A life ‘filled with achievement’: Ex-Labor leader remembered

Parliamentary colleagues have remembered Simon Crean, who was Labor and opposition leader from November 2001 to November 2003.

Parliamentary colleagues have remembered Simon Crean, who was Labor and opposition leader from November 2001 to November 2003. Photo: AAP

Australian Labor is mourning the unexpected death overseas of Simon Crean, a highly respected Labor prince who never became king.

His family said they were devastated after his death on Sunday morning following an exercise session in Berlin, where he was part of an industry delegation.

“Simon was a fierce advocate for working Australians and dedicated his life to making a difference,” the Crean family said in a statement.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Mr Crean “gave a lifetime of service to his nation, and in particular to the labour movement.”

Mr Crean will be remembered as one of the architects of the Hawke government’s momentous industrial relations reforms of the 1980s and one of the most significant political figures of modern Labor.

He served as a parliamentarian for 23 years and was a cabinet minister in the governments of Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

“Simon’s many achievements in portfolios that ranged from trade to employment, from primary industries and energy to the arts, were characterised by a focus on the national interest, engagement with stakeholders, and always acting with principle and determination,” Mr Albanese said.

Industrial relations legacy

Mr Crean followed in the footsteps of his father Frank, who served as treasurer in the Whitlam government and as deputy prime minister in the government’s last months.

As ACTU vice-president, Mr Crean played a key role in bringing about the Accord between unions and employers in 1983.

Mr Rudd credited Mr Crean with bringing the industrial relations system kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

ACTU president Michele O’Neil said the former union leader was a great believer in, and fighter for fairness and justice for working people in Australia and around the world.

“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,” Ms O’Neil said.

Rise to leadership

Elected to the Victorian seat of Hotham In 1990, Mr Crean became science minister in the Hawke government.

Narrowly missing out on the Labor deputy leadership after the ALP’s 1996 election loss, he took on the position two years later after another election defeat.

After a third consecutive defeat in November 2001, Mr Crean was elected unopposed as leader.

He faced continued speculation about a Kim Beazley comeback amid poor opinion poll results and in November 2003 he resigned on the advice of colleagues – becoming the first Labor leader since 1916 to be replaced without having contested an election.

Ms Gillard said Mr Crean dedicated his life to Labor values.

“He hated injustice and fought hard to bring opportunity to all,” she said in a statement.

“He took his work seriously but was also caring, sociable and fun.”

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek remembered him as: “Smart, principled, courageous and kind.”

Mr Albanese said Mr Crean was a “great servant of the Labor Party and of the broader labour movement” and above all was thoroughly decent and kind.

“This brought him respect across the political spectrum,” he said.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Mr Crean was “a gentleman”,

“I always admired Simon for his intellect and decency … A very sad day,” he tweeted.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott paid tribute to “a thoroughly admirable man”.

“He never made the mistake of identifying the well-being of the country with his own personal advancement,” he said in a statement.

Former trade minister Craig Emerson said on Twitter that Mr Crean was “a loyal servant of the Labor Party.”

Former Labor defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon said Mr Crean was “a good and talented guy (and) history will treat him kindly”.

Mr Crean’s life “was filled with achievement for his members, his party and his country”, former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

After Mr Crean serving as federal Labor leader from 2001 to 2003, across the floor from John Howard, he took the trade portfolio after Mr Rudd’s 2007 election victory.

Life after politics

After leaving politics, Mr Crean continued to work for Australia’s interests, most notably as chairman of the European Australian Business Council, Mr Albanese said.

He said the hearts of the Labor family were with Mr Crean’s beloved wife Carole, his family and thousands of friends.

Mr Crean’s family said his greatest achievements were as a father to Sarah and Emma, and a loving husband in his 50-year marriage.


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