GREENWOOD, Ivor John (1926–1976)
Senator for Victoria, 1968–76 (Liberal Party of Australia)

Ivor John Greenwood, barrister, was born on 15 November 1926 in North Melbourne to Bartlett John Greenwood, a boilermaker with the Victorian Railways, and his wife Joy Olive, née Vickers, both born in Melbourne. The Greenwoods were worshippers at the Church of Christ, and Ivor later attributed the development of his political attitudes to the high sense of individual responsibility inculcated by the Church. He attended Hartwell State School and Mont Albert Central School, before winning an entrance scholarship to Scotch College, Melbourne, where he was a student from 1941 to 1944. Ivor, who was a member of the debating society and secretary of the public questions society, matriculated with honours in five subjects, coming equal first place in the state in economics, for which he won a University Exhibition. In 1945 he entered the University of Melbourne, where he studied law and became a founding member and president of the student Liberal Club. He was also president of the Students’ Representative Council. Graduating in 1949, Greenwood was called to the Victorian Bar in 1951. It was an indication of his legal ability that he first worked as an associate with Justice Frank Kitto of the High Court in 1950, and, from 1950 to 1952, with Justice Sir Owen Dixon, who became Chief Justice in April 1952. Greenwood then moved on to build up a practice in commercial and equity cases. From 1963 to 1968 he was honorary secretary of the Law Council of Australia.[1]

On 30 August 1951, Greenwood, a staunch anti-communist, stood by his friend from university, Alan Missen, who had been suspended as vice-president of the Young Liberal and Country Movement because of his public opposition to the Menzies Government’s anti-communism referendum. Greenwood told the Melbourne Age that he too opposed the referendum proposals. ‘Free speech’, he said, ‘was one of the fundamental principles of liberalism, and the resolution dealing with Mr. Missen was contrary to this principle’. The incident does not seem to have done Greenwood’s place in the Liberal Party much harm. Between 1952 and 1954, he was president of the Victorian division of the Young Liberal Movement, and from 1952 to 1968 a member of the executive of the Victorian Liberal Party (known as the Liberal and Country Party between 1949 and 1965). When Greenwood married Lola Poppy Roney, at St Mark’s Church, Camberwell, on 3 December 1960, Missen was his best man.[2]

On 21 February 1968 Greenwood was chosen by the Victorian Parliament to fill the Senate casual vacancy arising from the resignation of Senator John Gorton. Greenwood had won Liberal Party preselection over eighteen other candidates. Successfully elected to the Senate at the House of Representatives election of October 1969, Greenwood was re-elected in November 1970. He was successful also at the elections following the double dissolutions of 1974 and 1975.

Quickly accepted as a respected ‘young’ senator, he made his first speech in the Senate on 20 March 1968, most of which was a discourse on the limitations of appeals to the Privy Council. In May 1968 he told the Senate that there was a need to retain the death penalty in certain cases of criminal law. While still a backbencher, he declared: ‘I have always accepted the view that Parliament should control the Executive’. In June 1970 he crossed the floor on six occasions on issues relating to increasing parliamentary scrutiny, especially in regard to the salaries of Commonwealth officers. In May, he had been one of eleven Liberal–Country Party Coalition members who unsuccessfully supported a Democratic Labor Party amendment to the third reading stage of the Estate Duty Assessment Bill 1970, which sought to have the Government eliminate federal estate duty.[3]

In 1969 Greenwood took silk. Like many a legalistic senator before and since, he was at his best with legislative technicalities, presenting his arguments logically, forcefully, with considerable elegance and occasional wit. A member of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances from 1968 to 1971, in May 1969 he supported an ALP motion to disallow the ACT Legal Practitioners Ordinance, objecting to its ‘retrograde’ provisions providing for separate admissions rolls for barristers and solicitors. In August 1971 he opposed the disallowance of the Australian Capital Territory Evidence Ordinance (No. 4 of 1971) after the Regulations and Ordinances Committee considered that the ordinance contained issues that should be given the force of legislation. Greenwood introduced the Evidence (Australian Capital Territory) Bill 1972, which was hustled off to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, where it languished for some time, until the original ordinance was allowed to remain in force indefinitely. In 1973 Greenwood wrote a short paper, ‘The Senate in Opposition’, which was published in Current Politics, and focused on the Senate’s right to refer bills to its committees.[4]

At first a Gorton supporter, Greenwood joined other Victorian Liberals in engineering the displacement of Gorton as Prime Minister in 1971, supporting William McMahon instead. In March 1971 McMahon appointed Greenwood as Minister for Health. Regarded as ‘hard working, tough and uncompromising’, Greenwood listened to the views of his advisers. During his short tenure of the portfolio, he placed pressure on New South Wales health funds to provide comprehensive health insurance, but did not succeed in gaining support for the common fee system from general practitioners. Greenwood also represented in the Senate the portfolios of the Attorney-General, Postmaster-General, Minister for Immigration and Minister for Social Services. By September, a further Cabinet reshuffle led to Greenwood leaving Health, where it was said he had over-occupied himself with administrative detail, to become Attorney-General.[5]

A trenchant proponent of law and order, he was an unyielding advocate of conscription, and even more opposed to the Vietnam Moratorium rallies, not being able to perceive any reason, in any circumstance, for breaking the law. To him, law was sacrosanct. He firmly told the Senate that he did not believe in ‘mob rule’. Such comments, fearlessly voiced in public as opposition to the Vietnam War mounted, led to him being tagged with such labels as ‘Ivor the Terrible’. On 6 May 1970 he moved the motion for the adjournment, in which he stated that the Vietnam Moratorium campaign was to be deplored and that the participation in it of parliamentarians was to be ‘forthrightly condemned’. Presenting his own case against the Moratorium, he spoke against what he considered to be an incitement to civil disobedience by the Moratorium’s organiser, the Member for Lalor, Dr Jim Cairns. On 30 September 1971 Greenwood sanctioned a Commonwealth Police raid on the University of Melbourne, in what proved an abortive attempt to arrest four national service resisters, and to locate an illegal radio transmitter. In early November, he announced the gaoling of thirteen draft resisters, and arrest warrants were issued for others who had slipped through the police net. He had also attacked the Australian Broadcasting Commission for not handing over a draft resister who had been interviewed on television. The Age scoffed: ‘The only thing less impressive than Senator Greenwood’s attempt to lay down the law is his effort to enforce it’.[6]

Greenwood also failed to deal effectively with Croatian terrorist attacks and threats in Sydney and Canberra, in particular the 16 September 1972 bombings in and around the Adriatic Trade and Travel Centre in Sydney, in which sixteen people were injured. Under fire in the Senate, Greenwood seemed inept, largely because he appeared to have refused to accept evidence of the involvement of the right-wing Ustasha terrorist groups that were operating in Australia. After Senator Murphy’s raids on ASIO, as Labor’s Attorney-General, in March 1973, Greenwood and ASIO were criticised in the Senate for their response to the Croatian terrorist attacks, Greenwood making an angry reply to what he considered ‘a monstrous vilification in which truth has played virtually no part’. However, there seems little doubt that some of the criticisms made by Murphy, notably an inability on Greenwood’s part to face the issues, had some validity.[7]

As Attorney-General, Greenwood introduced the Matrimonial Causes Bill 1971 into the Senate. Of a technical nature, the bill was not opposed by the ALP, but when Labor’s Senator Wheeldon suggested a further review of the Act, Greenwood conceded that irretrievable breakdown should be grounds for divorce. When the Family Law Bill 1974 (No. 2) was introduced by Murphy, as Attorney-General in the Whitlam Government, Greenwood, now in Opposition, eloquently supported divorce on the grounds of marital breakdown, but only ‘when marriage is finished so that no one wishes to continue it’. Stating that the bill weakened ‘respect for marriage’, Greenwood opposed the establishment of a federal family court and voted for the amendment of Senator Anderson to postpone the bill. During the committee stages of the bill, he attempted to narrow the definition of ‘matrimonial cause’ and have family law dealt with by the states. He had great concerns about the bill’s definition of ‘separation’ and ‘living apart’ and indicated that had there been a division on the third reading of the bill, he would have opposed it.[8]

In the Liberal–Country Party Opposition, led from December 1972 by Billy Snedden, and from March 1975 by Malcolm Fraser, Greenwood was Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. From January 1973 he was Opposition spokesman for Attorney-General’s affairs and, under Snedden, also had responsibility for ACT matters. During debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) on 16 October 1975, Greenwood expressed his opinion with his usual certainty: ‘The Senate has the undoubted power to reject or to delay the Bills which are before us … the Senate does have a power, if it chooses to exercise it, to amend certain money Bills. It certainly has the power to reject or to defer’. He was a member of the Committee of Privileges, which submitted its Report on Matters Referred by Senate Resolution of 17 July 1975 to the Senate in October. The majority report supported the action of the Whitlam Government in directing public servants called to the bar of the Senate not to answer questions about the ‘loans affair’. Outraged by this, Greenwood, with Senators Webster and Wright, presented a dissenting report, with accompanying addenda, which analysed and rejected the Government’s claim of Crown Privilege.

Following the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor Government in November, and the subsequent general election that returned to office the Liberal–National Country Party Coalition, led by Malcolm Fraser, Greenwood, who had enjoyed a brief period in Fraser’s caretaker ministry, was offered the Cabinet position of Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development. Now Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, he represented also the Attorney-General, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. He served too on three Cabinet committees: planning and coordination, general administration and the legislation committee. In 1976 he introduced the Trade Practices Amendment Bill into the Senate. He had introduced the first of these bills in 1971, and in 1973 and 1974 had taken a meticulous interest in the ALP’s legislation on the subject, proposing some thirty amendments on behalf of the Opposition. The 1976 bill was not debated until August that year, when it was passed without amendment. By this time, however, Greenwood had been relieved of his ministerial responsibilities (in July) and was ill in hospital, following his collapse shortly after returning from a joint parliamentary trade delegation to the People’s Republic of China.[9]

Greenwood died on 13 October 1976, at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Victoria, survived by Lola and their two children. Although Greenwood was entitled to a state funeral, Lola wished to have a private service at the Church of Christ, Burwood. Greenwood was cremated at Springvale. Lola received an ex gratia payment of $25 000 in addition to her pension in recognition that her husband’s illness was attributable to his work as a minister and senator.

The valedictories for Greenwood spoke of his integrity, capacity for hard work, and ability as a debater and raconteur; they tell also of a parliament where, despite the trauma of 1975, there was still some cross-party camaraderie, and a measure of respect. Senator Withers spoke of sharing a room with Greenwood in what is now the Old Parliament House, and of their long discussions at the Hotel Canberra. He referred to the great assistance Greenwood had given to him as deputy leader of the Senate in both Government and in Opposition. But Greenwood aroused fierce passions, which still linger in public memory. Journalist Michelle Grattan saw him as a complex personality, something of a fundamentalist. The antipathy between Greenwood and Murphy became legendary, one legal commentator recalling that ‘Greenwood would be easily driven by Murphy into a near apoplectic reaction’. Others saw him as the victim of his public image. The reality was that he held to his own views. He was, for instance, in favour of decriminalising homosexuality and considered that there should be no compulsory retirement age for judges. The most telling comment was made by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Wriedt, who just a year after the trauma of 1975 could say: ‘There is no question that the Parliament is the poorer now that he has gone’.

In some ways, Greenwood was a casualty of the maxim that exhorted individuals to have the courage of their convictions. However, he lacked the breadth of vision and tolerance to apply the maxim with moderation. His close friend, Alan Missen, commented that Greenwood’s fundamental integrity compelled him to fight for his beliefs ‘to the extent of his strength, and unfortunately beyond his strength’. One of Greenwood’s colleagues once warned him: ‘you can’t just carry on the fight, it’s no good you being at the bottom of the hill with bows and arrows [when] they’re up the top with machine guns’.[10]

Drew Cottle

[1] Age (Melb.), 1 Jan. 1976, p. 7; SMH, 26 Oct. 1971, p. 6; The editor is indebted to Jim Mitchell, Archivist, Scotch College, Melbourne; Scotch Collegian, Dec. 1944, pp. 100–1, May 1945, p. 12; Melbourne University Calendar, MUP, Melbourne, 1946, p. 820; University of Melbourne, Calendar, MUP, Melbourne, 1950, p. 492; Edward Woodward, One Brief Interval, Miegunyah Press, Carlton, Vic., 2005, pp. 21–3; The editor is indebted to Trevor Hart, UMA; Law Council of Australia, Minutes, 2 Nov. 1962, 1–2 Mar. 1968, mfm G23093, NLA.

[2] Age (Melb.), 31 Aug. 1951, p. 3, 1 Sept. 1951, p. 4; Philip Ayres, Owen Dixon, Miegunyah Press, Carlton, Vic., 2003, p. 228; Anton Hermann, Alan Missen: Liberal Pilgrim, Poplar Press, Woden, ACT, 1993, pp. 15–19, 76; The Young Liberal Movement in Victoria: Policies, History, Structure, Constitution and By-Laws, Young Liberal Movement of Australia (Victorian division), Melbourne, p. 13.

[3] Age (Melb.), 17 Feb. 1968, p. 3; Peter Howson, The Howson Diaries: The Life of Politics, ed. Don Aitkin, Viking Press, Ringwood, Vic., 1984, p. 540; CPD, 20 Mar. 1968, pp. 233–7, 14 May 1968, pp. 976–83, 10 June 1970, p. 2227; Senate, Journals, 2 June 1970, p. 138, 3 June 1970, pp. 148–9, 9 June 1970, pp. 168, 170, 10 June 1970, p. 174, 14 May 1970, p. 106.

[4] Age (Melb.), 18 Nov. 1969, p. 12; CPD, 22 May 1969, pp. 1508–15, 1518, 19 Aug. 1971, pp. 178–85, 24 Feb. 1972, pp. 190–203, 12 Apr. 1972, p. 1021, 29 Mar. 1973, pp. 685–6; Graeme Starr, The Liberal Party of Australia: A Documentary History, Drummond Heinemann, Richmond, Vic., 1980, pp. 284–6.

[5] Age (Melb.), 1 Jan. 1976, p. 7; CT, 14 Oct. 1976, p. 2; Mary Dickenson and Catherine Mason, Hospitals and Politics: The Australian Hospital Association 1946–86, Australian Hospital Association, Deakin, ACT, 1986, p. 64; AFR (Syd.), 15 July 1971, p. 10; Press release, ‘Statement on New South Wales Hospital Insurance’, Minister for Health, 22 June 1971, CPL; G. R. Palmer, ‘Health’, in Roy Forward (ed.), Public Policy in Australia, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1974, pp. 195, 210; CT, 3 Aug. 1971, p. 2.

[6] Age (Melb.), 24 June 1972, p. 10; CPD, 15 Apr. 1970, p. 809, 6 May 1970, p. 1134; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 5 May 1970, p. 2; Herald (Melb.), 30 Sept. 1971, p. 3; CT, 6 Oct. 1971, p. 12; SMH, 10 Nov. 1972, p. 2; Age (Melb.), 18 Nov. 1971, p. 9.

[7] David McKnight, Australia’s Spies and Their Secrets, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1994, pp. 250–7; Australian (Syd.), 18 Sept. 1972, p. 3; AFR (Syd.), 22 Sept. 1972, p. 1; Nation Review (Syd.), 23–29 Sept. 1971, p. 2; CPD, 27 Mar. 1973, p. 547; SMH, 30 Mar. 1973, p. 3.

[8] CPD, 14 Oct. 1971, pp. 1381–2; CT, 12 Nov. 1971, p. 9; CPD, 11 Nov. 1971, pp. 1919–21, 19 Nov. 1974, pp. 2534, 2541, 21 Nov. 1974, p. 2648, 26 Nov. 1974, p. 2766, 27 Nov. 1974, p. 2893.

[9] CPD, 16 Oct. 1975, p. 1231; Australian (Syd.), 30 Sept. 1975, p. 9; CPP, 215/1975; Sun-Herald (Syd.), 18 Apr. 1976, p. 15; CPD, 4 May 1976, pp. 1464–6, 11 May 1971, pp. 1635–8.

[10] Age (Melb.), 14 Oct. 1976, p. 10; Australian (Syd.), 24 Feb. 1977, p. 1; CPD, 13 Oct. 1976, pp. 1139–47, 13 Oct. 1976 (R), pp. 1793–99; Age (Melb.), 1 Jan. 1976, p. 7; Laurence Maher, ‘Murphy the Attorney-General’, in Jocelynne A. Scutt (ed.), Lionel Murphy: A Radical Judge, McCulloch Publishing in association with the Macmillan Company of Australia, Carlton, Vic., 1987, p. 39; Charles Ronald Maunsell, Transcript of oral history interview with Pat Shaw, 1985, POHP, TRC 4900/50, NLA, p. 1:9.

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. 77-82.

GREENWOOD, Ivor John (1926–1976)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Victoria, 1968–76

Minister for Health, 1971

Attorney-General, 1971–72, 1975

Minister for Police and Customs, 1975

Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, 1975–76

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources, 1968–71

Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, 1968–71

Committee of Privileges, 1968–75

Estimates Committee C, 1970–73

Estimates Committee A, 1973–75

Standing Orders Committee, 1973–76

Estimates Committee F, 1975

Select Committee on the Corporations and Securities Industry Bill, 1975