LITTLE, John Albert (1914–1988)
Senator for Victoria, 1968–74 (Democratic Labor Party)

John Albert (Jack) Little was born on 13 October 1914 in Maryborough, Victoria, the son of John Richard Little and Elizabeth Florence, née Terry. His father was in the boot retail business. After education at East Brunswick and Thornbury state schools, Jack entered the boot trade and became a ‘clicker’, that is, he cut pieces of leather from patterns to form the upper parts of shoes. He played his part, he said later, ‘in making something like half a million boots and shoes—big ones, little ones, some for “My Lady Fair”, some for the fighting men’ of World War II. On 10 September 1938, at North Richmond Methodist Church, Jack married Ila Elizabeth Clark, a photographic examiner. The couple would have two sons.

From about 1940 Little was active in the Victorian branch of the Australian Boot Trade Employees’ Federation, and in the ALP. From 1948 to 1954 he was a full-time employee of the union, serving as Victorian vice-president (1943–44), president (1944–45) and treasurer (1948–54). He was also federal vice-president from 1949 to 1952.[1]

Like Senator McManus, Little was noted for extreme anti-communism and became prominent in the ALP Industrial Groups that came to meet regularly in the office of the Boot Trade Employees’ Federation. In 1949 Little spoke against communist corruption of the union movement on Melbourne’s Radio 3KZ. In the ALP, he was secretary of the Deakin federal electorate council and a member of the Victorian Central Executive (VCE) from 1949 to 1955. He served as junior vice-president (1951–52), senior vice-president (1952–53) and president (1953–54). Described as ‘a vigorous and aggressive debater’, Little represented his union on the Melbourne Trades Hall Council from 1944 to 1954 and on the ACTU Congress from 1949 until December 1953. In 1952 he won a Commonwealth Bank travelling scholarship, entitling him to six months study of industrial trends in England, Europe and the USA.

Little claimed membership of the Church of Christ and to have taught Sunday school for that organisation. In August 1954, supported by his union and some elements of the Catholic Social Studies Movement, he won a by-election for the Victorian Legislative Council seat of Melbourne North, taking his seat in September, and holding it until 1958. When the VCE began to divide on sectarian lines in early February 1955, Little appears to have been one of only two Protestants who did not resign to form a new ALP executive, staying with the Catholics in what became known as the ‘old executive’. This put him at severe odds with Labor’s Premier of Victoria, John Cain senior. At a tumultuous meeting of the Victorian Parliamentary Labor Party on 29 March, Little moved an amendment to a motion for a vote of confidence in the ‘new executive’, that the Premier should seek a conference to reconcile the two contending executives. His motion was lost and, on 7 April, he was among the twenty-four parliamentarians from Victoria expelled from the ALP.

He soon joined the newly established Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist), which in 1957 became known as the Australian Democratic Labor Party (DLP). In March 1955 Little was selected party whip in the Legislative Council, and by July was party leader in the Council, holding that position until his defeat at the June 1958 election.[2]

At some time, Little became a newsagent in the outer Melbourne suburb of Reservoir, continuing to support the fledgling party, and making persistent attempts to enter state and federal parliaments. He was federal senior vice-president of the DLP in 1959 and state leader from 1961 to 1968. In 1962 he represented Australia at the Tokyo conference of the Asian Peoples’ Anti-Communist League. Little stood as a DLP candidate for the seat of Northcote for the Legislative Assembly elections of 1961, 1964 and 1967. He ran for the House of Representatives seat of Batman on two occasions as a DLP candidate, first at a by-election in 1962, and then at the 1963 election. He first tried for the Senate in 1958, and again in 1961 and 1964. In 1966 he made a bid for two Senate casual vacancies. Unsuccessful at that time, he finally gained a seat in the Senate at the November 1967 Senate election, becoming the first DLP candidate to obtain a quota in his own right. Taking his seat on 1 July 1968, Little was defeated at the double dissolution election of May 1974.[3]

While in the Senate, he was a constant critic of the ALP. He stated that, while he did not believe any members of the ALP were members of the Communist Party, many of their actions and their votes were supporting communism as a world power. In conjunction with his fellow DLP senators, he called for a more active anti-communist foreign policy and was critical of the Australian Government selling wheat to China, which had been occurring since 1961. He was convinced that communists were actively supporting the permissive society to which he was opposed. He was always on the lookout for what he regarded as immorality or pornography. He attracted considerable publicity when he demanded an inquiry into the administration of La Trobe University where he alleged unmarried couples were renting university flats and women were threatened with rape if they did not indulge in permissive sex. He had to admit, however, that his newsagency sold ‘girly’ magazines, though, he said, these were stocked as unobtrusively as possible. In May 1973 he participated in an anti-abortion protest, and in August opposed the death penalty, except for terrorists, hijackers and those engaged in treason.[4]

Little was a keen advocate of the appropriate use of public money, and of the procedures associated therewith. In May 1970 he moved, unsuccessfully, ‘that a Joint Select Committee … be appointed to investigate the raising and distribution of revenue, to ensure that the Commonwealth and State be able to discharge properly their Constitutional functions’. The topic was not resumed until March 1972, when it was opposed by Liberal senator Cotton. Without Government support, the ALP declined to take the matter further. As a member of the Select Committee on Securities and Exchange (appointed in 1970), Little joined with the committee chairman, Liberal senator Rae, in asking probing questions of a senior partner in a Sydney stockbroking firm, who did little to disguise his displeasure at being required to answer what he described as ‘wild accusations’.[5]

In March 1973, with the DLP holding the balance of power in the Senate, as it would until 1974, and with the ALP in Government, the Liberals’ Senator Greenwood successfully moved the disallowance of seven determinations, made under the Public Service Arbitration Act, which granted four weeks annual leave to Commonwealth employees who were union members. Little had responded to the introduction of the motion by threatening to bring in a private senator’s bill that would give the benefit to all public servants. Amendments to the Public Service Act, granting four weeks annual leave for all public servants, were introduced by Senator Willesee, and became law in April.

As DLP spokesman on health, Little devoted most of his speeches to attacking the Government’s plans for medical insurance. Introducing the National Health Bill (No. 3) 1973 as a private senator’s bill, he advocated extension of the health benefits scheme to include low-income earners, newly arrived migrants, pensioners, the unemployed, and Aboriginals. He proposed that doctors’ fees be fixed by a special body chaired by an arbitration court judge, and declared the Medibank proposals of the Minister for Social Security, Bill Hayden, to be unfair and expensive. He claimed that his party had a cheaper and fairer system worked out, but these proposals were never released.[6]

Little believed in the viability of the DLP as a third force in politics, and strongly resisted a proposed merger with the Country Party in 1973. He expressed confidence that he would be re-elected in 1974, but in fact knew that the double dissolution made this doubtful. In the event, he lost, as did all his DLP Senate colleagues. In December 1975 he contested the double dissolution election for the Senate, but polled only 441 first preferences. With his political career finished, Little looked forward to a life of semi-retirement, which would include reading, domesticity, cricket (he had been a trustee of the Melbourne Cricket Ground since 1969), fishing, horse and dog racing, and working at the newsagency, which had been managed by his son John. Survived by his wife and sons, Little died, on 25 November 1988, at the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, Melbourne. The funeral service at the Fawkner Crematorium was held in accordance with Anglican rites. Forceful and persistent, if unsubtle, Little was regarded by his colleague, Jack Kane, as ‘a man of considerable guts’ who never had ‘any doubts that he had done the right thing’ in leaving the ALP during the Split.[7]

Joan Rydon

[1] Unity: Official Organ of the Australian Boot Trade Employees’ Federation (Melb.), 16 Feb. 1953, p. 14, 15 Oct. 1943, p. 3, 15 Oct. 1944, p. 4, 15 Mar. 1948, p. 14, 15 Dec. 1951, p. 9; Australian Boot Trade Employees’ Federation, Federal Council minutes, 28 Feb. 1949, 18 Feb. 1952, N41/5–6, NBAC, ANU.

[2] Robert Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 15, 30, 104, 137, 216, 236–7, 239; Unity (Melb.), 15 Aug. 1949, pp. 14–15; ALP, Victorian Central Executive, Reports, 1949–50, 1953–54, 1955–56; Unity (Melb.), 15 June 1953, p. 11; Melbourne Trades Hall Council, Minutes, 21 Sept. 1944, M64/1, NBAC, ANU; Unity (Melb.), 15 Oct. 1953, p. 8; Melbourne Trades Hall Council, Minutes, 15 Dec. 1949, M64/2, NBAC, ANU; Age (Melb.), 12 Dec. 1953, p. 3; Unity (Melb.), 15 May 1952, p. 7, 15 July 1954, p. 18; Herald (Melb.), 7 Aug. 1954, p. 15; Ross Fitzgerald, The Pope’s Battalions: Santamaria, Catholicism and the Labor Split, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 2003, p. 140; VPD, 12 July 1955, p. 53.

[3] DLP, ‘Policy Decisions of 3rd Commonwealth Conference’, 1959; Democrat (Melb.), Sept. 1967, p. 8; SMH, 27 Nov. 1967, p. 5.

[4] Herald (Melb.), 18 Apr. 1974, p. 4; CPD, 10 Sep. 1969, pp. 671–6, 28 Aug. 1968, pp. 395–6, 19 Mar. 1970, pp. 471–3; CT, 7 Aug. 1972, p. 3; Australian (Syd.), 10 Apr. 1972, p. 3; Age (Melb.), 1 Dec. 1972, p. 12; Australian (Syd.), 7 May 1973, p. 3; CPD, 23 Aug. 1973, pp. 141–4.

[5] CPD, 7 May 1970, p. 1248, 2 Mar. 1972, pp. 425–39; CT, 20 Oct. 1971, p. 25.

[6] CPD, 1 Mar. 1973, pp. 109, 121–7; AFR (Syd.), 2 Mar. 1973, p. 4; CPD, 12 Dec. 1973, pp. 2707–10, 9 Apr. 1974, pp. 826–8.

[7] Brian Costar, Peter Love and Paul Strangio (eds), The Great Labor Schism: A Retrospective, Scribe Publications, Carlton North, Vic., 2005, p. 315; Jack Kane, Exploding the Myths: The Political Memoirs of Jack Kane, A & R, North Ryde, NSW, 1989, pp. 186–7, 219; Bulletin (Syd.), 1 June 1974, p. 37; Herald (Melb.), 18 Apr. 1974, p. 4; Age (Melb.), 29 June 1968, p. 8, 30 Nov. 1988, p. 10.

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. 82-85.

LITTLE, John Albert (1914–1988)

Parliamentary Handbook

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Victoria, 1968–74

Victorian Parliament

Member of the Legislative Council, Melbourne North, 1954–58

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on Air Pollution, 1968–69

Estimates Committee B, 1970–73

Select Committee on Securities and Exchange, 1970–74

Estimates Committee C, 1971–73

Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, 1971–73

Standing Committee on Social Environment, 1971–74

Estimates Committee E, 1973–74

Publications Committee, 1973–74