

That the Senate record its deep regret at the death, on 17 December 2010, of Charles Ronald (Ron) Maunsell, former senator for Queensland and a chairman of committees, and places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Ron was born on 8 May 1922 in Cairns. He was educated at Malanda State School and at All Souls School at Charters Towers. Ron joined the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve in 1941 and the RAAF in 1942. He served as a pilot in Australia and was part of the occupation forces in Japan, reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant, until being demobilised in June 1947. When he returned he purchased a 10,000-acre farm near Longreach and became a grazier.

Ron became active in the Country Party during the 1950s and served as campaign director for state and federal seats as well as vice-president of the party’s Queensland division. Ron gained his party’s endorsement for the 1967 half-Senate election and went on to secure a seat in this place, representing the state of Queensland. As a senator, Ron was a strong advocate for residents of rural and remote Australia including, in particular, primary producers. He served on a number of committees, including the landmark Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse in Australia and the Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Legislation. Ron was Deputy President of the Senate from February 1980 to August 1981. He was National Country Party whip in the Senate from 1973 to 1980 and deputy leader from 1980 to 1981.

During his time in this place, Ron played a celebrated role in what became known as the ‘night of the long prawns’—part of the high drama surrounding Prime Minister Whitlam’s appointment of then Senator Vince Gair as ambassador to Ireland. Whitlam planned to appoint Gair to the post to free up an extra spot in the Senate, which he expected Labor would win at a coming half-Senate election. Before the resignation could be effected and the vacancy created, a counterplan was hatched involving then Premier Bjelke-Petersen. His role is important, because any casual vacancy caused by Gair’s resignation would be filled by the state parliament, controlled by Bjelke-Petersen. Without the intervention of Bjelke-Petersen and the hospitality of Ron, there would have been six and not five vacancies in Queensland at the half-Senate election due on 18 May 1974. In the way of these things, the Gair appointment was leaked to Laurie Oakes at the Melbourne Sun on 1 April 1974. On 2 April, a Senate sitting day, Ron invited Gair to his room for a drink and something to eat—as it turns out, an abundance of Townsville prawns.

Senator Boswell —The night of the long prawns!

Senator CONROY —That’s what we’re just talking about, Bos. Interrupted only by the division bells, Senators Maunsell and Gair spent a pleasant night together, leaving Premier Bjelke-Petersen time to advise the Queensland government to issue a writ for five vacancies, thus denying Whitlam the chance to gain an extra seat. For the record, Ron gave a personal explanation in the Senate two days later in which he denied hijacking Gair in his room, though he did acknowledge he knew about Gair’s intention to lodge a letter of resignation. In the end, it really did not matter. On 11 April both houses were dissolved ahead of the double dissolution election on 18 May 1974. Ron unsuccessfully contested the 1980 Senate election and his term ended in June 1981. In 1983 Ron made an unsuccessful bid for preselection. In the following year he and his wife, Joan, retired from Cairns to the Sunshine Coast, where he planted fruit trees. On behalf of the government, I offer condolences to his wife, Joan, his children—Joanne, Margaret and Barbara—and his family and friends.