House debates

Tuesday, 27 November 2018


Mack, Mr Edward Carrington (Ted)

4:31 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm a Liberal Party partisan. I believe in our party and its traditions and its values. More than that, as somebody who believes in the institutions of the parliament, I'm a two-party person. I think, effectively, if you want to make a contribution in public life, you should make it in the context of our party or the National Party or the Labor Party. But occasionally in public life that faith is rocked by seeing originals in public life—people who are innovators, people who come in and shake up the system. Before the modern era of populist politics, the original populist politician—the original innovator, the original disrupter—was Ted Mack, to whom we pay tribute today.

Ted Mack passed away on 6 November this year, and his legacy in local government and in public life is really quite extraordinary. I first met Ted before I ran for council in 1995. I was considering running, and anybody who wanted to get involved in local government in those days had heard about the legacy of Ted Mack. So I wrote to Ted and I asked him for a meeting. He sat me down in a local cafe and he gave me a whole pack of his mayoral minutes. His mayoral minutes contained his philosophy of open government. This was something that Ted was pioneering in the seventies and early eighties, when it was really cutting-edge stuff—the idea of open public meetings, the idea of referenda to decide things in local government, the idea of precinct committees. All of this came out of North Sydney, with Ted, at the time.

I remember he said to me, 'Sometimes in local government one of the strange things that you find is that things that seem counterintuitive often work.' North Sydney had a real litter problem, and one of the things Ted said that you should do to get rid of litter was actually to get rid of the rubbish bins, because, if you got rid of the rubbish bins in North Sydney, people would actually take their litter home with them. And it turned out to be correct.

Ted had a very successful career in local government, and it was at that area that I think he was most innovative, and lots of the reforms that he pioneered in North Sydney were taken up by other councils elsewhere. He was 10 years in council—four times as mayor—and then he went on to unseat a sitting Liberal leader as the member for North Shore and then unseat a sitting Liberal minister as the member for North Sydney, spending seven years in the state parliament and six years in this House as the member for North Sydney.

As I say, he was a populist. He was determined to serve only as much time as would not qualify him for a federal or state parliamentary pension. In his life post-parliament and, indeed, in his life in parliament he was always railing against entitlements and allowances that are paid to people who work in this place. I think it is sad when people in our own line of work do that, because it underestimates the hard work and the sacrifice that many of us—all of us, in fact—undertake to be here. But that was the nature of Ted. He was an independent person of an independent mind.

I got to know Ted very well—this is the main reason for my speaking today—during the 1998 constitutional convention and the 1999 republic referendum, where he and I served together on the national 'no' case committee. I think it really says something about Ted's standing in New South Wales that he at that time got the third-highest vote of anyone in New South Wales and not only got himself up but got Ed Haber elected as his second delegate. The person who got the highest vote in New South Wales was Malcolm Turnbull, leading the Australian Republican Movement; Doug Sutherland, who was on the same ticket as me, leading the 'no republic' Australians for Constitutional Monarchy; and then Ted and Ed. Ted got 213,422 votes, which is an extraordinary number, considering that this was a non-compulsory postal ballot system, and considering that the turnout was something in the order of 40 to 60 per cent—I can't remember exactly what it was. But the fact that that many people voted for Ted, right around Australia, at a time when the size of federal electorates was about 80,000, really says something of the impact that he had made.

Ted was a maximalist republican. He wanted an American-style presidency—an executive presidency. One of the things I think the republican movement had failed to acknowledge was that the most consistent figure in polls in relation to a republic was that 70 per cent of people wanted to choose the president themselves. Ted was very aware of it. The idea of giving people the power to choose the president was completely consistent with everything else he had done in his life. At the constitutional convention, he was a strong advocate for a popularly elected president.

I'm a constitutional monarchist. I always have been and I suspect I always will be. After the republic referendum, because of the treatment of some of those direct-election republicans, a number of them decided that they would join with we constitutional monarchists and propose a no case for the 1999 republic referendum. Ted, along with Clem Jones, a former Labor lord mayor of Brisbane, sat on this 10-member no case committee, of which I was a member, to deal with the republic referendum. Ted's view was that the ARM's position, which was that if you vote yes now then we could bring in direct election later, was a lie. Ted believed if we were ever going to be a republic we'd get only one shot at it and that we would only get direct election—that was the only model that was worth going for. Anything less, and it was worth backing the current system. Ted also opposed the model on show because he felt that it put too much power in the hands of the PM, and Ted was always about reducing executive dominance and reducing executive power.

During the republic referendum we published a book called The No Case Papers, which both Ted and I had a chapter in. I think it's worth reading a little extract from Ted's chapter, 'An independent's dissection of the "elitist" model'—that phrase is typical of Ted—because it reminds us of the difficulty of constitutional reform and the importance, in whatever constitutional reform people might be proposing, of getting the model right. He writes:

The supporters of a 'Yes' vote have resorted even to more sophistry – 'Let's get the republic in and we'll sort out the details later and consider a direct election model'. Only the very naive and woolly minded could accept such a proposition. The ARM and the establishment, having achieved a 'Yes' vote, would never let the issues come back on the agenda. The ARM leaders already misled the voters before the Constitutional elections with statements such as by Mr Turnbull that the Australian Republican Movement had always been willing to accept popular election if that is what the majority of Australians want. Or Neville Wran who said in his Whitlam Lecture, 'But if at the end of the day when all the arguments have been put the people of Australia say they want an elected President, then let's embrace their decision and work to implement their decision.'

At the Constitutional Convention in spite of these statements, an iron curtain descended against any idea of the public having a say in the appointment of the President. In their panic at the idea of the people having a real choice in the appointment of their President the ARM claimed all sorts of fearful consequences and ironically now say our system of government must be preserved. Frankly, I do not think there are many supporters of the 'Mal Colston' democracy that has developed in recent years. Public distrust and dissatisfaction with government has never in fact been greater.

There are some 132 republics in the world and 91 have various forms of direct election of Presidents. There are obviously many possible models. The ARM desperately tries to shift the debate off their model of a republic and to conjure up all sorts of problems with the public having the right to vote. This is yet another diversion. If you accept their argument that people might elect a pop star and football hero who cannot be trusted, then we would have to give up democracy altogether.

How very Ted Mack in its sentiments.

It was such a privilege to learn from Ted Mack on that committee. He was a wily politician. He was a great populist. He was always very much in sync with his own community in North Sydney. He was always very much in sync with the general public mood. We are honoured in the Chamber today by the presence of his granddaughter Eloise, who is here for these condolence motions. Can I say that Ted Mack will be a person much missed in public life. He certainly had a great impact on me in terms of his thought and his philosophy, and I commend the motion to the House.

4:40 pm

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was appropriate that this parliament paused on Monday to remember the extraordinary life of the eighth member for North Sydney, Ted Mack. Ted brought to an end his career in public office over 20 years ago. Despite the passage of the years since, the respect and affection in which he has been held in my community has endured. I know that we will see this in large numbers on Friday at the public memorial service, which will be held at 9.30 am at the Luna Park ballroom.

In days gone by, his Citroen was the most famous vehicle on North Sydney's roads, and that shock of silver hair was always unmistakable until the end. His reputation as a mayor, a state MP and a federal MP was founded on both his work on the Lower North Shore and the changes he sought to bring to the way in which politics operates in this country. North Sydney residents continue to enjoy his legacy as mayor to this day in the communities he protected, the facilities he built and the environment he saved. Civic Park in North Sydney, those unique bus stops and the North Sydney Oval, which remains one of our nation's most beautiful, are the most obvious examples of his work. But just as important is what goes unseen—the preservation of those characteristics of our area which make it so special, which so easily could have been lost if it were not for Ted's vision for our community.

His work in public life extended beyond bricks and mortar and our natural environment. For those of us cutting our young teeth in the Liberal Party, Ted Mack was of course famous for slaying Liberal luminaries. A state opposition leader fell first, followed by John Spender in 1990. In many ways, Ted Mack can be best described as one of the first disrupters, before that term had entered common parlance. He wanted to turn politics on its head and, in equal measure, he scorned both major political parties. He railed against big business, big unions and big government. His own political ideology did not fit neatly into any political box. On some issues he could be described as incredibly conservative; on others, left of centre. He was in that respect genuinely independent. In fact, Ted was the first Independent elected to this House in over 25 years. He hoped that he would be the catalyst for many more. While not the revolution he predicted, he would note that the crossbench is somewhat larger today—in fact, a little bit too large today—than during his solitary experience at that time. He would certainly smile at the synergy of the parliament pausing to remember his life on the day that the new member for Wentworth was sworn in.

In some ways, Ted was a populist but perhaps not quite in the sense that we would use that term today. He scorned representative democracy and preferred directly empowering voters. He argued passionately for the direct election of our leaders and for citizen-initiated referenda. These ideas have not come to pass, and for those of us who would describe ourselves as liberal democrats, who believe our institutions must protect individuals against the tyranny of many as much as they do against the tyranny of some, we are, frankly, glad they didn't. Yet his life in this place did leave an enduring impact. For those representing the major parties, he taught us the hard way the lesson that no seat is ever really safe and all of us have an obligation to work equally hard for our communities, no matter what the nominal margin may be.

On a personal note, I'm grateful for the advice that Ted was always prepared to proffer during my time on North Sydney Council and, more recently, as a federal member of parliament. Indeed, there was never such a thing as a short conversation with Ted. On several occasions, I was lured into having a glass of wine, or three or maybe four, as I walked down Blues Point Road in McMahons Point on a Saturday afternoon, where he regularly held forth with his closest friends. The last such occasion was only six months ago. Whilst his illness had taken its toll, the sharpness of his mind and the strength of his views had certainly not diminished.

Ted Mack will be remembered for so many things—his integrity and honesty, his passion, his attention to detail, his commitment to transparency and open government and his refusal to accept the perks of office. Most famously, one of his first acts as Mayor of North Sydney was to sell the council Mercedes to buy two community buses. It is worth noting that Community Connect, the organisation that was the beneficiary of those donations, celebrated its own 30th birthday just a few months ago.

Of course he had that elephantine memory, which I experienced when he reminded me more than once of some disparaging comments I had made about him when I was a 20-year-old Young Liberal. It's interesting to note that he was referring to an article that appeared in The Sydney Morning Heraldthat featured a photo of me, Joe Hockey and John Brogden, all Young Liberals, standing on the steps of North Sydney Council building, threatening to demolish the rule of Independents with a thrust in local government across the state. I should note that of the three of us I was the only one who actually went on to a council career—but I'm not sure that John Brogden or Joe Hockey ever regretted their own failure in that regard.

Most importantly of all, he will be remembered for showing us what a true servant of the people should be. Ted's journey was shared with his proud and loving family. I want to acknowledge in the chamber today his granddaughter Eloise Mack, who works for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I'm not sure whether he would have approved of that career path with a major party, but I am sure he would be very proud that the tradition of activism and community service continues to flow in the blood of the latest generation of the Mack family.

To his great partner on his public and private journey, Wendy Mack, and all their children and grandchildren, I send the condolences of a community that will forever be grateful for his service to our nation.

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for North Sydney for his contribution. There being no further statements at this time, I call the Clerk.