Labor luminary Simon Crean to be given a state funeral as nation reflects on his legacy

Labor great Simon Crean dies

Simon Crean is being hailed as a giant of the labour movement, who extended the same love and devotion he gave his family, to the nation.

The 74-year-old former federal Labor leader, who will be farewelled at a state funeral, died suddenly after exercising in Berlin on Sunday.

His family said they were devastated after his unexpected death.

“The most loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather, he extended that same love and devotion to his many friends, community and to our nation,” the Crean family said in a statement on Monday.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Mr Crean had made a significant contribution across the Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard governments.

“Simon was a great servant of the Labor Party and of the broader labour movement,” Mr Albanese said.

“Above all he was a thoroughly decent human being who was kind, generous and always of good humour.”

Having served his country with great distinction, Mr Crean would be a loss to the Labor party, former prime minister Paul Keating said.

“Simon was an honourable participant in the game of politics, eschewing internecine cabals and trickiness,” Mr Keating said.

“He was straight up and down, always looking beyond factional games for positive policy advances.”

Asked if Labor regretted a leadership spill that took out Mr Crean, Mr Albanese said no one in the party since believed installing Mark Latham as leader was a good idea.

Mr Latham was narrowly elected leader over Kim Beazley, who challenged Mr Crean for the leadership in 2003.

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

Mr Albanese said history had vindicated Mr Crean’s principled decision to oppose the Iraq War, which at the time had been “deeply counter to the prevailing political and media climate”.

Mr Crean lead Labor in opposing Australia’s participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Then US president George W Bush visited Canberra in October 2003, when Mr Crean told him that friends could disagree.

“But such is the strength of our shared values, our interests and our principles that those differences can enrich rather than diminish, can strengthen rather than weaken, the partnership,” he said.

“Our commitment to the alliance remains unshakeable, as does our commitment to the war on terror. But friends must be honest with each other. Honesty is, after all, the foundation stone of that great Australian value, mateship.”

“Simon was a man of courage and principal, he strongly opposed the Iraq war whilst Labor leader.” ACTU president Michele O’Neil said.

“His legacy has made a lasting impact on the wages, entitlements, safety and retirement dignity of working people,” she added.

“Vale Simon Crean a great union and labor leader.”

Earlier this year, on the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War, Mr Crean reflected on his position on the invasion.

“It was illegal at the time and I released an opinion to that effect,” he told Radio National.

“What was required was for the UN security council resolution to sanction that war.

“It didn’t, and the coalition of the willing acted illegally. It also acted on flawed intelligence.

“There was never found to be any weapons of mass destruction, none of the intel that I had received at the time convinced me either that they existed or if they did that they couldn’t be eliminated before use.”

Mr Crean said the mistakes of 2003 were a reminder to be careful about how intelligence was used to “justify the unjustifiable”.

“I am a supporter of the alliance but the truth is that the strength of one is when good friends can disagree, or good friends can argue it out,” he said.

“I said this to George Bush, to his face, in the parliament. I think in a way he respected that view.”

simon crean

Mr Crean surrounded by journalists at parliament, after a leadership spill called by then PM Julia Gillard. Photo: Getty

‘Formidable adversary’ remembered by friend and foe

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

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

After a third consecutive loss in November 2001 he was elected unopposed as leader.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard said Mr Crean dedicated his life to Labor values.

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

He was respected across the political divide.

Former prime minister John Howard said Mr Crean’s loss would be keenly felt throughout the labour movement.

“He was a formidable adversary who I both liked and respected,” Mr Howard said.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Mr Crean’s intellect and decency was admirable.

“I always found him to be a true professional, a gentleman, somebody who was easy to deal with,” Mr Dutton said.

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

“He never made the mistake of identifying the wellbeing of the country with his own personal advancement,” he said.

NDIS Minister Bill Shorten said Mr Crean was a “hall of fame” Labor leader, and a source of advice.

“He is in that great tradition of Labor moderates,” Mr Shorten told Sky News Australia.

“I’m quite shocked, I only saw him in the last two weeks and he was looking in pretty fine form.”

Mr Crean was among the party’s greatest, Labor national president Wayne Swan said.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, who replaced Mr Crean in Hotham, said he was integral to political events and industrial relations for four decades.

“Every step of the way Simon backed me in my career and I saw him doing the same to so many other Labor women,” she said.

After leaving politics, Mr Crean chaired the European Australian Business Council.

Mr Crean is survived by his wife of 50 years Carole, his daughters Sarah and Emma and grandchildren.

– with AAP

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