The nation’s longest serving Deputy Prime Minister, Doug Anthony, died last week. Doug was a true stateman in the Aussie larrikin spirit.
During a late session of Parliament, Doug and some other MPs began kicking a football - indoors! The football hit a painting shattering the glass inside. Doug described the aftermath, “There was a huge noise, it echoed all through King’s Hall. We swept up the broken glass and picked all the bits out of the frame and straightened the painting. It stayed like that for years before anyone noticed there was no glass in the frame!”
Doug’s laidback country charm belied a tough leader that brought the Country Party into the modern political era, and he pioneered new trade relationships during a difficult period for the Australian economy.
When Doug became leader of the Country Party in 1971 he had a tough act to follow. His predecessor as leader, John “Black Jack” McEwen, had dominated Australian politics for two decades. The future of the Country Party was in question as the number of Australians employed in farming declined.
Doug dealt with this challenge front on and in his first press conference as leader said that his party’s special role was to look after people that live outside capital cities, not just farmers. And he said “I think we service that responsibility well.”
His definition lasts to this day - 50 years on - in the logo of the Nationals party which says below it “for Regional Australia”.
Doug oversaw the change of the Country Party’s name to the Nationals Party and broadened the base of the party to include small businessman, miners and families living in country towns.
As Trade Minister during the 1970s Doug had to respond to the challenge of Britain joining the European Union and locking Australian farmers out of its markets. In the late 1960s, the UK imported almost 80 per cent of Australia’s butter. That ended overnight, and our dairy herd fell from four million head to 2.4 million. Fruit exports crashed too and many trees had to be pulled. Doug responded by focusing on new markets.
On a trip to New Zealand, after reading his papers, Doug commented why am I even going over? There is nothing here to talk about. So Doug just changed the agenda and included discussion a free trade agreement. Australia’s first trade agreement with New Zealand was born.
Doug also established new trading links with the Middle East and built on the relationships we were then building with Asian countries. As Resources Minister, Anthony pursued tough negotiations with Japanese steel mills for a better price for iron ore. He also pushed for Australia to export uranium and we are now the world’s largest exporter of uranium. He removed ceilings on petrol prices, which was unpopular, but it helped encourage a surge in Australian oil and gas exploration. Australia is now the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas.
Doug worked productively with Liberal leaders but he was always willing to fight for the interests of his own. Doug vigorously opposed the revaluing of the Australian dollar in the early 1970s, which would have hurt Australian farmers. He and other Country Party cabinet colleagues walked out of cabinet three times over three dramatic days, and he ultimately succeeded.
Doug’s vision for a broader Nationals party that represented all provincial towns was successful. Despite many writing obituaries for it, the Nationals party is alive and kicking. Like the Doug’s party in the 1970s, it has been the success of the Nationals party over the past decade that has kept the Coalition Government in power.
We have been rewarded with support because we have fought for regional areas by supporting dams, live cattle exports and the construction of the Adani mine. We have opposed new carbon or mining taxes that would have cost regional Australians their jobs.
Doug was a fighter but he never took himself too seriously, especially while running the country in his thongs from his caravan.
The biggest lesson from Doug’s life is that to succeed as a country politician you have to be a fighter but do it with a smile on your face.