Bertie Milliner

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Bertie Milliner
Senator for Queensland
In office
1 July 1968 – 30 June 1975
Succeeded by Albert Field
Personal details
Born (1911-07-17)17 July 1911
Kelvin Grove, Queensland
Died 30 June 1975(1975-06-30) (aged 63)
Brisbane, Queensland
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Thelma Elizabeth Voght
Occupation Unionist

Bertie Milliner (17 July 1911 – 30 June 1975) was an Australian trade unionist, politician and Senator, representing the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He would have been a minor figure in Australia’s political history but for the events that followed his sudden death. These circumstances contributed to the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, which culminated in the dismissal of the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.

Biography[edit]

Bertie Richard Milliner was born at Kelvin Grove, Brisbane. He attended the local state school, served an apprenticeship as a compositor at the Queensland Government Printing Office and became a linotype-operator. On 26 March 1938 he married Thelma Elizabeth Voght, a schoolteacher.

He joined the Queensland Printing Employees' Union and was elected in 1934 to the board of management. A delegate to the Trades and Labor Council of Queensland, he was a member of the executive (from 1952) and treasurer (1960–67). As trade-union adviser on the Australian delegations, he travelled to Geneva to attend the thirty-seventh (1954) and forty-eighth (1964) sessions of the International Labour Conference.

Milliner represented Small Unions (1947–50) and his own union (from 1950) on the Queensland central executive of the ALP. An active and influential State party manager, he chaired the rules committee, held office as vice-president for a term, and was president in 1963-68. At the meeting called in April 1957 to consider the situation of the then Labor Premier of Queensland, Vince Gair, he moved that there be further negotiations before the premier's expulsion from the ALP was discussed; when his proposal was rejected, he voted with the TLC group to expel Gair.

Milliner was a competent chairman who tried to achieve unity, to broaden the party's electoral base, and to encourage the involvement of women and the young. His leadership proved decisive in winning party support in Queensland for Gough Whitlam in his confrontation with the ALP's federal executive in February 1966.

In 1962 Milliner had unsuccessfully sought party nomination as one of two candidates to be considered by the Legislative Assembly of Queensland for a casual vacancy in the Senate. At the 1967 election he won a seat in the Senate. His term began on 1 July 1968. He sat on ten parliamentary committees and in 1974 was appointed temporary Chairman of Committees in the Senate.

Death and replacement[edit]

Bertie Milliner died suddenly of a heart attack on 30 June 1975 in his Brisbane office. The question of his replacement then arose. It had been a previously unbroken convention that when a casual vacancy arose through the resignation or death of a senator mid-term, the relevant state parliament would replace the senator with a nominee chosen by the departed senator's political party. The ALP provided one name to Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen - that of Mal Colston. Bjelke-Petersen asked for a list of three names, which the ALP refused to supply. He then chose as Milliner’s replacement Albert Field, who was nominally a member of the Labor Party but was openly critical of the Whitlam government. The Queensland Legislative Assembly duly appointed Field to the vacancy. The ALP immediately expelled Field from the party on the grounds that he accepted an appointment contrary to its wishes, and challenged his appointment in the High Court on the grounds that he was still technically employed by the Queensland Public Service (an office of profit under the Crown) at the time of his acceptance of the appointment - he had resigned, but without giving the required two weeks' notice. He was on leave from the Senate for his entire term, and the Opposition coalition chose not to provide a pair (a convention whereby, when a senator is absent for reasons beyond their control, the opposing party arranges for one their senators not to vote in divisions). Consequently, the numbers in the Senate were weighted against Labor. This was one of the factors that enabled the Senate to block the Whitlam government’s Supply bills, which in turn led to the government's dismissal.

Milliner's son Glen was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland 1977-98.

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