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Condolences - the Hon Allan Clyde Holding


 Senator John Faulkner

  The Senate

  16 August 2011



Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (16:07): I too speak in support of this condolence motion on the death of the former Leader of the Opposition in Victoria and former member for Melbourne Ports and minister in the Hawke Labor government, Clyde Holding. The name 'Clyde Holding' was first noticed by members of the Labor Party when as a 24-year-old law student in 1955, following the catastrophic split in the party, he was appointed as the new antigrouper secretary of the Victorian Young Labor Association. It was to be the start of a very long life in politics.

As a young lawyer in the 1950s, Clyde specialised in industrial accidents and went on to establish, with other Labor lawyers, the law firm Holding, Ryan and Co., now Holding Redlich, which was to become a leading Melbourne legal practice.

The death in 1962 of Bill Towers, a bootmaker, Gallipoli veteran and also president of the Collingwood branch of the Australian Soviet Friendship League during World War II, required a by-election for the seat of Richmond. Clyde contested Labor preselection - held under the questionable auspices of the Victorian central executive - and he won by one vote.

Needless to say, he easily won the seat in the May 1962 by-election, with a thumping 66 per cent of the primary vote, commencing 36 years of continuous service in state and federal parliament. In the early years he established his member's office in the front room of his house in Waltham Street, Richmond. He maintained cordial relations with the Richmond local Labor machine, those dynasties of the Loughnan and O'Connell families—a not inconsiderable achievement in itself. Much has been written about the ALP in Richmond in those years, both fiction and non-fiction, but throughout it all Clyde survived and his standing and reputation grew.

It is difficult in the 21st century to understand the parlous state of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party in the 1960s and 1970s. For me, it is summed up best by Barry Jones's wonderful description of Labor's campaign launch in 1964, when Clyde was seeking re-election after his first term. Barry himself of course, as we have heard, contested a leadership battle against Clyde in 1976, leading to that famous comment from Clyde, 'Quiz kids can't count'. Barry Jones vividly recalled the 1964 campaign launched by Labor opposition leader Clive Stoneham in Prahran Town Hall with a speech televised live:

“We sat in the hall, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. The speech had been prepared by the ALP head office, with minimal consultation with Stoneham. He was to read the speech from large sheets of pasteboard on which the text had been written. At the top left corner of the first sheet his name, ‘CLIVE’, had been written in capitals as a cue to avoid confusion. Unfortunately, the curves of the letter 'C' had been drawn over-generously, so the letter resembled an 'O'.

"At 8pm the live telecast began. Allan Fraser - the member for Eden-Monaro, who had been brought down from New South Wales to be campaign director in the election - stood by the first pasteboard sheet, pointing to the name 'CLIVE'. The Leader looked baffled and said nothing. Allan Fraser tapped the name 'CLIVE' again. Silence. He tapped a third time. Clive Stoneham smiled, relaxed and mysteriously began his televised campaign election speech with the words, 'Thank you, Olive'.

Worse was to come. The speech was due to run on television for 30 minutes, but Stoneham finished after 25. Inviting questions from the floor was not considered to be a good idea, so Dinny Lovegrove, Deputy Leader and an excellent impromptu speaker, was called on. Unhappily, he reached back to his deep memory as a Trotskyist in the 1930s. He began:

"We know what this election is about: the struggle between the rich and the poor. We know who our enemies are: the kind of people who have two cars in the garage, central heating and a sprinkler system in the lawn. And on their walls, they have something that looks as if two cockroaches have been crawling about in Indian ink, a piece of so-called modern art!"

Barry concluded:   “It was great rhetoric. Unhappily, Labor lost more seats and it was eighteen years before we won another Victorian election”.

It fell to Clyde Holding, after Labor suffered its fifth consecutive defeat in the 1967 Victorian state election, to succeed Clive Stoneham and take on the tough job of party leader. His 10 years of leadership coincided with a party struggling to deal with the impact of the split, a weak and ineffective parliamentary team, a state parliamentary organisation overwhelmingly focused on internal party matters, and Victorian politics dominated by Henry Bolte and then Dick Hamer as Liberal premiers, propped up in power by the DLP. Clyde Holding led Labor in three successive election losses in 1970, 1973 and 1976. For Clyde these years must have been as frustrating as they were gruelling. Clyde was a committed campaigner against the death penalty in Victoria. He was an active and vocal opponent of the death penalty cases of Robert Peter Tait in 1962 and of Ronald Ryan in 1967, the last man to be legally executed in Australia.

Clyde was arrested at one protest against the hanging of Ronald Ryan. He used to recount with great amusement the story of how the local police sergeant had ordered a compliant constable to go down to the demo and pick out the biggest yobbo he could find and bring him in. That yobbo was Clyde. Back at the station Clyde was asked for his name, which he gave, Allan Clyde Holding; his occupation, which he gave, lawyer and member of parliament; and was bowled over by the next question: 'Can you read or write?' Clyde survived the experience.

Clyde was a tough operator in a tough environment against an equally tough opponent, Henry Bolte. On one occasion he received a grudging compliment from Bolte at an end-of-year function. I have been told that Bolte said of Clyde Holding, 'I don't have a son but if I did have one I'd like him to be like you - dirty, hard and rotten' .  Praise indeed from Henry Bolte.

Clyde made the move to federal politics in 1977 when he contested Labor preselection for Melbourne Ports, which had been held by Frank Crean for 26 years. He was up against a very strong candidate in Frank's son, Simon, but repeating the pattern of his 1962 preselection success he won the ballot by the narrowest of margins: one vote. Clyde represented Melbourne Ports for 21 years from 1977 to 1998. Unlike his career in the Victorian parliament, spent entirely on the opposition benches, he served in the federal parliament throughout the years of the Hawke and Keating governments.

From 1983 to 1990 he served as a minister and for a short period in cabinet. As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Hawke government from 1983 to 1987, he placed Aboriginal land rights firmly on the national agenda. The handing back of Uluru to its traditional owners in 1985 in the face of hostile opposition, particularly from the Northern Territory government, was a highlight. In fact Clyde Holding had a very early and deep commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs long before they became mainstream issues. He was deeply frustrated by opposition to his plans to recognise native title years before the High Court's Mabo decision.

He concluded his ministerial career with responsibility for the arts. Not all ministers for the arts have been passionate about the arts themselves but Clyde was widely read. He was a Shakespearean tragic, a collector of paintings, including Aboriginal barks, and a lover of music. He played a central role in the Commonwealth's receipt of the great gift of Bundanon from the painter Arthur Boyd. He was responsible for expanding the Film Finance Corporation, the National Archives, the National Gallery and the National Library.

After Labor was returned in the 1990 federal election and after service in five portfolios Clyde stayed on the back bench until his retirement from parliament at the 1998 election. I served in the federal parliamentary Labor Party with Clyde for nine years. He had a quirky sense of humour, always seemed easygoing, was a prodigious reader, was curious and certainly was very skilful on his feet. He was a stump orator of the very highest calibre. More than that, he was exceptionally effective in parliamentary debate. And he was deeply committed to Labor values.

Mr President, Clyde Holding made a difference and he will be missed. My sincere sympathy also goes to Clyde's family and his many friends.