Death Of The Hon. Milton Arthur Morris

Photo of Milton Morris
05 June 2019

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (17:01:17): The Hon. Milton Morris was a figure from my youth who seemed larger than life. He belonged to an era when politicians were greatly revered but was a person who had the common touch at the same time. I grew up in Newcastle and Mr Morris was the member for Maitland from the day I was born until I had almost completed year 11 at high school. Although the people of Maitland at that time thought—and they probably still do—that Newcastle and Maitland are worlds apart, Mr Morris was a figure of dominance in both places.

In fact, Mr Morris was the dominant Liberal politician in the Hunter during my youth, closely followed by the Liberal Legislative Council member, the Hon. Virginia Chadwick, who lived in our neighbourhood at the end of our street. In the Labor-dominated Hunter of those times, Liberal members of Parliament were not too thick on the ground. So Mr Morris was a Liberal colossus in our pro-Liberal household and the households of my friends, including Alderman of Newcastle Council, Cliff McDonald, who was the father of my best friend.

In a 2008 interview with the Maitland Mercury, it was noted that Mr Morris had the nickname of "Mr Maitland". My recollection of his nickname is slightly different. My older sister, Marianne, and others used to call Mr Morris "Milton the Monster". It was not a term of derision or abuse but one of affection. At the time, Milton the Monster was a cartoon figure that was very popular amongst children and adults. In the Australia of those days everybody of stature had a nickname. It was especially good to have a nickname with alliteration like Milton the Monster.

Mr Morris attended Wickham Public School, which could be viewed from the hill where I grew up, and then Newcastle Boys' Junior High School, which was on the hill and close to my childhood home. The high school had lessons in first to fourth form, or years 7 to 10 in today's language. You could not go to year 12 or matriculate to university from it. The school was still operating in my lifetime when I was at primary school. It was a kind of high school that no longer exists with an emphasis on technical education. The Newcastle Boys' Junior High School, which Mr Morris attended, is now the site of the Newcastle East Public School, which was established in 1816 and where I attended primary school, albeit at its former site on Bolton Street. Newcastle Boys' Junior High School no doubt prepared Mr Morris well for his life after school as a clerk in the wool stores in Newcastle and as an industrial officer at Stewarts and Lloyds tube mills, which was a specialist maker of steel industrial products.

At the age of 18, like so many of his generation, Milton Morris joined the armed services, where he served in the Navy and then the Volunteer Defence Corps from 1942 until 1945. After the war he worked as an industrial officer or, in modern terminology, an industrial relations specialist. Working for a steelworks like Stewarts and Lloyds, Mr Morris was engaged in negotiating with unions in their disputes with his employer. The 1950s, when Mr Morris was an industrial officer, were times of great industrial disputation, when the union movement was frequently dominated by trade union leaders who were also members of the Communist party. Those union leaders believed that anarchy would further the possibility of a proletariat-led communist revolution.

Those times would have strongly shaped Mr Morris's ideology as a Liberal. He believed that it was in the best interests of working people not to overturn the capitalist system, but to work within it. At the time, the Australian Labor Party had a policy of the nationalisation of all industries so that they would no longer be owned by capitalists and would instead be owned by the government. It is no coincidence that Mr Morris joined the Tarro branch of the Liberal Party in the same year that he concluded his Industrial Management Certificate. The certificate was the relevant qualification to be an industrial officer.

Mr Morris served as an alderman on the Lower Hunter Shire Council from 1954 to 1958 and when the incumbent member for Maitland retired—a man who had been deputy leader of the Liberal Party in the New South Wales Parliament—Mr Morris was preselected as the Liberal candidate for Maitland. He won the seat in the State election a staggering nine times—in 1956, 1959, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1976 and 1978. During his distinguished parliamentary career, Mr Morris was Minister for Transport from 13 May 1965 until 3 January 1975—almost 10 years. This was fitting, given that he was a working-class Liberal and the son of a railway guard. He also served as the Minister for Lands in 1975 and the Minister for Decentralisation and Development until 14 May 1976. A ministerial career of 11 years is a substantial contribution to this Parliament, the Government and the State of New South Wales.

Mr Morris has shown that Liberals can succeed politically in the traditional working-class industrial areas of the Hunter. The swings to the Liberal Party that we have seen in the Hunter at a State and Federal level over the last 10 years show that if local Liberals would only take a leaf out of the political playbook of Milton Morris, they might find great opportunities for the Liberal Party in Newcastle and the Hunter. In 1980 Mr Morris resigned from State Parliament to run as the Liberal candidate for the Federal division of Lyons, where in a three-cornered contest he was narrowly beaten by only 2.9 per cent by the National Country Party candidate. Thus, he failed to get the National Country Party's preferences to flow to him and could not beat Labor's candidate.

After serving in Parliament, Mr Morris continued his community service. He was chair of a not‑for‑profit company, the Hunter Valley Training Company, whose objective was to give young people apprenticeships and help them in their working life. He was honorary chair of Lewis House Apprentice Hostel in Mayfield, patron of the East Maitland sub-branch of the Returned and Services League, honorary prefect of the Hunter Christian School—formerly the Mayfield Christian Community School—and patron of the Mai-Wel Group and the Waratah Brass. In 1988 Mr Morris became an officer in the Order of Australia for his contribution to politics, youth and community. The following year he was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta for his service to Poland and its people.

In 2016 Premier Gladys Berejiklian invited Coalition members to lunch with Mr Morris in the Strangers' Dining Room. I was privileged to join the Premier and other MPs meeting this political giant of the early Liberal Party and of my youth. I can honestly say I was a little starstruck. My impression of Mr Morris was of a warm, down‑to‑earth man who, in a humble way, very much appreciated the fuss that was being made of him. Few people who enter Parliament will ever make a contribution that rivals his. Mr Morris died peacefully in his sleep in February this year. He was well into his 90s and his life was certainly well-lived. I give my condolences to the family of Milton Morris. They must have cherished the opportunity to know such a great man at close quarters. I am sure they miss him greatly. Vale the Great Lion of the Liberal Party in the Hunter, the Hon. Milton Morris. I thank him for his great public service.