Neville Wran

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Neville Wran

Neville Wran CNZM (cropped).jpg
Wran in 2010
35th Premier of New South Wales
Elections: 1976, 1978, 1981, 1984
In office
14 May 1976 4 July 1986
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Sir Eric Willis
Succeeded by Barrie Unsworth
National President of the Labor Party
In office
8 September 1980 3 July 1986
Preceded by Neil Batt
Succeeded by Mick Young
Member of the New South Wales Parliament
for Bass Hill
In office
17 November 1973 4 July 1986
Preceded by Clarrie Earl
Succeeded by Michael 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 party Australian Labor Party
  • Marcia Oliver (m. 1946–76; divorced)
  • Jill Hickson (m. 1976–2014; his death)
Nickname(s)Nifty [1]

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.


In 2021, allegations arose in an ABC documentary that linked Wran to corrupt actions, including the 1979 Luna Park fire, though these accusations have been disputed. [3]

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). [4] He was educated at Nicholson Street Public School, Balmain, Fort Street Boys High and the University of Sydney, [5] where he was a member of the Liberal Club, [6] 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.

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. [7] 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, 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 (1)Neville Wrans childhood home.jpg
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.

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 recorded 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. Wran is remembered by the phrase "Balmain boys don't cry" in his speech at the June 1983 ALP Annual Conference.

Corruption allegations

Wran’s alleged links to notorious Sydney underworld figure Abe Saffron and senior corrupt police associates were aired in an ABC investigative series on the Luna Park fire which killed 6 young children and a father. [3] The series alleges that the fire was a deliberate act of arson, carried out with the intention of delivering control of the Luna Park foreshore property into the hands of Saffron and his associates via a corrupt tender process. The alleged aim was to award the tender to Saffron who was supposed to have used solicitor Morgan Ryan to influence High Court judge Lionel Murphy, who in turn allegedly used his close friendship with Wran to influence him to intervene in the tender process on Saffron's behalf. Wran (who was claimed to have known Saffron socially) also allegedly protected Saffron from police investigation by ordering the destruction of taped evidence of Saffron's involvement in the property. [14] These allegations are controversial and have been rejected by David Hill, a former Wran staffer and chairman and managing director of the ABC from 1987 to 1995, and others. [15] Gary Sturgess, the architect of the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption and Director-General of the Cabinet Office under Liberal Premier Nick Greiner, has rejected the accusations of a link between Wran and Saffron. [16] The corruption claims were also disputed by journalist and historian Troy Bramston in the Australian. [17]

Personal life

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, a daughter. In 1976, a month after his divorce was finalised and three months after becoming Premier of New South Wales, Wran married Jill Hickson, [18] 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. [19] 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. [20]


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. [21] He died there on 20 April 2014 at the age of 87. He was survived by his wife Jill and four children. [22]

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." [26]

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  1. 1 2 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. 1 2 EXPOSED: The Ghost Train Fire : ABC iview. March 2021.
  4. "Neville Wran, former NSW premier and Labor hero, dies at 90". The Australian . Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  5. "The Hon. Neville Kenneth Wran (1926–2014)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales . Retrieved 10 May 2019.
  6. "History". Sydney University Liberal Club. Archived from the original on 4 May 2007. Retrieved 6 May 2007.
  7. 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.
  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 [ dead link ]
  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. "'Set the truth free': Urgent inquiry needed into Ghost Train fire foul play claims, former police and judicial figures say". 30 March 2021.
  15. Bramston, Troy (25 April 2021). "Call for Luna Park ghost train fire inquiry to clear Neville Wran of cover-up". Australian. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  16. Sturgess, Garry (30 April 2021). "ICAC founder Gary Sturgess calls for Luna Park probe but rejects Neville Wran slur". Australian. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  17. Bramston, Troy (24 April 2021). "Luna Park fire: Neville Wran burnt at ABC's stake". The Australian.
  18. "NEVILLE WRAN'S WEDDING". The Australian Women's Weekly . 1 September 1976. p. 4. Retrieved 20 April 2014 via Trove.
  19. "Ailing Wran and his wife bury hatchet". The Daily Telegraph. 8 December 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  20. Thomsen, Simon (20 April 2014). "Former NSW Premier Neville Wran Has Died, Aged 87". Business Insider. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  21. Browne, Rachel (22 July 2012). "Wran to spend twilight years with Whitlam". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  22. "Neville Wran dead aged 87". The Sydney Morning Herald. 20 April 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  23. 1 2 3 "Neville Kenneth Wran AC QC". Sydney University Senate. University of Sydney . Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  24. "WRAN, Neville Kenneth: AC". It's an Honour. Australian Government . Retrieved 23 February 2009.
  25. "New Year honours list 2010". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 31 December 2009. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  26. "Malcolm Turnbull denies any wrongdoing after being listed in Panama Papers". ABC News (Australia) . Retrieved 12 May 2016.
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Clarrie Earl
Member for Bass Hill
Succeeded by
Michael Owen
Political offices
Preceded by
Reg Downing
Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales
in the Legislative Council

Succeeded by
Leroy Serisier
Preceded by
Pat Hills
Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Sir Eric Willis
Preceded by
Sir Eric Willis
Premier of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Barrie Unsworth
Preceded by
Jack Renshaw
Treasurer of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Ken Booth
Preceded by
Ron Mulock
Minister for Mineral Resources
Succeeded by
Donald Day
Title last held by
David Arblaster
as Minister for Culture, Sport and Recreation
Minister for the Arts
Succeeded by
Frank Walker
Preceded by
Paul Landa
Attorney General of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Terry Sheahan
New title Minister for Ethnic Affairs
Succeeded by
Barrie Unsworth
Preceded by
George Paciullo
Minister for Industry and Decentralisation
Succeeded by
Eric Bedford
Minister for Small Business and Technology
Party political offices
Preceded by
Pat Hills
Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales
Succeeded by
Barrie Unsworth