We received the sad news this morning of the death of former Liberal Party Member, Parliamentarian and Minister, The Hon. Anthony Staley AO.
A graduate of law, two of Tony’s passions were drama and politics. Both stages were open to him in life. But he pursued the latter after completing a master’s degree in politics and working as a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne.
In 1970, he was elected in the seat of Chisholm at a by-election, joining John Gorton’s Government. He would go on to serve the people of Chisholm for a decade.
In his maiden speech in 1971, and speaking on public order, protests, universities and freedom of speech, Tony made an observation with enduring relevance.
“In time of peace, wishful thinking and dreaming will not keep institutions alive and well. They must be defended as any human institution must be defended when it is under attack.”
Upon being re-elected in 1972, Tony found himself in opposition with Billy Snedden at the Liberal helm. In 1973, Tony was promoted to Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition.
However, Tony lost faith in Snedden’s ability to lead the Liberals, despite his personal regard for the Opposition Leader’s honesty and decency. Tony joined a growing chorus who threw in their lot with Malcolm Fraser.
Tony would later say, “I’m not prepared to be the sort of politician who won’t stand up for his beliefs”.
Tony was no major powerbroker. But as author and journalist, Paul Kelly, wrote:
“… without Staley’s decision, Fraser would not have won the Liberal leadership at the time he did and consequently would probably not have won it before the Liberals were returned to office.”
Kelly noted that Tony was unlike his party colleagues, describing him as a theorist who enjoyed philosophising – traits which came naturally to the academically-minded Tony.
If Tony was atypical in this regard, he was also exceptional in being a politician who shaped Australia’s political history in two pivotal ways.
First, in helping to lift Fraser into the Liberal leadership and eventual prime ministership. And secondly, in helping to bring down Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government.
Interviewed in 2015, Tony acknowledged that Fraser benefited when Whitlam, post the dismissal, focused his attacks on Governor-General John Kerr.
In Malcom Fraser’s Government, Tony proved to be a steady hand and effective minister first for the Capital Territory, then for assisting the Prime Minister, and finally for Posts and Telecommunications.
After leaving office, Tony served as the Federal President of the Liberal Party between 1993 and 1999. As Tony finished his presidency, then Prime Minister, John Howard, described him as ‘a great servant of the Liberal Party’ who ‘always put the Party first’. Howard highlighted Tony’s three great qualities: his ‘immense personal courage’, ‘great sense of humour’ and ‘considerable grace and eloquence’.
Testimony to Tony’s achievements, he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2007 for his service to politics, to the telecommunications and arts sectors, and to the development of the Liberal Party.
I was honoured to visit Tony and his family recently in Melbourne and thanked him for his lifetime of service to the Liberal Party and to his country.
On behalf of the Federal Coalition, I offer my heartfelt condolences to Tony’s family, friends, and colleagues.
May he rest in peace.