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Labor giant John Button dies -

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Labor giant John Button dies

The World Today - Tuesday, 8 April , 2008 12:15:00

Reporter: Brigid Glanville

ASHLEY HALL: One of the great characters of the Hawke-Keating era, John Button, has died at the age
of 74 from pancreatic cancer.

John Button was the minister for industry, technology and commerce during the Hawke and Keating
governments from 1983 until 1993. He is remembered for the reforms he made to Australia's heavily
protected industries, including steel, manufacturing, and textiles, clothing and footwear.

By all accounts, John Button was a popular politician who spoke his mind and had a sense of humour.

Brigid Glanville looks at his life.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Not all politicians are remembered for being a straight talker with a sense of
humour. But friends and colleagues remember John Button as a man who spoke his mind.

Mark Bannerman is a reporter with the ABC's 7:30 Report and was an adviser to John Button from 1986
to 1989.

MARK BANNERMAN: The one really terrific story that I remember is we were going to do a shoot to
open Fashion Week and it was going to be a front cover photo of John Button on the cover of Mode

And the photographer had worded me up saying "We're going to get some really tall models", because
John Button was quite short in stature, as I am. And we were going out to the plane and John said
to me, "Some of those models are pretty tall aren't they?"

And I said, "Yes Minister, they are".

And he said, "I'm pretty short".

And I said, "I know Minister".

And he said, "Do you think the photographer knows how short I am?"

And I said, "Minister, everyone knows how short you are. It's one of your more endearing

And he let me have it with an expletive, which I won't recount (laughs).

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard, says the Labor Party is mourning his loss.

JULIA GILLARD: He was short in stature, but he was a legend of the Labor movement. And I would note
coming from Melbourne's west as I do, when I go and visit local car plants like the Toyota factory,
both the managers and the workers still talk about the Button Car Plan and there is still an
acknowledgement by them that the industry would have been unlikely to still be here today if it
hadn't been for the visionary work of John Button.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: Former Labor minister for communications, trade and attorney-general, Michael
Duffy, served with John Button and remained a close friend.

MICHAEL DUFFY: As a leader of the Senate, the minister for industry and commerce, he did an
extraordinarily good job. And I think that that has been well acknowledged in this community where
sometimes people don't get credit for what they do, and I think he certainly got that and he should

He was a person of enormous intellect and a great personality, a tremendous person to be with. I
think anyone who was ever bored by his company had a problem, it was their problem, not his because
he was a person who was extremely innovative, he was entertaining, he was a very good bloke.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: John Button's political career spanned almost two decades.

After growing up in Ballarat in the 30s and 40s, he graduated in law at Melbourne University and
then joined the law firm Maurice Blackburn and Co, specialising in industrial law.

Then in August 1974, in the dying days of the Whitlam government, he entered the Senate. In 1982 in
the lead up to federal election, it was John Button who tapped his good friend Bill Hayden on the

Soon after, Bob Hawke became prime minister and appointed John Button as minister for industry,
commerce, and technology.

In 10 years as industry minister, John Button embarked on an ambitious program of market reform and
deregulation. In his sights were the steel, heavy engineering, textiles, clothing and footwear

Heavy job losses sparked fierce opposition to his plans from trade unions, but John Button's
reforms are acknowledged as a contributing factor in the significant growth in manufactured exports
since 1986.

JOHN BUTTON: There are 170 people employed here and like all component manufacturers in Australia,
they are very concerned about the policy environment for the automotive industry in the future.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: John Button's best known policy was the Button Car Plan, which was aimed at
consolidating the industry and cutting the number of car models made in Australia.

John Button spoke to George Negus on the ABC in 2004.

JOHN BUTTON: The automotive industry was a good example of the state of protectionist thinking in
the 1980s. And they were in considerable difficulty at the time, a lot of jobs being lost,
businesses losing money and things like that.

There were 13 different models of cars being made and what we set out to do was to reduce all that
down to a sizeable industry and it worked.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: John Button retired from politics in 1993, but didn't retreat from public life.
His memoirs and Quarterly essays were known for their sharp political insight and humour, and his
support for the Geelong AFL Football Club legendary.

JOHN BUTTON: Yeah, there is a comparison between football and politics - they're both competitive
activities. You need a good full-forward. You need people who can kick goals. You need a team.

BRIGID GLANVILLE: John Button is survived by his partner Joan Grant, sons James and Nick and one

ASHLEY HALL: Brigid Glanville reporting.