Des Corcoran

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The Honourable
Des Corcoran
AO
Des corcoran.jpeg
37th Premier of South Australia
Elections: 1979
In office
15 February 1979 – 18 September 1979
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Sir Keith Seaman
Deputy Hugh Hudson
Preceded by Don Dunstan
Succeeded by David Tonkin
31st Leader of the Opposition (SA)
In office
18 September 1979 – 2 October 1979
Preceded by David Tonkin
Succeeded by John Bannon
15th Australian Labor Party (SA) leader
In office
1979–1979
Preceded by Don Dunstan
Succeeded by John Bannon
Treasurer of South Australia
In office
15 February 1979 – 18 September 1979
Premier Des Corcoran
Preceded by Don Dunstan
Succeeded by John Bannon
Member of the South Australian Parliament
for Hartley
In office
17 September 1977 – 6 November 1982
Preceded by New district
Succeeded by Terry Groom
Member of the South Australian Parliament
for Coles
In office
12 July 1975 – 17 September 1977
Preceded by Len King
Succeeded by Jennifer Cashmore
Member of the South Australian Parliament
for Millicent
In office
3 March 1962 – 12 July 1975
Preceded by Jim Corcoran
Succeeded by Murray Vandepeer
Personal details
Born James Desmond Corcoran
(1928-11-08)8 November 1928
Millicent, South Australia
Died 3 January 2004(2004-01-03) (aged 75)
Adelaide, South Australia
Political party Australian Labor Party (SA)

James Desmond "Des" Corcoran AO (8 November 1928 – 3 January 2004) was an Australian politician, representing the South Australian Branch of the Australian Labor Party. He was the 37th Premier of South Australia, serving between 15 February 1979 and 18 September 1979. He also served as the 1st Deputy Premier of South Australia in 1968 and again from 1970 to 1979.

Early life[edit]

Born in Millicent, South Australia, Corcoran joined Labor in 1941. He enlisted in the Australian Army and fought in the Korean War (where he was mentioned in dispatches),[citation needed] as well as serving in Japan, Malaya and New Guinea.

Politics[edit]

Corcoran left the Army in 1961 and in 1962 was elected to the South Australian House of Assembly Electoral district of Millicent, succeeding his father, Jim Corcoran. Corcoran quickly impressed many within the Labor Party with his vigorous approach and his talent for administration. When the ALP won government in South Australia in 1965 for the first time in 32 years, Corcoran became Minister of Irrigation, Minister of Lands, and Minister of Repatriation. The new Premier, Frank Walsh, made Corcoran his chief political confidant. Like Walsh, Corcoran was a firm anti-communist and a devout Catholic. In fact, Walsh attempted to groom Corcoran as his successor, hoping to foil the ambitions of Deputy Leader Don Dunstan, whom Walsh resented and distrusted.[citation needed] Following the septuagenarian Walsh's retirement in 1967, Corcoran challenged Dunstan for the leadership, but lost by three votes. As a concession to Corcoran, Dunstan named him Deputy Leader. Dunstan also created the post of Deputy Premier of South Australia for Corcoran. In Dunstan's 1967-68 Cabinet, Corcoran dropped the Repatriation portfolio in favor of Immigration.

Labor lost its majority at the 1968 election, mainly due to losing two marginal rural seats. Corcoran himself was nearly defeated in his own seat, winning by just one vote over his LCL rival Martin Cameron. Cameron protested and a by-election was held later that year, with Corcoran winning more comfortably, leaving the new Steele Hall LCL government to rely on the casting vote of Independent Speaker Tom Stott. Following the election, Corcoran became Deputy Opposition Leader under Dunstan; and upon Labor's victory at the 1970 election, he returned to the Deputy Premiership. He also served as Minister of Public Works and Minister of Marine and Harbours.

Over the next nine years, Dunstan and Corcoran made an unconventional but functional team. Corcoran privately opposed many of the social reforms Dunstan was implementing, such as liberalised abortion and homosexuality laws. In addition, Corcoran disliked Dunstan's glamorous image and fondness for the arts.[citation needed] A conservative dresser, Corcoran did not at all share Dunstan's enthusiasm for wearing casual clothes on public occasions.[citation needed] Nevertheless, the two men felt a wary respect for one another and managed to maintain a working relationship.[citation needed] Behind the scenes, Dunstan sometimes found Corcoran's plain-speaking style useful, in order to control others within the ALP.[citation needed] Meanwhile, Dunstan remained the public face of the Labor government over the next decade. When a redistribution made Millicent notionally Liberal, Corcoran transferred to the Adelaide-area seat of Coles. However, when a redistribution made that seat unwinnable before the 1977 election, Corcoran transferred to nearby Hartley.

By early 1979, Dunstan's health had so obviously[to whom?] broken down that he could not continue in office, and he resigned on 15 February. Corcoran was elected his successor—thus finally achieving his dream of becoming Premier. He also served as Treasurer and Minister for Ethnic Affairs. Spurred by positive opinion polls and seeking to escape the shadow of Dunstan,[citation needed] Corcoran called a snap election (without pre-informing the party apparatus) in the hope that he would gain a mandate of his own. The election campaign was plagued by problems; the state's main newspaper, The Advertiser, openly favoured the Liberal campaign.[citation needed] At the election, Labor suffered an 8% swing against it and lost to the Liberals under David Tonkin. Corcoran was bitter in defeat, believing that pro-Dunstan sections of the ALP had deliberately undermined him during the campaign.[citation needed]

After the election, Corcoran soon resigned from the Labor leadership and was succeeded by the much younger John Bannon, whose urbane style and academic background brought him much closer to Dunstan than to Corcoran. In 1982 Bannon easily defeated Tonkin and led Labor back into government. Corcoran did not run in that election.

Death[edit]

Corcoran died of cancer in 2004, aged 75, survived by his wife, Carmel, their eight children and twelve grandchildren.

References[edit]

  • Doherty, E., Heggen, B. & Pippos, C. "Former premier Corcoran dies", Sunday Mail, p 2, 4 January 2004.
  • Jory, R. "SA premier put his own mark on office", The Courier-Mail, p. 22, 2 February 2004.
  • Kelton, G. "Pragmatic man of the people not forgotten", The Advertiser, p. 18, 5 January 2004.

External links[edit]

Political offices
New title Deputy Premier of South Australia
1970–1979
Succeeded by
Hugh Hudson
Preceded by
Allan Rodda
Minister for Works
1970–1979
Succeeded by
John Wright
as Minister for Public Works
Preceded by
Don Dunstan
Premier of South Australia
1979
Succeeded by
David Tonkin
Treasurer of South Australia
1979
Parliament of South Australia
Preceded by
Jim Corcoran
Member for Millicent
1962–1975
Succeeded by
Murray Vandepeer
Preceded by
Len King
Member for Coles
1975–1977
Succeeded by
Jennifer Cashmore
New division Member for Hartley
1977–1982
Succeeded by
Terry Groom
Party political offices
Preceded by
Don Dunstan
Leader of the Australian Labor Party (South Australian Branch)
1979
Succeeded by
John Bannon