Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Morris, The Hon. John Joseph
by leave—I move:
That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 8 February 2013, of John Joseph Morris, former senator for New South Wales, places on record its appreciation of his public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.
John Morris was born on 12 June 1936 at Young Wallsend, New South Wales and died on 8 February 2013. From a young age John was a passionate member of the Federated Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union of Australia, New South Wales branch. He held the positions of organiser from 1966 to 1970, secretary from 1970 to 1981 and president from 1981. John was also the national President of the Federated Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union of Australia in the 1970s and again in the 1980s. Among the other trade union positions he held during the period, John was a member of the interstate executive of the Australian Council of Trade Unions; World President of the Hotel and Catering Group Board and President of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers Association, Asia-Pacific Region.
With this strong union background, John was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1976 and served that parliament for eight years before resigning in 1984. In the same year he was elected as a senator for New South Wales. He began his term in mid-1985 and retired in June 1990. John was on a number of parliamentary committees and served as Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare and Chair of the Joint Statutory Committee on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. John was also a temporary chairman of committees from 1987 until his retirement in June 1990. On behalf of the government I offer condolences to his wife, Margaret, and his family.
One thing is true, and that is that there have been few kind words spoken about former Senator John Morris in this place. But it is also true John Morris did not have many kind words to say about the Senate. He and the Senate were not a good fit. I served with John from April 1989 to June 1990. My parliamentary career was in its infancy; John's was disappearing.
I got to know John, or Johnny as we used to call each other, in my earliest days as a Labor Party official in New South Wales, many years before I became a senator. He was then, as we have heard, New South Wales Secretary of the Federated Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union of Australia. It was John Morris whose 'New Deal' team was the driving force in wresting control of the union from its Stalinist leadership in 1970. Under John Morris, the liquor trade union became extreme right wing. By the late 1970s, John Morris was not only a right-winger but an enthusiast in the unceasing war against the left; but a realignment began in 1980 when John Morris was a member of the New South Wales council. I thought this afternoon, Mr President, I might share some of the background of that with the Senate.
Legislative councillors were moving in to the brand-new office building at the back of the New South Wales parliament. These offices were wonderful beyond all imagining; but some were more wonderful than others. The prized offices faced the Domain—they offered a view of park and trees; but there were five offices on the Macquarie Street side with a view of nothing. The Labor leadership and the Legislative Council conducted a draw from a hat for the five undesirable offices; the usual story—no witnesses. Whose were the five names that came out? No surprise—all three left-wingers in the legislative council, of course; also, Jim Kaldis—although a right-winger, he had no power base in the machine so apparently he did not matter; and the last name drawn out was John Morris, MLC. Oh dear, oh dear. It was on for young and old. John, not unreasonably, asked, 'What are the odds of this happening?' He was heard to say from that point on: 'All bets are off.' John Morris was also repudiated as a candidate for president of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party by the New South Wales right machine. He should have known that there are no rewards for unquestioning loyalty.
Out of these slights grew major intrafactional tensions within the New South Wales right. I remember them well because negotiations with the liquor trade union represented my blooding in terms of leadership responsibilities in the New South Wales left. I had just been selected to succeed Bruce Childs as assistant general secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party; Bruce was coming to the Senate.
I immodestly mention here that I prevailed without a ballot over one Ian Macdonald. You may have heard of him. He has been prominent in a current New South Wales Independent Commission against Corruption public inquiry. My victory was remarkable, because Macdonald was a self-proclaimed Marxist, when I was not.
The favoured place for negotiations with John Morris and his team was always a private room at a Chinese restaurant. These occasions were a spectacle to behold. The food kept on coming. But that was nothing compared to the wine and beer that disappeared. The leader of the left in New South Wales, Deputy Premier Jack Ferguson, was a more than active participant in the negotiations. One remarkable exchange, given all the New South Wales Right's shenanigans and history, occurred when John Morris said to Jack about the right, 'Jack, when you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.' Jack's response was: 'Then you turn on the hose and wash the fleas off.'
Apart from myself and Rodney Cavalier, the other left negotiators, I can assure you, manfully matched the Liquor Trades boys drink for drink. In fact, Rodney's sobriety afforded him the second sight that enabled him to reconstruct these events later, and I am indebted to him for sharing his reflections.
From the left's perspective the aim of the negotiations was to restore the proportional representation voting system for the preselection of members of the Legislative Council, taken away in a ruthless power grab in 1977. The Liquor Trades Union forces, by then the self-styled 'Rank and File Committee', were confident of a quota in their own right. A complex deal was done that resulted in a realignment at the party's annual conference as well as the usual series of doublecrosses in two state preselection ballots. Of course, they turned into a triple-cross with, as so often happens, the usual stitch-up of the very naive.
All of this was very deep secret at the time, less so today, 27 February 2013, as a result of this condolence motion. The association between the New South Wales left and John Morris and the Liquor Trades Union did not last long. Within a couple of years the natural order of things had been restored. John Morris and the liquor trades were back in the fold.
In 1984, in exchange for his Union's loyalty to the ruling right-wing faction in the Labor Party, Mr Morris demanded—and was given—a safe seat in the Senate. It was classic accommodation of interests.
Inevitably John Morris's Senate career will be remembered not for what it was but for what it was not. He was, of course, as we know, tagged 'the silent senator'. It stuck. He did not enjoy working on Senate committees. We served together for eight months on Senate estimates committee E. For the new senators in this chamber, I can explain to you that that was a committee which examined the then Department of Administrative Services, the Attorney-General's Department and the then Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs. He hated it, but he did attend the meetings.
It is true he only made four speeches in the six years he served in this place. His first speech in 1985; a matter of public importance speech, also in 1985; and two adjournment speeches in June 1989, just a couple of months after I had been sworn in as a senator. The chorus of criticism grew. At the time I did what I could to assist John and his then staffer, Peter James, who spoke warmly and eloquently at John's funeral. Why did I help? It is time to own up.
Inevitably, anyone like me who has been in the ALP for over 40 years, who has been a party official and has been preselected by the party to run for public office has contested a few ballots along the way. On a couple of occasions in my career John Morris, and the trade union block votes he controlled, broke the New South Wales right-wing ticket and voted for me. It is a long time ago, but I do not forget those things.
John Morris came from another time and another place. When he became a New South Wales legislative councillor all members of that chamber were appointed, not elected. Most Labor MLCs were trade union officials who retained their full-time jobs outside the parliament. I am certain that parliamentary responsibilities were not at the forefront of their minds. In fact, I am very confident most never considered their parliamentary duties as a primary responsibility or even most pressing concern. That was John Morris's background. But that approach could not and did not work here in the Senate.
While John Morris might never have been at home in the Senate, he certainly was at the greyhounds. He died earlier this month doing what he loved at the track. To his family—and he was very close to his family—and to his friends I express my sincere sympathy.
Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.