MAUNSELL, Charles Ronald (1922–2010)
Senator for Queensland, 1968–81 (Australian Country Party; National Country Party)

A stalwart of the Queensland division of the Australian (later National) Country Party, Charles Ronald (Ron) Maunsell, pilot, earthmoving contractor, grazier and fruit grower, came from pioneering stock, his great-grandparents, Samuel and Phoebe Maunsell, having immigrated to Australia from Ballybrood, County Limerick, in 1858. The only child of Charles George Maunsell and Evelyn Violet, née Evans, he was born in Cairns on 8 May 1922. As Maunsell’s father had to return to his position as general manager of Wrotham Park on the headwaters of the Mitchell River, Evelyn made part of the return trip alone with her five-week-old baby, travelling from Cairns by train to Chillagoe before meeting her husband and travelling overland together by horse dray. [1]

Later the family moved east to clear and work their own small block near Malanda on the Atherton Tableland as a dairy farm. Maunsell attended Malanda State School between 1930 and 1935, before boarding at All Souls School, Charters Towers, during 1936. Describing himself as a dairy hand, he joined the RAAF in Brisbane on 26 April 1942, having enrolled in the RAAF Reserve on 18 September 1941. He served as a pilot in Australia until October 1945, then went with 77 Squadron to Morotai Island (now part of Indonesia), and with the occupation forces to Japan until April 1947, reaching the rank of flight lieutenant. On his demobilisation in June 1947, Maunsell became an excavation contractor, sinking dams in western Queensland before buying Rio, a 10 000-acre sheep farm near Longreach, in partnership with his parents in 1951. On 17 April 1954, at All Saints’ Church of England in Brisbane, Maunsell married Joan Meekin of Charleville. His parents retired to Brisbane and Joan and Ron ran the farm. They had three daughters.[2]

The foundations of Maunsell’s political career lay in his knowledge of, and participation in, a wide rural community, ranging from the Longreach Rodeo Association and agricultural show committee to the United Graziers’ Association of Queensland. From the late 1950s, Maunsell was active in the Country Party, performing a key role as campaign director for state and federal seats. As chairman of the Gregory electorate council (1957–67), he managed the successful 1957 state campaign for Wally Rae, the local MLA from 1957 to 1974 and a minister in the Bjelke-Petersen Government. This campaign saw the ALP lose the seat for the first time since 1899. As president of the federal division of Kennedy (1959–67), Maunsell assisted Bob Katter senior in winning the seat of Kennedy in the House of Representatives election of November 1966.[3]

After eight years service on the Country Party’s central council, and a period as a vice-president of the party’s Queensland division (1966–68), Maunsell won preselection for the Senate in 1967. Under the joint ticket arrangements then in force between the Liberal and Country Parties, a Country Party candidate took the second place on the ticket for the half-Senate election held on 25 November 1967. Maunsell was elected in fourth place.[4]

In the Senate, Maunsell raised issues of concern to those living in remote parts of the country, including access to medical, transport and communications services, taxation concessions, decentralisation and support for pastoral industries. The disproportionate impact of death duties on the estates of primary producers prompted him to join a breakaway group of Liberal and Country Party colleagues who voted to support a second reading amendment, moved by Senator Prowse, to the Loan (Farmers’ Debt Adjustment) Bill 1971, calling on the Government to withdraw from ‘the field of estate duties’. He maintained a continuing interest in defence and veterans’ issues. As a government backbencher, for his first few years Maunsell was appointed to a range of domestic and estimates committees, which may be regarded as routine appointments. In contrast, two select committees on which he served in the early 1970s left him with a sense of satisfaction that valuable results had been achieved. One was the Senate Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse in Australia, which reported in 1971 on the nature and scope of the licit and illicit drug problem in Australia. As the first major inquiry into this social phenomenon, the committee’s report made recommendations that informed the subsequent development of policies to address the various problems caused by drug abuse. The second was the Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Legislation, which reported in 1972, recommending that a greatly simplified system of benefits apply to all ex-servicemen, not only officers.[5]

With the defeat of the Liberal–Country Party Coalition at the House of Representatives election on 2 December 1972, Maunsell had his first experience of opposition. His knack for tactics and organisation, which he had put to such good effect in his party, as well as his undeviating party loyalty, now stood him in good stead. When the Senate met on 27 February 1973, he was appointed Country Party Whip, and, as he later recorded, he enjoyed being part of the ‘war council’ of Liberal and Country Party leaders that met each evening to work out tactics for the following day. He remained Whip until February 1980.[6]

In Opposition, Maunsell continued to speak out for those in remote areas who suffered disadvantage because of higher transport costs and lack of access to services. He continued to argue the case for government support for industries vital to the Queensland economy, particularly the pastoral industries of the semi-arid areas of the state. Membership of the Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control of Australian Resources, and of the standing committee that succeeded it, educated him in issues affecting the mining industry. His main committee interest during this period was foreign affairs and defence. He served on the joint committee and the Senate standing committee as well as the estimates committee covering the Department of Foreign Affairs. In June 1973 he took part in an Australian parliamentary delegation to visit the Soviet Union, which he considered a feudal society.[7]

On 2 April 1974, with a half-Senate election due on 18 May, Maunsell earned temporary notoriety for the part he played in the so-called Gair affair, an incident colourfully dubbed the ‘Night of the Long Prawns’. The Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, announced that the Democratic Labor Party’s Vince Gair had accepted the offer of a diplomatic post as ambassador to Ireland. Gair’s resignation would mean that there would be six Queensland positions to be filled at the half-Senate election, with the ALP well placed to take three of the six and so improve its chances of controlling the Senate after 1 July. To circumvent this outcome, a scheme was hatched and before day’s end the Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, had arranged for the Queensland writs to be issued for the usual five Senate places. Once the writs were issued, any subsequent casual vacancy would be filled by the state Parliament. For the plan to succeed, it was essential that Senator Gair’s resignation not be given to the Senate President, Sir Magnus Cormack, beforehand. As Maunsell explained to the Senate two days later, there had been no dining room or bar facilities available that day because of industrial action and, running into Senator Gair, Maunsell invited him to his room for a drink and something to eat.

Gair cut a lonely figure, shunned by his DLP colleagues and others for colluding with Whitlam’s designs on the Senate. He was, perhaps, grateful for the offer of a meal. Maunsell frequently brought a supply of Townsville prawns with him to Canberra and the two men apparently spent a pleasant evening interrupted only by the division bells, which took them to the chamber to vote against the second reading of the Petroleum and Minerals Authority Bill, which was rejected that night. The official Senate record thus confirmed that Senator Gair was continuing to participate in Senate proceedings and had apparently not intended to submit his resignation that evening, a view partially affirmed by a subsequent resolution of the Senate. Maunsell denied hijacking Gair and preventing him from lodging his resignation. In any event, on 11 April both houses were dissolved, with a double dissolution election following on 18 May.[8]

Since 1973, tensions had been growing in Queensland over the coalition’s joint ticket for the Senate. It was claimed that the Queensland Country Party did not want the joint ticket to be led by Aboriginal senator, Neville Bonner. Both parties were agitating for separate tickets, although there was a danger that this might make it possible for the ALP to win three out of the five places. Other options included a three-way joint ticket including the DLP, a joint DLP–Country Party ticket following a party merger, or the customary Liberal–Country Party ticket. Whatever the case, Maunsell had his party’s endorsement as its first candidate, with Senator Glenister Sheil second. The Liberal Party and the Country Party (renamed the National Country Party of Australia—NCP—on 2 May 1975) ran joint tickets for the double dissolution elections of 18 May 1974 and 13 December 1975. Maunsell was re-elected at both.[9]

Maunsell spent his last term as a senator back on the government benches. At various times between May 1976 and April 1980, he was chair of Senate estimates committees, with a particular interest in the primary industry portfolio. In 1977 he was one of two senators on the annual parliamentary delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. On 19 February 1980 Maunsell was elected Chairman of Committees in place of Douglas Barr Scott. Maunsell’s toughest experience in the chair may well have been occasioned in March 1981 by the refusal of Peter Walsh to withdraw unparliamentary remarks about the Minister for Communications, the NCP’s Ian Sinclair, after Walsh had accused Sinclair of being a beneficiary of stolen money. Walsh was named by Maunsell and suspended, after a vote of the Senate.

In February 1980 Maunsell became deputy leader of the NCP in the Senate. In 1976 and 1980 he was an influential participant in government party committees, including those on industrial relations, national resources and trade and rural matters. From October 1979 to mid-1980, he served on an unofficial committee chaired by Senator Peter Rae to investigate improvements to the Senate committee system. Maunsell had long believed that the Senate should use its committees to examine bills and enhance its value as a house of review. The committee also examined the Senate’s constitutional powers and ways to safeguard them. In his membership of the Joint Committee on the New (and Permanent) Parliament House from May 1978 to June 1981, Maunsell can be seen to be taking a more institutional perspective. The same may be said for his membership of the Privileges Committee for the last three months of his term, in 1981, during which time the committee inquired into and reported on a contempt case regarding the harassment of Senator Harradine, who had received abusive phone calls.[10]

Maunsell’s fate at the October 1980 poll had been sealed at the Queensland Liberal Party Convention in June 1978, when the party voted to field a separate ticket at the next Senate election. A year out from the election, NCP strategists devised a plan for a high profile candidate to head the Senate ticket, in part to counter the level of recognition enjoyed by Bonner, the Liberal Party’s ticket leader. The nomination of Florence Bjelke-Petersen presented the party organisation with a dilemma and, although three candidates were selected in December 1979, the decision on the ticket order was delayed until July the following year. The result was Bjelke-Petersen first, Glen Sheil second and Maunsell in the unwinnable third position. Refusing to concede defeat, Maunsell campaigned strongly in the north of the state, hoping to attract a high personal vote, but when the results were declared, Maunsell had missed out on a return to Canberra. His term ended on 30 June 1981. In his final speech to the Senate on 12 June, he referred to the Senate’s role as a house of review, which he described as putting a ‘fine toothcomb’ through legislation.[11]

Maunsell made a further bid for preselection for the 1983 election. Again unsuccessful, in 1984 he and Joan retired from Cairns to a property near Cooroy in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, where he planted fruit trees. Maunsell subsequently lived at Caloundra, then Kings Beach and Freshwater.

In 1974 the Country Party in Queensland changed its name to the National Party of Australia, Queensland, and in the early 1980s became known federally as the National Party of Australia. In 1981 Maunsell was made an honorary life member of the Queensland party.[12]

Rosemary Laing

[1] Hector Holthouse, S’pose I Die: The Story of Evelyn Maunsell, A & R, North Ryde, NSW, 1985, pp. 1, 9, 150, 168, 192, 202–4, 207, 210–11.

[2] Holthouse, S’pose I Die, pp. 150, 214, 220, 224, 226; Charles Ronald Maunsell, Transcript of oral history interview with Pat Shaw, 1985, POHP, TRC 4900/50, p. 1:3; Malanda State School, Admissions register, 1930, mfm Z2314, QSA; The editor is indebted to Hilary Grant, All Souls St Gabriel’s School, Charters Towers; Maunsell, Charles Ronald—Defence Service Record, A9301, 425711, NAA; Countryman (Brisb.), June 1967, p. 5.

[3] Maunsell, Transcript, pp. 1:4–5; United Graziers’ Annual, 1958, p. 19.

[4] Countryman (Brisb.), June 1967, p. 5, Mar. 1966, p. 2, June 1967, p. 3, Mar. 1968, p. 1.

[5] Longreach Leader, 5 July 1968, p. 1; CPD, 21 Aug. 1968, pp. 220–4, 28 Nov. 1973, pp. 2200–2, 4 Nov. 1971, pp. 1708–12; Senate, Journals, 18 May 1971, pp. 617–19; SMH, 19 May 1971, p. 14; CPD, 19 Mar. 1969, pp. 495–8, 28 Sept. 1971, pp. 917–18; Maunsell, Transcript, pp. 3:3–4; CPP, 204/1971; CPD, 18 May 1972, pp. 1784–6, 1798–1800; CPP, 74/1972.

[6] Senate, Journals, 27 Feb. 1973, p. 6; Maunsell, Transcript, p. 1:8; Senate, Journals, 17 Feb. 1976, p. 8, 21 Feb. 1978, p. 7.

[7] CPD, 6 Dec. 1973, p. 2611, 30 Oct. 1975, p. 1626, 30 July 1974, pp. 580–1, 11 Dec. 1973, p. 2658; CPP, 216/1972, 278/1974, 35/1975; Maunsell, Transcript, pp. 3:4–5, 3:14–17.

[8] Australian (Syd.), 4 Apr. 1974, p. 1; CPD, 2 Apr. 1974, p. 804; J. R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, 5th edn, AGPS, Canberra, 1976, p. 43; CPD, 4 Apr. 1974, p. 670; Maunsell, Transcript, p. 1:13; Senate, Journals, 2 Apr. 1974, p. 78, 8 Apr. 1974, pp. 93–4.

[9] Angela Burger, Neville Bonner: A Biography, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1979, pp. 113–17, 134; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 28 July 1973, p. 3; CT, 26 Feb. 1974, p. 7.

[10] Maunsell, Transcript, p. 3:12; Senate, Journals, 19 Feb. 1980, p. 1129; CPD, 3 Mar. 1981, pp. 241–5; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 4 Mar. 1981, p. 12; Senate, Journals, 21 Feb. 1980, p. 1143; Jonathan Gaul (ed.), Federal Government Guide, 3rd edn, Objective Publications, Civic Square, ACT, 1976, pp. 78–9, 4th edn, 1980, p. 105; CPD, 19 Sept. 1968, p. 835; CPP, 137/1981.

[11] SMH, 6 June 1978, p. 3; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 4 Aug. 1979, p. 3; Alan Metcalfe, In Their Own Right: The Rise to Power of Joh’s Nationals, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1984, pp. 70–3, 90–5; National Times (Syd.), 27 July–2 Aug. 1980, p. 18; Australian (Syd.), 14 Sept. 1980, p. 4; CPD, 12 June 1981, p. 3261–2.

[12] Maunsell, Transcript, p. 3:18; National Party of Australia, Agenda, 50th Annual State Conference, 1985.

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. 346-351.

MAUNSELL, Charles Ronald (1922–)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Queensland, 1968–81

Chairman of Committees, 1980–81

Senate Committee Service

Printing Committee, 1968–70

House Committee, 1968–71

Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, 1968–72

Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse in Australia, 1969–71

Estimates Committee E, 1970–71

Publications Committee, 1970–71

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, 1970–72

Joint Select Committee on Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Legislation, 1970–72

Estimates Committee D, 1971–72, 1978–80

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1971–75

Estimates Committee A, 1972, 1981

Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control of Australian Resources, 1972–75

Estimates Committee B, 1973–74, 1975, 1976–77

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1973–75

Standing Committee on National Development and Ownership and Control of Australian Resources, 1975

Estimates Committee C, 1976

Standing Committee on National Resources, 1976–77, 1978–81

Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, 1978–80

Joint Standing Committee on the New Parliament House, 1980–81

Standing Orders Committee, 1980–81

Committee of Privileges, 1981