CAMERON, Martin Bruce (1935–)
Senator for South Australia, 1969 (Liberal Party of Australia)

Martin Bruce Cameron, whose career in the Senate lasted a mere five months, from 23 May to 24 October 1969, was born in Millicent, South Australia, on 24 August 1935, the only son of the five children of Gordon Reece Cameron of pioneering Scots descent and his wife, Asta, née May. As his father farmed around the South-East, Martin received his primary schooling at the rural towns of Naracoorte, Penola and Millicent. In 1949 Gordon’s experiments with the pasture crop, strawberry clover, led him to purchase a 600-acre mixed farming property, Konelgin, at Thornlea, north-west of Millicent, where he built up a flourishing business, Koniak Seeds Ltd, and became a pioneer in the pasture seeds industry.

From 1948 to 1952 Martin was a boarder at Scotch College in Adelaide, passing four subjects at intermediate level. A keen senior boy scout, he attended the seventh world jamboree in Austria in August 1951, afterwards travelling around Europe and the United Kingdom. In his final year at Scotch College, he was a cubmaster and house prefect. Of medium height and lean build, he became a proficient runner. [1]

After working on farms in the South-East, Cameron undertook six months national service (from January to June 1954) in the RAAF at Laverton, Victoria. He then studied agriculture at Canterbury Agricultural College (now Lincoln University, Christchurch, New Zealand), receiving a Diploma in Agriculture, in absentia, on 10 May 1957. In the previous year, he had accompanied his parents on a trip through the Americas. The sale of the seed business in 1963 enabled the Camerons to buy Konelgin outright.

In 1958, while working on a property at Kalangadoo, Cameron met Barbara Hensley of Glen Lowan, Bordertown, a schoolteacher, keen horsewoman and staunch Methodist. The couple were married at the Clarence Park Methodist Church, Adelaide, on 21 May 1960. Barbara and Martin would have five children. In the early 1970s the Camerons purchased a house in Kensington Park.[2]

Cameron was spurred into political activity after the South Australian Government of Labor’s Frank Walsh amended the Road Traffic Act in 1965, introducing transport controls that restricted the movement by road of farm animals and produce. Joining the Liberal and Country League (LCL), he represented the Millicent district committee on the party’s state executive from 1966 to 1969. On 2 March 1968 he contested the seat of Millicent for the House of Assembly, standing against the sitting member, and minister in the Labor Cabinet, Des Corcoran. Narrowly losing the seat by one vote, the LCL challenged the decision and the election was referred to the South Australian Court of Disputed Returns. The court ordered a by-election, which was held on 22 June. This was won comfortably by Corcoran, the Dunstan-led ALP running the campaign on electoral reform. The defeated Cameron returned to his farm to grow peas for a New Zealand firm and negotiate for the establishment of a vegetable processing factory, while the LCL appointed him to its state executive.[3]

When family friend Keith Laught died suddenly on 13 May 1969, Cameron was nominated to fill the resulting casual vacancy for the Senate, giving his first speech on 30 May. Under existing electoral law, in order to continue in the casual vacancy, Cameron had to stand for his Senate seat at the next federal election, which occurred for the House of Representatives on 25 October 1969. As expected, he was defeated. During his brief tenure in Canberra, he lived in a government hostel, where he felt something of an outcast, though he maintained close contacts with his home state. In the Senate, he asked a large number of questions on South Australian matters, but sadly reflected that the Adelaide press had little interest in what went on in federal politics. He tried for the half-Senate election of 21 November 1970, but, placed third on the Senate ticket, lost once more.[4]

Thereafter, he turned his attention to state Parliament. Following the retirement of conservative ex-minister Norman Jude from the blue-ribbon seat for the Southern district of the Legislative Council, Cameron was officially endorsed on 28 May 1971, easily winning on 3 July against a Country Party candidate who was backed by the League of Rights. Cameron took his seat in the Legislative Council on 13 July. He served on various parliamentary committees, but his party was in opposition and in turmoil over electoral reform. In this battle, in which he played a key role, it was said that he ‘often appeared as the “performing flea” of the small-l liberal wing of the party’, but also that he won respect for his ‘keen political instinct’.[5]

When former Premier Steele Hall and his supporters formed the Liberal Movement (described as ‘a party within a party’) in March 1972, Cameron soon joined. A year later, the LCL state council declared the Liberal Movement ‘an outside political body’ to which Liberals could not belong, and Hall, Cameron and, later, city-based lawyer Robin Millhouse resigned from the LCL, formalising the split. Alarmed by the popularity of the Liberal Movement, the LCL reluctantly began acceding to popular demands for parliamentary reform. Labor won Legislative Council seats, though never a majority. It was Cameron and his Liberal Movement colleagues’ commitment to full adult franchise for the Legislative Council that was pivotal to the acquiescence of upper house Liberal leader Renfrey DeGaris to this significant electoral reform and in the passage of legislation reforming electoral boundaries in the Assembly in order to end the notorious ‘Playmander’.[6]

In the 1975 state election, Cameron headed the Liberal Movement’s ticket for the Legislative Council, the party winning two seats to hold the balance of power. Cameron classified himself as ‘a right-of-centre politician’, though maintaining, as he did throughout his political life, the right to act independently on occasion. While holding liberal views on the decriminalisation of adult homosexual behaviour, he helped to water down spousal consent provisions in the rape-in-marriage legislation of 1976 that effectively switched the focus from ‘consent’ to ‘context’. However, his support of Dunstan’s railway legislation, which effectively transferred to the Commonwealth all South Australian non-metropolitan railway services in 1975, made him unpopular in the South-East. With Steele Hall’s move to the Senate and the negative impact of the double dissolution of 1975, especially on minor parties, Cameron and the remaining Liberal Movement MPs agreed to amalgamate with the Liberal Party in June 1976. Throughout this period, Cameron and the other former dissidents continued to support the passage through the Legislative Council of much of Dunstan’s progressive legislation.[7]

Cameron coordinated the Liberal Party’s attack on the Dunstan Government, prior to the 1977 election, but when the Liberals finally swept back into office in September 1979, Premier David Tonkin left Cameron and the other former dissidents on the backbench. When the Tonkin Government was defeated at the 6 November 1982 election, Cameron challenged and narrowly beat incumbent Trevor Griffin for the leadership of the party in the Legislative Council, provoking a walkout by DeGaris. With the appointment of new Liberal leader John Olsen, Cameron found himself left out of the shadow cabinet. When the Liberals’ privatisation agenda lost votes to the Labor Government of Premier John Bannon in the election of 7 December 1985, Cameron, by then forty-five, finally entered the shadow cabinet, after fifteen years on the backbench.[8]

Cameron was his own man, although on most issues he toed the party line. For example, while he vehemently attacked the 1988 amendments to the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Bill that effectively ended tobacco sponsorship of sporting events, he voted against his party (with one other Liberal) to defeat, in a conscience vote, the contentious ‘Ritson bill’, which sought to make it harder for women to have abortions, while his concern for Aboriginal health and welfare led him to join with the Democrats to press for the appointment of a select committee on Aboriginal health.[9]

The year 1988 was a bad one for Cameron, who lost two of his sisters in a car accident, and was sued by Dunstan over remarks made on Bannon’s appointment of Dunstan as a consultant on local Aboriginal community management. In a pre-election reshuffle on 1 January 1988, Cameron relinquished the shadow health portfolio and threw himself into the campaign for the November 1989 election, which, in the event, the Liberals lost. In September 1990 Cameron announced his intention to resign from the Legislative Council.[10]

Retiring to the farm, Cameron took up a number of board and committee positions, notably being appointed by the Bannon Labor Government to the Electricity Trust of South Australia, serving on its board from 1992 to 2005. His lifelong interest in the sea and fishing were reflected in his long involvement with the sailing ship, One and All. In 1991 he became chair of Trustees of the Sailing Ship Trust of South Australia, a position he held until 2004 when the Tall Ships Trust was created. When the new state Seafood Council was established in 1998, Cameron was its inaugural chair for two years. He also chaired the Marine Scale Fishery Management Committee and Inland Water Fishery Committee from 1998 to 2002, the Prawn Fishery Management Committee from 2002 to 2004, and was a board member of the Australian Fisheries Academy founded in 1997. As a landowner in the South-East, he has been on local water catchment boards for many years. A lifelong republican, he chaired the South Australian branch of the Australian Republican Movement, but was not in favour of an elected head of state.[11]

Cameron was drawn back into active participation in the state Liberal Party as a result of internal factionalism in 1995, and successfully contested the Liberal Party presidency to take the three-year term. Pledging, somewhat ingenuously, to heal the rift and work for unity, he was always under siege. Again beset by the League of Rights when One Nation emerged in South Australia, he strove to neutralise that influence, and was re-elected unopposed as Liberal president in 1996 and 1997. In 1998, as outgoing Liberal president, Cameron defended the right of dissidents to cross the floor, but warned against division, stating ‘division is death … it is only as a united team that we prosper’. Prime Minister John Howard praised the leadership Cameron had given the division and the cooperation he had extended to the federal parliamentary party.[12]

Jenny Tilby Stock

[1] Martin Cameron, Interview with Bert and Jenny Stock, 2005; Mark Greenfield, Pioneering Millicent and District, Millicent Agricultural Bureau, Millicent, SA, 1988, pp. 61–2; Scotch College Magazine, Dec. 1948, p. 41, Dec. 1951, pp. 41–2, Dec. 1952, pp. 13, 34, 38, 41.

[2] Cameron, Martin Bruce—Defence Service Record, A12372, A42191, NAA; Information provided by Paula Morrison, Academic Studies, Lincoln University, NZ; Greenfield, Pioneering Millicent and District, p. 61.

[3] Martin Cameron, ‘Upper Houses I Have Known’, in A Liberal Awakening: The LM Story, Investigator Press, Leabrook, SA, 1973, pp. 71–4; Liberal Party, SA division, Records, SRG 168/1/43, bundle 2, SLSA; Dean Jaensch and Joan Bullock, Liberals in Limbo, Drummond, Richmond, Vic., 1978, p. 31.

[4] Advertiser (Adel.), 24 May 1969, p. 3; Cameron, ‘Upper Houses I Have Known’, pp. 74–5; CPD, 30 May 1969, pp. 1847–9; Sunday Mail (Adel.), 9 Sept. 1990, p. 17.

[5] Cameron, ‘Upper Houses I have Known’, pp. 75–7, 80–1; Jaensch and Bullock, Liberals in Limbo, pp. 30–2; SAPD, 13 July 1971, p. 5.

[6] Jaensch and Bullock, Liberals in Limbo, pp. 48, 84–9, 93–4; Dean Jaensch (ed.), The Flinders History of South Australia: Political History, Wakefield Press, Netley, SA, 1986, p. 309.

[7] SAPD, 26 June 1973, p. 122, 9 Sept. 1975, pp. 576–9, 817, 9 Nov. 1976, pp. 1942–4, 2089–102, 2129–49, 9 Dec. 1976, p. 2914, 7 Aug. 1975, pp. 85–8, 12 Aug. 1975, p. 145; Daniel Overduin and John I. Fleming, Wake Up, Lucky Country! A Reflection on Social Issues During the Past Decade, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1980, pp. 196–7, 202–20; Jaensch and Bullock, Liberals in Limbo, pp. 97, 116–17, 132–9; John Cornwall, Just for the Record: The Political Recollections of John Cornwall, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA, 1989, p. 3; Jaensch, The Flinders History of South Australia, pp. 309–11, 313, 387.

[8] Dean Jaensch, ‘The Liberal Party’, in Andrew Parkin and Allan Patience (eds), The Bannon Decade: The Politics of Restraint in South Australia, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1992, pp. 51–4.

[9] SAPD, 3 Mar. 1988, pp. 3275–80, 22 Mar. 1988, pp. 3329–31, 24 Feb. 1988, pp. 2990–3, 3702, 21 Oct. 1987, pp. 1370–8, 3 Nov. 1987, pp. 1536–7, 4 Nov. 1987, pp. 1635–50, 11 Nov. 1987, pp. 1833–5, 25 Nov. 1987, pp. 2044–8; Cornwall, Just for the Record, pp. 112–19.

[10] Advertiser (Adel.), 4 Sept. 1990, pp. 4, 11; Defamation/libel cases, 1988–90, Dunstan Collection, box 35, Flinders University, Adelaide; Jaensch, ‘The Liberal Party’, pp. 53–4; Advertiser (Adel.), 4 Sept. 1990, p. 4.

[11] The author is indebted to Eric Lindner, Electricity Trust of South Australia, who kindly authorised the supply of the official listing of Martin Cameron’s many board and committee positions; Seafood Council of South Australia website, viewed 9 July 2007, <>; Advertiser (Adel.), 17 June 1999, p. 6.

[12] Advertiser (Adel.), 19 Aug. 1995, p. 6, 25 Aug. 1997, p. 11, 25 Aug. 1997, p. 2, 17 Aug. 1996, p. 13, 15 Aug. 1998, p. 5; John Howard, Address to the South Australian Liberal Party State Convention, 15 Aug. 1998, Prime Minister of Australia website, viewed 14 Feb. 2007, 1508.htm.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 246-249.

CAMERON, Martin Bruce (1935–)

Courtesy of Martin Cameron

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for South Australia, 1969

South Australian Parliament

Member of the Legislative Council, Southern, 1971–75; South Australia, 1975–90