MAGUIRE, Graham Ross (1945– )
Senator for South Australia, 1983–93 (Australian Labor Party)

Like a number of Labor members in federal Parliament between 1983 and 1996, Graham Maguire had the good fortune to experience elected politics entirely from the vantage point of government. He entered the Senate well-prepared and throughout his term his steadfast focus on policy issues, especially economic and electoral issues, marked him as a serious thinker who earned the respect of all sides. The double dissolutions of the 1980s required him to fight three elections to earn his tenure of a decade. The circumstances of that period reflected the fortunes of the Labor Party’s Centre Left faction to which he belonged. Ultimately, internal rivalries within that faction cost him a winnable position on the Labor Party ticket in the 1993 election.

Graham Ross Maguire, born in Adelaide on 21 April 1945, grew up in the working-class locale of Blair Athol, then a notoriously dry and dusty suburb fringing Adelaide’s northern approaches. His parents, Norman Ross and Mona Ruby Maguire, née Waye, operated a small business near the inner Adelaide suburb of Norwood. Maguire attended Walkerville and Gepps Cross primary schools and Adelaide Technical High School (1958–62). After more than two years of combining employment in the petroleum industry with part-time study at the University of Adelaide, he won a Commonwealth scholarship that gave him the financial means to study and complete his Bachelor of Economics full-time. Australian involvement in the Vietnam War was a radicalising influence for the young Graham Maguire. In 1967, while at university, he joined the Kilburn sub-branch of the Labor Party. In 1968 he ran for the ‘hopeless’ state seat of Albert, only getting 23.3 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, and he served as Treasurer of South Australian Young Labor from 1968 to 1970. Maguire followed up his undergraduate degree with a Masters of Economics at the Australian National University which he completed while working as a research assistant to the economic historian Noel Butlin and the historian Keith Hancock.

In late 1971 Maguire returned somewhat reluctantly to Adelaide in response to a direct appeal from new South Australian Labor Premier Don Dunstan who asked him to work for the Department of the Premier ‘to beef up its economics area’. The position proved to be substantial training for his later senatorial career, as he operated across the face of government and earned standing within the party as an effective negotiator and as an intellectual of conviction—a category more acceptable in Dunstan’s world than in most other parts of the Labor Party at that time. His work during this period included co-writing a submission on behalf of the South Australian Government to an Australian Senate committee examining the benefits and costs of foreign investment in Australia.

Maguire’s movement between policy and politics was rapid. He stood unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives seat of Sturt in the federal elections of 1974 and 1975 and, in 1977, moved to the Premier’s private office to take on the role of a research assistant. In July 1977 he married high school teacher Josephine Ruth Martin, with whom he had three children. At this time his prominence within the party rose as he became a member of the ALP State Platform Committee (1977–80) and the ALP National Economics Platform Committee (1978–82), convening a number of party subcommittees concerned with minerals and energy, economics and housing. Maguire continued in the Premier’s office after Des Corcoran replaced Dunstan in 1979, and worked for a period under John Bannon as Opposition Leader and Premier. He attempted federal politics again in the campaign for the Senate in 1980, when his third place on the Labor ticket made victory impossible against the Australian Democrats leader Janine Haines who took the fifth and final senatorial position. The double dissolution of 1983 promoted his chances of victory, but the essential element of his success was the reluctant retirement of Geoff McLaren which cleared the way for Maguire to be placed fourth on the Labor ticket and to win the eighth of ten Senate seats on offer. He was sworn in as a senator on 21 April 1983.[1]

Maguire was seen by contemporaries throughout his career as a studious and focused individual, well-prepared for discussion and rational in his approach. However, his chances of winning a ministerial post were always limited by his state of origin and factional orientation.

The election of the Hawke Government in 1983 marked the ascension of the Centre Left within the Labor Party, though the faction was not formally constituted under that name until April 1984. Almost a third of the ministers of the first Hawke governments (1983–84, 1984–87) were identified with the Centre Left, including the powerful group of senators Peter Walsh, Don Grimes and Susan Ryan, with Senator John Button closely linked to the faction. Although none of the ministers in the Senate in this period were from South Australia, the two ministerial members of the South Australian Centre Left in the House of Representatives, Mick Young and Neal Blewett, made further representation from that state extremely unlikely. Following his victory over Hawke in 1991, Keating placed two Centre Left senators from South Australia (Crowley and Schacht in ministerial positions and another South Australian senator (Bolkus, from the Left) into Cabinet. Though the faction had declined from the days of the early Hawke Government, it still commanded influence and ministerial posts. However, it proved too late for Maguire, who departed the Senate in 1993. That said, a ministerial position was never Maguire’s main ambition.2

In his first speech Maguire praised ‘the very valuable committee system of the Senate’. He quickly filled committee positions, being appointed on his first day in the Senate as a member of the Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce and, within a fortnight, as a member of three other committees. One of these was the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which had an agenda of holding Commonwealth agencies to account for their use of public monies, whose reports Maguire tabled in the Senate during his membership until 1987. In other respects Maguire’s first speech prefigured unusually well the concerns that motivated most of his later interventions in the Senate. Electoral and economic reform were the twin pillars of his policy world and he brought them together by suggesting that political participation (inhibited as it was by complicated or otherwise deformed electoral systems) was required for the majority of the community to find their voice in articulating their legitimate economic desires, including redistributive policies.3

Over the course of his career many of Maguire’s speeches and questions in the chamber expounded and defended what he saw as the great reforms of the Hawke and Keating era, including the Prices and Incomes Accord in its various manifestations, the creation of the Economic Planning Advisory Council and issues of taxation, especially the taxation of capital gains and fringe benefits—all measures he strongly supported. His capacity for popularising economic issues found expression in a regular newsletter, The Canberra Report, that he produced on a fortnightly basis throughout his period in the Senate. The report was mailed to party members and the media and used by fellow parliamentarians in both Houses as a source of factual information and polemical advice.

Maguire was an informed and impassioned commentator on the electoral reforms of the Hawke Government. Deploring the prevalence of informal voting, he was a strong advocate for reform of voting systems for the Senate. He made a submission to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform recommending the implementation of a list system of voting, as applied in South Australia, and the promotion of policies to improve voter education. He was gratified to see that both recommendations appeared in the report of the Select Committee. Maguire also claimed an innovator’s role in drawing attention to the lack of electorates named after women and it is likely the number of federal, and perhaps state, electorates now bearing women’s names owes something to his advocacy and persistence.4

Not all of the policies that Maguire supported met with success. A notable example was his spirited defence of the Australia Card legislation—the trigger of the 1987 double dissolution of Parliament.

Maguire’s reputation as what was later termed a ‘policy advocate’ should not suggest that his politics was less than full-blooded. Maguire defended the interests of his state with verve and doggedness, stressing especially issues affecting road transport and the motor vehicle industry, the condition of the Murray River, and the inequities of allowing a duopoly in domestic commercial aviation.5

What might not have been expected from his training and previous record was Maguire’s increasing involvement in foreign policy, in particular Australia’s relations with the peoples and nations of the developing world. He had been a relatively early traveller to China (1975–76), and a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence since 1985, but his ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (FDAT committee) in 1987, which continued to the end of his term, gave him a platform that he relished. A series of reports that flowed from the committee included Australia-India Relations (1990), United Nations Peacekeeping (1991), Perestroika: Implications for Australia-USSR Relations (1990), Australia and Latin America (1992), Implications of United States Policies for Australia (1992) and Japan’s Defence and Security (1993). The reports on India and Latin America were perhaps the most original and farsighted of these, described as ‘groundbreaking’ by Senator Gareth Evans. Maguire especially supported the Latin American report through his role as chair of the Parliamentarians for Democracy in Latin America Group (1987–93) and, during his last term in the Senate, through his continued questions on trade and transport links between Australia and the region. His concerns for the ongoing economic viability of the region had grown since returning from a parliamentary delegation to Mexico and Central America in 1984, when he emerged as an early critic of the neoliberal policies of the International Monetary Fund and their application in the region.6

Maguire’s speeches were carefully prepared, and replete with statistics and contemporary references to media reports. The speeches were generally received in the chamber with a low level of interjection. However, for most of Maguire’s tenure his relations with senior Liberal Senator Tony Messner were somewhat tense and combative and this was reflected in the number of interjections and the language that each deployed against the other. Maguire, in a moment of heat, once described Messner as ‘a seventeenth century patrician’. Maguire’s critical interest in the Queensland economy—against the background of a conservative National Party state government—also provoked some hostility from Opposition senators, especially those from Queensland. In April 1985, an edition of Maguire’s The Canberra Report (‘Inside the Faltering Queensland Economy’) attracted much attention, not least because such aggression came from a South Australia senator. However, as a senator from the governing side, the times suited Maguire’s temperament and he was not easily ruffled.

When Opposition proposals for debate on matters of public importance were raised on economic or employment issues he frequently led for the government in response. Maguire was Deputy Government Whip in the Senate from September 1987 to November 1988.7

Maguire modestly denied possessing ‘very good administrative skills’ and regularly praised his staff for their work. Other Labor senators frequently used his office for analytical support giving him a point in his favour in 1991 and 1992, when fighting for preselection—his office was ‘regarded as having a strong research base often used by other MPs’. However, this claim proved insufficient to save his senatorial career. The preselection meeting of the Centre Left faction on 29 January 1992 settled Maguire’s fate by placing Dominic Foreman above him, relegating him to third on the Labor ticket, which was rightly regarded as an unwinnable position in the circumstances of the time. As reported by an observer sympathetic to Maguire, the deal was justified ‘on the grounds of tradition’, as Foreman could argue the right of a sitting senator to maintain his position on the ticket and the need ‘to ensure retention of the union vote’—Foreman being South Australia’s ‘only ex-trade unionist in the Federal Parliament’. Maguire’s old boss, Don Dunstan, who was ill in hospital, reportedly regarded the preselection contest as an instance of ‘factional thuggery’ by a ‘petty-minded, parochial collection of undesirables’.8

Maguire left the Senate aged only forty-eight. His later career drew on his Senate reputation and experience and showed the characteristics that had marked it. He was a member of the board of the Federal Airports Corporation (1993–95) and then a director of Airservices Australia (1995–98), reflecting his concerns for air safety as evidenced by his frequent questions on the topic in the Senate chamber. He was a member of the Foreign Investment Review Board for five years (1993–98)—the first ex-politician to serve on the body, though others followed—and chairman of the Australia-India Council (1994–97), a body formed in 1992 following the recommendations of the FDAT Committee in its 1990 inquiry into Australia-India relations under his chairmanship.

Graham Maguire’s career in the Senate was neither very long nor, in the public eye, very prominent in a decade when his party occupied the government benches and controversy captured the attention of the media cycle. His reasoned advocacy was heard clearly by his contemporaries on both sides of politics and his mark on public policy was distinct, although mainly expressed through the reports of the Senate committee that he chaired. His record in public office was unblemished by any significant error or failing and met a standard often aspired to but less often achieved.9

Geoffrey Hawker

[1] Transcript of interview with Graham Maguire by George Lewkowicz, 30 July 2010, Don Dunstan Oral History Project transcripts, Special Collections, Flinders University Library; ‘Questionnaire’ completed 6 June 1983 for Parliament’s Bicentenary Publications Project, NLA MS 8806; ‘Profile: Senator Graham Maguire’, House Magazine, 6–13 Dec. 1989, p. 3; Herald (Adel.), March 1980, p. 2.

[2] John Summers and Andrew Parkin, ‘South Australia: declining fortunes and a new machine’ in John Warhurst and Andrew Parkin (eds), The Machine. Labor Confronts the Future, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 2000, pp. 174–81.

[3] CPD, 25 May 1983, pp. 818–22.

[4] CPD, 22 April 1985, pp. 1297–9, 21 March 1985, pp. 576–7, 7 Dec. 1987, pp. 2597–8, 3 Oct. 1984, pp. 1088–91,16 Sept. 1985, pp. 557–60, 9 Oct. 1985, pp. 918–21, 5 Nov. 1985, pp. 1546–9, 6 Nov. 1985, pp. 1629–34, 29 May 1986, pp. 3007–12, 4 June 1986, pp. 3399–403, 18 March 1987, pp. 855–60; Graham Maguire, The Canberra Report, Norwood, SA, 1983–93; CPD, 12 Oct. 1983, pp. 1483–5, 18 Nov. 1983, pp. 2847–8, 30 Nov. 1983, pp. 2980–4, 6 May 1987, pp. 2377–81, 28 March 1984, pp. 836–8, 27 May 1993, p. 1539.

[5] CPD, 9 Dec. 1986, pp. 3633–7, 1 April 1987, pp. 1656–9, 18 Sept. 1987, pp. 339–40, 351–6, 28 April 1988, pp. 2114–15, 3 May 1989, pp. 1709–10, 27 Nov. 1985, pp. 2378–80, 7 Nov. 1985, pp. 1707–11, 13 March 1991, pp. 1846–50.

[6] Author interview with Graham Maguire, Syd., June 2014; CPD, 10 May 1985, pp. 1774–5, 27 June 1996, pp. 2479–80, 27 May 1993, p. 1507.

[7] CPD, 6 Nov. 1985, p. 1632, 23 Oct. 1986, pp. 1795–6, 20 Aug. 1986, pp. 161–3, 22 April 1985, pp. 1297–9, 24 Sept. 1986, pp. 734–8, 12 Oct. 1983, pp. 1458–60, 28 May 1986, pp. 2915–18, 22 Oct. 1986, pp. 1741–3, 12 May 1987, pp. 2652–4.

[8] Lewkowicz interview; Advertiser (Adel.), 28 Jan. 1992, p. 8; Neal Blewett, A Cabinet Diary, Wakefield Press, Adel., 1999, p. 31.

[9] Author interview with Maguire; Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Australia-India Relations—Defence and Trade, Canberra, 1990, p. xi; CPD, 27 May 1993, pp. 1505–57, 1594–611.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, Vol. 4, 1983-2002, Department of the Senate, Canberra, 2017, pp. 284-288.

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Auspic DPS

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, SA, 1983–93 (ALP)

Senate Committee Service

Estimates Committee C, 1983–87; B, 1987; E, 1988–89; D, 1989, 1990–93; A, 1993

Joint Committee of Public Accounts, 1983–87

Library Committee, 1983–85

Standing Committee on Industry and Trade, 1983–85

Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce, 1983

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1985–87

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 1987–93

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 1987–93

Joint Committee on Electoral Matters, 1993

Standing Committee on Industry, Science, Technology, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure, 1993

Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, 1993