Passing away last week was a man of great passion and political diligence, Gordon McIntosh, Senator for Western Australia 1974 – 1987.
In one sense his life reflected the classical lines of a post-World War II British (Scottish) migrant to Australia. In another, he and his career were quite extraordinary.
Apprenticed as a fitter and turner, employed in the Glasgow Shipyards, eventually serving as a mechanic in the RAF 1946 – 1948 and then in foundries and as a maintenance engineer. He married Elizabeth Mary Graham in 1950 and they set out for Australia immediately on a free ex-service passage.
He was employed by Perth Mint with expertise that saw him help set up the Singapore Mint in 1968. He was active in the Amalgamated Engineering Union, State President from 1972 – 1974, then Vice President of the AMWU after amalgamations. He was an expert in industrial relations, in union affairs and in work place safety.
When nominated by the Labour Party for the Senate (elected in 1974, 1975, 1980, 1983) he pursued in Parliament the issues associated with worker’s rights and social justice. Election to Parliament was unusual but his path there and this aspect of his advocacy was not unusual. Nor was his pursuit of his passions, with his Scots accent uncompromised.
What was unusual about Gordon was the breadth of his interests, the remorselessness of his campaigns and the vigour of his advocacy. He kept himself fit and in fine voice until his passing. His mind was engaged by concerns about nuclear power and warships. He was elected to influential positions in the Parliamentary Labour Party including Opposition and Government Deputy Whip in the Senate, Chair also of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. This enabled him platforms for his deep commitments on international matters which were from time to time at variance with Parliamentary leaders.
But Gordon’s deepest commitment was to the independence of the East Timorese people. In this he was unrelenting, though bipartisan policy was for recognition of its incorporation within Indonesia. He first visited in 1975 and many times after independence arguing their case in multiple international forums. I am told that East Timorese independence activists listened to broadcasts of his speeches in the jungle. In December 2014 he was invested in the Order of Timor-Leste.
His son Craig tells me he was devoted to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Apparently he knew much of his work by heart. His last words in Parliament were the concluding lines from “A Man’s A Man for A’ That”. It summed up the breadth of his heart and his egalitarianism,
“It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”
Betty left us a while ago. He is survived by Craig and Gordon and their spouses. Our sympathies go to them as we rejoice in a great life and sorrow with its end.
The Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia