Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021


Hurford, Hon. Christopher John, AO

4:11 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators, it is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death, on 15 November 2020, of the Hon. Christopher John Hurford AO, a former minister and member of the House of Representatives for the Division of Adelaide, South Australia, from 1969 to 1987. I would like to acknowledge his family joining us in the chamber today, and we're joined by a former Speaker of the South Australian Parliament, Mr Michael Atkinson.

I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its sorrow at the death, on 15 November 2020, of the Honourable Christopher John Hurford AO, former Minster Assisting the Treasurer and Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, and former member for Adelaide, places on record its gratitude for his dedicated service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its deep sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

The Hon. Christopher John Hurford AO, lived a long life, dedicated to improving the lives of all Australians and representing our great nation in public service. By the age of 15, Chris had lived on three continents, experiences which would shape his future and inform his worldly outlook. Chris helped to pioneer the widening of the Australian Labor Party and of the Labor movement, expanding, through his life, Labor's base beyond its traditional origins. He was a dedicated and strong believer in the Australian Labor Party and an active member of its South Australian branch, and indeed I acknowledge colleagues from the South Australia branch of the Labor Party on the other side here in the chamber and of course in the gallery.

Although I am informed that, apparently, in 1949, at the age of 19, he was somehow found standing at the Scarborough polling booth handing out voting cards for the Liberal Party at that historic election—

Senator Farrell interjecting

I note Senator Farrell's interjections. I'm sure that the record can be corrected in that regard if need be!

Chris had been born on 30 July 1931 to Monty and Kathleen Hurford-Jones in Mhow in central India. His father, Monty, was an Englishman from Bristol who served in Gallipoli and France as an officer with the British Army. His mother, Kathleen, was an Australian whose father was a mining engineer. The two met in Rangoon, Burma, in 1919, marrying shortly thereafter.

Chris spent his early years living in India, where his father was stationed after transferring from the British Army to the Indian Army. In 1940, Kathleen took Chris, then aged nine, and his younger brother to Western Australia to attend boarding school at the Jesuit Saint Louis School, where he remained until he was 14. During these years, Chris spent many of his school holidays on his grandparents property near Boyup Brook. His grandparents were a great influence on Chris's life, and the time spent on their property was where his love of country, rural and regional Australia blossomed.

In 1945 the family travelled to England via three months in India to spend time with their father, who was stationed there until India gained its independence in 1947. Once they reached England, Chris attended The Oratory School near Reading to finish his education. When he was aged 18, the family moved back to Australia, settled in Western Australia and, while Chris sought to go to university, earning a living became the priority at the time. He began his working career as a trainee chartered accountant in Perth at Rankin, Morrison & Co. However, a couple of years later, after receiving a telegram from an old school friend, he moved across the country to work in the mining industry in Broken Hill.

Broken Hill introduced Chris to the trade union movement and was also where he completed his first accounting qualifications at the Broken Hill Technical College. After two years in the mining industry Chris had saved enough money to go back to England and study part-time at the London School of Economics, where he would later graduate with honours in economics. I doubt that the path from the mines of Broken Hill to the London School of Economics is an especially well-trodden one, or indeed has been trod by many others, if any. It is a testament to the work ethic and drive of Chris that he did make that remarkable journey.

During his time in London he met his future wife, Lorna Seedsman, a social worker from South Australia. Chris and Lorna would later marry, in 1960, and together have five children. While in England, Chris's passion for politics developed and he joined the British Labour Party. In 1958, upon return to Sydney, he joined the local branch of the Australian Labor Party and a year later moved to Adelaide to be with Lorna, where he was tasked with reviving the Labor Party's North Adelaide branch. Chris would twice stand for the state electorate of Torrens, in both 1962 and 1965. Fortunately for him, he was unsuccessful both times. I say 'fortunately' because he was later quoted as saying he 'was bloody glad I didn't win because I wasn't really interested in state politics'—with apologies to Mr Atkinson in the gallery.

Chris's unsuccessful attempts at state politics—and he's not the only one to have unsuccessful political attempts in their life, I say personally, and looking at you, Senator Farrell; I will come to that—would lead him to run for the federal electorate of Adelaide in 1969, defeating the then 25-year-old Liberal incumbent member for Adelaide, Andrew Jones. Chris Hurford would go on to win Adelaide at seven more elections—in 1972, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1984, and 1987—holding the electorate for 18 years through a remarkable series of wins. Notably, having won Adelaide from a Liberal MP, his successor candidate in the Adelaide by-election of 1988—I'm sorry to mention, Senator Farrell—lost Adelaide to the Liberal candidate, Michael Pratt, at that election. It's a testament to Chris that he held that seat for all those years between those two Liberal MPs, short lived though their careers were in the federal parliament. As a parliamentarian Chris served in many roles, including as Minister for Housing and Construction, Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Treasurer, as well as holding a number of roles in the shadow cabinet. Throughout this time he had many notable achievements. As the Minister for Housing and Construction he was responsible for the introduction of Labor's First Home Owners Scheme in 1983—going back to the opening remarks I made about his work in broadening Labor's base and the traditional origins of our side of politics under Menzies in seeking to make home ownership a core pillar of our party, this was a demonstration of the work that Chris Hurford did in reaching out to broaden the Labor Party base through policies such as the First Home Owners Scheme.

Throughout his time as minister for immigration Australia saw a large increase in the intake of migrants. Chris Hurford played a key role in the development of the skills oriented aspects of Australia's immigration policy which would contribute not only to our success as one of the most multicultural nations in the world but also to the successful development of the social licence and support that underpin those immigration policies. Chris, of course, in that long service, had also been a member of the Whitlam government. During the Dismissal in 1975, on his way to question time, he had been confronted in the corridor and informed of what happened to him, reflecting what a very sad time it was for him at that stage.

After his service in the ministry and following the 1987 election, Chris was one of the longest-serving members of the ministry and of the Labor Party's parliamentary caucus, and he chose to leave the ministry to make way for new blood. Shortly after making that decision and retiring from the parliament, he was appointed as Australia's consul-general in New York, promoting Australia's interests there with distinction for four years. In returning to Adelaide and to South Australia, Chris accepted the offer of a role at the new University of South Australia, helping to establish a new and important institution, which has grown from those early years to serve so many South Australians and create new opportunities for so many. In 1993, in recognition of his service to the Australian parliament and to Australian-American cultural and commercial relations, Chris was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Like so many of us in this place, family was important to Chris, and I do recognise his family in the gallery today. He was a loved and cherished husband, father and grandfather. Equally, like for many having to come to Canberra, it was a challenge to be taken away from family. He spoke of taking the time to phone his children every day—something that I do and I know Senator Wong and many others in this place do, reaching out to keep contact with their loved ones. In our travels today that's a little easier than it was during the time of service for Chris and those who've gone before us. He was quoted talking about having to make those calls, wherever he was, from the hot phone boxes in Meekatharra or Port Hedland, or indeed anywhere around the country or the world, making the effort to maintain those connections. Reflecting beyond the work of his posting in New York, he noted the wonderful benefit that provided of allowing him to spend more time with his children, who would often spend long periods visiting or staying with him in those years.

The Hon. Christopher Hurford AO passed away on Sunday 15 November 2020, aged 89. His wife, Lorna, had passed away in 2005. Together, they had been married for over 45 years. Chris reflected, 'She had been my best friend for about 50 years.' Chris and Lorna are survived by their five children, Alex, David, Philippa, Kate and Richard, and eight grandchildren. On behalf of the Australian government and the Australian Senate, I extend to Chris's loves ones our gratitude for his service to our thankful nation and our sincerest condolences.

4:22 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Birmingham for his fine contribution to this condolence motion. I would also like to thank Senator Wong for allowing me to make this contribution on behalf of the Labor Party, because Chris Hurford was my friend, my mentor and a very important colleague. Chris was the Labor member for Adelaide from 1969 until 1987, and he passed away, as the minister has just indicated, on 15 November last year.

My abiding memory of Chris is of his big, generous smile. It would always cheer you up. And his good humour is and will continue to be sadly missed. Today's condolence motion—and I thank the President for this—has been timed to allow many of his family to be here with us today to honour the man. I guess it's appropriate, given Chris's mother's Irish heritage, that it's taking place on St Patrick's Day. Chris's daughter Alex; sons, David and Richard; daughters-in-law, Margaret and Emma; and grandchildren Georgia, Tom, Clare and Matt are all here with us in the gallery today. Chris's daughters Philippa and Kate and their families were unfortunately not able to travel to Canberra today, but I believe they will be watching from their home in Adelaide. To all of Chris's family I offer my deep personal condolences.

Chris's funeral was held on one of those very hot Adelaide summer days—the sorts that are so vividly described by Peter Goldsworthy in his novel Three Dog Night. The funeral was held under strict COVID conditions, unfortunately, so I was honoured to be one of the 50 people invited by the family to attend the funeral. Fittingly, his granddaughter, who is present here today, sang a touchingly poetic version of 'Summertime' from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, which I am told was one of Chris's favourite songs. Chris's early years, as I will explain shortly, were not what you'd necessarily think of as a typical Labor upbringing, so I've wondered since the funeral whether an interest in the issues of racial inequality, which are addressed in Porgy and Bess, were perhaps one motivating factor in Chris's joining the progressive side of politics.

Christopher John Hurford was born in India on 30 July 1931 to his English father, Monty, and his Australian mother, Kathleen. In 1940, shortly after the start of the Second World War, Chris's mother took him and his younger brother, Dave, from India to her home state of Western Australia by sea. The thinking was that the war would be short and that the boys could see it out in the care of their grandparents on a wheat farm in the state's South West. But the war, of course, was longer than expected, and for five years the brothers boarded at the Jesuit school of St Louis in Perth and for five years spent the school holidays on their grandfather's farm and on the coast.

In 1944, Chris's mother Kath returned to Australia to collect her sons, braving Japanese submarines in the Indian Ocean. They returned to India for three months before travelling to England, where Chris completed his schooling. In 1949, the whole family migrated to Western Australia, and they qualified as so-called ten-pound Poms because, of course, Chris's father was English.

Chris began training as a chartered accountant in Perth before moving to take up an accountancy job in Broken Hill, a town, of course, with a very strong trade union presence. From Broken Hill, where he was a very proud beneficiary of the lead bonus, Chris was able to return to England to study at the London School of Economics—established, of course, by the Fabians—on weekends. He supported himself by working as an accountant for Marks & Spencer. It was during this time that Chris met the great love of his life and his future wife, Lorna, and by 1960 they were married and back living in Adelaide.

Lorna was a wonderful person and, like so many parliamentary spouses, she selflessly supported Chris and their children during his many trips to Canberra. She continued to do good works, especially with St Vincent de Paul, where she would often rope in my wife, until her untimely death in 2005. Chris of course was heartbroken, and I know the whole family still miss Lorna deeply.

At his funeral, Chris's family spoke about how growing up exposed to the ruling British Raj in India and the caste system there, along with British boarding school and the class system, might have played a role in him becoming such a fine Labor man. Chris told his family about his time in Broken Hill, where he was in management but also in the union—although I suspect it was probably compulsory to join; he may not have had any choice, knowing Broken Hill as I do. And he drank and socialised in the union pubs, and that also played a big role in his future.

Chris transferred his ALP membership from Sydney when he moved to Adelaide and was tasked with reviving the North Adelaide sub-branch of the ALP—no mean feat in the Playford gerrymandered South Australian electoral system of the time. As the minister said, he stood unsuccessfully for the safe Liberal seat of Torrens in 1962 and 1965. And, while he obviously lost, he gained respectable swings to Labor. He obviously impressed the machine that ran the South Australian branch of the Labor Party at that time: Geoff Virgo, Clyde Cameron and Jim Toohey. As a result, his efforts were rewarded in 1969 when he was elected as the federal member for Adelaide and entered the federal parliament.

Since the 1940s, Adelaide had largely been a Labor-supporting seat, but it fell to Liberal, Andrew Jones, one of the youngest-ever members of the House of Representatives in the coalition's 'All the way with LBJ' landslide of 1966. But the people of Adelaide quickly realised their mistake. Jones proved unpopular and Chris regained the seat for the Labor Party with a resounding 14.3 per cent swing at the Don's Party election of 1969. That's right, Don's Party, that's when it was. It turned Adelaide into a safe Labor seat in one stroke, and Chris won enough votes on the first count to take the seat without the need for preferences. He held Adelaide until the end of 1987 when he resigned to become Australia's consul-general in New York. As the minister said, his resignation triggered the 1988 Adelaide by-election, the so called 'timed telephone call by-election'. That by-election became my first, very unsuccessful, run for parliament and I know he was very disappointed when we were unable to hold his seat on his departure—but the less said about that campaign the better!

I'd like to say a little bit about Chris's time in parliament. Being an accountant by trade it's perhaps unsurprising that one of Chris's first roles in the parliament was on the Joint Statutory Committee of Public Accounts. He served on that committee from 1969 until 1973, including six months as chair of that committee. Chris's other committee service included chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Prices from May 1973 to November 1975; as a member of the House Standing Committee on the Standing Orders from 1975, and again from 1980 to 1983; and as a member of the expenditure committee in 1976.

After the Hawke Labor government was resoundingly elected in 1983, Chris was appointed Minister for Housing and Construction in the first Hawke ministry, from March 1983 until December 1984. He was promoted to cabinet in the second Hawke ministry as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs until February 1987. At that time, he replaced Don Grimes as Minister for Community Services, following Grimes's announcement that he would not seek re-election. Chris also served, importantly, as Minister assisting the Treasurer, where he helped out a very young and ambitious Paul Keating from May 1983 to July 1987. Chris made a significant contribution to the Hawke-Keating era that led to the opening up of the Australian economy, which itself led to almost 30 years of uninterrupted economic prosperity for this country. After the 1987 election, Chris withdrew from the third Hawke ministry. After retiring from parliament at the end of that year, he became Australia's consul-general in New York, a role that he performed with distinction for four years. Although still only in his early 60s, Chris never returned to public life as such after his return from New York, and I think that was probably a loss to South Australia.

In recent years, Michael Atkinson—who's in the chamber today—the former Speaker of the South Australian House of Assembly and I would join Chris for lunch at his North Adelaide apartment, where we would spend the afternoon reminiscing about the good old days. I'd like to say a few words at a personal level about my friendship with Chris. I first met Chris when I joined the Labor Party in 1976. It seems like a very long time ago now. I lived then where I do now, in Little Sturt Street in Adelaide CBD, and Chris was my local federal member of parliament. For some reason Chris befriended me, a young lawyer for the shop assistants union, which wasn't an easy thing to do, with the memory of the Labor split of the 1950s still fresh in the minds of many in the ALP. The groundbreaking Dunstan decade was soon to come to an end. The ALP was split between the Centre Left, who backed Bill Hayden in South Australia, and the rampaging Left under Peter Duncan and Nick Bolkus. The Right, based on the shop assistants union, which Advertiser journalist Randall Ashbourne said could conveniently meet in a telephone booth, was just beginning to grow.

In 1984 Chris broke with the ruling Centre Left group around John Bannon and established Labor Unity at a meeting held at Chris's house in Finniss Street, North Adelaide, where all of his children grew up. In attendance were Bob Hawke supporters Graham Richardson and Simon Crean as well as locals Michael O'Brien, Paul Holloway, John Boag and me. It was a meeting that ultimately led to the modern South Australian Labor machine, which, with the Left's Patrick Conlon, led to an unbroken 16 years of Labor government in South Australia, the most successful government in the modern era. Our branch owes a sincere debt of gratitude to Chris Hurford.

Later Michael Atkinson joined us, a young Advertiser journalist who became Attorney-General and Speaker of the South Australian parliament. On one occasion, as Labor Unity were beginning to grow, we were suddenly entitled to two national conference positions for an up-and-coming national conference meeting. Michael and I presumptuously decided that we would fill those two positions and go down to Tasmania and represent the group down there. However, Chris quickly disavowed us of that idea and made it clear that he would be a delegate, along with my boss, John Boag. Michael also reminded me this morning of a trip Chris took to Canberra, when he was surprised to see Ron Owens, the very burly secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation, sitting up at the pointy end of the plane. He expressed some surprise that Ron would be up there, and Ron, quick as a flash, said nothing was too good for the workers or their representatives.

Chris's brand of sensible, progressive policies has of course set the branch up for a return to government, led by Peter Malinauskas, at the next state election. On behalf of the federal Labor Party, I wish to thank Chris for his contribution to our success and to the betterment of our nation. All of us can honour his memory by following the example that he set of working to reduce inequality and to make Australia a fairer place where people from all walks of life can share in the nation's prosperity. Chris Hurford was a fine, fine man and he will be sadly missed. May he rest in peace.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.