Monday, January 2, 2012

Rex 'Buckets' Jackson


News report, 1 January 2012:

Rex Jackson dies, aged 83 

Rex Jackson, one of Australia's most controversial politicians, has died on the New South Wales south coast at the age of 83.  The former MP, who represented seats in the Illawarra beginning in 1955, held ministries in the NSW Labor government from the mid-70s until his spectacular fall from grace in 1983.  He was convicted of conspiracy as prisons minister for accepting bribes in exchange for letting prisoners out of jail early. He served just over three years of his 10 year prison sentence before returning to Helensburgh and running a hotdog stand.

Not only was Rex Jackson one of Australia’s most controversial politicians, he was also one of Oz’s most colourful. 

Below is an anecdote about Rex Jackson from Barry Cohen’s 1997 book Whitlam to Winston, which is now unfortunately out of print.

A couple of quick explanatory notes:

In 1975 the elected Whitlam Labor Government was in trouble.  Beset by scandals and foul-ups, it was almost certain that if an election were to be called, the Opposition led by Liberal party leader Malcolm Fraser would be elected and form a government.  Fraser decided to force an election by blocking supply.  He proposed to do this by having the Senate (controlled b y the Liberals) not approve appropriations, that is, money for the government.  In doing so he breached a convention (an unofficial rule not having the force of actual law) that the upper house would not block supply, that is, not deny a government money to run.  It meant that the government had no money to pay its public servants, military, pay contracts, fund Medicare etc.  Fraser counted on Whitlam calling an election.  Whitlam refused to do so.  What would happen when the government ran out of money?  How was the impasse be broken.  The Queen’s representative in Australia, the Governor General, was considered to be a figurehead.  That was also a convention that the Queen/Governor general would not interfere in domestic politics.  Instead, the Governor General, Sir John Kerr (who had been appointed to the post by Whitlam) sacked the Whitlam Government and installed Fraser and the Opposition as a caretaker government until elections could be called.  A popularly elected Australian government had been dismissed by the representative of the Queen of England.  In the subsequent elections Fraser was voted in and formed a government.  Sir John Kerr remained a reviled figure for the Labor Party.

Barry Cohen’s item: 


Rex ‘Buckets’ Jackson, Minister for Corrective Services in the Wran Government, was rarely out of the news.  The son of a railway fettler, he left school at 15 to become a clerk while pursuing a promising career as a boxer.  A true son of the working class, he earned his nickname from his willingness to heap abuse on his opponents.  Unfortunately, his interest in the ‘neddies’ was to land him in financial difficulties and a stretch in one of the institutions for which he, as Minister, had previously been responsible. 

While Rex was still in office his colleague Phil O’Neill, Labor MP for Burwood (1978-84), went to see him to discuss the membership of one of Rex’s committees.  They had barely started talking when the latter’s private secretary appeared at the doorway. 

‘There’s a very pushy person on the phone who says she will only speak to the Minister,’ the secretary told him. 

‘Who is it?’ Rex asked. 

‘A Lady Pagan.’ 

Recognising that it could only be the wife of Brigadier Sir John ‘Jock’ Pagan, sometime Federal President of the Liberal Party, Rex immediately picked up the phone.  ‘Yes, Lady Pagan.  What can I do for you?’ 

‘We have a home on the Southern Highlands near one of your penal institutions, and a young Aboriginal inmate is distressing our guests by firing a shanghai at their windows.  I want you to fix it immediately.’  Her imperious tone indicated that this was not a matter for debate. 

‘Certainly Lady Pagan,’ was Rex’s knee-jerk reaction to an order from a member of the establishment.  ‘I’ll call you back.’  He immediately rang the Warden, told her of the offences being committed and instructed her to confiscate the shanghai, put the boy in solitary confinement and dock him two weeks’ pocket money. 

‘It’s all been fixed,’ he informed the society matron by return call.   

‘Thank you,’ she replied, with all the grace she could muster when talking to the lower classes. ‘Our guests, Sir John and lady Kerr, will be most pleased.’ 

‘Your guests?’ Rex asked. 

‘Yes, Sir John and Lady Kerr.’ 

Rex was back on the phone to the Warden immediately.  ‘Get that boy out of solitary, give him back his shanghai and buy him a box of chocolates.  And do it quickly or you’ll be charged with racial harassment.’ 

Source: Rod Cavalier/Phil O’Neill

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