Don Chipp

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The Honourable
Don Chipp
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Higinbotham
In office
10 December 1960 – 25 October 1969
Preceded by Frank Timson
Succeeded by Division abolished
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Hotham
In office
25 October 1969 – 10 November 1977
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Roger Johnston
Senator for Victoria
In office
1 July 1978 – 18 August 1986
Succeeded by Janet Powell
Personal details
Born (1925-08-21)21 August 1925
Melbourne, Victoria
Died 28 August 2006(2006-08-28) (aged 81)
Richmond, Victoria
Nationality Australian
Political party Liberal (1960–77)
Democrats (1977–2006)
Occupation Management consultant

Donald Leslie Chipp, AO (21 August 1925 – 28 August 2006) was an Australian politician, and the inaugural leader of the Australian Democrats.

Early life[edit]

Donald Leslie Chipp was born in Melbourne and educated at Northcote High School and the University of Melbourne, where he graduated in commerce. After playing Australian rules football for Heidelberg in the Victorian Football Association, he played briefly in the (higher-grade) Victorian Football League with the Fitzroy Football Club (playing three games in 1947, for one goal). He also played for Prahran in the VFA and was a member of their 1951 Premiership side. He was also a finalist in the important Stawell Gift annual foot race.

After serving in the Royal Australian Air Force in World War II, Chipp worked as registrar of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants from 1950 to 1955. In 1955 he was appointed chief executive officer of the Olympic Civic Committee, which was involved in organising the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. After the Games he worked as manager of the Victorian Promotion Committee, and also ran his own management consultancy. From 1958 to 1961 he was a member of the Kew City Council.

Political career[edit]


Chipp entered federal politics in 1960 as the Liberal member for Higinbotham in Melbourne's southern bayside suburbs. After a redistribution in 1968 he transferred to the less safe seat of Hotham. He was given the Navy and Tourism portfolios by Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1967. After Holt's sudden death in December 1967, Chipp retained those portfolios in the brief interim government of Country Party leader John McEwen, but he was dropped from the ministry by the new Liberal Prime Minister, John Gorton. This was partly because Chipp had supported another candidate, Billy Snedden, in the Liberal leadership ballot, and partly because Chipp did not support a second Royal Commission into the 1964 Voyager disaster – a decision which Gorton felt reflected badly on the Royal Australian Navy.[1] Commonwealth Parliamentary Hansards; Commonwealth Parliamentary debates 16th and 17th May 1967

After the 1969 election, Gorton appointed Chipp as Minister for Customs and Excise. In this portfolio he gained national attention by largely abolishing the censorship of printed material, unbanning many novels, including Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, as well as allowing the sale of Playboy magazine. He also oversaw the introduction of the R certificate for films in 1970, which allowed previously banned films to be rerated and shown to adults. These actions made him popular but also placed him at odds with many of his fellow party members, who considered such decisions too liberal. During this period, Chipp became identified as part of a "small-l liberal" faction of the Liberal Party, along with Snedden and Andrew Peacock.

Following the Liberal Party's defeat at the 1972 election by the Labor Party's Gough Whitlam, Chipp served as Shadow Minister for Social Security. He was a strong supporter of Snedden, who had become party leader following the 1972 defeat but lost the 1974 election against Whitlam. When Malcolm Fraser displaced Snedden as leader in March 1975, Chipp retained his position but it was no secret that the two men did not get on. When Fraser was appointed Prime Minister following the dismissal of Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975, he gave Chipp three portfolios in his caretaker ministry—Social Security, Health, and Repatriation and Compensation. However, when Fraser won the December 1975 election, Chipp was not included in the ministry.

Resignation from the Liberal Party[edit]

In his book The Third Man, Chipp considered the effects of a "whispering campaign" to discredit him within the Liberal Party. This came to a head when he spoke at a heavily attended Citizens for Democracy meeting at the Sydney Town Hall with other controversial speakers including Frank Hardy, Patrick White and Faith Bandler. He writes "Liberals thought it was intolerable that any member of the party should appear with 'those people'".[2] The rebellious image was heightened by the fact that Chipp omitted to attend a Parliament House reception for Queen Elizabeth II, having decided to honour his prior speaking engagement, which had been widely publicised. Chipp concluded: "It was then, I believe, that I concluded I could not stay in such a party any longer. I resented the tag of 'rebel' which was being applied to me by my own colleagues."

Chipp decided to resign from the Liberal Party on 24 March 1977 and concluded his speech that day with the following:
I have become disenchanted with party politics as they are practised in this country and with the pressure groups which have an undue influence on the major political parties. The parties seem to polarise on almost every issue, sometimes seemingly just for the sake of it, and I wonder if the ordinary voter is not becoming sick and tired of the vested interests which unduly influence political parties and yearns for the emergence of a third political force, representing middle-of-the-road policies which would owe allegiance to no outside pressure group. Perhaps it may be the right time to test that proposition.[3]

Leadership of the Democrats[edit]

Janine Haines and Chipp in 1977

Even before the resignation, he received an invitation to join an amalgamated centre-line party which predated the Australian Democrats.[4] He resolutely turned down a series of such leadership offers until, on 9 May 1977, he was accorded an overwhelming standing ovation by a 3,000-strong audience at the Melbourne Town Hall and concluded "... I was committed ... and it was a good feeling".

At the December 1977 election he was elected to the Australian Senate, with one colleague (Colin Mason of New South Wales). As Democrats leader, Chipp was involved in various high-profile environmental and social-justice causes, including playing an important role in stopping the Franklin Dam Project.

At the 1980 election, the Democrats gained three more senators, giving them a total of five—a potential balance of power, which they retained until 1 July 2005, after a total lack of success at the 2004 election. Their theoretical ability to reject or amend government legislation was seldom applied, being dependent on rarely forthcoming support from other non-government senators. It was, however, a useful avenue for publicity and effective Senate committee dealings outside the chamber.

Post-political life[edit]

Chipp resigned from the Senate on 18 August 1986, being succeeded as leader by Janine Haines and replaced as a senator by Janet Powell. He ran unsuccessfully for election as the Lord Mayor of Melbourne in 2001. In his later years, he suffered from Parkinson's disease, although he still made a number of public appearances, most notably on the ABC chat show Enough Rope with Andrew Denton. He also gave an opening address to the Democrats' national conference in Melbourne in May 2006.

Chipp died of pneumonia in August 2006 at Epworth Hospital in Melbourne. A state funeral service was held on 2 September 2006 for him. Australian flags were flown at half-mast all day in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory in his honour.


  1. ^ Alan Reid, The Gorton Experiment, 36–37
  2. ^ Chipp D and Larkin J Don Chipp: The Third Man, Rigby 1978, ISBN 0-7270-0827-7, p 185
  3. ^ As cited in The Third Man, pp 179–80
  4. ^ The invitation came from John Siddons, Robin Millhouse and other executives of the Australia Party and the New Liberal Movement, as described in The Third Man, p 179

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Fred Chaney
Minister for the Navy
Succeeded by
Bert Kelly
New title Minister in charge of Tourist Activities
Succeeded by
Reg Wright
Preceded by
Malcolm Scott
Minister for Customs and Excise
Succeeded by
Gough Whitlam
Preceded by
John Wheeldon
Minister for Social Security
Succeeded by
Margaret Guilfoyle
Minister for Repatriation and Compensation
Succeeded by
Kevin Newman
Preceded by
Doug Everingham
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Ralph Hunt
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Frank Timson
Member for Higinbotham
Division abolished
New division Member for Hotham
Succeeded by
Roger Johnston
Preceded by
No party precursor
Senator for Victoria
Succeeded by
Janet Powell
Party political offices
New political party Leader of the Australian Democrats
Succeeded by
Janine Haines