Fred Chaney remembers Jim Carlton
Below is the full transcript of the eulogy delivered by the Honourable Fred Chaney AO at the memorial service for the Honourable Jim Carlton AO on 14 January 2016.
Thank you Carltons for the privilege of speaking of Jim’s political life.
Cynics say that if you want a friend in politics, get a dog. The cynics are not always right. Jim was a friend I made through our shared time in politics and whose friendship I enjoyed until Xmas day. Jim had many other friends.
The Prime Minister’s reported comment on Jim’s death was that he was a man of warmth and decency and an influential mentor. In fact, as a politician he was that and much more. My focus at this sad time is principally on the much more of his political contribution rather than on the sadly missed friend whose qualities of warmth and decency made our long friendship so enjoyable.
As to his being a mentor one of his lessons was his belief that there was a right answer to a problem. This defined how he worked. He told me that our first task was to get the right answer. The second task was to work out how to sell it. The order is critical.
At the time of his death we acknowledge his public achievements. But to his devoted family and his friends it is the loss of the man, the husband father brother and friend that matters most. But Jim’s family was also a great contributor to his political life. In particular, his wife, Diana, universally Di to us who benefitted from her generosity and friendship, played a key role in supporting him and supporting many of us. She was particularly helpful to the wives of other politicians. His warmth and decency were complemented by the same qualities in Di to which was added her endless concern for the wellbeing of others and capacity to reach out. This included my wife, Angela. Her friendship with Di and Di’s creation of a support network for Parliamentary spouses were important supports for her during the stresses and difficulties of political life. Thank you Di.
Jim and Di were a serious couple intent on serious business but always fun to be with. Their shared broad interests, not least in music and especially opera, made them delightful and cheerful companions however serious the political times. Jim was an accomplished mimic and many in this gathering will have heard his Billy McMahon and Gough Whitlam soliloquies.
There is so much at a personal level to remember about this great political partnership with affection and gratitude. Di, that gratitude extends very fully to you.
Jim’s political involvements started with the University Liberal Club at Sydney University where he became President.
After a career as a McKinsey management consultant he succeeded John Carrick as General Secretary of the Liberal Party of NSW through the McMahon Snedden and Fraser leadership periods before entering the House of Representatives as the Member for McKellar in December 1977, the seat he held until his retirement in January 1994. He served in a number of Parliamentary Committees, was Minister for Health in the last difficult year of the Fraser Government and thereafter, in Opposition, from 1983 to 1994 in various shadow portfolio roles. Inescapably he was caught up in the leadership tensions and struggles over that period. We shared the view that the Party needed more talent and encouraged new blood a view not always popular with colleagues who though their talent quite sufficient to our needs. The electorate seemed to agree with us. We lost too many elections for our liking.
But the significance of Jim’s political career can’t be understood through the list of the positions he held. It has to be seen in the context of the wearing out of the utility of what has been termed to Federation settlement, the consensus which had provided the framework for economic management for all Governments through until Fraser. Core elements of this were centralised wage fixing and high tariff protection. We had what was called a mixed economy but key elements were highly centralised and controlled.
Jim knew this had to change and he provided leadership. The struggle between the wets and the dries in the Liberal Party was a struggle about how the economy should work, by greater or less government intervention. The great gift the Liberal party gave to Australia during the 1970s and 80s was that struggle because it drew out the issues that were vital to Australian prosperity. What would serve Australia better, a more open economy or the maintenance of the old way of doing business?
It is now such perceived wisdom that even a parrot might tell you that Australia’s extraordinary 20 plus years of economic growth and the attendant lift in incomes and living standards flows from the Hawke Government’s economic reforms added to by John Howard’s Government. Those reforms did not come from nowhere. They came for titanic struggles to change mindsets across the political administrative and intellectual spectrum. Jim along with key allies, most notably John Hyde and Peter Shack, played a key role in shifting the mindset of the Liberal party toward a new economic framework.
Politics is an untidy and difficult business. The stories of politics here and in the UK over the period of Jim’s political life are replete with personality conflicts, difficult and often uncontrollable factors impinging what is possible in the art of the possible. Most politicians get lost in these. Jim did not.
He did not have an easy time or an easy role. A hard time they had of it, as TS Elliott observed of the Magi. John Hyde told me that Jim provided the intellectual substance for the dries’ arguments. He observed that Jim put his political career at risk and in fact suffered because he had the courage of his convictions. He put principle before his own preferment. His late and all too brief entry into the Ministry confirms that. But is in the later period in opposition that the battle was fought hardest and Jim never stepped back from it. By the time he left Parliament he had achieved his goal. He and his allies had changed the mindset of his Party.
Change occurs in politics when new ideas come into good currency. That requires belief, hard work, the clash of ideas, courage, and stamina. It requires not accepting that losing a particular argument is the end of the matter. Politics never escapes the accidents of personalities and the unforeseen changes that can engulf any government. But the keel that enables a national course to be set are the core ideas which guide decision making over the life of a government. Jim knew that and he put shaping that keel as his priority, beyond his personal ambition. He put the country first rather than himself and preferment, and before any ties of friendship or any personality issues.
Jim won some battles and lost some, but he won his political war. The ideas involved here have transcended single governments - they also cross the political divide - after a quarter of a century they remain the reference point for discussion of government and the economy. So in the event, the ideas Jim was championing were not just for a government - but for a whole era.
Jim was a politician who mattered. It was not being there that counted. It was getting the right answer for Australia. We owe him thanks.