Col Markham

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Col Markham
Member of the
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
for Keira
In office
19 March 1988 – 5 March 1999
Preceded by New district
Succeeded by David Campbell
Member of the
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
for Wollongong
In office
27 March 1999 – 28 February 2003
Preceded by Gerry Sullivan
Succeeded by Noreen Hay
Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs
In office
6 April 1995 – 28 February 2003
Personal details
Born Colin William Markham
4 June 1940 (1940-06-04) (age 76)
Wollongong, New South Wales AU
Nationality  Australia
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Melissa Ford
Children 3 sons
Occupation Electrical fitter
Website NSW Legislative Assembly webpage

Colin William (Col) Markham (born 4 June 1940) is an Australian politician. He was an Australian Labor Party member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1988 to 2003, representing the electorates of Keira (1988–1999) and Wollongong (1999–2003). He was a parliamentary secretary in the first two terms of the Carr Labor government.

Early years[edit]

Markham was born in Wollongong, the son of Vincent Markham and his wife Iris,[1] and studied at West Wollongong Public School and Wollongong Junior Technical College (now Keira High School). He dropped out of school at fifteen, and took up an apprenticeship as an electrical fitter with the Electricity Commission of New South Wales. He worked in the Kemira mines for two years after the completion of his apprenticeship, before shifting to the Coalcliff mines, where he spent a further 24 years. He joined the Labor Party in response to the Australian constitutional crisis of 1975, and was active in his local branches for many years thereafter.[2]

State politics[edit]

Markham won Labor preselection for the newly created seat of Keira in 1988, following the abolition of the previously safe Labor seat of Corrimal[3] held by the long-serving Member for Corrimal, Laurie Kelly. Kelly challenged sitting Independent MP Frank Arkell for his seat of Wollongong, but was defeated.[4]

Markham won a narrow victory and was subsequently reelected at the 1991 and 1995 State elections, increasing his majority at each election.[3] Markham developed a reputation as an occasionally outspoken local MP, publicly clashing with his party over their policies on the coal industry not long after his election.[5] He was promoted into the shadow ministry in 1989, taking the position of Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, but was cut upon the election of the Carr government in 1995 after struggling to gain a profile in the role.[6][7]

Markham was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs after his demotion from Cabinet, and was a persistent advocate for Aboriginal issues throughout the remainder of his parliamentary career. He was the architect of early land rights legislation transferring a number of government-owned sites into the control of their traditional owners, and continually campaigned for action from the state government on Aboriginal reconciliation, ultimately resulting in the Carr government's Statement of Commitment on Aboriginal reconciliation in 1997.[8][9] He was also a frequent advocate for local workers as the job cuts of the 1990s hit the Wollongong economy hard.[10][11]

Markham had long faced rumours of a preselection challenge from the right-faction, which had been gaining increasing dominance in his region through the late 1990s. As a popular local member, however, he was tipped to be difficult to shift, and planned challenges for the 1991 and 1995 elections never eventuated.[12] He faced a much more difficult situation ahead of the 1999 election, however, when an electoral redistribution saw the right-wing faction gain firm control of the electorate's Labor branches. A deal was struck by which Markham would instead contest preselection for the neighbouring seat of Wollongong, held by fellow left-winger Gerry Sullivan. Markham won preselection for Wollongong, but his treatment by the party caused a local backlash, with Wollongong councillor Dave Martin running for and nearly winning Markham's old seat of Keira as an independent.[13][14] Sullivan took the preselection to the Supreme Court but lost, and publicly considered running as an independent before deciding against it.[15][16]

He was reappointed as Parliamentary Secretary for Aboriginal Affairs after the election, and acted as a strong proponent of Sorry Day and National Reconciliation Week.[17][18] He faced speculation about another challenge for his seat in 2002, when it was leaked to the press that his name was on an internal party "hit-list" for the next election.[19] Long a target of the right wing, the faction had been especially angered by his refusal to cross a union picket line at Parliament House in opposition to Carr government workers compensation changes that were deeply unpopular in Markham's blue-collar electorate.[20] The speculation received a sharp response from the trade union movement, with the local divisions of six major unions threatening protests and support for independent candidacies if Markham was toppled by head office.[21] Markham's impending axing took on federal consequences when angry local unions and left-wing groups directed their resources against the right faction candidate Labor had endorsed for a by-election in the federal seat of Cunningham; in a shock result, Green candidate Michael Organ won the seat after a disastrous Labor campaign.[22]

Markham received a late endorsement from Premier Bob Carr ahead of the 2002 preselection vote, but this was not enough to sway the right-dominated preselectors, who voted for Noreen Hay, a local left faction figure who defected to the right soon after.[23][24][25] He retired at the election rather than run as an independent, and Hay held the seat, albeit with a 13% swing against her.[3] Tickets to his farewell dinner at the WIN Entertainment Centre sold out five days before it was held.[2]

Community involvement[edit]

Since leaving politics, Markham has maintained his interest in aboriginal affairs, having previously served as an Executive Member, Deputy Chairperson, and now Ambassador of the New South Wales Reconciliation Council.[26] He holds a strong interest in rugby league and is a Director of the Illawarra Steelers Board and Gold Foundation Member of the Illawarra Steelers as well as previously serving as Chairman of the Illawarra Steeler's Injured Player Fund.

In 2003, he was awarded as an Honorary Fellow of the University of Wollongong.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Mr Colin William MARKHAM (1940 - )". New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 15 June 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Heinzman, Sarah. "Col's calling". Illawarra Mercury, 21 February 2004.
  3. ^ a b c Green, Antony (2010). "Contests for Corrimal". NSW Election Database. Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 15 June 2010. 
  4. ^ Green, Antony (2010). "Contests for Wollongong". NSW Election Database. Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  5. ^ Lagan, Bernard. "Boos for govt's new deal on coal". Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1988.
  6. ^ Moore, Matthew. "Carr is rebuffed by rebel factions". Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 1988.
  7. ^ Totaro, Paola. "Right-wing brawl first test for Carr". Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 1995.
  8. ^ Lawson, Michael. "Actions speak louder - Markham". Illawarra Mercury, 28 November 1997.
  9. ^ Field, Anthony. "A dream realised for Aborigines". Illawarra Mercury, 23 July 2004.
  10. ^ Lawson, Michael. "Marvellous view moves Markham". Illawarra Mercury, 22 December 1997.
  11. ^ Tindall, Ron. "Foster potential, don't fob us off, says Markham". Illawarra Mercury, 4 August 1997.
  12. ^ "Editorial". Illawarra Mercury, 17 July 1997.
  13. ^ Carty, Lisa. "When two into one won't go". Illawarra Mercury, 19 November 1998.
  14. ^ Humphries, David. "Party dealing puts Shaw back on ticket". Illawarra Mercury, 20 November 1998.
  15. ^ Carty, Lisa. "Court dismisses Sullivan appeal". Illawarra Mercury, 4 March 1999.
  16. ^ McInerney, Paul. "Dumped ALP man elects to go quietly". Illawarra Mercury, 9 March 1999.
  17. ^ Bissett, Kelvin. "Carr's little helpers". Daily Telegraph, 1 May 1999.
  18. ^ Ellis, Greg. "Sorry is not a dirty word". Illawarra Mercury, 28 May 1999.
  19. ^ McInerney, Paul. "Angry Col says he's not Markham time". Illawarra Mercury, 13 March 1999.
  20. ^ West, Andrew. "How the Illawarra is poisoning Labor". Illawarra Mercury, 18 August 1999.
  21. ^ O'Connor, Kerrie. "Left's ultimatum to end branch stacking". Illawarra Mercury, 23 May 2002.
  22. ^ West, Andrew. "Labor feels like it's going, going, Gong". Illawarra Mercury, 13 October 2002.
  23. ^ Carty, Lisa. "D-day: Carr backs Markham in preselection battle". Illawarra Mercury, 14 December 2002.
  24. ^ Peterson, Anthony. "Politician's little list sees Grumpy Old ALP Men ousted". Illawarra Mercury, 17 December 2002.
  25. ^ Christodoulou, Mario. "Doing hard Labor". Illawarra Mercury, 14 June 2008.
  26. ^ "Ambassadors". Media. New South Wales Reconciliation Council. 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2010. 
Parliament of New South Wales
New district Member for Keira
1988 – 1999
Succeeded by
David Campbell
Preceded by
Gerry Sullivan
Member for Wollongong
1999 – 2003
Succeeded by
Noreen Hay