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Tribute to great local member and political reformer Robin Millhouse

Tuesday, 09 May 2017

As Minister for Investment and Trade, member for Waite, Martin Hamilton-Smith has paid tribute to the electorate’s long serving former member, the Honourable Robin Millhouse QC, who passed away late last month.

In China this week leading a trade delegation, the Minister’s tribute was read in today’s condolence motion in State Parliament.  Serving the electorate as MP from 1955 to 1982, Mr Millhouse was well known in Mitcham as a young MP and remained known to the community for the several decades after his 27 years’ service as their local representative.


A former SA Liberal attorney-general, MP, Supreme Court judge, Queen’s Counsel barrister and Chief Justice of Pacific Island nations Nauru and Kiribati, Mr Millhouse died in Sydney on April 27, aged 87, after a series of recent illnesses.

Known as a political reformer and activist he was a member of a political party dominated by regional MPs and when he was elected as the MP for Mitcham he was one of the few Liberal Country League members with an urban middle class constituency.

As political academic Dean Jaensch wrote in 1997, Millhouse was a “vocal advocate of his broader constituency, championing their cause in a party dominated by rural conservatives”.

He wrote a paper on the 'Liberal Case for Electoral Reform', arguing for a fairer electoral system than the one he said was biased against voters resident in metropolitan Adelaide, whether they be progressive or conservative, Liberal or Labor.

Quotes attributable to Minister Hamilton-Smith

As Rex Jory noted in his obituary to Robin, the Millhouse way was never the easy way.

In 1975, as State Parliamentary Leader of the Liberal Movement, in his election policy speech at Adelaide Town Hall, he urged that government embrace the emerging concept of solar power. In the same speech he slammed Premier Dunstan’s policy for a City of Monarto. I wonder how he would view today’s achievement of 50 per cent renewable energy; and also how he would view the latest political thought bubble for an airport at Monarto.

I imagine that in today’s political environment, Robin Millhouse would have been just as he was in this House from 1955 to 1982.

He didn’t seek applause; he sought fair and intelligent debate. He didn’t criticise for the sake of political opportunity.

As he wisely told this House in his first speech in May 1955, and I quote; “Although we are bound to seek perfection, none of us can attain it. It follows that no Government, however good it is, can be entirely without blame and we delude ourselves if we think otherwise.

He added, “When considering problems, political or not, we must do so on their merits…In every problem there are conflicting facets. Our task is to reconcile them as best we can. The answer, even then will not be perfect, but it will be an honest attempt to do the best of which we are capable.”

Some 20 years after he made that contribution to the House, when the political organisation of which he was a member strayed from what he saw as core principles, he remained loyal to the principles, not the party. 

The breakaway formation of the Liberal Movement required some tough personal decisions and when some of those who broke away returned to the party, it was Millhouse who resolved to stand his ground and form the New Liberal Movement, then the Australia Party and eventually the Australian Democrats.

Despite an extraordinary career as a Minister, Attorney-General, reformer and advocate of advancement, it seems that the headline writers of the time were more focussed on his decision to leave the Liberal Country League, rather than noting his reasons why.

The voters had a different view: After leaving the Liberal Country League he increased his margin in the seat of Mitcham by three per cent to make it one of the safest seats in the State, with a 58.8 to 41.2 two party preferred vote. 

I also place on the record today, the community’s appreciation of Robin Millhouse’s contribution the Army Reserve, known in his time as the Citizen Military Force, or CMF. He served as a Major and in 1967, while an MP, went to Vietnam in November 1967 as an Observer, which enabled him to have a greater understanding of the challenges faced by those serving in Vietnam.

I will leave it to others to reflect on his judicial career, but I close my remarks by thanking the former member for Mitcham for his 27 years’ service to that community and to this House.

He stands tall in South Australian politics for his strength of character and commitment to social principles.

My condolences to his family.