Simon Crean, a former leader of the federal Labor Party and a minister in the Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard governments, has died suddenly over the weekend, during a trip to Europe promoting trade. He was 74 years of age.
Crean led the Labor Party from November 2001 to December 2003, replacing Kim Beazley after the disastrous ‘Tampa election’, before resigning the leadership which was subsequently won narrowly by Mark Latham, a man Crean would feud with for years.
As Opposition leader in 2003, Crean opposed Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War. And despite being wedged by the Howard government on the issue of refugees, he also advocated for a gentler approach to refugees.
It was also Crean who, in 2002, convinced the ALP to increase the quota of women preselected to winnable seats from 35 per cent to 40 per cent. The move was bitterly contested at the annual conference, and Crean would pay more broadly for attempts at party reform, with his seat of Hotham targetted in the lead-up to the 2007 election. But today, across the country, Labor has 218 men in federal, state and territory governments, compared to 217 women (Labor women actually outstrip the number of men in federal parliament (55 to 49), and they’re also over-represented in four other parliaments – Victoria (38-33); Western Australia (38-36); Tasmania (seven to six); and the ACT (six to four). By contrast, the Liberal-Nationals have 195 men and 89 women, a rate of less than one-third).
Crean was the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) from 1985 to 1990, before being elected to Federal Parliament, just like his father Frank Crean, who served as Gough Whitlam’s treasurer from 1972 to 1974.
President of the ACTU, Michele O’Neil said the labour movement had lost a giant in the passing of Simon Crean.
“He was a great believer in and fighter for fairness and justice for working people in Australia and around the world,” O’Neil said.
“He was a leader of conviction and courage and was generous and supportive to young unionists and all those who sought his support and advice.
“His legacy has made a lasting impact on the wages, entitlements, safety and retirement dignity of working people.
“His loss will be keenly and deeply felt across our movement and we send out sincere condolences to his wife Carole and his whole family.”
Before he served as the ACTU President, Crean led the Federated Storemen and Packers’ Union of Australia (FSPU), which formed part of the DNA of the National Union of Workers (NUW), which has now become the United Workers Union (UWU).
Tim Kennedy, National Secretary of the UWU said the union movement would miss deeply the skills and passion of Simon Crean.
“Simon was born and bred into the labour movement and devoted his life to the cause of working people,” Kennedy said.
“From his leadership standing alongside the wool store workers of North Melbourne and Kensington, and the establishment of Australia’s Superannuation system, to representing the movement as a leader of the ACTU and then as a parliamentary representative of Labor, Simon was fierce and focused in advancing the cause of Labor.
“Simon Crean remained a staunch supporter of our Union and the members that stand together every day to improve the lives of workers everywhere.
“He will be missed as one of the significant leaders of our Union, then known as the FSPU.
“His passing comes as a real shock to comrades in the labour movement and our condolences go out to his wife Carole and the whole Crean family. Simon’s legacy will live on in the heart of our Union.”
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