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Robin Gray (Australian politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Robin Gray
37th Premier of Tasmania
In office
26 May 1982 – 29 June 1989
Preceded byHarry Holgate
Succeeded byMichael Field
ConstituencyWilmot (1976–1984)
Lyons (1984–1995)
Personal details
Born (1940-03-01) 1 March 1940 (age 79)
Kew, Victoria, Australia
Political partyLiberal Party
Alma materUniversity of Melbourne
OccupationAgricultural consultant

Robin Trevor Gray (born 1 March 1940) is a former Australian politician who was Premier of Tasmania from 1982 to 1989. A Liberal, he was elected Liberal state leader in 1981 and in 1982 defeated the Labor government of Harry Holgate on a policy of "state development," particularly the building of the Franklin Dam, a hydroelectric dam on the Franklin River. He was only the second non-Labor premier to hold the post in 48 years, and the first in 51 years to govern in majority.

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We instinctively use the lessons of European history to explain Asia’s future, and it is incredibly difficult to make the argument that we should look at Asia’s history if we want to understand where Asia is going to go in the future. The most common way that we think about power transitions in international relations is to look at a war between Sparta and Athens from 2500 years ago—the Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece. There, a rising power caused fear in a declining power and they ended up inevitably fighting. Thucydides wrote about this in his famous History of the Peloponnesian War, and almost ever since then what IR scholars and international relation scholars and historians have done is used the example of the Peloponnesian War as the most foundational way in which we think about rising powers: “Rising powers are inevitably ambitious. Declining powers are inevitably fearful and they always clash at some point.” Well, when we get to modern China today the example seems to fit perfectly, which is: China is a rising power, it’s very ambitious; America is a declining power, it’s very fearful; and so at some point there’s almost an inevitable chance that the two are going to come into conflict. And in fact you hear this over and over again. And yet in a way—isn’t it weird to think about a primitive infantry battle between two Greek villages from 2500 years ago that would have any implications for what contemporary modern China, how they’re going to behave today? I mean in a way it seems like quite a stretch. And in many cases I think that simply taking the lessons of history in this way biases us towards looking towards conflict in ways I don’t think actually are necessarily going to play out, particularly in contemporary East Asia. That is, what we do, is we always take European history as the sum of all things, and somehow what happened—again, 2500 years ago in ancient Greece—is going to predict what’s going to happen in modern East Asia. And I don’t think that’s the case at all, especially when we look at how East Asian history worked. If we were to take East Asia on its own terms instead of using Europe to explain Asia—why don’t we look at East Asia? And if we took it on its own terms one thing that we would find is that first of all China is not really rising; China has always been big! Sometimes it goes into a period of decline and then it comes back, and this is more return than a rise, so it’s not anything new to the countries in the region. In many ways what happens is: China’s dominance, China’s massive size has been a fact of life in East Asia for literally centuries, so this is nothing new. So it’s not at all clear to me that we should view this as a “rising power” any more than we would view the United States as a “potentially rising power.” The other problem is if we use East Asian history one of the biggest lessons we would learn from East Asian history is that the dangers that arise to countries in the region are almost always internal, not external. So even for rising and declining powers, the fears or the threats, they are as much domestic as they are internal. So almost every single one of China’s dynasties over the centuries, the Tang, the Ming, almost all of them fell because of internal rebellion. If I‘m a Chinese leader today I‘m as worried as much about internal issues as with external issues. And in fact one thing we know is that China spends more on internal security than it does on external defense. So even now it’s not clear that China’s ambitions are all directed outwards, they’re probably just as concerned about internal. If we look at the United States, if we were to take it the lessons from East Asian history and say “Wow, instead of the inevitable war that Thucydides wrote about, what if we were worried about the lessons from East Asian history, which is the Japanese shoguns all fail from internal rebellion, Korean, Vietnamese dynasties almost all fell from internal rebellion as well? So what would the lesson for today be? Self-inflicted wounds in both the United States and China may matter more than any titanic struggle between them. And in fact if I was to look at the United States today the challenges that we face are far more internal than they are from China. Yes, China and the United States haven’t worked out a totally stable equilibrium. We have things at the margins we have to deal with. Maybe some uninhabited rocks in the South China Seas, maybe some trade disputes, but those are not things that are going to lead to a titanic struggle for global dominance, and I don’t see any war between China and the United States along those lines. But I do see huge issues in China itself from internal security, to environmental issues, to a rapidly aging population. And frankly I see just as many issues in the United States as well. If we look at the threats that are facing the United States: it’s a deeply divided country, it’s a massively underinvested infrastructure whether it’s our transportation or our education, and in many ways the issues we face today are much more internal than external. So if I was to say “What do I think about the future of U.S. / China,” I would say it’s much more about scoring an “own goal” than it is about any kind of massive battle between the two countries. Europe isn’t the measure of all things, and if there’s different examples or different experiences in East Asia and if they have different implications for the present or the future then we ought to take it seriously. And in many ways that’s what I think—people like myself, that’s our task. Our task is to try and show, understand East Asian history without making a cartoon out of it, without making a caricature out of it but taking it seriously. And if some things are the same then fine, and if some things are different then we need to point them out. And this goes back to really an important theoretical point or a point about how we think about the world, which is that in many cases local knowledge is incredibly important. Local knowledge about situations is as important as any kind of broad theory about the way the world inevitably works. And we want to know both, we want to have some good theories, but we also really want to make sure that those theories apply to the region. And only with having that kind of knowledge can you really take East Asia on its own term.


Early life

Robin Gray was born in Kew, a suburb of Melbourne. Once he had completed high school, he won a scholarship to Dookie Agricultural College and completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne. His qualifications led to a job as an agricultural consultant at a firm in Victoria's Western District. In 1965, the firm sent Gray to northern Tasmania to operate a branch of the firm in Launceston.[1]

Political career

During 1976, the state leader of the Liberal Party, Max Bingham, convinced Gray to stand as a candidate in the state election for that year. Gray ended up out-polling three sitting Liberal members in Wilmot.[1] Bingham resigned as leader following his party's poor performance at the 1979 election, which resulted in a marked swing away from the Liberals. Gray was elected Deputy Leader under Geoff Pearsall, and when Pearsall resigned in 1981 for unexplained personal reasons, Gray took over the party's leadership.

The campaign on which Gray embarked, to build the Franklin Dam, aroused protests from environmentalists, led by Dr Bob Brown (later a Senator). Gray in 1982 allied with militant left wing FEDFA trade union leader Kelvin McCoy to form in November 1982 the Organisation for Tasmanian Development (OTD) which was directly associated with notable stickers seen on cars in Tasmania like Doze in a Greenie: help Fertilize the South-West, If It's Brown, Flush It, and Keep Warm This Winter:Burn a Greenie. Gray and McCoy praised each other publicly in their promotion of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam. One of the more notable events of Gray's involvement with the OTD was the 3,000-strong rally in Queenstown on 11 December 1982, which included former Premier Eric Reece.[2] Despite Reece's ALP background, Gray praised Reece as "the greatest living Tasmanian."

In 1983, the newly elected federal Labor government led by Bob Hawke intervened to prevent the building of the dam. However it was finally a High Court of Australia decision (Commonwealth v Tasmania)—despite the persistent clamour for states' rights in which even Joh Bjelke-Petersen was utilised [3]—which stopped the dam's construction. Tasmania was the recipient of $276 million in grants by way of compensation.[4]

Gray was elected to a second term in 1986. This marked the first time in 58 years that a non-Labor government had managed to win a second term in Tasmania. But after seven years in power, Gray's Liberals suffered a two-seat swing at the 1989 election, which left them one seat short of a majority, although they were still the largest single group in parliament. The ALP formed an accord with the Greens, whose unprecedented five seats gave them the balance of power.[5] Gray refused to resign and asked the Governor, Sir Phillip Bennett, to call fresh elections. Bennett refused to accept his advice, believing that Gray had lost the support of the House and was no longer in a position to ask for a dissolution. When the new legislature rejected Gray's choice for Speaker, Gray realised he stood no chance of surviving a vote of confidence on the floor of the House and resigned. ALP leader Michael Field became the new Premier.

A Royal Commission[6] later found that Edmund Rouse, a prominent Launceston businessman and chairman of the forestry company Gunns Limited, had tried to bribe a Labor backbencher to cross the floor and keep Gray in power. Gray denied any knowledge of this but an ALP appointed Royal Commission criticised his conduct (having an unexplained $10,000 in the freezer was a problem), but found no legal case to answer. He resigned as Liberal leader on 17 December 1991. Post the Royal Commission conclusion, in 1992 Gray won one of the highest personal votes ever recorded at the next State election.

From 1996 until his retirement on 5 May 2010, Gray was a director of Gunns.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b Cockburn, Milton (26 July 1983). "Robin Gray: The drover's dog gets the glittering prize". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  2. ^ Pink 2001, pp.71-88 for accounts of Grays involvement with the Organisation for Tasmanian Development, and the events just mentioned
  3. ^ Pink 2001, p.86 for photo
  4. ^ Pink 2001, p.87
  5. ^ Ward, Airlie: Minority Government, Stateline Tasmania (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 10 March 2006.
  6. ^ Report Royal Commission Rouse and others, The Age.
  7. ^ Gunns - Board Of Directors, Gunns Limited
  8. ^


  • Pink, Kerry (2001) Through Hells Gates: A History of Strahan and Macquarie Harbour Fifth edition ISBN 0-646-36665-3

Further reading

  • Gray, Robin (1982) National Press Club luncheon address. Premier of Tasmania spoke about Tasmania ; the dams and the future of Australia's smallest state. held at National Library of Australia - tape and transcript
  • Lines, William J. (2006) Patriots : defending Australia's natural heritage St. Lucia, Qld. : University of Queensland Press, 2006. ISBN 0-7022-3554-7

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Geoff Pearsall
Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania
Succeeded by
Ken Wriedt
Preceded by
Harry Holgate
Premier of Tasmania
Succeeded by
Michael Field
Preceded by
Michael Field
Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania
Succeeded by
Ray Groom
Party political offices
Preceded by
Geoff Pearsall
Leader of the Liberal Party in Tasmania
Succeeded by
Ray Groom
This page was last edited on 25 June 2019, at 10:36
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