The former Federal politician Brian Harradine, who died yesterday aged 79, was the longest-serving independent Senator in the history of Australia’s Federation, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
As Senator for three decades, Harradine unashamedly used his commitment to conservative Catholic values, to his state of Tasmania, and to his old Labor and trade union principles, to win major concessions from governments - particularly the Howard administration - relying on the influence of his often-pivotal vote in the Senate.
He levered massive funds for Tasmanian telecommunications and the environment - $350 million - in exchange for his support for the sale of one-third of Telstra.
In 1999, he caused panic within the Howard government when he rose in the Senate and refused to support the GST, in a stance that forced Prime Minister John Howard to negotiate with the leader of the Democrats, Meg Lees, whose support for the tax in turn led to her party’s ruin.
Typically, the government and colleagues didn’t see it coming. Harradine had stayed out of the months of debate about the GST, and had only the night before concluded a deal with the government to improve the youth allowance. He took everything he got from the government, and then gave them nothing. The wily negotiator hadn’t negotiated at all, but reverted to his Labor roots.
Harradine’s behaviour could rarely be predicted. He once famously discarded his shoes and danced with the indigenous Wik people outside the High Court in Canberra when they won a long-running land-rights case that he had brokered.
The independent Senator took a strong negotiating stance against foreign aid that included contraception programs - though he always denied imposing his religious views on public policy.
His trade union background also ensured Harradine was a thorn in the side of the Howard government’s ambitions to push through tough industrial relations laws. The peak of Harradine’s balance of power status in the Senate ran from 1994 to 1999. His vote became less crucial after Senate numbers changed in mid-1999.
The elusive Brian Harradine dies (SkyNews)
Harradine a ‘politician of the old school' (The Australian)