WHITESIDE, George Irvine (1902–1976)
Senator for Queensland, 1962–63 (Australian Labor Party)

George Irvine Whiteside was born in Footscray, Victoria, on 20 September 1902, son of John Whiteside, a fitter born in Rochford, Victoria, and Caroline, née Hale, born in Wigan, England. Educated in state schools, in his youth Whiteside was an active sportsman and a noted amateur boxer. His first job was in a Victorian stone quarry. In 1917 he joined the Australian Workers’ Union and was employed at the Colonial Sugar Refinery factory in Yarraville, Melbourne. As a result of a strike later that year, he was out of work for seven months. When work resumed he was elected as a job delegate.

In 1921 Whiteside arrived at Mossman in North Queensland, where he worked initially as a canecutter and as a woodcutter on railway construction. A meeting of local workers chose him as their delegate to the town’s school of arts, ambulance and hospital committees. Elected as a delegate to the Federated Engine Drivers’ and Firemen’s Association (FEDFA) in 1927, Whiteside was appointed organiser of the FEDFA in July 1934. This involved seven or eight months travel each year through North Queensland, visiting sugar mills, butter factories, sawmills, meatworks, electrical authorities, mines and roadworks. Whiteside was elected union delegate to the Australasian Council of Trade Unions by the FEDFA federal council in 1944 and from 1946 to 1963, and was FEDFA delegate to the Trades and Labor Council of Queensland from 1955. He served as FEDFA secretary from 1946 to 1962, and was on the Federal Council in 1949, 1954 and 1955. In 1959 he was elected FEDFA Federal President, but the appointment was declared invalid due to a misprint in his opponent’s name on the ballot paper. [1]

From 1946 Whiteside was prominent in Queensland Labor politics, as well as industrial affairs. In that year he was elected as a union delegate to the ALP’s Queensland Central Executive (QCE), serving until 1963. He was a Queensland delegate to ALP Commonwealth conferences in 1953, 1956, 1957, 1959 and 1961 and for the last three was a member of the industrial and rural committee. Whiteside served as Queensland delegate to the ALP Federal Executive from 1959 until 1962, and was chairman of Labor Broadcasting Station Pty Ltd.[2]

When communism emerged as a force in FEDFA in the 1940s, Whiteside organised an anti-communist Industrial Group within the union to prevent the election of communists to union positions. As D. J. Murphy points out, Whiteside was a traditional unionist, and in no way associated with the Catholic Social Studies Movement (which also supported Industrial Groups). Following the 1953 Labor-in-Politics Convention, Whiteside was elected to a committee appointed to negotiate with the Gair Government over the issue of three weeks annual leave, which became party policy at the convention. Whiteside and ALP official Jack Devereux went to the Government seeking an amendment to the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, in order to legislate for the extra week of leave, and also to unite the party. Although a meeting with Premier Vince Gair left Whiteside and his colleagues with the impression that Gair would take action, nothing was done. An executive member of the QCE from 1956, Whiteside was among those who voted successfully on 25 April 1957 to expel Gair from the party.[3]

On 18 December 1958 difficulties again arose in the party when the QCE voted to suspend its president, Joe Bukowski over an incident at a Christmas party, and Whiteside, who been elected vice-president in August 1956, became acting president. Whiteside was unanimously elected state president of the ALP in February 1959 and served until Bertie Milliner was appointed his successor in February 1963. With Labor now out of government in Queensland, the party presidency was far less influential than it had been only a short time before, and Whiteside’s period in office was largely uneventful, although he was involved in initiating the purchase of new headquarters for the state ALP at Newstead.

On 9 October 1962 Whiteside was appointed by the Queensland Parliament to fill the vacancy arising from the unexpected death of Senator-elect Max Poulter. The Liberal–Country Party Government initially used its overwhelming majority in the Queensland Parliament to reject the Labor Party’s first nominee, Alf Arnell, a union official with the Waterside Workers’ Federation. When the party nominated Whiteside, however, all three major parties supported him. He was sworn in the Senate on 16 October 1962. Constitutionally, as an appointee to a casual vacancy, Whiteside’s term only lasted until the next election of either house of the federal Parliament, which was the House of Representatives election of 30 November 1963. Whiteside was defeated, losing his seat to the Liberals’ Kenneth Morris.[4]

Whiteside’s only speech in the Senate was on 28 August 1963. Many of his themes were perennial ones, such as criticism of the Menzies Government for its failure to increase social security benefits, and the need for repeal of penal clauses in industrial legislation. He declared that the Senate committee system should be extended ‘to make an even more effective contribution to Australian life’, and warned that the new beef roads in northern Australia could become impassable after a wet season. He urged the creation of ‘a new authority for the north such as the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority’ to divert rivers inland from the coastal strip to drier western areas.

As a questioner, he covered some esoteric subjects. Whiteside’s questions ranged from removing public buildings in order to improve facilities for Australian Rules football at Brisbane’s Perry Park, to investigating the use of white lead in toothpaste and the exploration for the rare mineral, pollucite.[5]

Whiteside contested the Senate election of 5 December 1964, but was relegated on the party ticket to the unwinnable third position behind Felix Dittmer and James Keeffe. In July 1966 Whiteside nominated for the Senate vacancy caused by the death of the Liberals’ Senator Sherrington, but came third in the preselection process, Bertie Milliner becoming the endorsed ALP candidate.

On leaving the Senate, Whiteside was unable to return to his former union positions as they had been filled. According to the Courier-Mail, ‘top Labor Party circles were confident that a suitable position would be found for him’, but no political or industrial sinecure eventuated.

George Whiteside died in Brisbane on 28 July 1976. Senator Georges remembered him as ‘a man who had no aspirations to greatness but who, in his time, achieved much for his fellows’. Whiteside had been a patron of the Queensland Australian Football League since 1963, and Senator Ron McAuliffe, then president of the Queensland Rugby League, admitted that he had long ago given away any hope of converting the Victorian-born Whiteside to rugby league. According to McAuliffe, this exemplified Whiteside’s character as ‘a man who remained steadfast to the causes in which he believed’. Those causes were the trade union movement and the ALP, in whose interests Whiteside gave many years of unstinting and unsung service.[6]

Brian Stevenson

[1] ALP, Federal Secretariat, Candidates’ biographies, MS 4985, box 241, folder 37, NLA; CSR Limited, Hours, work and wages returns, 31 Mar. 1918, 30 Sept. 1918, 30 Sept. 1919, N74/1–50, NBAC, ANU; Federated Engine Drivers’ and Firemen’s Association (FEDFA), Qld branch, Committee of Management minutes, 3 Sept. 1934, UQFL 159, Accession 840100, box 2, Fryer Library, UQ; FEDFA, Federal council minutes, 28 Apr.–8 May 1943, pp. 107–11, 11–14 Apr. 1944, pp. 1–3, Z175, box 88, NBAC, ANU; Safety Valve (Melb.), Dec. 1962, p. 10; Trades and Labor Council of Queensland, Minutes, 1955–60, M54, reels 5–6, NBAC, ANU; Safety Valve (Melb.), Sept. 1962, p. 1, Dec. 1948, p. 11, Dec. 1953, p. 12, Jan. 1955, p. 12, Mar. 1960, pp. 12–13.

[2] ALP, Official records of the 19th Queensland Labor-in-Politics Convention, 1947, Reports of the 20th Commonwealth Conference, 1953, Special Commonwealth Conference, 1956, 22nd, 23rd and 24th biennial conferences, 1957, 1959, 1961; ALP, Federal Secretariat, Federal Executive minutes, 5 May 1959, 8 Oct. 1962, MS 4985, boxes 123–4, NLA.

[3] QPD, 9 Oct. 1962, p. 734; 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, pp. 484, 494, 498–9, 508–10, 522.

[4] Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 19 Dec. 1958, p. 1; ALP, Qld branch, Queensland Central Executive minutes, 2 Aug. 1956, OMEQ/6/22, 23 Feb. 1959, OMEQ/6/24, SLQ; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 26 Feb. 1963, p. 3; ALP, Federal Secretariat, Candidates’ biographies, MS 4985, box 241, folder 37, NLA; QPD, 9 Oct. 1962, p. 738; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 6 Oct. 1962, p. 1.

[5] CPD, 28 Aug. 1963, pp. 280–2, 27 Nov. 1962, p. 1490, 1 May 1963, p. 165, 27 Aug. 1963, p. 202.

[6] Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 26 July 1966, p. 5, 18 Dec. 1963, p. 3; CPD, 17 Aug. 1976, pp. 9–10; Football Record (Brisb.), 7–8 Aug. 1976, p. 18; CPD, 17 Aug. 1976 (R), pp. 6–8.

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. 316-318.

WHITESIDE, George Irvine (1902–1976)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Queensland, 1962–63