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Monday, 17 March 2008
Page: 1864

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Dr NELSON (Leader of the Opposition) (2:05 PM) —I rise on behalf of the opposition and alternative government in support of this condolence motion. The Hon. Clyde Cameron was by all accounts a good man: a great servant and sometimes critic of his political party but always a man who believed in building a stronger and a better Australia as he saw it. His passing marks, in many ways, the end of an era in Australian public life.

Born in Murray Bridge on 11 February 1913, he was the son of a shearer. He was educated at Gawler but left school at 14 on the eve of the Great Depression and worked as a shearer. At the outbreak of the war, Clyde married Cherie Krahe, with whom he had three children, Warren, Noel and Tania. From an early age he was active in the Australian Workers Union and the Australian Labor Party, becoming an AWU organiser and then South Australian state secretary and federal vice-president of that union in 1941.

In 1946 he became State President of the South Australian branch of the Labor Party and in 1949 he was elected to the House of Representatives for the seat of Hindmarsh, being re-elected on 12 subsequent occasions. In 1969, Gough Whitlam appointed him shadow minister for labour, and on 19 December 1972, following the Whitlam victory, Cameron was appointed Minister for Labour, at the age of 58. It is said that at the first cabinet meeting Gough Whitlam listed the academic qualifications of the cabinet to show that it was the best qualified Labor cabinet ever. Cameron is reported to have said:

What a relief, we wouldn’t want any drongos here like Scullin and Chifley.

Despite the relationship between Whitlam and Cameron disintegrating in later years, Whitlam hailed Clyde as a principal architect of the Whitlam victory in 1972. He played an important role in delivering the necessary reforms that actually made Labor electable that year, and particularly was instrumental in supporting Whitlam’s move in 1970 to reform the Victorian branch of the Labor Party and remove its extreme left leadership. Following the 1974 election, he was appointed Minister for Labour and Immigration and finally he retired from the federal parliament at the 1980 election, at which point he was joint» «father» «of» «the» «House . He was a part of a generation of Labor politicians that spent 23 years in opposition, and he spent only three of his 31 years in parliament on the government benches. Despite his formidable nature and often fiery engagement with his political opponents, Jim Killen once observed, ‘The softest part of Cameron is his teeth.’

Clyde Cameron earned the respect of the conservative parties. Phillip Lynch, during his valedictory address, described him as one of the giants of the parliament. Clyde Cameron formed friendships with many of his opponents, including a very strong relationship with the late Sir John Gorton, who often stayed with Clyde when visiting Adelaide. Notwithstanding the many mistakes of the Whitlam years, Clyde Cameron’s move to throw the support of the federal government behind equal pay for women workers by appointing now High Court Justice Mary Gaudron to argue the case before the Arbitration and Conciliation Commission was a significant and enduring achievement of which we should all be proud. He improved the pay and conditions of public servants, yet came to later regret seeking to use the public sector as a pacesetter for the private sector. A real wage surge in 1974 of around 12 per cent, led by the public service, was very damaging to the Australian economy and a major contributing factor to rising unemployment. He later described the introduction of a 17.5 per cent annual leave loading as ‘a stupid decision’. He was a dedicated and tireless parliamentarian and a devoted servant of and advocate on behalf of the Labor Party and the labour movement. He died on Friday in Adelaide and he is survived by his wife, Doris, whom he married in 1967, and by his three children. This recognises the passing of a great man, a great Australian, and the condolences of the Liberal and National parties are strongly provided to his family and those who loved him.