Robin Gray (Australian politician)

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Robin Gray
37th Premier of Tasmania
In office
26 May 1982 – 29 June 1989
Preceded byHarry Holgate
Succeeded byMichael Field
ConstituencyWilmot (1976–1984)
Lyons (1984–1995)
Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania
In office
29 June 1989 – 17 December 1991
In office
1979 – 26 May 1982
Personal details
Born (1940-03-01) 1 March 1940 (age 83)
Kew, Victoria, Australia
Political partyLiberal Party
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne
OccupationAgricultural consultant

Robin Trevor Gray (born 1 March 1940) is a former Australian politician who was Premier of Tasmania from 1982 to 1989. A Liberal, he was elected Liberal state leader in 1981 and in 1982 defeated the Labor government of Harry Holgate on a policy of "state development," particularly the building of the Franklin Dam, a hydroelectric dam on the Franklin River. He was only the second non-Labor premier to hold the post in 48 years, and the first in 51 years to govern in majority.

Early life[edit]

Gray was born in Kew, a suburb of Melbourne. Once he had completed high school, he won a scholarship to Dookie Agricultural College and completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne. His qualifications led to a job as an agricultural consultant at a firm in Victoria's Western District. In 1965, the firm sent Gray to northern Tasmania to operate a branch of the firm in Launceston.[1]

Political career[edit]

During 1976, the state leader of the Liberal Party, Max Bingham, convinced Gray to stand as a candidate in the state election for that year. Gray ended up out-polling three sitting Liberal members in Wilmot.[1] Bingham resigned as leader following his party's poor performance at the 1979 election, which resulted in a marked swing away from the Liberals. Gray was elected Deputy Leader under Geoff Pearsall, and when Pearsall resigned in 1981 for unexplained personal reasons, Gray took over the party's leadership.

The campaign on which Gray embarked, to build the Franklin Dam, aroused protests from environmentalists, led by Dr Bob Brown (later a Senator). Gray in 1982 allied with militant left wing FEDFA trade union leader Kelvin McCoy to form in November 1982 the Organisation for Tasmanian Development (OTD) which was directly associated with notable stickers seen on cars in Tasmania like Doze in a Greenie: help Fertilize the South-West, If It's Brown, Flush It, and Keep Warm This Winter:Burn a Greenie. Gray and McCoy praised each other publicly in their promotion of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam. One of the more notable events of Gray's involvement with the OTD was the 3,000-strong rally in Queenstown on 11 December 1982, which included former Premier Eric Reece.[2] Despite Reece's ALP background, Gray praised Reece as "the greatest living Tasmanian."

In 1983, the newly elected federal Labor government led by Bob Hawke intervened to prevent the building of the dam. However it was finally a High Court of Australia decision (Commonwealth v Tasmania)—despite the persistent clamour for states' rights in which even Joh Bjelke-Petersen was utilised[3]—which stopped the dam's construction. Tasmania was the recipient of $276 million in grants by way of compensation.[4]

Gray was elected to a second term in 1986. This marked the first time in 58 years that a non-Labor government had managed to win a second term in Tasmania.

In 1989, he became the center of the debate over LGBT rights in Tasmania. Gray stated that homosexuals were not welcome in Tasmania.[5][6]

But after seven years in power, Gray's Liberals suffered a two-seat swing at the 1989 election, which left them one seat short of a majority, although they were still the largest single group in parliament. The ALP formed an accord with the Greens, whose unprecedented five seats gave them the balance of power.[7] Gray refused to resign and asked the Governor, Sir Phillip Bennett, to call fresh elections. Bennett refused to accept his advice, believing that Gray had lost the support of the House and was no longer in a position to ask for a dissolution. When the new legislature rejected Gray's choice for Speaker, Gray realised he stood no chance of surviving a vote of confidence on the floor of the House and resigned. ALP leader Michael Field became the new Premier.

A Royal Commission[8] later found that Edmund Rouse, a prominent Launceston businessman and chairman of the forestry company Gunns Limited, had tried to bribe a Labor backbencher to cross the floor and keep Gray in power. Gray denied any knowledge of this but an ALP appointed Royal Commission criticised his conduct (having an unexplained $10,000 in the freezer was a problem), but found no legal case to answer. He resigned as Liberal leader on 17 December 1991. Post the Royal Commission conclusion, in 1992 Gray won one of the highest personal votes ever recorded at the next State election.

Life after politics[edit]

From 1996 until his retirement on 5 May 2010, Gray was a director of Gunns.[9][10] His son, Ben Gray, was a co-founder of private equity firm BGH Capital.[11]

In 2020, he published a book "Proud to be Tasmanian" (co-authored with his former chief of staff Andrew Tilt).[12] In the book he attacked then party president (and subsequently Senator) Eric Abetz for moving to get rid of him as party leader.[13]


  1. ^ a b Cockburn, Milton (26 July 1983). "Robin Gray: The drover's dog gets the glittering prize". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  2. ^ Pink 2001, pp.71-88 for accounts of Grays involvement with the Organisation for Tasmanian Development, and the events just mentioned
  3. ^ Pink 2001, p.86 for photo
  4. ^ Pink 2001, p.87
  5. ^ Sainty, Lane. "This Is What A Non-Respectful LGBT Rights Debate Looks Like". BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed News. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  6. ^ Forrest, Ruth. "EXPUNGEMENT OF HISTORICAL OFFENCES BILL 2017". Ruth Forrest MLC. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  7. ^ Ward, Airlie: Minority Government, Stateline Tasmania (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 10 March 2006.
  8. ^ Report Royal Commission Rouse and others, The Age.
  9. ^ Gunns - Board Of Directors, Gunns Limited
  10. ^ "Gunns chairman 'under pressure to resign' - ABC News". Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  11. ^ Pyne, Ingrid (13 April 2018). "Masters of their own universe: crack team set to shake up private equity". The Sydney Morning Herald. Nine Entertainment Co. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
  12. ^ Gray, Robin (27 February 2020). Proud to be Tasmanian - Robin Gray & The Liberal Led Recovery. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  13. ^ Bailey, Sue (27 February 2020). "Robin Gray's book accuses Senator Eric Abetz of working against him as leader". The Examiner. Retrieved 29 May 2020.


  • Pink, Kerry (2001) Through Hells Gates: A History of Strahan and Macquarie Harbour Fifth edition ISBN 0-646-36665-3

Further reading[edit]

  • Gray, Robin (1982) National Press Club luncheon address. Premier of Tasmania spoke about Tasmania ; the dams and the future of Australia's smallest state. held at National Library of Australia - tape and transcript
  • Lines, William J. (2006) Patriots : defending Australia's natural heritage St. Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 2006. ISBN 0-7022-3554-7

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania
Succeeded by
Preceded by Premier of Tasmania
Succeeded by
Preceded by Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Liberal Party in Tasmania
Succeeded by