John Singleton, “The Sir Robert Askin Story, Slippers and All,”
Quadrant, September, 1975, pp. 75-77.
There is this tough little kid running around tough little Glebe in tough little Sydney town.
This kid’s old man is driving a tram.
His mum is running the house.
This kid’s got two tough little brothers to run around the blocks with.
And the tough little kid running around tough little Glebe with his tough little brothers isn’t a genius but he is no dummy either.
So the kid wins a bursary to Sydney Tech. High.
And the kid does what all kids do at school and the kid passes the intermediate, in the days when it is in the paper and everything when you pass the intermediate.
And because the kid is now possessed of such acclaimed academic background the kid gets a job as an electrician’s apprentice.
But the kid isn’t much of a go when it comes to wires and valves and the kid gives himself one electric shock too many which puts him out of a job which is another shock to the kid.
And now the kid gets a job with the bank in the days when getting a job with the bank is your basic passport to international smoking pleasure and even almost into high society.
And naturally the kid meets his wife Mollie at the bank and naturally goes to war from the bank.
And naturally the war is overseas which is where the kid goes and runs around playing goodies and badies and the kid finishes up five years later with three stripes on his arm and back at the bank.
And no longer a kid.
But so far you are thinking this is a pretty ordinary kid and where does a premier come out of all this stuff.
Now this kid decides this thing life is worth a go and now the kid starts to go like only kids from Glebe know how to go.
In the bank is an association, a sort of union, and who gets to be President?
None other that this young fella Bob Askin who is married to Mollie Askin who you may remember he met at the bank, which is where all nice young people meet in those days.
And when this young fella has been in the war who is his colonel?
None other than Murray Robson who is also none other than MLA from Vaucluse.
Which even in these days is not a real hard seat for the liberals to win.
And the Colonel phones his Sergeant who is Bob Askin who is no longer a kid, who is married to Mollie Askin, who he met at the bank, and the Colonel asks is the Sergeant wouldn’t mind getting the rabble organised in the how to vote card department, and the Sergeant says “Yes”, and what the world doesn’t realise is the Sergeant is already on his way to fame and glory and boots and all.
The young fella Askin quickly sees that the gentry involved in the mighty world of politics are not all that organised and are not all that mighty either.
So, Robert W. Askin joins this particular party and is immediately and also straight away Liberal Branch President, State and Federal President, and whatever you care to name of the Manly Branch of the Liberal Party.
And when, nine elections back, Collaroy gets to be a new state seat it is surprising that twenty-two people run for pre-selection but it is not surprising that Robert W. Askin gets the pre-selection first go.
And young Robert W. Askin takes three months long service leave from the bank and he and Mollie, who he met in the bank, door knock every house and do all those things that politicians do and win by 5,000 votes which was not a bad win for this seat at that time.
When Robert W. Askin lobs in state Parliament the Labor Party is in full control and it looks very much like they’ll be in full control for ever at least.
The Opposition Liberal leader is a gentleman by the name of Treatt and the Labor leader is a gentleman by the name of McGirr and the latter gets the big heave-ho from his party and is succeeded by Cahill.
Cahill tosses Treatt so the Liberals also toss Treatt and everyone is expecting Robson (remember the Colonel) to be a past-the-post proposition.
But instead who runs but the Colonel’s Sergeant, Robert W. Askin and also a gentleman by the name of Pat Morton and the result is a dead heat, thirteen votes all Morton and Askin.
And a week later and four ballots later it’s still thirteen votes all which proves to be unlucky for both parties. New nominations are called.
This time Robson (remember the Colonel) enters the race on the nomination of Askin and wins and Robert W. Askin (remember the Sergeant) is elected Deputy Leader. But Robson tries to run the Liberals like a battalion and gets tossed.
And then Cahill tosses Robson and the Libs’ new leader is the gentleman by the name of Morton and Cahill is getting very confident as a gentleman will who is winning all the time.
And the gentleman by the name of Robert W. Askin is still No. 2 which beats No. 3 but is also definitely not No. 1.
And then Cahill tosses Morton and then Heffron tosses Morton and as no-one else much wants to enter the ring, the eight-rounder gets the job by the name of Robert W. Askin.
And when the big night and the big fight comes around Robert W. Askin performs like he’s been in main events all his life and even though Heffron wins (“thanks to the Menzies credit squeeze”), it’s looked upon by those who know these things as a split decision.
So the Labor Party is a little shocked by this turn of events and puts Heffron out to pasture and a gentleman by the name of Renshaw into the job of Premier.
But then comes the next election and who is the new Premier? None other than the kid from Glebe, who went to the bank where he met his wife and went to the war.
None other than Robert W. Askin.
And if it isn’t enough that he flukes one election, this Robert W. Askin stays Premier for ten years which is longer than any gentleman in the whole history of this State by the name of New South Wales has ever done before or is likely to do again.
In all that time Robert W. Askin never cops a challenge and he never cops a beating and he never fires not even one minister, which is in the days when ministers are chosen wisely in the first place.
So when Sir Robert Askin retires at the start of this year by the name of 1975, people start to wonder what this man Sir Robert Askin is really like.
And when people are in the public eye and people start to wonder what they are really like, people like to make stuff up to show that they know more than nothing which is really what they know.
And they say that Askin is ruthless and blood and guts and he’s always driving over bastard commies (?) with American presidents beside.
So you are with Sir Robert Askin, just you and him and in the pub.
And you ask him the questions that people want to know in the way that people will, as follows:
Achievements? Greater social benefits especially super and pensions, not as much as I would have liked. Brought Liberal Party from right to centre. Federal governments almost always killed the states, you know if it hadn’t been for me and Bolte etc. etc. as you know. We’re $50 million per annum better off in N.S.W. as a result of perpetual whinging.
Disappointments? Hanging around in opposition. Waste of time.
Menzies? Best Prime Minister we’ve ever had or ever will have.
Holt? Had a hard act to follow. Good judge of men. Bad judge of horses.
Gorton? Second best Prime Minister before he went mad with Canberra power. Used to work it all out the night before the Premier’s Conference. Good fellow Gorton. Sad about him going out like this though. Really sad.
McMahon? Gave the states the best deal of all. Probably his problem, tried to appease everyone. Can’t do that. Have to stand up to people. Like Fraser the other day, standing up to the public servants in Canberra. Good sign that.
Snedden? You’ve got to stand for something clear-cut. Nice man. I liked him. He listened to too many people. Wouldn’t say what he really thought. Had his chance. Would have won if he had stuck to his guns. Don’t forget to remind them we won three seats here in New South Wales last election and they lost two in Melbourne where all the heavies are supposed to be. Don’t forget to put that in.
Chipp? You know what I think of Chipp.
Fraser? He’ll win and win easily. Resolute, knowledgeable and lucid. Much warmer than people think. I reckon there’s every chance he’ll be the best since Menzies.
Whitlam? People think he’s strong. He’s not. Egotist. Worst case I’ve ever struck at top level. Knows nothing about finance. Absolutely nothing. Bloody good actor. But look at his enemy list: Cope, Crean, Cairns, Cameron, Cass. And they’re just the ones starting with “C”. With friends like that he doesn’t need any enemies. He’s gone whether his party kicks him out or the public do. Nothing surer.
Lewis? Not going to comment on my former colleagues. Owe them too much to go around criticising them.
Think it’s ridiculous when old men like Gorton and McMahon go around talking about nothing.
Should give the young blokes a go.
But I got out because I wanted to get out.
Suppose that makes a big difference.
No grudges to be repaid.
Tom runs it his way.
Mightn’t be the way I’d run things but that doesn’t mean it mightn’t be better either.
Willis? If Eric had let me help him he would have won. Insisted he didn’t want me to help.
Specifically asked me not to.
Wanted to win or lose it on his own merits not by “big brother” leaning on members.
I think he got a few shocks when he saw some of the faces in the new Lewis cabinet.
But that’s politics and Eric knows it as well as I do. Very capable.
Future? Still working a full day.
Want to put a gap between retirement from parliament and entering business.
Had numerous Board offers.
Taking my time.
Finance always been my strong suit. That’s where my future will be.
More time with Mollie too. Told the Liberal Party they’ll miss her more than they’ll miss me.
Now you and I know that the kid from Glebe who got the job in the bank where he met his wife and went to the war, where he met the Colonel, who got him into politics knows a fair bit more than he’s giving away.
And you and I know that there are buckets to be dropped if that’s the way it has to be.
But you and I know that when you come from Glebe you look after your mates and you only shit-can your enemies.
And when the enemies are gone or beaten or forgotten, the best way for them to stay is just like that, gone and beaten and forgotten, because one thing you had better get to know about Sir Robert Askin right from the start and that is that there is no way the public will ever get to really know him. A pity.
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