John Bannon

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For the Irish priest, see John Bannon (priest). For the Jesuit and historian, see John Francis Bannon.
The Honourable
Dr John Bannon
John Bannon.jpg
39th Premier of South Australia
Elections: 1982, 1985, 1989
In office
10 November 1982 – 4 September 1992
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Sir Donald Dunstan
Dame Roma Mitchell
Deputy John Wright (1982–1985)
Don Hopgood (1985–1992)
Preceded by David Tonkin
Succeeded by Lynn Arnold
31st Leader of the Opposition (SA)
In office
2 October 1979 – 10 November 1982
Preceded by David Tonkin
Succeeded by John Olsen
16th Australian Labor Party (SA) leader
In office
Preceded by Des Corcoran
Succeeded by Lynn Arnold
Treasurer of South Australia
In office
10 November 1982 – 4 September 1992
Premier John Bannon
Preceded by David Tonkin
Succeeded by Frank Blevins
Member of the South Australian House of Assembly
for Ross Smith
In office
17 September 1977 – 10 December 1993
Preceded by Joe Jennings
Succeeded by Ralph Clarke
Personal details
Born John Charles Bannon
(1943-05-07)7 May 1943
Bendigo, Victoria
Died 13 December 2015(2015-12-13) (aged 72)
Adelaide, South Australia
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party (SA)
Alma mater University of Adelaide (BA, LLB)
Flinders University (PhD)

John Charles Bannon AO (7 May 1943 – 13 December 2015) was an Australian politician. He was the 39th Premier of South Australia, leading the South Australian Branch of the Australian Labor Party to government at the 1982 election. The Bannon Labor government was re-elected at the 1985 election and the 1989 election – in 1992 he became Labor's longest-serving and South Australia's second longest-serving Premier. As a result of the State Bank collapse, Bannon resigned as Premier and Labor leader in 1992, and from parliament at the end of the record 11-year Labor government resulting from the 1993 election landslide.

Early life[edit]

Bannon was born in Bendigo, Victoria, and attended East Adelaide Primary School and St Peter's College in Adelaide.[1] He completed degrees in Arts and Law at the University of Adelaide. While at university, he was co-editor of the student newspaper On Dit along with Ken Scott and Jacqui Dibden in 1964. He was president of the Adelaide University Student Representative Council in 1966–67, president of the Adelaide University Union in 1969–1971 and president of the National Union of Australian University Students in 1968. Following the completion of his studies, he was an advisor to various governments, including Gough Whitlam's ministry.

Political career[edit]

He was elected to Ross Smith in the South Australian House of Assembly at the 1977 election and promoted to cabinet within a year. Following the resignation of Premier Don Dunstan and Labor's loss in the 1979 election, Bannon was elected to the Labor leadership. Despite factional struggles within Labor, the Tonkin Liberal government oversaw the economy suffer through the early 1980s recession. After just one term, Bannon managed to return Labor to government at the 1982 election with a 5.9 percent two-party swing but only a one-seat majority. He stressed the continuation of prudent budgetary measures that had begun under Tonkin and emphasised the economic development of the state, also taking on the role of Treasurer of South Australia throughout his entire premiership.

Bannon (left) receives cheque from Prime Minister Bob Hawke for bushfire relief

Bannon's consensual approach to government differed markedly from the Dunstan era. While then there had been a stream of social reform under Dunstan, Bannon's priorities were oriented in economics. He established the Olympic Dam copper and uranium mine, the submarine project, the defence industry, the Hyatt and Adelaide Casino complex, conversion of part of the Adelaide railway station into the Adelaide Convention Centre, sold land reserved for freeways under the MATS plan, and staged the Formula One Grand Prix.[1] Poker machines (pokies) were introduced in South Australia, a decision Bannon would come to regret decades later.[2] Other measures were introduced such as action to prevent destruction of vegetation and urban renewal programmes to invigorate some of the declining inner suburbs in Adelaide.[3]

The economic situation, moribund in the early 80s, rebounded, and Bannon's government was easily re-elected at the 1985 election, achieving a 2.3 percent two-party swing towards them from the Liberal opposition and a four-seat majority. However, the economy experienced another downturn in the late 80s/early 90s recession, and Bannon was stung at the 1989 election with only 48.1 percent of the two-party vote, a swing of 5.1 percent. Both major parties won 22 seats each in the hung parliament, two short of a majority. Labor was able to form minority government with the confidence and supply support of the two Labor independent MPs, Martyn Evans and Norm Peterson. Peterson became Speaker of the South Australian House of Assembly following the election. Shortly thereafter, electoral legislation was passed with the objective that the party which receives over 50 percent of the statewide two-party vote at the forthcoming election should win the two-party vote in a majority of seats, through a compulsory strategic redrawing of electoral boundaries before each election, making South Australia the only state to do so. One element of the Playmander remains to this day which contributes to the above—the change from multi-member to single-member seats.

It was only the second time that a Labor government in South Australia had been re-elected for a third term, however it would be the first eleven-year-incumbent Labor government.

State Bank and resignation[edit]

Bad lending decisions made by the State Bank of South Australia's board and managing director Tim Marcus Clark were exposed. As the bank's owner, the government was the guarantor of $3 billion worth of loans. Bannon remained as Premier during three inquiries, the last two of which cleared him of any deliberate wrongdoing.[1] Bannon stepped down from the offices of Premier and Treasurer and announced that he would not contest his seat of Ross Smith in the coming election. Lynn Arnold replaced Bannon as Premier but was unable to stave off a landslide defeat at the 1993 election, with just 39 percent of the two-party vote from a swing of 9.1 percent, retaining just 10 seats in a house of 47.

Post politics[edit]

After retiring from politics, the ABC offered a directorial position to Bannon in 1994 which he accepted. With an interest in South Australian history, he researched at Flinders University. He later studied and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Australian political history at Flinders University, where he was a professor. He was also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Adelaide Law School and in 2014 he received an honorary doctorate from the University. He was Master of St Mark's College from 2000 to 2007. On Australia Day 2007, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia.[4] He authored Supreme Federalist: The political life of Sir John Downer, which was released in 2009.

Personal life[edit]

John Bannon's first wife was Supreme Court Justice Robyn Layton, with whom he had a daughter, Victoria. His second wife, Angela, is the mother of musician and television personality Dylan Lewis.[5] Bannon's younger brother Nicholas died in Wilpena Pound in 1959.


The Dean of St Peter's Cathedral, the Very Reverend Frank Nelson, officiating at Bannon's state funeral.
Victoria Bannon eulogising her father at his state funeral.

Bannon died of cancer on 13 December 2015, aged 72, and was active right up until his death.[6][7] He was given a state funeral on 21 December 2015.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Words: Penelope Debelle (2009-02-27). "The best I could do was not good enough". Adelaide Now. Retrieved 2011-02-07. 
  2. ^ Not a pokie in sight: The Australian 8 December 2010
  3. ^ Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991
  4. ^ It's an Honour – Officer of the Order of Australia
  5. ^ Zwar, Adam (27 May 2001). "Dylan Lewis's Dog Day Afternoon". Sunday Herald Sun (Melbourne). p. Z10. 
  6. ^ Former South Australian premier John Bannon dies aged 72 - ABC 13 December 2015
  7. ^ John Bannon: man of pace and dedication - The Australian 15 December 2015
  8. ^ Former South Australian premier John Bannon to be farewelled in Adelaide - ABC 21 December 2015


  • Jaensch, Dean (1986). The Flinders History of South Australia: Political History. Wakefield Press. ISBN 0-949268-52-6. 
  • Parkin, Andrew and Patience, Allan (1992). The Bannon Decade: The Politics of Restraint in South Australia. Allen & Unwin; ISBN 1-86373-366-3.
  • "When the state's assets fell into a black hole." The Advertiser (Adelaide). 11-04-2006
  • Past Elections, Australian Broadcasting Corporation; accessed 17 January 2007

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
David Tonkin
Leader of the Opposition of South Australia
Succeeded by
John Olsen
Premier of South Australia
Succeeded by
Lynn Arnold
Treasurer of South Australia
Succeeded by
Frank Blevins
Parliament of South Australia
Preceded by
Joe Jennings
Member for Ross Smith
Succeeded by
Ralph Clarke
Party political offices
Preceded by
Des Corcoran
Leader of the Australian Labor Party (South Australian Branch)
Succeeded by
Lynn Arnold