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Politics Australian style a real family affair

LIKE Aussie Rules, politics is a fast-moving activity and can be played deadly seriously.

Usually there are only the numerically astute and the politically redundant, especially during party pre-selection season.

With the stakes that high – good salaries, institutionalised feeling of importance, free travel and so on – many are called but few chosen.

That’s probably why there are so few smiles at political gatherings – long faces and dour looks predominate at branch meetings, party jamborees and, increasingly, at parliamentary sessions.

Levity is so rare that, whenever an isolated or minor comical incident occurs, it warrants recording.

The last one I encountered was during last year’s pre-selection season involving a political hopeful whose spouse is an MP. I won’t name the party or person.

Soon after nominating, the hopeful learned – on the party’s grapevine – that several ardent factional adversaries planned a blocking move.

They’d decided to make their trump card at the preselection the fact that the hopeful’s spouse was a serving MP.

Why the plotters felt this would be such a knock-down argument I can’t fathom, but that’s how their minds worked. Perhaps they believed dual parliamentary salaries and pensions to one family were too much. Who knows?

To counter their ploy, the candidate moved swiftly by resorting to research so as to determine how many political couples there now were, and how many there had been, in various Parliaments.

It quickly emerged that the figure stood at nearly two dozen, meaning the preselection wasn’t as unusual as the spoilers assumed.

Armed with this information, the hopeful typed the details out to take to the contest in case they were needed to foil the plotters.

And sure enough the issue was raised during candidate questioning.

Much to the plotters’ surprise, what they believed would be their knock-down argument was quickly dispatched in a “put that in your pipe and . . .” manner, and hopeful’s backers chuckled at the foiling of an ambush.

But the plotters had the last sneer – there was no laughing at this dour gathering – as the hopeful wasn’t preselected.

When State Scene learned of this, a copy of the marital document was sought, just to see the hubby-wife MPs list.

And interesting reading it made.

Headed “Spouses in Parliament”, it showed Australia’s nine Parlia-ments have had 23 political couples, two of them West Aussies.

The best known is Labor Senator James McKiernan (1984-2002) and spouse, former MLA Jackie Watkins (1983-93).

The other was also from Labor; Frederick Lavery and Ruby Hutchison, both MLCs, with Mr Lavery serving between 1952 and 1971 and his wife from 1954 until 1971.

This one received a footnote in the document, which no doubt surprised the plotters because it was pertinent.

“Frederick Lavery and Ruby Hutchison were the first husband and wife to serve simultaneously in an Australian Parliament,” it says.

Most of the other names mean little in WA since the couples are from other states or the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

But some are, or were, well known.

There’s pre-war Prime Minister Joseph Lyons (ALP and UAP). An MP from 1929 to 1939, Mr Lyons was followed into Federal Parliament by his wife, Enid, between 1943 and 1951.

Legendary Queensland National Party Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, an MP from 1947 to 1987, assisted wife, Flo, into the Senate in 1981, where she stayed until 1993.

Another was colourful Whitlam Government Minister Albert (Al) Grassby, who was a New South Wales MLA between 1965 and 1969 and an MHR from 1969 until 1974.

His wife, Ellnor, was an ACT member between 1989 and 1995.

One name that surprised me was left-wing Melbourne lawyer, the late Maurice Blackburn.

The man responsible for Labor’s adoption of the disastrous socialisation of production, distri-bution and exchange policy, and the abolition of states’ planks in 1921, Mr Blackburn was an MHR from 1934 until 1943, with wife, Doris, serving between 1946 and 1949.

And the document wasn’t content with just spouses.

Several pages highlighted father-son/daughter and brother combina-tions in WA’s Parliament.

The best known, of course, are Sir Charles and Richard Court, both one-time premiers.

Twenty three families are named in this father-sibling group, including current Liberal MLC Simon O’Brien, whose father, Everard, was a MLA between 1952 and 1959.

Inexplicably, former WA Senator Reg Withers, whose father was a State Labor MP, isn’t mentioned.

Twelve WA families can boast having had two sons as MPs, including Brian and Terry Burke, powerbrokers of yesteryear.

But the family I found most intriguing was the Tubbys.

Reg was Greenough MLA (1975-1989) while his wife, Marjorie, went within 72 vote of winning the adjacent Geraldton seat in 1986. Two years later their son, Fred, won a metropolitan seat.

If just 37 Geraldton electors had voted differently we may have seen a Tubby trio in the WA Parliament.

Bill and Hillary Clinton would need to talk Chelsea into opting for politics to equal it.

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