The political landscape has dramatically shifted since 1949 when the Paterson electorate was formed and the late Sir Allen Fairhall, of Morpeth, was elected to the seat, where he remained for 20 years. The recent discovery of Liberal Party radio advertisements from the 1949 federal election campaign that were thought to have been lost, prompted a look back at the way campaigning has changed. BELINDA-JANE DAVIS reports.
The late Sir Allen Fairhall was a man of integrity and honour. Morpeth-born, he devoted his time to his electorate and the portfolios he held and turned down the chance to become prime minister to concentrate on the electorate he loved.
Milton Morris knew him well.
He was the reason Mr Morris went into politics and he looked up to Sir Allen throughout his political career.
“I admired him greatly,” Mr Morris said. “We were good friends.”
The man,who had a strong love of radio and established the 2KO radio station in Newcastle, was the first person to be elected to the seat of Paterson which formed in 1949 and was named after Colonel William Paterson who was an early settler to the region.
He remains one of only four MPs elected to the seat since 1949.
“It was a big deal for him to run for the seat, he had a yearning to run and he retained the seat for 20 years before he retired from politics just before the 1969 election,” Mr Morris said. “He had a great ability to talk to people and he was a wonderful speaker.”
Sir Allen had the support of the party to nominate for the role of prime minister when Prime Minister Harold Holt was lost at sea in December 1967.
“If he had decided to run when Harold Holt was lost at sea he could have been prime minister,” Mr Morris said. “He had the support of the party, but he was happy being the member for the Paterson electorate, he enjoyed his defence portfolio and he wanted to keep living here; he never wanted to live in Canberra.”
Mr Morris said Sir Allen enjoyed the refinement of radio-based election campaigns and his commitment to his constituents was reflective in his lengthy reign in the seat.
“Election campaigns have become dominated with television snaps and there is hardly anything on radio anymore,” he said. “Campaigning was more genuine and now it’s not like that, it has lost its purity.
“It was less vicious in those days, you promoted yourself as a candidate but wouldn’t talk about your opponent in a negative way.
“Menzies would fill a town hall and he wouldn’t keep those against him outside, he would welcome them in just as he would his supporters.
“Now a Liberal meeting does not allow Labor members and a Labor meeting does not allow Liberal members.”
Mr Morris said politicians from different parties used to leave politics behind when they left parliament.
“In my day some of my best friends were in the Labor Party and we would be in parliament throwing comments back and forth and then we would all go out together and have a cup of coffee and leave what had happened in parliament behind,” he said.
Mr Morris said the political landscape had changed dramatically from Sir Allen’s time when he served under prime ministers Robert Menzies, Harold Holt and John Gorton.
“I think today’s politicians have forgotten what being a politician and campaigning for an election is all about, it’s about selling your proposals as best you can and being there for the people,” he said. “You don’t need to bring in any nastiness like they do now.
“I think politicians could benefit from a bit better use of the Queen’s language when they are filling out their sentences. Some members on all sides are just there for what they can get out of it, but most are decent in their intentions.
“Politicians have to be able to talk to people and have time to spend with people, and not be looking at their watch all the time.”
Mr Morris said it was a sad day in politics when Sir Allen retired in 1969.
The Paterson electorate continued under Frank O’Keefe but was abolished in 1984 because of a lack of constituents in the area.
It returned in 1992, named after Banjo Paterson, after a population boom in the area with Labor Party member Bob Horne elected to the seat.