The Kite Has Flown

Former Hawke-Keating minister John Button has just died. The Australian has a long obituary on their website.

I met Button a few times, but the only substantive conversation we had was the first time, in the early-1990s, when I was writing my political science honours thesis on trade liberalisation (finally published in 2002), and he took the time to give me an interview. We chatted in a cafe high up in one of Sydney’s waterview hotels (the Shangri-La, perhaps?). The interview started late in the afternoon, and as we talked about industry plans and ALP factions, the sun slowly set over the water next to us, bathing the harbour in a spectrum of reds and oranges. Button was gracious with his time, and I was struck by how little resentment he seemed to feel after coming through some bruising debates. That lightness of touch came through his books too, where he relished his travels, and delighted in the quirky side of politics. I hope we have more like him entering Australian politics in the future.

Update: As a writer himself, I imagine Button would have especially appreciated this tribute from Paul Keating, and this one from David Burchell.

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2 Responses to The Kite Has Flown

  1. Verdurous says:

    Well put Andrew,

    In senior high school, on days when sport was cancelled, I’d often get home and flick on “Question Time in the Senate” (yep, I realise now such adolescent viewing preferences would be considered a little strange). John Button was a delight to watch. Wonderful humour, unusual charismatic voice and more than that, he never really got nasty. He would jest and joke but never made personal attacks.

    RIP.

  2. Graham says:

    Andrew
    When I think of John Button I’m reminded not just of a brilliant politician but also of a special human being.
    No doubt many people have anecdotal stories about this man. My first meeting with John Button was in 1969. I was about a year out from U of Q in my first (paid) job as an industrial advocate for the AWU. It was my first major case before the Federal Arbitration Commission and involved opposing the entry into Qld of the TWU who was being represented by John Button (then a partner with Maurice Blackburn). It was not a pleasant case – inter-union matters never are! It was also a rather traumatic initiation in the industrial arena for me. John could see I was struggling with witnesses etc and, during an ajournment, took me aside and gave me some very helpful advice on how to handle this rather esoteric case (and the particular Judge who happened to be presiding in this matter)
    A very generous action from an opponent – but also illustrative of what a generous and gracious man he was.

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