Frank Crean (1916 – 2008) federal treasurer, deputy prime minister
Frank Crean combined a classic blue-collar heritage with a deep religious faith and a relentless drive towards self-improvement. Crean was a committed Presbyterian – and a Sunday School superintendent for much of his life. He spent two decades in opposition before getting the chance to help Whitlam govern, first as treasurer and later as deputy prime minister, after Labor’s victory in 1972 and re-election in 1974. Frank Crean helped start the parliamentary Christian fellowship.
Crean was a committed Presbyterian – and a Sunday School superintendent for much of his life – with a distinctly Catholic name. Born Francis Daniel Crean on February 28, 1916, in the Victorian town of Hamilton, his father, John, was a bicycle maker and labourer, and his mother, Alison, a school teacher.
In an autobiographical article in The Melburnian in 1993, Crean – a keen reader as a boy – said the town had no library, only a Mechanics Institute with a spartan collection of books. The Creans survived the Great Depression but the images of privation – of people with no work other than selling skinned rabbits door to door, and of those living with the shame of being “sussos” on the dole – were imprinted on the young Francis’s mind.
Crean sat the leaving certificate at Melbourne Boys High in 1933 and began work at the Tax Office. He studied accountancy at the YMCA and later gained degrees in commerce and arts at the University of Melbourne.
After 23 years in exile Labor gained office in 1972 and Crean became treasurer. From the very beginning Crean was the odd man out. Whitlam patronised him. “I leave these things (the economy) in your very capable hands.” Whitlam is on record as stating that the trouble with Crean was that he ran away from conflict. That he was unduly influenced by the dead hand of Treasury. It would be more accurate to say that Crean internalised conflict.
The abolition of the Senate was on the Labor Party platform. In Crean’s view Lionel Murphy (as government leader in the Senate) was white-anting this stratagem by strengthening the house of review with the new committee system. Yet he remained silent. It was only after reirement that he proffered his view. “Murphy was responsible for turning the Senate into a monster.”
Whitlam had appointed a vast outer ministry. “I had 23 ministers who each reckoned he could spend as much as the total budget was,” recalled Crean. Labor gained more Senate seats after a double dissolution held on May 18 1974. It was not sufficient to save the government. After his second budget in November 1974, the PM sacked Crean in favour of a compliant Cairns. Crean took over international trade. In mid-1975, as a consolation prize, he was appointed deputy prime minister. Then followed the Khemlani loans scandal which led to the blocking of supply and the dismissal of the Whitlam government by governor-general John Kerr. Crean believed it would never have happened had he remained treasurer. By early December 1975 it was all over.
Crean remained deputy leader of the parliamentary Labor Party until January 1976 and retired from the Parliament in 1977.
Whitlam’s published account of his three heady years in government gives scant reference to Crean. At least by implication Crean, in Whitlam’s view, was a failure. In his final years he was all but ignored by the media. When he was rushed to hospital after an asthmatic attack in the mid-1990s The Age accorded him a paragraph or two. Crean was a reformer in his own dour way. He was a precursor to the 1960 Participants – that group of reformers who created a pragmatic Labor Party.
What Frank Crean lacked in charisma he made up for in quiet principle. His final years were spent in a smart Queens Road, Melbourne, high-rise apartment block. It seemed at odds with his modest temperament.
Frank Crean helped start the parliamentary Christian fellowship. https://web.archive.org/web/20141110002731/http://crosslight.org.au/2009/02/04/frank-crean-%E2%80%93-man-of-hope-and-passion/
Crean was a Presbyterian elder and former Sunday school teacher who disliked bad language, and even when he was treasurer did the family grocery shopping, was reliable, decent and hardworking.
Eulogy to my father Frank Crean in Parliament
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