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Duffy, Maurice Boyce (Morrie) (1886–1957)

by L. J. Louis

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Maurice Boyce (Morrie) Duffy (1886-1957), accountant and union official, was born on 17 November 1886 at Iron Bark, Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria, second son of Richard Duffy, baker, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Boyce, both born at Castlemaine. After education by the Marist Brothers at Bendigo, and at Xavier College, Melbourne, 'Morrie' Duffy became assistant secretary of Strathfieldsaye Shire and then principal of a business college at Bendigo. On 10 January 1912 at Sacred Heart Cathedral he married 34-year-old Mary Theresa Henke, daughter of a miner; they had two sons and two daughters.

After World War I, when he handled contracts for army supplies, Duffy came to prominence in the labour movement in Melbourne. Beginning as a clerk in the Trades Hall office and as a Clerks' Union delegate, he moved up through the Trades Hall Council. In 1921-22 he was president, and thereafter a member of key committees; in 1923 he was placed in charge of its Research and Information Bureau (at £7 a week); from August 1924 he was assistant secretary (at about £9) and from October 1929 to the end of 1930, secretary of the T.H.C. From 1918 to 1929, with a couple of breaks, he was on the central executive of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party, and was its president in 1924-25 and a delegate to federal conference in 1924.

Meanwhile, Duffy had been member of three Commonwealth royal commissions: on taxation (appointed 1920), on Crown lease-holds (1924) and on the Constitution (1927); with T. R. Ashworth and D. L. McNamara he reported strongly in favour of increased Federal powers. Duffy took an interest in education: he was appointed to the Council of Public Education representing industrial interests in 1927; in 1931 he was made a councillor of the Working Men's College, and that year was appointed to the Apprenticeship Commission and to the board of inquiry into the Victorian Education Department.

Reserved, well-dressed and an incessant cigar smoker, Duffy held very moderate views. He was an administrator rather than an activist, and was regarded as an expert on finance. With the onset of the Depression he protested against attacks on living standards and was critical of private banks and interest rates; but he was to defend the Labor governments' acceptance of the Premiers' Plan.

In 1930, to the dismay of the labour movement, the Federal Labor cabinet reappointed Sir Robert Gibson as chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board; at the same time, however, Duffy was appointed to the board for seven years at £600. He was reappointed in 1937 and 1944. His colleague L. F. Giblin considered he 'brought a new outlook and a sturdily independent mind to banking problems'. In 1945, when the board was abolished, Duffy was appointed chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Promotions Appeal Board for six years. During World War II he had also been deputy chief inspector, stores and clothing, Department of the Army.

In 1932, despite T.H.C. objections, Duffy had attended the Ottawa Imperial Economic Conference as workers' consultant to the Australian delegation, and on his return insisted that the Ottawa Agreement be given a fair trial, though it was condemned by the labour movement.

Duffy was secretary, until his death, of the Industrial Printing and Publicity Co. and from association with its radio station 3KZ, he contributed to the development of broadcasting. He was first president of the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations in 1930-34 and for some years its secretary-general. In 1939 he helped to establish 3CS (Colac Broadcasting Co. Pty Ltd) of which he was initially a director, general manager and secretary, and later chairman of directors.

For many years Duffy lived at Windsor. He died after a fall on 30 October 1957, survived by his wife and children, and was buried in St Kilda cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £5168.

Select Bibliography

  • L. F. Giblin, The Growth of a Central Bank (Melb, 1951)
  • L. J. Louis, Trade Unions and the Depression (Canb, 1968)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 6 Nov 1924
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2, 8, 9, 26 Sept 1930, 19, 22 Apr, 6 Aug, 6 Dec 1932
  • Labor Call, 11, 18 Sept, 16 Oct 1930
  • Bulletin, 17 Sept 1930
  • Australian Worker, 8 Oct 1930, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Jan 1934, 28 Aug 1945
  • Herald (Melbourne), 31 Oct, 1 Nov 1957
  • Trades Hall Council (Melbourne), minute books (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

L. J. Louis, 'Duffy, Maurice Boyce (Morrie) (1886–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/duffy-maurice-boyce-morrie-6030/text10307, accessed 23 September 2017.

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