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Bishop, Reginald (Reg) (1913–1999)

by Chris Schacht

from Advertiser

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Reginald Bishop. Politician, trade union leader. Born Adelaide, 1913. Died Adelaide, July 3, 1999.

Reg Bishop met in every way the classic description of "cream of the working class". His lifelong commitment and achievements with the Labor movement and Labor Party are clear testimony to this description. During the 1950s and 1960s, Reg was one of the handful of people, along with Jim Toohey, Clyde Cameron and Geoff Virgo who, behind the scenes, built the South Australian ALP into an effective and electable political force.

Reg had a natural instinct for politics. He could rapidly grasp the ins and outs of any issue and if he thought it was stupid or unlikely to advance the cause of Labor, it would be succinctly despatched as "frogs .. t".

His easygoing, practical earthiness was, with his loyalty to the Labor movement, his most distinguished characteristic.

I remember, as his private secretary when he was Postmaster-General, directly telling the senior bureaucrats of the department that if he could not understand their proposals, then neither would the general public. One day, the PMG proposed to put up public phone charges by 3c a call to 13c.

This meant that 2c and 1c coins would have to be used.

Reg queried what the conversion cost would be the departmental officers said it would not be costly at all.

He insisted on being taken to the nearest PMG workshop for a demonstration. Once there, a young technician pointed out how complex the adjustment would be. The proposal was dismissed with a curt "I thought it was a frogs .. t idea and so it is." The department was thereafter more wary about trying to "Yes minister" Reg.

Reg was born in South Australia and, as a teenager, obtained a clerk's job with the SA Railways at the Islington workshops. He showed immediate interest in the Australian Railways Union and soon was being recognised as a coming talent for the union.

In 1937, at only 24 years of age, he was appointed a full-time organiser for the union. He often described the organising experience of riding a motorcycle all over rural SA as he serviced the union's members. He served the union in full-time positions until 1956, with three years' RAAF service in Darwin and Borneo.

In 1956, at the height of the split in the Labor movement, he was defeated in a ballot for State secretary of the union. This loss he often described as his biggest disappointment but such was his reputation that, within a few months, he was elected as secretary of the State Trades and Labor Council.

He entered the Senate in 1962 and during his 19 years there served on innumerable committees and was a minister in the Whitlam government. Reg was a strong supporter of Gough.

Even when he disagreed with a particular Whitlam view, he always recognised that Gough had dragged up and reformed the ALP nationally to make it electable.

He was Repatriation Minister and Minister Assisting the Defence Minister from 1973 to 1974. After the 1974 federal poll, Reg became Postmaster-General after initially refusing a request from Gough to become Territories Minister.

Reg oversaw the reorganisation of the PMG into Australia Post and Telecom the biggest organisational change ever carried out by an Australian government. In conjunction with the Media Minister, Senator Doug McClelland, he oversaw the introduction of FM radio into Australia.

Reg retired from the Senate in 1981 but retained a very active interest in the Labor movement and, in particular, encouraging the involvement of younger members of the party, with helpful and practical advice.

His contribution to the Labor movement both in SA and Australia was considerable. His political achievements were impressive. Reg and his late wife Connie were lifelong Labor stalwarts and he spent more than 70 years in the Labor movement.

A State funeral for Mr Bishop was held yesterday.

- Senator Chris Schacht.

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Citation details

Chris Schacht, 'Bishop, Reginald (Reg) (1913–1999)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/bishop-reginald-reg-32171/text39768, accessed 27 November 2021.

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