(Cairns... Far North Queensland)
Ted Mack - The Independent
the early 1970s the North Sydney Council made a big mistake in annoying
40-year-old Edward Carrington Mack. Plans to build a 17-storey office block
against his back fence transformed the quiet government architect into the
public persona and political whirlwind known as Ted Mack.
is conceivable, but only just, that some people outside of New South Wales
haven't heard of Ted Mack the independent with a capital “I” from Sydney's
lower north shore. Ted is the guy who resigned from state parliament two days
before becoming eligible for a $1 million superannuation payment, because he
believes politicians already get too much. Sounds like an interesting fellow? He
Mack was born in 1933, at the height of the depression. This was the lucky
generation, he says. Mack explains that this is the only period where the birth
rate actually fell. “At each point in my life I've had less competition; there
were smaller classes at school, and when I went to university to study
architecture, there were only nine students.”
young to fight in the war, he reached maturity in the early '50s, when life was
very different from today: no unemployment, cheap housing and less pollution.
for two brief periods, once overseas and once in Wollongong, Mack has never
lived more than four kilometres from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a bridge he
refuses to drive across since the steep hike in the toll to pay for the tunnel.
Australian “dream” of a house, a good job and a few kids was Ted Mack's
reality. Robert Gordon Menzies had lulled the country to sleep and Ted Mack,
like most of his generation, had no particular interest in politics. “I was
the last person you would have expected to have gone into public life.” Enter
the typically insensitive council.
to label political commentators have found Mack hard to tag, although that
hasn't stopped them trying. By turns he is reckoned as anything from an
anarchist to a right-wing conservative. Mack says he has no political philosophy
but has strongly held principles. He has simple but powerful ideas such as:
“People have a right to be involved in every decision that affects them”.
can't readily think of any early political influences but remembers being very
impressed with Jack Mundey's activities. “I remember a Sydney Morning Herald
editorial in about 1970 thundering at the Builders' Labourers Federation at this
notion that builders' labourers had a right to take some social interest in what
they were doing. Jack defended that by quoting the Nuremberg trials at them.
struck my historical interest because that's what Nuremberg was all about, the
whole notion of individual responsibility, that every person is responsible for
their own actions. So I guess I've proceeded politically from these very basic
principles: everybody is responsible for their own action, everybody has the
right to be involved in every decision that affects them. That led me to a total
open government position.”
is all about the processes of government as opposed to single issues. He parades
his anti-elitist view provocatively: “I believe that the public has the right
to commit suicide”. But, he says, it is equally important that people be
enabled to make informed decisions, and for that they need access to
to North Sydney Council in 1974, Mack became mayor six years later. He
immediately sold the mayoral Mercedes and bought community buses with the
proceeds. With the support of others, he instituted mechanisms to make open
government possible. This led to the creation of numerous residents' committees
and the use of referenda. Four thousand public meetings later, the council
became the most open in Australia and remains that way to this day.
north shore is the Liberal Party's laager. It was not impressed when, as an
independent, Mack wrested away the state seat of North Shore in 1981. Worse
still, he did it again in 1990, taking the safe federal seat of North Sydney
from born-to-rule Tory
toff John Spender.
20 years, Ted Mack retired from public life.
this time Mack has taken a hard line against politician's perks. He returned his
gold passes, has never taken an overseas trip at public expense and has
collected only that part of his superannuation that he personally contributed.
Mack is a keen supporter of the Citizens Initiative Referendum project. Such
referenda nearly made it into the constitution in the 1890s. He points out that
Labor supported the idea until 1963. “They hate it now because the Labor Party
has become totally elitist.”
to citizen-initiated referenda comes from those who are saying that people can't
be trusted, Mack argues. “If they can't be trusted to make a decision on a
specific issue that's well ventilated, you're really arguing that we should take
away the right to vote. How can the public make a decision in a general
election, when there's a whole complex of obscured issues?”
the only person to serve as an Independent in all three tiers of government in
the past 50 years, Mack's fly-on-the-wall position confirmed for him how
hopeless the system is. The two-party system has become “so rigid that it's
overwhelmed any sense of democracy. Really all we have is an elected
dictatorship. The parliament as such is just a piece of window dressing ...
power resides in the executive, which totally dominates parliament.”
he's optimistic. Democracy is a relatively new institution, he says, and is
still evolving. The idea that people have a right to know, a right to make their
own decisions has become a commonplace and is represented in the consumer
movement, the environment movement, and worker participation. “That's why
you're seeing all these little rebellions around the world against governments.
every country people want more power than their governments are prepared to give
them. Everywhere governments are on the nose; governments have never been so
unpopular”, he says with undisguised relish. The fairest voting method exists
in Tasmania, with multi-member electorates under the Hare-Clark system, and
should be universalised, he believes.
Keating's threats to make election to the Senate less representative drew a
warning from Ted Mack. Gareth Evans is a “total elitist”, he insists.
“Evans is saying `we [Labor] should get together with the Liberal Party and
agree to have single member electorates, which would get rid of the Democrats,
the Greens (WA) and independents'. What Hitler did was just that ... I'm just
amazed at Keating and Evans ... it just shows that they don't really believe in
Parliament, Mack has made known his opposition to “fundamentalist
economic rationalism”, unilateral tariff removal policies, sale of public
land, sale of the Commonwealth Bank, GST, Australia's involvement in
Bougainville, the nuclear industry and limitations on free speech.
was he able to achieve in federal parliament? “Very little, because I don't
think parliament is very relevant to any particular achievement”, he responds
with an ironic chuckle. He is quoted as saying that the “whole place is so
seductive, like any self-serving institution, the only defence against it is not
to be there”.
was often a lone voice in the House of Representatives. His was the “only vote
against the Gulf War, the only vote against the sale of Qantas, the only vote
against the third runway and the only vote against having a nuclear
establishment at Lucas Heights”.
concentration of media ownership and unfettered economic globalisation are two
of the biggest threats to democracy today but, he says, that will be for others
to fight. Looking surprisingly fit and relaxed for a man who only a few weeks
ago was rushed to hospital with heart trouble, Mack is dubious about writing an
autobiography. “Books tend to be self-justifying”, he says, and “the
record of such books is not good”.
of the most traumatic decisions for the snowy-haired campaigner was selling his
beloved 1951 Citroen of 33 years, which he did recently. His distinctive set of
wheels became a symbol of his independence, which he exploited in his election
campaigns. The sale was “a bit like
picture of Dorian Gray, to sort of
kill off my public persona”.
Ted Mack was Independent Member for North Sydney from 1990 to 1996, an Independent MLA from 1981- 1988, and Mayor of North Sydney from 1974-1980.
© Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870