On November 7, 2009, Brian Mullins who had been Queensland state president of the National Civic Council (NCC) from 1960 to 2000, entered eternal life.
|Brian Mullins (1925-2009)|
Brian was born in Home Hill, North Queensland, on October 3, 1925. His initial education was at the Osborne State School near Home Hill. His early life was marked by the death of his father, and the onset of the Great Depression, which was particularly devastating in rural Queensland.
His strong practical Catholic faith and commitment to building a free and fair society were sown in these troubled times.
At considerable sacrifice, his mother and foster-father sent him to Abergowrie Christian Brothers College near Ingham. He was dux of his class in his first year at the college.
After finishing school, Brian enlisted in the Army, and was sent to New Guinea. As a young man of 20, he served in the AIF in Rabaul in 1945 with the rank of sergeant and was in charge of the prisoner-of-war (PoW) camp for Japanese prisoners at Jacquinot Bay near Rabaul.
It is said that he treated the 350 prisoners under his charge with fairness and dignity, and numerous incidents occurred which validate this judgement. On the conclusion of the war, morale amongst the Australians stationed there and the Japanese PoWs awaiting repatriation was low. To alleviate the boredom, Brian organised a yacht race in Rabaul Harbour with a boat crewed by Japanese PoWs competing.
On another occasion, he intervened personally, without weapons, when a boxing match between prisoners and guards got out of hand. He told a colleague later that he could have been killed at the time; but after ending the fight he was able to walk through the camp unarmed.
On another occasion, a guard who had lost three brothers fighting the Japanese approached him with his machine gun, and told Brian to get out of the way as he was going to kill the prisoners. After a tense stand-off, Brian disarmed the guard.
On returning to Australia, Brian obtained a position in the Queensland Government statistics department and became an active member of the ALP, joining the Wavell Heights branch, of which he subsequently became president.
At the same time, he was a member of the Queensland State Service Union and a delegate to the Queensland Trades and Labor Council, then under extreme left control.
In the early 1950s he became involved with the forerunner of the NCC, the Catholic Social Movement, and played an active role in the ALP Industrial Groups, formed to defeat the penetration of the Australian trade union movement by the Communist Party.
In 1953, as president of the Wavell Heights branch of the ALP, Brian came to the attention of the recently-appointed Labor Premier Vince Gair when the latter addressed some 300 people at a public meeting in Wavell Heights.
The day after this meeting Brian was approached by an officer of the Premier’s Department and offered the position of private secretary to the Premier. He duly accepted.
From this time onwards, Brian was a participant in some of the most turbulent events seen in Queensland’s history. Apart from his role managing the Premier’s office, he was constantly involved in discussions with governments, employer organisations, trade unions, MPs and others.
By 1957, the great Labor Party split, which had begun in Victoria in 1955, spread to Queensland. Vince Gair was expelled from the ALP, ostensibly for his refusal to implement Labor policy of three weeks’ annual leave (although the Premier had agreed to introduce it in the following year).
Subsequently, anti-Gair Labor MPs joined opposition Liberal and Country Party MPs to defeat his government on the floor of the House, and in the subsequent election the Gair Government lost office. Most of his Cabinet colleagues followed him out of the ALP into the Queensland Labor Party.
At the 1957 state election, Labor lost power for the first time in 25 years. However, Vince Gair was re-elected to his seat of South Brisbane, and was the parliamentary leader of the Queensland Labor Party until 1960, when he lost his seat in parliament. Brian Mullins served as Vince Gair’s private secretary until that time.
Subsequently, Brian Mullins was elected by the national conference of the NCC to the Queensland state presidency, following the retirement of Alex Poulgrain from that position.
The challenges he faced at the time were formidable. From a position of private secretary to the Premier in a very popular state government, he now was the state president of the National Civic Council, which was largely responsible for supporting the anti-communist trade unionists now under unprecedented attack from the left, and assisting those who had followed Vince Gair after his expulsion from the ALP.
It fell upon Brian to build a statewide group structure for the Movement, and this he did. By the late 1960s, a vibrant group structure was in place across Queensland and industrial groups were operating in key unions.
During Brian’s presidency, strong campaigns were mounted against the communist and pro-communist leadership of a number of major unions, including the Amalgamated Engineering Union, the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union and the Postal Workers Union. Campaigns in support of moderate trade union officials were run in the Federated Clerks Union, the State Service Union, the Furnishing Trades Union, the Shop Distributive Association, the Liquor Trades Union, and many others.
The effect of these campaigns was to ensure that the Communist Party and its left-wing allies were under continued pressure in their industrial bastions.
Mount Isa strike
Of little public knowledge is the role played by Brian and the NCC in Mount Isa in bringing to an end the great Mount Isa strike (1964-65), led by the militant left-winger, Pat Mackie. It was, as one source acknowledged, “probably the greatest labour dispute in post-war Australian history”.
At the time, Mount Isa Mines was one of the largest mines in Australia, producing copper, zinc, lead and silver. Even before the strike, there had been a history of labour unrest at the mine. In 1964, wildcat strike action was taken by sections of the workforce, without the approval of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), which then covered the workforce.
The prime mover in this was Pat Mackie, a New Zealand-born, but Canadian-trained activist, who was a member of a Marxist revolutionary group, the Industrial Workers of the World.
Mackie brought in Alex McDonald, the communist secretary of the Queensland Trades and Labor Council, to legitimise the strike. Other communist union officials converged on Mount Isa as part of the Communist Party’s bid to destroy the arbitration system, and as part of a concerted campaign to exclude the AWU from major resource projects and to replace it with communist-controlled unions.
If they had succeeded, the Communist Party would have had its thumb on the jugular of Queensland’s mining industry.
When it became obvious that the strike was not a genuine industrial dispute, Brian Mullins went to Mount Isa for an extended period to galvanise into action the considerable number of unionists opposed to Mackie.
As he later commented to a colleague, “It was Mackie versus Mullins” until the strike collapsed. Brian stated later that violence of one sort or another plagued Mount Isa during the strike, and one of his associates was killed in a motor vehicle accident which occurred during a car chase through the streets.
When Pat Mackie later attempted to agitate in the sugar-cane industry, Brian assisted cane-growers to resist him, and Mackie’s efforts to mobilise workers in this industry came to nothing.
In the 1960s, universities across Australia became battlegrounds as the radical left sought to transform these institutions from centres of learning into centres of radical action and political confrontation.
Brian was in this struggle right from the start, and Queensland students were encouraged and trained to become active in the Australian Union of Students, the national student organisation which the extreme left had captured in pursuit of its own ideological agenda.
Brian Mullins brought together academics such as Dr Rupert Goodman and Professor Peter Lawrence and NCC-trained students in the common cause of defending the integrity of the nation’s universities.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Brian developed a close working relationship with many Country Party and Liberal MPs. Many of them, including the late Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, valued Brian’s vast political experience and sought his advice on a number of matters involving major developments in the coal and mining industries in the 1960s and 1970s.
As the political priorities of the Movement changed, new strategies for new problems evolved. Radical feminism launched its attack upon the institution of the family, and the philosophy of nihilism, best described as the belief in nothing at all, assumed prominence in political thinking. These movements had to be faced with counter-movements.
When Bob Santamaria and a number of prominent Australians from all walks of life decided to form the Australian Family Association (AFA) in the 1980s, Brian was the key person in attracting prominent personnel to lead the association in Queensland. His charming personality and kindly attitude to others helped draw many to the AFA and NCC.
Brian retired from the Queensland presidency of the NCC in 2000, having served the Movement in that capacity for 40 years. His legacy to the Movement in Queensland is a strong decentralised group structure, and an activist spirit.
Brian was predeceased by his first wife Margaret and is survived by his second wife Elizabeth, 11 children, 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Over the years, the Movement has brought forth outstanding men and women for the hardest of tasks. Brian Mullins was one of them. He will be missed and fondly remembered by his family, friends and colleagues.
May he rest in peace.
Gavan Duffy is a retired lawyer and author of the book, Demons and Democrats: 1950s Labor at the Crossroads (2002), an account of the Labor Party split of the 1950s, and, most recently, Labour and Justice: The Worker in Catholic Social Teaching (2008), both published by Freedom Publishing.