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Simon Findlay Crean (1949–2023)

by Troy Bramston

from Australian

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Simon Crean, by Ruth Maddison, 1987

Simon Crean, by Ruth Maddison, 1987

ANU Archives, 1885/48466

Former Labor leader Simon Crean has died suddenly while in Germany on a business trip. The news came as a shock to family, friends, and former party and union colleagues.

Mr Crean, 74, served as Labor leader from 2001 to 2003, deputy leader to Kim Beazley from 1998 to 2001, and as a minister in four Labor governments, led by Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Before entering parliament in 1990, elected to the seat of Hotham in Melbourne, Mr Crean was ACTU president and played a key role in implementing the Accord during the Hawke government.

Anthony Albanese paid tribute to Mr Crean, saying: “Simon was a great servant of the Labor Party and of the broader labour movement. Above all he was a thoroughly decent human being who was kind, generous and ­always of good humour. This brought him respect across the political spectrum.”

Treasurer Jim Chalmers tweeted: “Decent, generous and wonderful company. A lifetime of dedication to our country and its working people won’t be forgotten.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said he was shocked. “Simon was a gentleman to deal with and a giant of the Labor movement,” he said.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, who succeeded Mr Crean in his Hotham seat, also paid tribute. “He was a Labor icon; integral to Australian politics and industrial relations for more than 40 years. And he was my mentor, and friend,” she said.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek praised his courage, principles and kindness. “He was never afraid of fighting for what was right – like when he bravely ­opposed Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War,” she said.

Former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott said: “He was a thoroughly ­admirable man and we are much better for his life.”

Mr Crean was serving as chair of the European Australian Business Council and the Australia-Korea Business Council at the time of his death.

He was in Berlin, Germany, as part of an industry delegation and died suddenly after his morning exercise, his family said in a statement.

“The Crean family are devastated to announce the passing of the Hon. Simon Crean this morning in Berlin, Germany,” a Crean family spokesperson said.

“Simon was a fierce advocate for working Australians and dedicated his life to making a difference. He was a former ACTU President, federal minister under the Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard Governments and Federal Labor Leader from 2001 to 2003.

“Though his greatest achievements were as father to Sarah and Emma and loving husband to Carole. They were married for over 50 years.”

Mr Crean served in the science, technology, energy and primary ­industries portfolios during the Hawke government, and was first elevated to cabinet in June 1991. He was made minister for ­employment, education and training during the Keating ­government.

During his period as leader, Mr Crean made a principled stand to oppose the deployment of Australian troops to Iraq, a position he later said was vindicated. When the troops were farewelled, Mr Crean said Labor’s dispute was not with them but with the government that was sending them to war.

He also took on Labor’s factions to push for structural reforms to the party. Dogged by poor polling and undermined by colleagues, Mr Crean survived a leadership challenge from Mr Beazley but eventually resigned as leader when he recognised he did not have sufficient support to continue in 2003.

In 2007, having earlier kept his preselection despite factional ­manoeuvring to replace him, Mr Crean returned to cabinet as trade minister in the Rudd government and later as minister for education, employment and workplace relations under Ms Gillard. He also held the ­regional Australia and arts ­portfolios.

Mr Crean had been a longtime supporter of Ms Gillard. But in 2013, concerned about the government’s slide in the polls, he wanted Mr Rudd to mount a leadership challenge. Mr Rudd refused. Mr Crean had his ministerial commission terminated. When Mr Rudd did challenge Ms Gillard in June 2013, Mr Crean stood as deputy leader against Anthony Albanese but was defeated.

He was steeped in Labor history. His father, Frank, served as deputy prime minister in the Whitlam government and he recalled many politicians sharing a meal prepared by his mother Mary at the family home in Middle Park, Melbourne, during the 1950s and 60s.

Mr Crean joined the Federated Storemen and Packers Union in 1976 and was general secretary from 1979 to 1985, when he became ACTU president.

Mr Crean was born in Melbourne on February 26, 1949.

“I am deeply saddened and shocked by the sudden death of Simon Crean during a work visit to Europe. Simon Crean gave a lifetime of service to his nation, and in particular to the labour movement.

“Simon rose from leadership in the Storemen and Packers Union to ACTU president, and then to a distinguished parliamentary career as the member for Hotham, cabinet minister in the Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard governments, and leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.

“Simon’s many achievements in portfolios that ranged from trade to employment, from primary industries and energy to the arts, were characterised by a focus on the national interest, engagement with stakeholders, and always acting with principle and determination.

“The common threads running through his long career were his courage and his principled action, qualities that came so powerfully to the fore when he opposed the Iraq War. Yet his opposition to the war was backed by his unwavering respect for the members of the Australian Defence Force, a respect he showed when he went to address the troops ahead of their deployment.

“History has vindicated Simon’s judgment, but at the time his stance was deeply counter to the prevailing political and media climate.

“Simon retained his abiding sense of humanity, and he was respected by all who had the privilege of working or interacting with him.

“After parliament, Simon continued to work for Australia’s interests, most notably as chairman of the European Australian Business Council.

“Simon was a great servant of the Labor Party and of the broader labour movement. Above all he was a thoroughly decent human being who was kind, generous and always of good humour. This brought him respect across the political spectrum.

“As Labor leader, I benefitted from Simon Crean’s advice and wisdom. I will greatly miss engaging with him.

“The hearts of all of us in the Labor family go out to Simon’s beloved wife Carole and to all of his family and thousands of friends.

“May Simon rest in peace.”

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Citation details

Troy Bramston, 'Crean, Simon Findlay (1949–2023)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012