Vale: Don Day

This post is to mark the passing on of Don Day (1924-2010), former member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly (the so-called “Bearpit”, roughest of Australia’s 15 parliamentary assemblies) and former NSW Labor Minister.   I knew Don when he was my local MLA in the 1970s and 1980s, when he won a seat in what was normally ultra-safe Country Party (now National Party) country – first, the electorate of Casino, and then, Clarence.  Indeed, he was for a time the only Labor MLA in the 450 miles of the state north of Newcastle.  His win was repeated several times, and his seat was crucial to Neville Wran’s surprise 1-seat majority in May 1976, returning Labor to power in NSW after 11 years in opposition, and after a searing loss in the Federal elections of December 1975.

In his role as Minister for Primary Industries and Decentralisation, Don was instrumental in saving rural industries throughout NSW.   Far North Coast dairy farmers were finally allowed to sell milk to Sydney households, for example, breaking the quota system, a protectionist economic racket which favoured only a minority of dairy farmers and which was typical of the crony-capitalist policies of the Country Party.  Similarly, his actions saved the NSW sugar industry from closure.   NSW Labor’s rural policies were (and still are) better for the majority of people in the bush than those of the bush’s self-proclaimed champions.

Like many Labor representatives of his generation, Don Day had fought during WW II, serving in the RAAF.  After the war, he established a small business in Maclean.   He was one of the most effective meeting chairmen I have encountered:  He would listen carefully and politely to what people were saying, summarize their concerns fairly and dispassionately (even when he was passionate himself on the issues being discussed), and was able to identify quickly the nub of an issue or a way forward in a complex situation.  He could usually separate his assessment of an argument from his assessment of the person making it, which helped him be dispassionate.  Although The Grafton Daily Examiner has an obit here, I doubt he will be remembered much elsewhere on the web, hence this post.

Update (2010-06-12): SMH obit is here.

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