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John Button
Leader of the Government in the Senate
In office
11 March 1983 – 24 March 1993
Prime MinisterBob Hawke
Paul Keating
Preceded byJohn Carrick
Succeeded byGareth Evans
Minister for Industry and Commerce
In office
11 March 1983 – 24 March 1993
Prime MinisterBob Hawke
Paul Keating
Preceded byAndrew Peacock
Succeeded byAlan Griffiths
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
In office
7 November 1980 – 11 March 1983
Preceded byKen Wriedt
Succeeded byFred Chaney
Senator for Victoria
In office
18 May 1974 – 31 March 1993
Succeeded byKim Carr
Personal details
Born(1933-06-30)30 June 1933
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Died8 April 2008(2008-04-08) (aged 74)
Melbourne, Victoria
Political partyAustralian Labor Party
Spouse(s)Dorothy 1984 - 2000, Joan Grant

John Norman Button (30 June 1933 – 8 April 2008) was an Australian politician, who served as a senior minister in the Hawke and Keating Labor governments. He was notable for the Button car plan, which involved modernising Australia's car industry by reducing tariffs and government protection.[1]


Button was born in Ballarat, Victoria,[2] and was educated at The Geelong College and the University of Melbourne[3] where he graduated in arts and law. He became a lawyer with Maurice Blackburn & Co and later a barrister in Melbourne[4] and became active in the Australian Labor Party from the late 1950s. In the 1960s he joined a group of other middle-class Labor activists, such as John Cain, Barry Jones, Richard McGarvie, Frank Costigan and Michael Duffy, known as "the Participants" whose objective was to end Left-wing control of the Victorian branch of the Labor Party.[5]

In 1963, Button was invited to run as the Labor candidate for the seat of Chisholm, which was safely held by Wilfrid Kent Hughes. Party members recall that at the declaration of the poll Kent Hughes stood up and said in patrician tones, "It was a fair fight." To which Button replied, "It was neither fair nor a fight. I gained a swing of one: my mother."[6]

In 1970, the Participants formed an alliance with the federal Labor leader Gough Whitlam[7] and the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Bob Hawke, to bring about intervention in the Victorian branch by the Federal Executive. Button became part of the interim Advisory Council which took over the branch after intervention, and in 1974 he was elected to the Australian Senate as a strong supporter of Whitlam.[citation needed]

Button remained a backbencher during the remaining 18 months of the Whitlam government. He was elected to the Opposition Shadow Ministry in 1976 and was elected Deputy Labor Leader in the Senate in 1977. From 1980 to 1983 he was Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Shadow Minister for Communications. He was also a member of the Labor National Executive.[citation needed]

A close friend of Labor Leader Bill Hayden, Button decided during 1982 that Hayden could not lead the party to victory at the election due in late 1983. When Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser called a snap election in February 1983, it was Button who told Hayden that he must resign immediately to make way for Bob Hawke. Button tapping Hayden on the shoulder would later be compared to Bill Shorten switching his support from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd in 2013. Button did not live to see this comparison as he died in 2008.[citation needed]

In 1983, when Hawke became Prime Minister, Button became Minister for Industry and Commerce, a post he held until 1993 and making him the longest serving minister in this portfolio.[8] During this period Button carried through major changes in industry policy, lowering tariffs and reducing other forms of protectionism. This caused large job losses in manufacturing industry and provoked bitter opposition among Labor's trade union base.[citation needed]

Button was responsible for the Button car plan, which reorganised the Australian car industry in an attempt to make it competitive without tariff protection. One component of the plan was the sharing of models by local manufacturers, for example, Holden shared models with Toyota, and Ford shared models with Nissan. However, badge engineering proved unpopular from buyers, who preferred original models to their rebadged versions, and with manufacturers themselves.[9]

Button resigned from the Senate on 31 March 1993, before his term expired on 1 July 1993. His successor, Kim Carr, who was elected in the 1993 election, was appointed to finish the remaining months of the term. In retirement he remained active in Labor affairs and published several volumes of amusing memoirs. He led a number of trade missions, joined company boards and served as a professorial fellow at Monash University.[10] His son, James, is a prominent journalist.[11]

In October 1994, more than 18 months after his retirement from the Senate, Button came out publicly to respond to an account made by Hawke in his memoirs.

In his memoirs, Hawke wrote that in 1990, his then deputy and the man who would depose him, Keating had asked the rhetorical question of "What has the US ever done for us?" during a meeting of Federal Cabinet's security committee to decide Australia's involvement in the Gulf War.

Button responded to this account by stating that it was he not Keating who had asked that rhetorical question. [12]


John Button died on 8 April 2008 from pancreatic cancer.[13]


  1. ^ "Former federal Labor minister John Button dies". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 April 2008.
  2. ^ "BUTTON, John Norman (1932–2008)Senator for Victoria, 1974–93 (Australian Labor Party) | The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate". Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  3. ^ "Former Labor minister John Button dies". The Age. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  4. ^ "Former Labor minister John Button dies". The Age. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  5. ^ "BUTTON, John Norman (1932–2008)Senator for Victoria, 1974–93 (Australian Labor Party) | The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate". Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  6. ^ (7 May 2008). "John Button, 1933–2008". The Monthly. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  7. ^ "Whitlam, the 1960s and the program". Inside Story. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Union ... and demarcation". The Age. Fairfax Media. 26 May 2000. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  10. ^ "Former Labor minister John Button dies". The Age. Retrieved 8 April 2008.
  11. ^ "James Button". The Wheeler Centre. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Former federal Labor minister John Button dies". Retrieved 8 April 2008.[permanent dead link]


  • Button, John (1994), Flying the kite: Travels of an Australian politician, Sydney: Random House. ISBN 0091828724.
  • Button, John (1996), On the loose, Melbourne: Text Publishing. ISBN 1875847359.
  • Button, John (1998), As it happened, Melbourne: Text Publishing. ISBN 1875847499.
  • Weller, Patrick (1999), Dodging raindrops: John Button, a Labor life, Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1865081361.
  • Button, James (2012), Speechless: A year in my father's business, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 9780522858587.

External links

  • Button, James (May 2008). "John Button, 1933–2008". The Monthly.
  • James Button talk at ANU's National Centre of Biography about his "accidental" biography of his father Speechless: A Year in My Father's Business (2012), 31 July 2014.
Political offices
Preceded by
Andrew Peacock
Minister for Industry and Commerce
Succeeded by
Alan Griffiths
Preceded by
John Carrick
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Succeeded by
Gareth Evans
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ken Wriedt
Leader of the Labor Party in the Senate
Succeeded by
Gareth Evans
This page was last edited on 19 June 2021, at 10:52
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