Great Moments in Australian Politics
James Anthony Mulvihill (1919-2000) (above), commonly known as Tony Mulvihill, was a popular Australian politician. Between the years 1964 and 1983, when he retired, he was a member of the Australian Senate as a Labor Senator for New South Wales. Having started as a labourer for the railways, he worked his way up to crane driver and official with the Australian Railways Union. He also served as Assistant Secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party from 1957.
From the earliest, long before becoming a Senator, he campaigned for better conditions for migrants and their integration into Australian society, and for preservation of the environment. His passionate attempts for a “green belt” around Sydney resulted in waterways, beaches and parks being excluded from encroaching private ownership by affluent landowners, a cause later taken up by persons such as Jack Mundey.
On 14 December 1982, Tony Mulvihill addressed the Senate during an Adjournment Debate, the following extract being from Hansard. The speech is also quoted in Barry Cohen’s book From Whitlam to Winston. Although it is lengthy, it is well worth the read.
SENATOR MULVIHILL (New South Wales) (10.30) - I rise on the adjournment to make some observations about a well-produced book called The Ironworkers, which was written by Robert Murray and Kate White. It deals with a very important segment of the trade union movement . . .
I rise primarily because an error appears on pages 286 and 287 of this excellent publication. As a former official of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party, I want to correct this mistake. The book discusses the torrid period during the struggle for control of this union. It states that in 1965 the National Secretary of the Ironworkers Union, Laurie Short, in an act of ‘compassion’ suggested that a man named Ken McKeon should be given Australian Labor Party membership. I used the word compassion. In that context, I want to develop the saga of the McKeon family to indicate why Ken McKeon was not given membership. I will be as quick as I can.
I take the Senate back to my first dealings with the McKeon family, who lived in Concord. My story has a small beginning. It began on a Sunday morning. I had a fox terrier named Jeff. I know that people such as Senator Douglas McClelland, who is a dog lover, will appreciate this aspect. I went to my place of worship. The three McKeon boys were in the churchyard. They were always vicious. They took umbrage because my dog followed me into the church. Whatever denomination people are, I do not believe it was the end of the world because that inoffensive dog wanted to follow me into church.
Ken McKeon, who was the greatest degenerate of any member of the trade union movement in New South Wales, laid my dog out with a brick. I picked up a piece of three by two in order to even things up, because there were three McKeon boys and only myself. It was unfortunate that, with the dog lying in a pool of blood, the father of the McKeon boys, who was policeman, threatened to arrest me. Of course, there was only one victor and it was not me. I said to my mother: ‘One day I will even that up.’
I will take the saga of the McKeon family a bit further. During the early 1950’s, Ken McKeon was one of Ernie Thornton’s henchmen in the Federated Ironworkers Association. I state quite fairly that I do not have any phobias if someone is a Marxist . . . . But the McKeons used Catholicism, Marxism and toadying to the boss for their own ends.
I started by saying that Ken McKeon was the greatest degenerate who was ever in the trade union movement in Australia. I will illustrate this point . . . . The modus operandi that Ken McKeon would use consisted of knocking on the doors of delegates that he did not like, when he knew that they were out, abuse their wives and then sometimes expose himself. That was the sort of man he was. It did not end there. When he was an official of the Ironworkers Union, he used his conscripted typists as his bedmates. It was of all the more concern when it was well known that he used to attend the VD clinic in Sydney.
I will put this matter in clear terms. I know that the facts are sordid but this must be said. I will give honourable senators the whole story of Ken McKeon. When he left the Communist Party, of course, he looked for somewhere else he could feather his nest. He ultimately finished up as part of the boss class, as an industrial officer for the Chicago Bridge Corporation. He then went toe Bernard Smith and subsequently another firm. That is the saga of Ken McKeon. I know that Senator Doug McClelland will agree with my comments. In 1965 Laurie Short had a moment of weakness and suggested that Ken McKeon should be forgiven. I believe in dealing with this matter on a sectarian line . . . . The McKeon family, when they were not using Catholicism, were using Marxism. Therefore in 1965, when Short suggested that he was a reformed character, I said: ‘He will only get in over my dead body.’ He never got in! . . . . I make that point deliberately because when people read this book I do not want them to believe what is written in error, namely that the super-degenerate, which is what McKeon was, ever came into the Labor Party.
I now want to deal with his two brothers because they were also assailants on my dog and me.
SENATOR DOUGLAS McCLELLAND – Did the dog get better?
SENATOR MULVIHILL – He did and he lived for another seven years in spite of that vicious attack. With regard to the other two McKeons, one joined the Democratic Labor Party and the other had membership for a long while in the Australian Labor Party. Let me give the Senate the reasons for indicting them. They were more cunning. They were churchwardens in the various parishes in the Catholic Archdiocese in Sydney. The remarkable thing about them was that one Sunday they would go around with the plate, but the next Sunday, if somebody else went around, it would be noticed that there was more money on the plate. Honourable senators can draw their conclusion that the McKeon family was the dregs of society. I make that point because I believe in settling scores. So the situation is that Ken McKeon was denied membership in the Labor Party personally by me due to that vicious attack on my dog. But, apart from that, there was no way, when we heard the other aspects of his sexual peculiarities and other things, that he would be accepted into the Party.
I commend this book The Ironworkers. It is an excellent book. It is 99.9 per cent accurate. But the .01 per cent remaining portrayed the low=grade people that the McKeons were. I conclude by saying that I have kept faith. My dog’s honour has been cleared. I say to the McKeon family: ‘I do not know what part of Sydney you live in now; but I have squared the account tonight.’
Hansard, 14 December 1982