AMOUR, Stanley Kerin (1900–1979)
Senator for New South Wales, 1938–65 (Australian Labor Party)

Stanley Kerin Amour, who came to be known as ‘the honorable Senator for Bankstown’, was born on 2 April 1900 at Newcastle, New South Wales, the fourth son of Richard Joseph Amour, a signalman, and his wife Elizabeth, née Thompson. Stan was educated at Sacred Heart School, Hamilton Park, and for a time lived at Murrurundi in the Hunter Valley.

He was just fifteen years of age when he enlisted in the AIF in August 1915, putting his age up by three years, and giving his occupation as junior porter. Assigned to the 5th Reinforcements, 18th Battalion, he embarked for active service on 5 October on the Australian transport ship, Themistocles, sending his mother a picture postcard with the words: ‘mother the boat I’m sailing to the front in—your loving son Stan’. On 26 June 1916 Amour was wounded severely in the back while on active service in France, and a few days later was evacuated to England, where he spent two months in hospital. On 4 May 1917 he was invalided back to Australia to be discharged in August as medically unfit. A piece of shrapnel had lodged in his back, and was not found for some years.

As a result of his war injuries, Amour was unable to speak, but while convalescing in Armidale, New South Wales, he met Jessie Eileen Jones, the daughter of a local farmer. They were married on 16 May 1918 at St Mary’s Cathedral in Armidale. On this occasion Amour gave his age as twenty-six though he was then eighteen, and below the legal age for marriage. The couple had five children. After the war, Amour worked as an insurance agent, then as a cleaner. The family lived in the country for a time, later moving to Leichhardt. Their son Richard recalls that after treatment from a herbalist his father ‘got his voice back’. In 1929 Stan took up a war service home at Padstow, where he and Jessie lived for the rest of their lives. During the Depression, the Amours provided water for people living in impoverished circumstances in the bush nearby, who came to the Padstow house to fill their empty kerosene tins. [1]

Amour was deeply disturbed by the plight of returned soldiers ‘carrying their swags, hungry, ill-clothed, and unwanted’, and from 1927 he became closely involved with the labour movement. In that year he joined the Leichhardt branch of the ALP, becoming a member of the branch’s Timber Workers’ Relief Committee, and achieving prominence in 1929 in the timber workers’ strike, along with J. S. Rosevear, the MHR for Dalley (1931–53). Amour was increasingly active in ALP politics, as a delegate to Dalley Federal Council, to Leichhardt state council and to the Leichhardt Municipal Assembly. By about 1930, he was a member of the ALP’s South Bankstown branch, serving as secretary (1930–31) and president (1932–36). Later he was President of the Bankstown ALP State Council, and, between 1929 and 1934, a delegate to annual ALP conferences.

In 1932 Amour became the first Labor alderman to represent South Ward on the Bankstown Municipal Council. Despite New South Wales Government attempts to replace the council with an administrator, Amour was re-elected in 1934, and remained on the council until 1944. On one occasion (probably in the 1930s), Alderman Amour was one of those who drove members of the reactionary New Guard out of Bankstown’s Thompson Square.[2]

Amour won a New South Wales Senate seat at the federal election of October 1937. Along with Senators Armstrong, Ashley and Arthur he was one of Labor’s ‘four A’s. Their election to the Senate was assisted by the party’s electoral strategy, which took advantage of the alphabetical listing of surnames on the ballot paper, prescribed by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1922, which was not amended until 1940. Amour was sworn in the Senate on 1 July 1938, his voice still affected by his war injury, though not enough to prevent his appointment as a temporary chairman of committees in September, a position he held until March 1951.

In his first speech, Amour castigated the Lyons Government for its refusal to intervene in an industrial dispute in the New South Wales coal mines. He noted that 17 000 miners were out of work, and commented that ‘no miner would wantonly place himself and his dependents in such circumstances’ without good reason. In October 1938 he pronounced that a Labor government would manufacture aircraft to defend Australia, and would take over the control of oil supplies. When the Prime Minister, R. G. Menzies, told the nation of the outbreak of war between Great Britain and Germany in September 1939, and declared Australia to be also at war, Amour affirmed the Labor view that the announcement should have been made in Parliament. He remained very strongly opposed to conscription for overseas service[3]

In April 1940 Amour became a supporter of Lang’s breakaway Australian Labor (Non-Communist) Party—an attempt to re-establish Lang Labor in New South Wales. With a strong sense of social justice, and as a Catholic and anti-communist, Amour had been attracted to the reformist politics of J. T. Lang in the 1920s. He and Senator Armstrong became the only senators in a parliamentary group of seven, the other five being MHRs, Jack Beasley, J. Gander, T. Sheehan, D. Mulcahy and Rosevear. Amour was the leader in the Senate. With the encouragement of John Curtin, then Leader of the Opposition, all rejoined the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party in March 1941. Meanwhile, Amour had carried into the Senate his dislike of the anti-Lang paramilitary New Guard. In June 1941 Amour claimed that the Menzies Government had recruited the New Guard’s H. W. Lloyd as Director-General of Recruitment, and that Francis De Groot (a New Guard member notorious for his disruption of the opening ceremony of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932) was a Government adviser. Amour also claimed (under privilege) that De Groot and Lloyd ‘had urged thugs and bashers to go into the suburbs of Sydney to beat up people’, and suggested that De Groot should be interned.[4]

Amour’s brand of politics related directly to individuals, especially those disadvantaged by the lack of social security. Replying to Senator Annabelle Rankin during debate on the Banking Bill on 24 November 1947, he made a typical comment:

Did any one ever tell the honorable senator the story of the depression when homes were broken up, because, if fathers were working, their unemployed sons and daughters were unable to get the dole if they remained in their parents’ homes … Did she learn how landlords evicted tenants, and banks foreclosed on homes, farms and factories, thereby putting the people on their feet to walk in search of shelter with their families … I do not know whether the honorable senator knows of those things or has seen, as I have, Australian people begging for food and little children cold and hungry, with distracted mothers driven to desperation because they could not give their offspring the food, clothing and warmth that all mothers want their children to enjoy.[5]

In a moving speech in the Senate in 1943, he described how officials in the Department of Repatriation had denied that the disabling pain in his back was the result of gunshot wounds (clearly documented on his World War I record), even suggesting the injury was self-inflicted, and accusing him of being a ‘bludger’. His account of walking the streets of Sydney in 1920, as he looked for work, is an indictment of the treatment of war veterans at that time. Amour drew heavily on these experiences, both in his contribution to repatriation legislation and in using his position in the Senate to assist returned servicemen. He led the Opposition’s objections to the Repatriation Bill 1954, unsuccessfully proposing a detailed amendment that would have assisted disabled ex-servicemen and their dependants. Much earlier, in May 1939, during the debate on the Special Annuities Bill for Enid Lyons—following the death of Prime Minister Joe Lyons—Amour had reminded the United Australia Party Government to be mindful of the claims of war widows, and had successfully moved for a select committee to investigate the discharge from the Australian Military Forces of Captain T. P. Conway. Amour subsequently became a member of the committee, which found most of Conway’s grievances to be unsubstantiated. However, the committee recommended that Conway receive a £100 payment in compensation. Despite Amour’s protests, this sum was not paid until 1942 when it was approved by the Labor Government of John Curtin.[6]

Amour was a member of two influential committees on broadcasting. The first, the Joint Committee on Wireless Broadcasting (1941–42), was one of the five wartime committees initiated by R. G. Menzies as Prime Minister in 1941. Chaired by Senator W. G. Gibson, the committee tabled its lengthy and comprehensive report on 25 March 1942, signed by all members, though Amour and two other Labor men signed a further recommendation ‘that the whole of the broadcasting system should be nationalized’. Amour then became a member of the successor to the joint committee—the Joint Standing Committee on Broadcasting.[7] In September 1943 he took over the chairmanship of this committee from Arthur Calwell. In 1945 the committee recommended that Parliament should be broadcast, following a letter to Amour from Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, in which the Prime Minister observed that he saw value in broadcasting ‘important debates’. In the event, Parliament was broadcast for the first time from the House of Representatives on 10 July 1946 and from the Senate on 17 July.[8] Amour’s tenure as chairman also saw the establishment in 1947 of an independent news service for the ABC. Despite its positive achievements, the committee, under Amour’s chairmanship, acquired a reputation for heavy-handed interference in programming. ABC managing director, Charles Moses, described it as the ‘Standover Committee’, and the ABC’s historian, Ken Inglis, judged the committee to be an unaccountable ‘menace’.

In August 1947, as Amour was homeward bound from an International Labour Conference in Geneva, an ‘incident’ occurred on board an airliner at San Francisco. J. P. Abbott, the Country Party MHR for New England, alleged, under parliamentary privilege, that Amour had kicked a fellow passenger. Amour claimed that a misunderstanding had caused the other passenger to go on the attack first. This was one event the new independent news service seems not to have reported.[9]

With the change of government in 1949, Amour left the committee, though not his association with broadcasting. On 26 November 1959, he made a personal attack on Charles Moses, during debate on the Australian Broadcasting Commission (Staff) Regulations. This rather bitter speech was his last in the Senate. From June 1960 until he left the Senate in 1965, Amour appears to have been in constant pain, speaking only once. That he rarely missed a division earned him the admiration of colleagues on both sides of the chamber.[10]

Amour remained in Bankstown, where he became a patron of Bankstown Hospital. He died in the Concord Repatriation Hospital on 29 November 1979, and was buried at Sydney Catholic Gardens Cemetery, Kemps Creek. Amour was survived by Jessie (who died in 1986) and their children. Amour’s diary is held in the National Library of Australia, and Amour Park in Revesby is named after him.[11]

Marion Consandine

[1] Bankstown-Canterbury Torch, 5 Dec. 1979, p. 5; CPD, 10 Dec. 1940, p. 660; Amour, Stanley Kerin—Defence Service Record, B2455, NAA; The author is indebted to Amour’s son, Richard, for information about his father’s life; CPD, 23 Mar. 1943, pp. 2151–5; Andrew Molloy, The History of Padstow, Australian Media, Padstow Heights, NSW, 2004, pp. 77, 169–70.

[2] CPD, 23 Mar. 1943, p. 2151; Don Whitington, Ring the Bells: A Dictionary of Australian Federal Politics, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1956, p. 4; Australian Labor Party: Senate Pre-Selection Ballot: Alderman Stan. Amour, [Sydney, 1936], Pam., NLA; The editor is indebted to Stephen Coppins, Bankstown Library; Bankstown-Canterbury Torch, 5 Dec. 1979, p. 5.

[3] SMH, 17 Nov. 1937, p. 10; Whitington, Ring the Bells, p. 4; CPD, 26 Sept. 1938, pp. 183–9, 14 Oct. 1938, p. 822, 6 Sept. 1939, pp. 21–2.

[4] Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991, OUP, South Melbourne, 1991, p. 201; CPD, 12 Dec. 1940, pp. 926–7, 26 June 1941, p. 442, 30 Sept. 1942, p. 1061; Andrew Moore, Francis De Groot: Irish Fascist, Australian Legend, Federation Press, Annandale, NSW, 2005, pp. 169, 174–7.

[5] CPD, 24 Nov. 1947, p. 2521.

[6] CPD, 23 Mar. 1943, pp. 2151–5, 21 Oct. 1948, pp. 1973–4, 29 Nov. 1950, pp. 3236–9, 21 Sept. 1954, p. 391, 18 May 1939, p. 493, 31 May 1939, pp. 973–6, 21 Sept. 1939, pp. 888–91; CPP, S3/1939; CPD, 22 Aug. 1940, pp. 587–8, 595, 26 June 1941, pp. 445–6; Notes of meeting of Cabinet, 17 Feb. 1942, A2703, 20, NAA.

[7] CPP, 73/1942; Clement Semmler, The ABC: Aunt Sally and Sacred Cow, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1981, p. 14.

[8] K. S. Inglis, This Is the ABC: The Australian Broadcasting Commission 1932–1983, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1983, pp. 120–1, 130; CPP, 31/1945; L. F. Crisp, Ben Chifley: A Biography, Longmans, Green & Co., Croydon, Vic., [1961], pp. 268–9.

[9] Semmler, The ABC, p. 86; Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1988, p. 392; Inglis, This Is the ABC, pp. 120–1, 189; CPD, 24 Sept. 1947 (R), pp. 166–7, 16 Oct. 1947, pp. 845–9; SMH, 25 Sept. 1947, p. 1; DT (Syd.), 23 Oct. 1947, p. 1, 24 Oct. 1947, p. 5.

[10] CPD, 26 Nov. 1959, pp. 1894–6; Bankstown Observer, 30 June 1965, p. 6; CPD, 26 May 1965, pp. 1295–6.

[11] SMH, 30 Nov. 1979, p. 8; Molloy, The History of Padstow, p. 171.

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. 379-383.

AMOUR, Stanley Kerin (1900–1979)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for New South Wales, 1938–65

Senate Committee Service

House Committee, 1938–62

Select Committee on the Discharge of Captain T. P. Conway from the Australian Military Forces, 1939

Joint Committee on Wireless Broadcasting, 1941–42

Joint Standing Committee on Broadcasting, 1942–49

Select Committee on National Service in the Defence Force, 1950–51

Select Committee on the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 (No. 2), 1951