Mal Colston

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Mal Colston
Senator for Queensland
In office
13 December 1975 – 30 June 1999
Personal details
Born (1938-04-05)5 April 1938
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Died 23 August 2003(2003-08-23) (aged 65)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Nationality Australian
Political party Labor (1975–96)
Queensland First (1996–99)
Spouse(s) Dawn Patricia McMullen
Children Douglas Colston
Alma mater University of Queensland
Occupation Teacher, public servant

Malcolm Arthur "Mal" Colston (5 April 1938 – 23 August 2003), Australian politician, was a Senator in the Parliament of Australia representing the state of Queensland between 1975 and 1999. He was a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) until 20 August 1996, but then resigned from the party and sat as an independent until his retirement from the Senate.

Early life[edit]

Colston was born in Brisbane, and joined the Labor Party at the age of 19 holding several branch positions in the party before unsuccessfully nominating for selection as a Senate candidate at the age of 23. He qualified as a teacher, and taught in several primary schools whilst completing a doctorate in educational psychology at the University of Queensland. He attempted and failed on two further occasions to gain Senate selection, later writing a book, The Odd One Out, about his political experiences.[1]

Political career[edit]

Role in 1975 constitutional crisis[edit]

Colston indirectly played a role in the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.

On 30 June 1975, Queensland ALP Senator Bertie Milliner died suddenly. The Labor Party nominated Colston to fill the casual vacancy in the Senate. The Constitution provides that a Senate casual vacancy is filled by a person chosen by the relevant state parliament. Although it did not become a constitutional requirement until 1977, it had been long-standing convention that the state parliament choose a person nominated by the departing Senator's party. However, the Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, claimed that Colston was a "dangerous socialist" and refused to appoint him. Officially though, Bjelke-Petersen expressed doubts over Colston's integrity and instead appointed Albert Field, who was a member of the Labor Party but was staunchly opposed to the policies of the Gough Whitlam Labor government.[2]

The ALP challenged Field's appointment in the High Court, and he was on leave from the Senate almost from the day of his appointment. This gave the Coalition a greater advantage, and it was therefore a crucial event in the events leading up to the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

Labor Senator[edit]

At the ensuing 1975 election, Colston was elected as a Labor senator. He continued to serve in that capacity until 1996.

From 1993 until his retirement from the Senate, he was a joint Father of the Senate, along with Brian Harradine.

Resignation from the Labor Party[edit]

After the 1996 election, the Labor Party refused to nominate Colston to become Deputy President of the Senate. In a bid to win him over, the Howard Coalition government offered to support him. Colston resigned from the Labor Party by fax message at 11:30 a.m. on 20 August, and he took his seat as an independent that afternoon. In the evening, he was elected Deputy President, on the nomination of the Coalition. Whilst he opposed the Coalition's industrial relations package, he voted for the sale of a third of Telstra and some other government initiatives. Colston subsequently sat as a "Queensland First" senator.

Travel allowances scandal[edit]

In 1997, Colston was charged by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions with 28 charges of defrauding the Commonwealth by allegedly misusing his parliamentary travel allowance. He then revealed that he was suffering from cancer. Prosecution was not pursued after medical opinion was provided that Colston was unlikely to live long enough for a trial to be completed. In the event, he survived for a further six years. He retired from the Senate at the end of his term on 30 June 1999.

Death and estate[edit]

Colston died of colon cancer in 2003. He appointed his wife, Dawn Colston, as executor and trustee of his will, but Dawn died eleven months later, before she had disposed of her husband's will. Dawn had appointed her brother, Brian McMullen, as executor of her will.

The Colstons' son, Douglas Colston, then initiated legal action against McMullen, claiming he was entitled to half the income of his parents' estates. The case was ongoing as of September 2011.[3]


  1. ^ Dickenson, Jacqueline (2007). "Mal Colston: The worst rat of the lot?". Australian Society for the Study of Labour History. 
  2. ^ Turncoat turned into a footnote - Obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald, 26-Aug-2003
  3. ^ Oberhardt, Mark (24 April 2012). "Court of Appeal grants son of Senator Mal Colston fresh rights to pursue control of estate". The Courier-Mail. Retrieved 24 March 2015. 
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Peter Durack
Father of the Australian Senate
with Brian Harradine
Succeeded by
Brian Harradine