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Neville Wran

Neville Wran
Wran c. 1971
Chairman of the CSIRO
In office
5 December 1986 – 4 December 1991
Preceded byNorman Boardman
Succeeded byAdrienne Clarke
35th Premier of New South Wales
Elections: 1976, 1978, 1981, 1984
In office
14 May 1976 – 4 July 1986
MonarchElizabeth II
Preceded bySir Eric Willis
Succeeded byBarrie Unsworth
National President of the Labor Party
In office
8 September 1980 – 3 July 1986
Preceded byNeil Batt
Succeeded byMick Young
Member of the New South Wales Parliament
for Bass Hill
In office
17 November 1973 – 4 July 1986
Preceded byClarrie Earl
Succeeded byMichael Owen
Personal details
Neville Kenneth Wran

(1926-10-11)11 October 1926
Paddington, New South Wales, Australia
Died20 April 2014(2014-04-20) (aged 87)
Elizabeth Bay, New South Wales, Australia
Political partyAustralian Labor Party
  • Marcia Oliver (m. 1946–76; divorced)
  • Jill Hickson (m. 1976–2014; his death)

Neville Kenneth Wran, AC, CNZM, QC (11 October 1926 – 20 April 2014) was an Australian politician who was the Premier of New South Wales from 1976 to 1986. He was the national president of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1980[2] to 1986 and chairman of both the Lionel Murphy Foundation and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) from 1986 to 1991.

Early years

Wran was born in the Sydney suburb of Paddington, the eighth and last child of Joseph Wran and his wife Lillian (née Langley).[3] He was educated at Nicholson Street Public School, Balmain, Fort Street Boys High and the University of Sydney,[4] where he was a member of the Liberal Club,[5] and from which he gained a Bachelor of Laws in 1948. He was admitted as a solicitor in 1951, called to the Bar in 1957, and became a Queen's Counsel in 1968.

His great-grandfather, the eminent High Victorian architectural sculptor, Thomas Vallance Wran (1832-1891), whose carvings can be seen on the Martin Place front of the General Post Post Office, came from Chichester. Thomas Wran – the surname is Austrian – settled initially at St Lawrence, Queensland, before he established himself in Caroline Street, Balmain, in 1872.

Political career

Wran began his political career in 1970 when he became a member of the upper house of the Parliament of New South Wales, the Legislative Council. Three years afterwards, he moved to the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, in the seat of Bass Hill. Support for this move had been organised by the General Secretary of the FMWU, Ray Gietzelt.[6] He then challenged Pat Hills for the state leadership of the Labor Party (which Hills had held since 1968). In this challenge he had cross-faction support from right-wing powerbroker John Ducker and left-winger Jack Ferguson. There were two rounds to the leadership vote which resulted in a tie between Hills and Wran in the second ballot. However, under Labor Party rules of the time, in the event of a tie in the second ballot, the candidate who won the most votes in the first ballot would be the winner. Since Wran had won one vote more than Hills in the first ballot, Wran was therefore declared the new leader.

In May 1976, six months after Gough Whitlam's federal Labor government's dismissal, Wran led Labor to victory, narrowly defeating the Liberal Party premier, Sir Eric Willis. Wran's win was not assured until it became clear that Gosford and Hurstville had fallen to Labor by only 74 and 44 votes respectively, giving Wran a one-seat majority.

In 1978, the former premier resigned causing a by-election to be held for the seat of Earlwood, which had been held by the Liberal party for three decades. Labor won the by-election, beating the Liberal Candidate Alan Jones.[7] Later that year, campaigning with the slogan "Wran's our Man", his government won a 13-seat swing, popularly known as the "Wranslide". This came on the back of 57.7 percent of the primary vote, the largest primary vote for any party in a century. The Opposition Leader on that occasion, Peter Coleman, lost his seat.

In 1981, Wran won a second "Wranslide", picking up a six-seat swing for what is still NSW Labor's largest proportion of seats in Parliament (69 out of 99 seats, 69.7 percent of the chamber). The Opposition Leader, Bruce McDonald, failed to be elected to the seat that he contested, marking the second time in a row that an Opposition Leader had failed to be elected to Parliament. Labor also reduced the Liberals to 14 seats, the same as its nominal junior partner, the National Country Party. He won a fourth term in 1984; although he suffered an 11-seat swing, he still won a larger majority than any of the victories won by the Liberals' Sir Robert Askin in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1977, Wran supported Al Grassby, former Federal Immigration Minister, in allowing Domenico Barbaro, a Mafia figure in the Griffith region of New South Wales, back into Australia after having been earlier deported because of his criminal record.[8] However, as journalist David Hickie explains, Wran attempted to undermine the influence of organised crime, particularly in the area of illegal casinos.[9]

Wran was also very popular, at one stage rating over 80 per cent approval in opinion polls. He was often talked about as a national political leader and rated highly in national polls as an alternative Labor Leader to Bill Hayden. He featured in Hayden's 1980 federal election campaign, along with Bob Hawke.

Wran's childhood home in the Sydney suburb of Balmain

Wran's first half of his tenure as a Labor premier came at a time when most Australian governments were held by conservative coalitions, a trend subsequently reversed in the early 1980s following the elections of Labor governments to both federal and state parliaments. During his 10 years as Premier of New South Wales, the government embarked on a program of reform and change. Priorities were public transport (with the exception of the Warringah Transport Corridor which was cancelled despite a recommendation by Justice Michael Kirby that it be built), the environment, consumer protection and job creation. He also achieved significant electoral institutional reform such as a democratic Legislative Council, four-year terms, public funding and disclosure laws and a pecuniary interests register for members of parliament. He called on Edwin Lusher, firstly while a QC and then as a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, to chair commissions of inquiry into police administration and gambling.[10] He also undertook the state's largest capital works program and refurbished many iconic places in Sydney. His government also built the modern-day Darling Harbour precinct.

Man with head down walking on street with journalists holding microphones and camera attempting to ask questions
Wran confronted by journalists after appearing before the Street Royal Commission, 1983

In 1983, Wran faced the Street Royal Commission over claims by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) current affairs show Four Corners that he had tried to influence the magistracy over the 1977 committal of Kevin Humphreys, who had been charged with misappropriation of funds.[11] He was completely exonerated, and sued the ABC for defamation.[12] His Corrective Services Minister, Rex Jackson, was jailed in 1987 for accepting bribes for the early release of prisoners.

In 1984, Neville Wran introduced a private members bill to decriminalise adult gay male sex, and the bill passed the NSW Parliament. This was the first time in NSW history a conscience vote was both introduced and passed by the NSW Parliament.[13]

Wran resigned both the premiership and his seat in Parliament on 4 July 1986, after continuously holding office longer than any other premier in the history of New South Wales until that time (10 years and 81 days). Bob Carr has since broken that record. (Henry Parkes served longer than both Wran and Carr in total, serving for 11 years and 278 days over five terms between 1872 and 1891.) The by-election for Wran's seat of Bass Hill was narrowly won by Michael Owen for the Liberal Party–a harbinger of his party's heavy defeat at the state election two years later.

In March 2021, ABC Television broadcast[14] an investigative documentary series, "The Ghost Train Fire" as a second series of the Exposed program which directly implicated Saffron in an arson plot at "Luna Park Sydney" in 1979, resulting in the deaths of seven people, six of them children.[3] Former senior police officers Steve Bullock and Paul Egge, supported by the testimony of other involved officers and former licensing magistrate James Swanson, stated on camera their belief that Saffron ordered the crime, which was swiftly and systematically covered up by corrupt police and government figures.

It was alleged by the program that the motive was control of the valuable harbourside land next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and with unobstructed views of the Sydney Opera House. It was the intention of Saffron and associate Jack Rooklyn, a poker-machine promoter, to gain control of and redevelop the Luna Park site. NSW premiers Robert Askin and Neville Wran have been named as corrupt close associates of Saffron, along with the police commissioner Norman "Bill" Allan, the High Court justice Lionel Murphy and lawyer Morgan Ryan, among others.

Wran is remembered by the phrase "Balmain boys don't cry" in his speech at the June 1983 ALP Annual Conference. At a press conference after announcing his departure Wran was asked what was his greatest achievement as premier. He answered, "saving the rainforests".[15][16]

Personal life

Wran in 2010

Wran's first marriage was in 1946 at the age of 20, to Marcia Oliver, a showgirl at the New Tivoli Theatre.[1] Oliver had a young son, whom Wran adopted, and they had one other child together, actress Kim Wran. In 1976, a month after his divorce was finalised and three months after becoming Premier of New South Wales, Wran married Jill Hickson,[17] and they had two children together. Wran and Hickson separated several times, first briefly in 2006, then in August 2011 after Hickson said she had been "frozen out" of her husband's personal affairs by his daughter Kim and his friend and business partner Albert Wong.[18] They had reconciled by December 2011.

A severe throat infection in 1980 required injections of teflon to strengthen his damaged vocal cords, resulting in his characteristic croaky voice.[19]


In his later years, Wran had dementia and from July 2012 had been under special care at the Lulworth House aged care facility in Elizabeth Bay.[20] He died there on 20 April 2014 at the age of 87. He was survived by his wife Jill and four children.[21]

A state funeral was held at the Sydney Town Hall on 1 May 2014.


Named in Panama Papers

On 12 May 2016, the name of Neville Wran was found in the Panama Papers (which also named then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull), due to his former directorship of the Mossack Fonseca-incorporated company Star Technology Systems Limited. Wran resigned from that position in 1995. A report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation notes that "There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by either Mr Turnbull or Mr Wran."[25]


  1. ^ a b Lawson, Valerie (28 December 1991). "Forever Nifty". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  2. ^ "Joy at ALP summit". The Canberra Times. 9 September 1980. p. 1 – via Trove.
  3. ^ "Neville Wran, former NSW premier and Labor hero, dies at 90". The Australian. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  4. ^ "The Hon. Neville Kenneth Wran (1926–2014)". Former members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  5. ^ "History". Sydney University Liberal Club. Archived from the original on 4 May 2007. Retrieved 6 May 2007.
  6. ^ Lawrence, Jeff (20 December 2012). "Vale Ray Gietzelt". The Sydney Morning Herald. United Voice. Archived from the original on 7 April 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  7. ^ "Leader Flashback | when Alan Jones ran for parliament". 26 June 2019.
  8. ^ Bottom, Bob (198). Shadow of Shame: How the mafia got away with the murder of Donald Mackay. South Melbourne: Sun Books. pp. 13–14.
  9. ^ Hickie, David (1985). The Prince and the Premier: The story of Perce Galea, Bob Askin and the others who gave organised crime its start in Australia. NSW, Australia: Angus & Robertson Publishers.
  10. ^ "State Library of New South Wales Catalogue". Archived from the original on 7 October 2016. Retrieved 7 March 2022.
  11. ^ Holmes, Jonathan (24 April 2014). "Neville Wran's lowest ebb was a high water mark for Four Corners". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  12. ^ McClymont, Kate (6 March 2021). "Bombshell corruption claim about former premier Neville Wran". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  13. ^ "30 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW". 22 May 2014.
  14. ^ ABC Television
  15. ^ "Bushwalkers should remember Neville Wran for his great work - Great Walks".
  16. ^ "LAURIE PATTON. Time to stop digging our way out of trouble. A lesson from the past?". 7 October 2019.
  17. ^ "NEVILLE WRAN'S WEDDING". The Australian Women's Weekly. 1 September 1976. p. 4. Retrieved 20 April 2014 – via Trove.
  18. ^ "Ailing Wran and his wife bury hatchet". The Daily Telegraph. 8 December 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  19. ^ Thomsen, Simon (20 April 2014). "Former NSW Premier Neville Wran Has Died, Aged 87". Business Insider. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  20. ^ Browne, Rachel (22 July 2012). "Wran to spend twilight years with Whitlam". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  21. ^ "Neville Wran dead aged 87". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 April 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  22. ^ a b c "Neville Kenneth Wran AC QC". Sydney University Senate. University of Sydney. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  23. ^ "WRAN, Neville Kenneth: AC". It's an Honour. Australian Government. Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  24. ^ "New Year honours list 2010". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2009. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  25. ^ "Malcolm Turnbull denies any wrongdoing after being listed in Panama Papers". ABC News (Australia). 11 May 2016. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  • Bramston, Troy, ed. (2006). The Wran Era. Sydney: Federation Press.
  • Clune, David (2020). Neville Wran. Australian Biographical Monographs. Vol. 5. Redland Bay, Qld: Connor Court Publishing. ISBN 9781922449092.
  • Dale, Brian (1985). Ascent to Power. North Sydney: Allen and Unwin Australia.
  • Steketee, Mike; Cockburn, Milton (1986). Wran: An Unauthorised Biography. North Sydney: Allen and Unwin Australia.
New South Wales Legislative Assembly Preceded byClarrie Earl Member for Bass Hill 1973–1986 Succeeded byMichael Owen Political offices Preceded byReg Downing Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales in the Legislative Council 1972–1973 Succeeded byLeroy Serisier Preceded byPat Hills Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales 1973–1976 Succeeded bySir Eric Willis Preceded bySir Eric Willis Premier of New South Wales 1976–1986 Succeeded byBarrie Unsworth Preceded byJack Renshaw Treasurer of New South Wales 1980–1981 Succeeded byKen Booth Preceded byRon Mulock Minister for Mineral Resources 1981–1983 Succeeded byDonald Day VacantTitle last held byDavid Arblaster as Minister for Culture, Sport and Recreation Minister for the Arts 1984–1986 Succeeded byFrank Walker Preceded byPaul Landa Attorney General of New South Wales 1984 Succeeded byTerry Sheahan New title Minister for Ethnic Affairs 1985–1986 Succeeded byBarrie Unsworth Preceded byGeorge Paciullo Minister for Industry and Decentralisation 1986 Succeeded byEric Bedford Minister for Small Business and Technology 1986 Party political offices Preceded byPat Hills Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales 1973–1986 Succeeded byBarrie Unsworth
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Neville Wran
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