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The Honourable
 Jim Cairns

At Nambassa, 1981

Member of the Australian Parliament
for Yarra
In office
10 December 1955 – 25 October 1969
Preceded by Stan Keon
Succeeded by Division abolished

Member of the Australian Parliament
for Lalor
In office
25 October 1969 – 10 November 1977
Preceded by Mervyn Lee
Succeeded by Barry Jones

Born 4 October 1914(1914-10-04)
Carlton, Victoria
Died 12 October 2003 (aged 89)
Narre Warren East, Victoria
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Gwen Robb
Alma mater University of Melbourne
Occupation Policeman, lecturer

James Ford "J. F." Cairns (4 October 1914 — 12 October 2003), Australian politician, was prominent in the Labor movement through the 1960s and 1970s, and was briefly Deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam government. He is best remembered as a leader of the movement against Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, for his affair with Junie Morosi and for his later renunciation of conventional politics. He was also a prominent economist, and a prolific writer on economic and social issues.[citation needed]


Early days

James Ford Cairns was born in Carlton, then a working-class suburb of Melbourne, the son of a clerk. He grew up on a dairy farm north of Sunbury.[citation needed] His father went to the First World War as a lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Forces, but became disillusioned with the war and lost his respect for Britain.[citation needed] He did not return to Australia. Following the war he essentially deserted his family, and he travelled to Africa where he committed suicide after a stay of six or seven years.[citation needed]

Cairns attended Sunbury State School and later Northcote High School, where he completed his Leaving certificate. Though life during the Depression was difficult with his mother having to work to provide for the family, and with himself having to make a three-hour daily commute by train, he was a good student, excelling academically and athletically.[citation needed]

Later Cairns had to abandon his studies to support his family, and in 1933 he joined the Police Force, becoming a detective and working in the surveillance squad. While working he studied at night and completed an economics degree at the University of Melbourne. He was the first Victorian policeman to hold a tertiary degree. In 1939 he married Gwen Robb (died 2000), whose two sons he adopted.

In 1944, Cairns left the Police and was employed, successively as a tutor, a lecturer and a senior lecturer in economic history, at the University of Melbourne. He was a knowledgeable economist and also a convinced socialist. In 1946 he applied to join the Communist Party, but was rejected.[citation needed] He joined the Labor Party and became active in its left wing. The Victorian Labor Party was at this time controlled by the Catholic right-wing forces known as the "Groupers", associated with B.A. Santamaria, and Cairns was a leading opponent of this group.[citation needed]

In 1955, when the federal Labor leader, Dr. H.V. Evatt, attacked the Groupers and brought on a major split in the Labor Party, Cairns sided with Evatt. At the 1955 elections, he stood for the House of Representatives for the working-class seat of Yarra, held by the leading Grouper, Stan Keon. In what is said to have been the most violent election campaign in Australian history,[citation needed] Cairns was elected and held Yarra until 1969, when it was abolished at a redistribution. He then shifted to Lalor in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

Leading leftist

In Canberra, Cairns became a leader of the left. He was a highly effective debater and was soon feared and disliked by ministers in the Liberal government of Robert Menzies. He was also disliked by many in his own party, who saw him as an ideologue whose political views were too left-wing for the Australian electorate.[citation needed]

Nevertheless Cairns's abilities could not be denied. He completed his doctorate in economic history in 1957, and by the 1960s he was among the Labor Party's leading figures. At this time he also lectured on Marxist and socialist history, and taught at free seminars for working people in Melbourne unable to afford tertiary education.[citation needed] He was to travel overseas for the first time including to the United States and Asia. These experiences had a great effect on him. In 1967, when Arthur Calwell retired as Labor leader, Cairns contested the leadership, but was defeated by Gough Whitlam. The following year, when Whitlam resigned as leader as part of his fight with the left-wing of the party, Cairns again contested the leadership, but again narrowly failed. Whitlam appointed him shadow minister for trade and industry.[citation needed]

One of the reasons Cairns did not become leader of the Labor Party was that through the late 1960s and early 1970s his main focus was not on parliamentary politics but on leading the mass movement against the Vietnam War, to which the Menzies government had committed combat troops in 1965, and against conscription for that war. Until about 1968, most Australians supported the war, and opposition to it was led by the Communist Party and the trade unions. After 1968, however, opposition grew, and Cairns came to see this movement as a moral crusade. In 1969 he was assaulted by a group of men who broke into his home.[citation needed]

In May 1970, Cairns, as chair of the Vietnam Moratorium, led an estimated 100,000 people in a "sit-down" demonstration in the streets of Melbourne. This held the title as the largest protest in Australia until it was overtaken by the anti-Iraq war protests in February 2003. Similar protests of proportionate size took place simultaneously in other Australian cities. There was none of the predicted violence, and the moral force of the (mainly young) protesters had a major effect on Australian attitudes to the war.[citation needed]

Cairns in Government

In 1972, Whitlam led the Labor Party into government for the first time in 23 years, and Cairns became Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry. He had by now shed much of his socialist ideology of earlier years, though he was still a strong believer in state planning. He got along surprisingly well with the heads of industry, although critics said this was because he was sympathetic to their requests for government assistance. After the 1974 election, he was elected Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, defeating Lance Barnard, and thus became Deputy Prime Minister.

In December 1974, Whitlam appointed Cairns to the senior economic portfolio, Treasurer. This was the high-point of Cairns's political career. On Christmas Day 1974, while Whitlam was overseas, Cyclone Tracy devastated the city of Darwin, and Cairns as Acting Prime Minister impressed the nation with his sympathetic and decisive leadership. It was during this period, however, that Cairns hired Junie Morosi as his principal private secretary, and he soon began a relationship with her which would eventually help ruin his career.

Australia's economy began to decline during 1975, and Cairns (like other finance ministers around the world at this time) had few answers to the new phenomenon of stagflation, the combination of high unemployment and high inflation that followed the 1974 oil shock.

The Loans Affair

In an attempt to raise funds for a massive Keynesian pump-priming exercise, Cairns and another senior minister, Rex Connor, tried to borrow huge amounts of petrodollars from the Middle East through an intermediary, a Pakistani banker called Tirath Khemlani (the so-called "Loans Affair"). When the Liberal Opposition learned of this, Cairns and Connor denied to both Parliament and to Whitlam that they had given Khemlani authority to act in the name of the Australian government. When it emerged that this was untrue, Whitlam moved Cairns from Treasury to the Environment ministry.

In addition to his involvement with Khemlani, Cairns also attempted to raise overseas funds through George Harris, a businessman and president of the Carlton Football Club. Cairns provided Harris with written authorisation to raise A$2,000 million, offering him a 2.5% commission. Cairns denied the existence of this letter, and when it was produced he denied having signed it. In July 1975, Whitlam sacked him from the ministry.

Cairns and Morosi

By this time Cairns's relationship with Morosi had become public, although the media at that time was still sufficiently discreet for its precise nature not to be mentioned. It took the newly elected Liberal backbencher John Howard to broadcast this fact under the protection of parliamentary privilege. At the Labor Party national conference in February 1975 he gave an interview in which he confessed "a kind of love" for Morosi. Morosi considered Cairns to be sexually repressed, and evidently he found her company liberating. Cairns was not at this time directly asked if it were a sexual relationship. However, unlike other politicians of the time, he did not seek to suppress or publicly repudiate any of his private life.

In a 1982 defamation case he initiated before the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Cairns denied on oath having had a sexual relationship with Morosi. The jury in that case found that the article in question did contain "an imputation" that Cairns was "improperly involved with his assistant, Junie Morosi, in a romantic or sexual association," but that this statement was not defamatory. Cairns did not receive money for defamation, although Morosi did.

On 15 September 2002 Cairns finally admitted on ABC radio that he had indeed gone to bed with Junie Morosi.[1] In a separate interview he said that "looking back over it, it was a mistake on my part". [2]


Cairns's Labor colleagues found his conduct in the Loans and Morosi affairs intolerable, and his political reputation was destroyed.[citation needed] In 1977 he retired from Parliament. He devoted the rest of his life to the counter-cultural movement, to which he had been introduced by Morosi. He sponsored a series of Down to Earth conference-festivals (known as Confests) at various rural locations, and was photographed sitting in the dust meditating. Even in the counter-culture movement, however, Cairns and Morosi remained the centre of controversy, with disputes soon arising over the organisation and finances of the Down to Earth gatherings.[citation needed]

In 1979 Cairns severed his formal links with the Down to Earth organisers. But he retained legally and financially embroiled with a failed communal settlement at Mount Oak, south of Canberra until, after a messy court case, he cut his losses and ended his involvement with what was left of the movement in 1991.[citation needed]

Cairns was subject to a great deal of media ridicule for these activities, but displayed his usual firm conviction about the rightness of his causes. In his later years he lived at Narre Warren East, Victoria near Melbourne. He sold his books outside suburban markets where he would talk about politics, history or his life. In 2000 he was made a Life Member of the Labor Party. Cairns died of bronchial pneumonia, aged 89, in October 2003. He was accorded a State Funeral at St John's Anglican Church in Toorak, Victoria.[citation needed]

Further reading

  • Paul Ormonde, A Foolish Passionate Man, Penguin, 1981
  • Paul Strangio, Keeper of the Faith, Melbourne University Press, 2002


  • G. O. and J. F. Cairns, Australia, 1953
  • J. F. Cairns, Socialism and the A.L.P., comment by Bruce McFarlane, 1963
  • J. F. Cairns, Living with Asia, 1965
  • J F. Cairns, Vietnam : is it truth we want?, 1965
  • J. F. Cairns, Economics and foreign policy, 1966
  • J. F. Cairns, Here I stand : statements, 1966
  • J. F. Cairns, Changing Australia's role in Asia, 1968
  • J. F. Cairns, Australian foreign policy, 1968
  • J. F. Cairns, Eagle and the lotus; western intervention in Vietnam 1847-1968, 1969
  • Jack Heffernan, Socialist alternative : an A.L.P. view, foreword by J.F. Cairns, 1969
  • J. F. Cairns M.P., Silence kills; events leading up to the Vietnam Moratorium, 8 May 1970
  • J. F. Cairns, Eagle and the lotus : Western intervention in Vietnam, 1847-1971, 1971
  • J. F. Cairns, Tariffs or planning? : the case for reassessment, 1971
  • J. F. Cairns, Quiet revolution, 1972
  • J. F. Cairns, Impossible attainment, 1974
  • J. F. Cairns, Labor Party? Dr. Evatt - the Petrov affair - the Whitlam government., 1974
  • Jim Cairns, Vietnam : scorched earth reborn, 1976
  • Jim Cairns, Oil in troubled waters, 1976
  • Jim Cairns, Growth to freedom, 1979
  • Jim Cairns, Survival now: the human transformation, 1982
  • Jim Cairns, Human growth, its source and potential, 1984
  • Jim Cairns, Strength within: towards an end to violence, 1988
  • Jim Cairns, Towards a new society : a new day has begun, 1990-1993
  • Jim Cairns, Untried road, 1990
  • Jim Cairns, Reshaping the future : liberated human potential, 1996
  • Jim Cairns, On the horizon: a cultural transformation to a new consciousness, 1999
  • Jim Cairns, Liberated biological function: the source of human quality, 2001
  • Jim Cairns, New day : liberated biological human potential: the source of social reform to the good society there's no other way, 2002


External links

Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Stan Keon
Member of Parliament for Yarra
1955 – 1969
Division abolished
Preceded by
Mervyn Lee
Member of Parliament for Lalor
1969 – 1977
Succeeded by
Barry Jones
Political offices
Preceded by
Gough Whitlam
Minister for Secondary Industry
1972 – 1973
Succeeded by
Kep Enderby
Minister for Overseas Trade
1972 – 1974
Succeeded by
Frank Crean
Preceded by
Lance Barnard
Deputy Prime Minister of Australia
1974 – 1975
Succeeded by
Frank Crean
Preceded by
Frank Crean
1974 – 1975
Succeeded by
Bill Hayden
Preceded by
Moss Cass
Minister for the Environment
Succeeded by
Gough Whitlam
Party political offices
Preceded by
Lance Barnard
Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party
1974 – 1975
Succeeded by
Frank Crean


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