Percy Clarey

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Percy Clarey
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Bendigo
In office
10 December 1949 – 17 May 1960
Preceded by George Rankin
Succeeded by Noel Beaton
Personal details
Born (1890-01-20)20 January 1890
Bairnsdale, Victoria
Died 17 May 1960(1960-05-17) (aged 70)
Oakleigh, Victoria
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) 1) Katherine Mary Isabel Chambers
2) Florence Midiam Cater
Relations Arthur Clarey (brother)
Occupation Unionist

Percy James Clarey (20 January 1890 – 17 May 1960) was an Australian trade union leader and politician.

Early life[edit]

Clarey was born at Bairnsdale, Victoria, the fifth child of general agent Francis William Clarey and Jessie Littlejohn Clarey, née Lawson. The family soon moved to Melbourne, and Percy attended South Yarra State School and the Working Men's College. In his youth, Clarey was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, and walked with crutches for the rest of his life. Employed as a clerk, he was Victorian president of the Federated Clerks' Union by the time he was 24 and federal president at 27. He also served as federal president of both the Amalgamated Food Preserving Employees' Union of Australia and the Federated Storemen and Packers' Union of Australia.

Clarey married schoolteacher Katherine Mary Isabel Chambers at Box Hill, Victoria on 31 March 1917. They had two sons before their divorce in 1936. Katherine was also prominent in the labour movement, and was the Labor candidate for the Victorian Legislative Assembly seat of Caulfield in 1935, although she withdrew shortly before the poll.

Meanwhile, Clarey continued to rise in the union movement, being president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1934 and president of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council in 1935. During World War II, he was on the board of the Department of Munitions and the Manpower Priorities Board, as well as being a delegate to the 1944 International Labour Conference.

State politics[edit]

In 1937, Clarey was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council, a position he held until 1949. He was minister of labour and public health during 1943 and minister of labour and employment from 1945-47 under the premiership of John Cain. He was criticised for holding the positions of labour minister and President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions simultaneously. He married divorcee Florence Midiam Cater, née Knowles, on 21 August 1948.

As ACTU president, Clarey formed a partnership with his eventual successor, secretary Albert Monk, and resisted the various attempts by the Communist Party of Australia to gain control of the trade unions. He conceded that the Communist Party had a right to exist, but was strenuously opposed to communism in the ALP.

Federal politics[edit]

In 1949, Clarey transferred to the federal House of Representatives, winning the seat of Bendigo by only 152 votes.[1] He was defeated for the deputy leadership in 1951 by Arthur Calwell, and was mentioned as a possible successor to the troubled H.V. Evatt as parliamentary leader. Although associated with the right wing of the ALP, Clarey always kept to the party line. He had consistently cordial dealings with Robert Menzies.

Sometimes accused of being a "bosses' man" and a "strike breaker" by union opponents, Clarey was nevertheless a supporter of the Indonesians against Dutch colonialism. Additionally, although he supported the White Australia Policy, he held the term to be offensive and advocated its removal from the ALP platform.

In 1954 Clarey was sent to New York City as Australia's delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, and visited China in 1957. On 17 May 1960 Clarey died at Oakleigh, Victoria, and was survived by the sons of his first marriage. He was given a state funeral before being cremated with Methodist forms. His brother, Arthur Clarey, was the member for Melbourne in the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1955-72.


  1. ^ N.W Saffin (1974), Left and Right in Bendigo and Shepparton 1947-51, Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore, p.68
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
George Rankin
Member for Bendigo
Succeeded by
Noel Beaton
Trade union offices
Preceded by
Albert Monk
President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions
Succeeded by
Albert Monk