MILLINER, Bertie Richard (1911–1975)
Senator for Queensland, 1968–75 (Australian Labor Party)

Bertie Richard Milliner was born in Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, on 17 July 1911. He was the sixth son of Arthur, a glazier, and Ellen, née Batchelor. Educated at Kelvin Grove Boys’ State School from 1918 until 1925, Milliner spent his entire life in the inner west Brisbane suburbs of Kelvin Grove and Newmarket. On 26 March 1938 he married a schoolteacher, Thelma Elizabeth Voght, at the Presbyterian Church in Ann Street, Brisbane. From 1941 to 1975 Bertie and Thelma lived in their own house at Grey Street, Newmarket. They had four children.

In 1927 Milliner joined the Queensland Government Printing Office where he worked for some twenty-two years, first as a hand compositor, then as a machine compositor. He held positions with names that now sound arcane, such as father of the linotype and monotype chapel and chairman of the council of chapels. On 5 December 1949, he was suspended for an alleged refusal to obey an order concerning the allocation of work given to him by an overseer. Following a 200-strong protest meeting, the Government Printer agreed to lift the suspension, providing Milliner agreed to obey orders. In January 1950 Milliner resigned to work at the Telegraph Newspaper Company, Brisbane. [1]

Milliner had joined the Queensland branch of the Printing Industry Employees’ Union of Australia (PIEUA) in 1933, and quickly came to hold union office. In 1934 he was elected to the board of management of the PIEUA, holding several part-time positions. From 1942 to 1947 he was vice-president of the union, and from 1947 to 1952 president. In 1952 he was elected assistant secretary and advocate for the PIEUA, and thereby became a full-time union official. He held these positions until his election as Queensland branch secretary in 1954. Unopposed at each annual election, he remained secretary until 1968, and appears also to have served concurrently as treasurer from at least 1958. By 1966 he had held almost every office within the union and ‘his name [was] a byword in printing in Queensland’.[2]

From 1947 until 1968 Milliner was Queensland branch councillor on the union’s federal council and, from February 1951 to March 1968, its national vice-president. From 1952 until 1968 he was a delegate and member of the executive of the Trades and Labor Council of Queensland (TLC). During this time, he was on various committees, including the basic wage and the parliamentary committees. Between 1961 and 1968, he was TLC treasurer, and he was a delegate to the ACTU in 1957, 1963 and 1965. His national profile within the union movement resulted in his appointment, by the TLC, as an advisor to workers’ delegations at ILO conferences in Geneva in 1954 and 1967. In 1962 he was appointed to represent Queensland trade unions on the Apprenticeship Executive Office, a statutory body administering apprenticeships in Queensland.[3]

Milliner had joined the Newmarket branch of the ALP, probably in the early 1930s, and would serve as secretary and president, and represent the branch on the Kelvin Grove executive committee. From 1947 to 1950 Milliner served as the Small Unions delegate on the Queensland Central Executive (QCE) and, from December 1950, on the same body as delegate for the Printing Industry Employees’ Union. In 1957, during QCE debate on a move to expel Premier Vince Gair, Milliner tried unsuccessfully to effect a reconciliation. In September 1962 he was elected to the ‘inner committee’ of the central executive, having been unsuccessful in 1953 and 1960. From 1963 to 1968 he held the influential position of President of the Queensland branch, and in July 1967 was a Queensland delegate to the Commonwealth Conference.[4]

Milliner had unsuccessfully run as a candidate for the Kelvin Grove ward at the Brisbane municipal elections of April 1949. In 1962 he was nominated for the Senate casual vacancy arising from the death of Senator Poulter, but lost to George Whiteside. When the Liberals’ Senator Sherrington died in March 1966, the casual vacancy was filled by Senator Heatley. Milliner unsuccessfully contested Sherrington’s vacancy at the House of Representatives election in November 1966. At the half-Senate election of 25 November 1967, Milliner headed the ALP Senate ticket for Queensland, receiving the largest number of first preference votes of any Queensland candidate. He was re-elected at the double dissolution election of May 1974.

Generally a quiet man, he gave little quarter on the floor of the Senate, and was quick to put down interjectors. He had a lasting concern for the working man, and returned time and again to the needs and situation of ‘a worker, his wife and family’. Wages, pensions, work conditions, all were abiding concerns. He once spoke of a married woman who, after eleven years in the same job, was denied long service leave to have a child. Although he was concerned at the increasing number of women in the workplace, he viewed women’s issues from the perspective of their rights as workers, and was in favour of equal pay. A moderate in the ALP, he was more progressive than many of his union colleagues on key issues of the day, such as the Vietnam War, though his only substantial speech on the subject related to the moratorium in Queensland. He opposed mining on the Great Barrier Reef, but advocated resuming the hunting of crocodiles. He frequently raised matters concerning the printing industry, and led the Opposition response to the Book Bounty legislation in 1969 and 1970. On 10 July 1974 he was appointed a temporary chairman of committees in the Senate.[5]

Milliner was a hard-working and keen committee man. Committees on which he served included the Joint Committee on the ACT, of which he became chair in May 1973. In August the committee’s terms of reference were extended to examine the possible form of self-government for Canberra, Milliner wryly noting that all government departments seemed in favour of self-government as long as it did not impinge on their own operations. The committee produced a major report, ‘Self-Government and Public Finance in the Australian Capital Territory’, tabled in Parliament in March 1975.[6]

The Senate adjourned for the winter recess on 12 June 1975, and on 30 June Milliner died at his desk in his Brisbane office. Sadly, the events that followed his death overshadowed his commendable Senate and trade union service. The manner of filling the ensuing casual vacancy, in an unstable political environment with Senate numbers on a knife-edge, led to bitter political recriminations. The long-held convention that casual vacancies should be filled by one of the same party as that of the former incumbent was broken for the second time in four months, the first occasion relating to the appointment of Cleaver Bunton, on 27 February 1975. The filling of Milliner’s vacancy with a non-Labor person allowed the coalition parties to block the Whitlam Government’s appropriation bills, leading to the crisis of October–November 1975 and the double dissolution of that year.

Milliner was a loyal Labor man, not overly political, and inclined to conciliation rather than militancy. It was ironic that some twenty journalists were among those at his funeral service at the Albany Creek Crematorium, Aspley, turning television cameras on the Prime Minister as he sat among the mourners. Milliner had been one of Whitlam’s personal friends. Later, the Prime Minister referred to the ‘display of loutishness and vulgarity by sections of the media that brought great distress to … family and friends and lasting discredit to those responsible’.

As the Country Party’s Senator Webster commented, Milliner was one who prized ‘honour and virtue above the external advantages of rank and fortune’. His public activities had included support of the South Queensland Prisoners’ Aid Society (1963), the Queensland Board of Adult Education (1963–68), the Industries’ Sheltered Workshop Committee (1965–66), and the state committee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (1966–75). He was chairman of directors of Brisbane radio station 4KQ from 1958 to 1967. Keenly interested in sport, and a sportsman in earlier days, he was also active in the Boy Scouts Association. He was a Freemason and a Presbyterian.

Milliner was survived by Thelma and their four children. Their son Glen, who became MLA for the Queensland seats of Everton (1977–92) and Ferny Grove (1992–98), and a minister in the Goss Government, had followed his father into the printing trade. In his tribute to Milliner in the House of Representatives, Whitlam referred to the printing industry as ‘traditionally the most skilled of all crafts’, adding that Milliner ‘loved his trade; he excelled in it; he brought added lustre to all who follow it’.[7]

Greg Terrill

[1] Manfred Cross, ‘Milliner, Bertie Richard’, ADB, vol. 15; Kelvin Grove Boys’ State School, Admissions register, 1 July 1918, mfm Z2866, QSA; Printing Trades Journal (Syd.), Jan. 1954, p. 5, Jan. 1950, p. 7.

[2] Printing Trades Journal (Syd.), Mar. 1968, p. 34, Mar. 1952, p. 24, Dec. 1967, p. 205, Jan. 1954, p. 5; Printing and Kindred Industries Union, Branch Bulletin (Brisb.), Oct. 1966, p. 2.

[3] Printing Trades Journal (Syd.), Mar. 1952, p. 24, Mar. 1968, p. 34, Mar. 1951, p. 23; Trades and Labor Council of Queensland (TLC), Minutes, 2 July 1952 and 16 July 1952, M54, reel 4, Minutes, 20 July 1960, M54, reel 6, NBAC, ANU; TLC, Minutes, 5 July 1961 and 12 July 1967, UQFL 118, parcels 20 and 29, ACTU Congress minutes, 1957–65, UQFL 118, box 100, Fryer Library, UQ; SMH, 6 Apr. 1954, p. 14; Printing Trades Journal (Syd.), Feb. 1964, p. 20, Aug. 1967, p. 122.

[4] Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 26 July 1966, p. 5; Printing Trades Journal (Syd.), Jan. 1954, p. 5; ALP, Qld branch, Queensland Central Executive minutes, 12 Dec. 1947, 20 Dec. 1950, 22 Feb. 1960, and 26 Feb. 1968, OMEQ/6, SLQ; D. J. Murphy, R. B. Joyce and Colin A. Hughes (eds), Labor in Power: The Labor Party and Governments in Queensland 1915–57, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1980, p. 513; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 25 Sept. 1962, p. 1; News Weekly (Melb.), 4 Nov. 1953, p. 2; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 26 Feb. 1963, p. 3; ALP, Official report of the 27th Commonwealth Conference, 1967.

[5] Brisbane Statistics, vol. 26, 1970–71 and 1971–72, p. 31; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 6 Oct. 1962, p. 1, 26 July 1966, p. 5; Printing Trades Journal (Syd.), Sept. 1966, p. 153; CPD, 6 Mar. 1974, p. 67, 28 Aug. 1968, pp. 392–3, 25 Sept. 1968, p. 965, 24 Sept. 1970, pp. 854–5, 25 Mar. 1969, p. 558, 5 Mar. 1969, pp. 301–3, 7 June 1973, p. 2468, 24 Sept. 1969, pp. 1280–3, 27 Aug. 1970, pp. 305–6.

[6] Ruth Atkins, The Government of the Australian Capital Territory, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1978, pp. 122, 128; CPP, 26/1975; CPD, 5 Mar. 1975, pp. 626–9.

[7] J. R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, 5th edn, AGPS, Canberra, 1976, pp. 56, 106–7; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 1 July 1975, p. 3; Clem Lack (ed.), Three Decades of Queensland Political History 1929–1960, Government Printer, Brisbane, 1962, p. 476; Murphy, Joyce and Hughes (eds), Labor in Power, pp. 519–22; SMH, 4 July 1975, p. 9, 5 July 1975, p. 2; CPD, 9 July 1975 (R), pp. 3549–50, 9 July 1975, p. 2690; Board of Adult Education (Qld), Reports, 1963–68; Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Annual reports, 1966–75.

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. 352-355.

MILLINER, Bertie Richard (1911–1975)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Queensland, 1968–75

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on the Canberra Abattoir, 1969

Printing Committee, 1969–70

House Committee, 1969–73

Standing Committee on Primary and Secondary Industry and Trade, 1970

Estimates Committee C, 1970–73

Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, 1970–75

Publications Committee, 1970–75

Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts, 1971–75

Estimates Committee B, 1973–74

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1973–74

Library Committee, 1973–75

Standing Orders Committee, 1974

Estimates Committee G, 1974–75

Estimates Committee E, 1975