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Janine Perrett, “Outspoken mine chief dismisses ‘racist’ tag,”
The Australian, May 4, 1984, p. 7.

The controversial remarks on mining and Aboriginal land rights made on Wednesday by the director of Western Mining Corporation, Mr Hugh Morgan, have produced a strong reaction but left Mr Morgan unrepentant.

The executive director of Western Mining Corporation, Mr Hugh Morgan, yesterday shrugged off accusations of being “racist” and “lunatic” with another vehement attack on Aboriginal land rights claims.

“We have seen some pretty strong representations from Aboriginals using strong emotive words like genocide and holocaust,” Mr Morgan said.

There has been a level of constrained politeness from those who seek to differ. People cannot distort history and cannot distort facts on something that will affect all Australians.”

His renewed outburst on the subject which his colleagues have been so careful to avoid, came as no real surprise from the man who is renowned in the mining industry and corporate board rooms for his outspokenness and forthrightness.

Earlier this year Mr Morgan was in the headlines after a speech to business leaders in London in which he attacked “Yellow-cake Bob” Hawke and the “lunatic Left” over the future of Australia’s uranium industry.

But his latest effort, a speech to the Australian Mining Industry Council on Wednesday in which he said Aboriginal land rights threatened to wipe out the Australian mining industry and represented a spiritualism which was anti-Christian and would create a backlash with the wider community, has caused more controversy than any of his previous comments.

Mr Morgan spent yesterday locked into a WMC board meeting as the furore over his speech erupted.

He had personally received a mixed reception to his statements, with some people saying “tremendous” and congratulating him on his courage in speaking out, while others had called him racist and a lunatic.

He was adamant that he was not a racist, describing the suggestion as “laughable”, but admitted that he had anticipated some sort of reaction, although the extent may have come as a slight surprise.

“I realise the carrier of bad news usually gets his head chopped off,” he said.

He pointed out that being involved with a uranium company he was used to being called names.

“I’ve even been called a heroin peddler,” he said incredulously.

The mud-slinging has been directed at a man whose background is firmly rooted in the Melbourne establishment scene.

He is the son of a former managing director of WMC, Mr Bill Morgan, who headed the company from 1962 until 1971, but there is no suggestion that Hugh is living in his father’s shadow.

He is definitely his own man, according to his WMC colleagues.

Mr Morgan was appointed executive director of WMC in 1976, and, at only 35, was by far the youngest member of the board.

Even then he was being tipped as the successor to WMC’s popular chief, Sir Arvi Parbo.

Mr Morgan graduated in law and commerce from Melbourne University and worked for a short time as a solicitor and a judge’s associate.

His involvement in mining began in 1965 when he joined the staff of North Broken Hill, where he rose to become director of marketing and finance.

In one of the few personal interviews on Mr Morgan back in 1978, he said that he always had an affinity with mining as his father was a mining engineer — something the young Hugh said he had wished he’d done. However, his mother was against it because she’d married an engineer, thought he had a lousy life and was not keen that her sons should do the same.

He stated proudly that in the first 13 years of his parents’ marriage they lived in 13 different houses and “they weren’t houses in Toorak” (his current address).

“It was a tough life — he (Morgan senior) certainly never inherited one brass razoo of cash in his life.”

Hugh’s maternal grandparents had some money, and it was they who sent him to Geelong Grammar School.

The impeccably groomed Mr Morgan is conscious that people will think he is a “silver spoon type”, and counters this with hard work and determination because “the thing that really counts is how your peers judge you”.

Those contacted yesterday were lavish in their praise, describing Mr Morgan as intelligent, a nice guy, yet someone who got straight to the heart of a matter.

“He does not tolerate irrelevant conversation,” according to one colleague.

“He is also admired for his willingness to speak plainly and strongly in the public arena.”

Mr Morgan is on a number of boards, including Alcoa, Broken Hill South and the Reserve Bank. He is also a former president of the Australian Mining Industry Council.

He relaxes by jogging before work, and he enjoys getting away to his hereford stud farm north of Melbourne with his wife and two children.

Mr Morgan has also followed his father’s interest in the arts, and was closely involved in the establishment in the late 1970s of the Victorian Art Foundation.

Mr Morgan’s controversial Wednesday speech contained a number of religious references, but he said yesterday that he could not claim to be highly religious.

He also said that he had met Aboriginals and had visited reserves in many parts of Australia.

One of the more controversial aspects of his speech was his claim regarding the European settlement of Australia in the 19th century, which he said did not come from a study of history at university but from his own personal research through reading books by such people as Daisy Bates and Geoffrey Blainey.

In his speech, Mr Morgan said that Aboriginal allegations of genocide by our nineteenth century forebears were nonsense.

“The fact of genocide is that that is what Hitler embarked upon,” he said.

“Certainly, there were killings in Australia, but there were also killings of white people and Chinese, and the Aboriginals also killed each other.”

Mr Morgan said he was not unsympathetic to the needs of disadvantaged people “like Aboriginals and runaway Asian refugees”, and he was not against land rights as such but only the “avarice” of the mineral rights claims.