Catholic contrarian leaves for Upper House

Brian Harradine

Driven from the Labor Party for criticising links to Communism, the pro-life trade unionist became an independent stalwart of the Australian Senate. Prime Ministers beat a path to his door, but he remained unpredictable.

- By veteran political reporter Don Woolford

Brian Harradine was as elusive as the ghosts of the thylacine that haunt his beloved Tasmanian wilderness.

Harradine was a singular politician, complex and straightforward. Australia may never again see an independent use his pivotal Senate vote for so long and with such effect.

He combined conservative Catholic pro-life and family values with old-fashioned Labor concerns for battlers and a ruthless determination to extract every last dollar for Tasmania.

He shunned publicity and scorned the politics of personality, looked like a stick insect and was never eloquent, yet he held his Senate seat for 30 years, a record for an independent.

His values were firm, his organisation superb and his negotiating style maddening.

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, in a tribute on his retirement in 2005, caught the essence of this style: 'He had the great skill of leaving you in total doubt when he left the room as to precisely what he had agreed to in the course of negotiations.

'But you never felt he had misled you because somehow or other you felt that his understanding of the subject embraced matters that totally eluded you.'

Others called him the fox, rat-cunning and the consummate deal-maker.

Brian Harradine, who died aged 79, was born in South Australia on January 9, 1935.

The former seminarian went to Tasmania in 1959 as a as an organiser for the clerks union and, like other notable mainlanders — late premier Jim Bacon, retired Greens leader Bob Brown — succumbed to its magic and stayed.

He rose through the union and ALP ranks, becoming secretary of the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council, a member of the ACTU executive and the ALP state executive and a delegate to federal executive.

He also became enmeshed in factional wars that were exacerbated by the split.

The left-controlled federal executive repeatedly refused to accept him because of his allegedly close links with the groupers, an action that infuriated Gough Whitlam and nearly cost him his leadership.

In 1975 the executive expelled Harradine from the party. He's said that he went quietly to avoid federal intervention in the Tasmanian branch, which continued to support him.

He ran for the Senate as an independent that year and won a seat comfortably. His initial victory came mainly from disaffected Labor, although his base gradually broadened.

Read full article: Veteran political reporter Don Woolford pays tribute to former senator Brian Harradine (The Mercury)

MORE:

Longest-serving independent senator Brian Harradine dies aged 79 (The Guardian)

Brian Harradine, Australia's longest-serving independent senator, dies in Tasmania aged 79 (ABC)

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