Memories of Chris Hurford

Mar 21, 2021

Chris Hurford was an old-fashioned social democrat, a true Labor man with great values who knew the labour movement could lift up the poor without hurting the rich and could support his Labor principles and his Catholic faith not on his sleeve but into action for social improvement. 

In Adelaide in the 1960s & 70s 

Chris was instrumental in my mother Joan Harcourt running for SA Parliament for the ALP. Chris and Don Dunstan were looking for talented women to fly the Labor flag.

In fact, when my mother fell pregnant with my younger sister, she rang Chris to say as an expectant mother she would have to withdraw her candidacy. Chris would have none of it he just said “What wonderful news! In fact, Lorna is pregnant too with our third – you’ll have them at the same time!” Chris and Lorna went on to have 5 terrific children. The Harcourts only had 4.

After the pain of the Dismissal in 1975, Chris worked hard in Opposition with Bill Hayden and Ralph Willis to restore Labor’s economic credentials. He supported Hawke in the leadership stakes and thought Paul Keating was an excellent Treasurer, but respected the hard yards undertaken by Hayden and Willis in the 1975-83 long years of Opposition.

‘Yes Minister’ in the 1980s 

Chris Hurford was a very competent Minister in the Hawke Labor Government holding the portfolios of Housing & Construction, Immigration and later Social Security. An old-fashioned social democrat with a “hard head but warm heart”, he was a compassionate well-trained Minister – his London School of Economics (LSE) economics training and professional career as a Public Accountant coming to full use.

Chris was also a very active local member regularly attending branch meetings, union meetings and helped us form the ALP Students Association (ALPSA) at Adelaide Uni after the Labor Club got hijacked by the quasi-communist left

His election night parties at his home in North Adelaide were legendary and with Bob Hawke leading the ALP, always victorious!

Coming to America late 1980s/early 1990s 

After stints in the UK and Israel, I undertook postgraduate study in the USA. Luckily, Chris had been appointed Consul General (CG) In New York and was an activist CG visiting nearly every state – including Minnesota where I was living. The locals were impressed with Chris wanting to visit every community in the Mid-West not just hang around Manhattan living the high life. Chris was the first Australian my Wisconsin girlfriend (now my wife) met apart from me and he made a great impression – she’s lived in Australia now for almost 30 years!

Post-political life 1990s and beyond  

When Chris and Lorna returned to Australia from New York I went to Melbourne to fulfil a life-long ambition to work for the ACTU. Chris acted as my mentor and regularly visited me at the Swanston Street headquarters to check up on how I was doing and to strategize with legendary ACTU Secretary Bill Kelty. Bill rated Chris as one of the best brains in the Hawke–Keating era and it was a great honour to be a participant in their brainstorming policy ‘sessions’.

Man of principle – no great Sheikhs 

There is a line out of The Castle when Mrs Kerrigan says:

“That’s why I married your father, because he had principles”

Well, Chris was a man of principle. As Immigration Minister he deported a particularly awful anti-Semitic Muslim cleric who he thought dangerous to social cohesion and full of hateful sentiments. The man was once quoted saying that women “should dress in revealing clothing as if they are putting out meat for the cat”. Chris was right – there’s no place for that in Australia.

However, the local ALP put pressured to have the decision overturned for ‘local political reasons’ (related to branch stacking), resulting in the radical cleric remaining in Australia.

Chris was an old-fashioned social democrat, a true Labor man with great values who knew the labour movement could lift up the poor without hurting the rich and could support his Labor principles and his Catholic faith not on his sleeve but into action for social improvement.

Vale Chris Hurford.

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