Clyde Cameron

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The Honourable
Clyde Cameron
AO
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Hindmarsh
In office
10 December 1949 – 19 September 1980
Preceded by Albert Thompson
Succeeded by John Scott
Personal details
Born (1913-02-11)11 February 1913
Murray Bridge, South Australia
Died 14 March 2008(2008-03-14) (aged 95)
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) 1) Ruby Krahe
2) Dorothy Bradbury
Occupation Shearer, unionist

Clyde Robert Cameron, AO (11 February 1913 – 14 March 2008), Australian politician, was a member of the Australian House of Representatives for 31 years from 1949 to 1980, a Cabinet minister in the Whitlam government and a leading figure in the Australian labour movement for forty years.

Biography[edit]

Cameron was born in Murray Bridge, South Australia, the son of a shearer of Scottish descent. He was educated at Gawler, but left school at 14 to work as a shearer. During the very worst years of the Great Depression, he was unemployed, and this experience of joblessness was one that he never forgot or forgave. When he finally did get work, later in the 1930s, he ended up having to travel to every Australian state and also to New Zealand. He was active in the Australian Workers' Union and the Australian Labor Party from an early age, becoming an AWU organiser and then South Australian State President and a Federal Vice-President of the union in 1941. From 1943 to 1948 he was the union's industrial advocate and taught himself industrial law. In 1946 he became State President of the Labor Party.

In 1939 Cameron married Ruby Krahe (always called "Cherie"), with whom he had three children (twins Warren and Tania, and a second son Noel). In 1949 he suffered a personal crisis when all three children were afflicted with poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis). He also learned that his youngest son suffered from an intellectual disability. Although they all eventually recovered from polio, the ordeal permanently affected Cameron, and contributed to the breakup of his marriage. In 1966 the Camerons were divorced and in 1967 he remarried, this time to Dorothy Bradbury.

Cameron was the most powerful figure in the South Australian labour movement in the years immediately after World War II. At the 1949 election he was elected to the House of Representatives for the safe Labor seat of Hindmarsh, leaving his brother Donald (later a Senator) in charge of the South Australian AWU. He rapidly made his mark as one of the most aggressive and uncompromising Labor members ever to enter the Australian Parliament. Cameron regarded the conservatives with a deep and personal hatred, and made no secret of it. He rapidly emerged as one of the leaders of the left wing of the Caucus, led at that time by Eddie Ward, who became Cameron's mentor.

It was the tragedy of Labor politicians of Cameron's generation that Labor spent almost a quarter of a century in Opposition from 1949 to 1972, with the result that Cameron, like many others, spent his best years out of office. During the Labor Split of the 1950s Cameron became a leading supporter of federal Labor Leader Dr H.V. Evatt and an opponent of the right-wing Catholic faction. He was among those who insisted that all the "Groupers" be expelled from the party. He also conducted a long feud with the right-wing (but anti-Grouper) federal leadership of the AWU led by Tom Dougherty, one of the long list of people Cameron detested.

Nevertheless Cameron was an intelligent and able parliamentarian, and by the 1960s he could see that Labor would never win a federal election again unless it could find both a leader and a set of policies acceptable to an increasingly middle-class electorate. Ward's death in 1963 marked the end of the old Depression-era leftism in the federal Caucus. The younger leftist leaders such as Cameron himself, Jim Cairns and Tom Uren were more willing to adapt to changed circumstances. Cameron became increasingly critical of Arthur Calwell's leadership, although he supported Calwell in his passionate opposition to the Vietnam War.

Calwell retired in 1967 and was succeeded by Gough Whitlam. Although he disagreed with Whitlam on many issues, after 1968 Cameron became a supporter of Whitlam's leadership. In 1969 Whitlam made Cameron Shadow Minister for Employment; and Cameron's decisive influence helped Whitlam gain control of the Federal Executive. In 1970 he supported Whitlam's move to reform the Victorian branch of the Labor Party, which was controlled by the extreme left.

At the December 1972 election Labor came to office under Whitlam, and Cameron became Minister for Labour at the age of 59. He created a sensation by dismissing the permanent head of his department, Sir Halford Cook, and bringing in an outsider: he was always deeply suspicious of senior public servants. But he greatly improved the pay and conditions of other public servants, using the public sector to set new benchmarks which he hoped would be extended to the private sector. Revealing himself to be an unsuspected feminist, he hired Mary Gaudron (later the first woman on the High Court bench) to argue before the Arbitration Commission for equal pay for women workers. His senior advisor was John Bannon, later Premier of South Australia. Following Al Grassby's defeat at the 1974 election, Cameron became Minister for Labour and Immigration.

The unions had high hopes that Cameron would bring greatly improved benefits for industrial workers. Unfortunately for Cameron, the Australian economy began to deteriorate rapidly in 1974 as a result of the inflation caused by the oil shock, and the government came under increasing pressure to hold back wage increases, which were seen by orthodox economists to be fuelling inflation. Cameron resisted this pressure, and his relations with Whitlam deteriorated. At the same time, he became increasingly critical of the more irresponsible union leaders who, as he saw it, blindly pursued wage rises without regard to the state of the economy, or to the incomes policy of their own Labor government. Despite this, in the twelve months from September 1973, Cameron claimed to have presided over “the greatest redistribution in the favour of wage earners ever to be recorded in any one year by any country in the world.”[1]

By 1975 the Whitlam government was in crisis and Whitlam made a sharp turn to the right, bringing in Bill Hayden as Treasurer and Jim McClelland as Minister for Labour and Immigration. Cameron refused to resign as Labour and Immigration Minister, and Whitlam was forced to ask the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, to withdraw his commission. He was eventually persuaded to accept the position of Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs.

Cameron thus became once again Whitlam's implacable enemy, but with the dismissal of Whitlam's government in November there was little he could do. He withdrew to the backbench, where he remained for the next five years till he retired from Parliament prior to the 1980 election.

After politics[edit]

Subsequently he published several volumes of vindictive but amusing memoirs. He kept a diary throughout his career, but shortly after his retirement the volumes of this diary were (he insisted) stolen from his home by ASIO agents.

In the 1982 Australia Day Honours he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.[2]

Clyde Cameron College was run by the Australian Trade Union Training Authority from 1977 until its abolition in 1996.

Well into his last years, he remained a frequent contributor to public debate, uttering various remarks showing a surprisingly respectful attitude towards his contemporary and former antagonist B. A. Santamaria. The two men never met, but when Santamaria died in 1998, Cameron (as reported by the Santamaria-founded magazine News Weekly) paid him a warm tribute, saying that "[his] soul was not for sale."

He was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001.[3]

Cameron died on 14 March 2008, aged 95. He was survived by three children, six grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Daniel Connell, The Confessions of Clyde Cameron 1913-1990, ABC Enterprises 1990
  • Bill Guy, A Life on the Left: A Biography of Clyde Cameron, Wakefield Press 1999

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891-1991
  2. ^ It's an Honour: AO
  3. ^ It's an Honour: Centenary Medal
Political offices
Preceded by
Phillip Lynch
Minister for Labour
1972–1974
Succeeded by
Jim McClelland
Preceded by
Al Grassby
Minister for Labour and Immigration
1974–1975
Preceded by
Bill Morrison
Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs
1975
Succeeded by
Bob Cotton
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Albert Thompson
Member for Hindmarsh
1949–1980
Succeeded by
John Scott