December 18, 2007 | Graham

Clem Jones – the modern Labor template

I was too young to be paying much attention when Clem Jones was Lord Mayor of Brisbane, but I do remember some things.
Some of the members of my mother’s deeply conservative North Queensland family voted for him, much to mum’s consternation. They would only have done this because he was non-ideological, and he got things done, like sewering the city and bitumening most of its roads.
I’ve bumped into Clem a few times in my career, but at the end of his life where I had to introduce myself every time. He was a good 90 when he died. When I bumped into him he wasn’t Lord Mayor anymore, and was most likely to have a roll of development plans tucked under his arm.
Clem wasn’t a trade union hack, but a surveyor, before he entered politics. And he didn’t depend on politics for his living – although when he was Lord Mayor what they paid councillors was derisory compared to what they get now, so he couldn’t have. He made his fortune out of development.
He wasn’t a careerist for whom an elected office was just a rung on the ladder of opportunity. After he left politics he was still active in the community, notably running the Cracker Jack Carnival at Carina for decades.
It’s people like Clem who’ve paved the way for the success of the modern Labor Party. Pragmatic and non-ideological – that’s the haulmark of contemporary state labor governments. Labor’s also the richest political party in Australia because it has invested wisely. Guys like Clem knew how.
Not that I think Clem would have approved of a lot of state Labor administrations. He never respected red tape, and there is the story of how Brisbane’s first town plan came into being with Clem sitting down alongside the town clerk and drawing circles around the bus and train stations and designating them Residental “B” for higher density. Some of the designations were opaque and obtuse, but they happened a lot faster than they would have under any bureaucratic process.
Sewering the city was similiarly haphazard with connections often run through the middle of blocks – anything to get it done quickly and cheaply. Similar principles applied to tar and sealing roads.
His ability to get things done was recognised when he was given the job of fixing Darwin after cyclone Tracy. Compare that to the shambles that occurred in New Orleans after Katrina.
It seems like the whole world centres around Griffith these days. Kevin07 lives here, and so did Jones.
Griffith the seat wasn’t kind to Jones. He generally had good timing, except for when he ran against Don Cameron for Griffith in 1974. Don was the sitting member, and I think Don would be the first to admit that he was no Clem Jones, but he saw Clem off.
It looks like timing’s returned to Jones. Not only did he die in the midst of Campbell Newman’s huge civic works projects so they could name some of them after him, but he’s a reminder to two successors of a different kind of how to succeed.
To Newman, who’ll likely take his mantle as Brisbane’s next enduring Lord Mayor, he says – keep thinking big. To Kevin Rudd, who won the seat of Griffith, he says – don’t worry about process, achieve results.

Posted by Graham at 10:17 pm | Comments Off on Clem Jones – the modern Labor template |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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