Saturday, December 12, 2009

Robert Askin

I'm guessing Robert Askin has something to do with New South Wales. I say that because yesterday's person was a former Premier of New South Wales. And I think tomorrow's person was a former Premier as well. What's the deal here? Did I decide I wanted to write about every former Premier of New South Wales? What was going on inside my head that 10th of July?

Maybe Robert Askin wasn't a Premier. I could be wrong. Let me go see......

I'm not wrong.

Robert Askin WAS a Premier of New South Wales. He differs from the other NSW Premiers I've been writing about though. He wasn't Labor. He was Liberal. Lord Wiki says he was the first Liberal Premier in the state. He was also the Premier when I was born.

As for Robert's birth.... Lord Wiki says that happened on 4 May 1907, in Sydney.

Daddy Askin worked for a railway company. Robert and his family lived in Glebe...just like that girl did  in Looking for Alibrandi.

Askin attended Glebe Public School for his primary education. Later he went to Sydney Technical High School. This is a school for smart boys. Lord Wiki says another smart guy who went there was Charles Kingsford-Smith. Askin and Kingsford-Smith were in the same class. I'm not sure if that means they were literally in the same classroom, OR if they were just part of the same year. Although I'm sure the school wasn't that huge. It's likely the two boys interacted at some point.

Askin got good grades at school. He did particularly well with math and history. He also did some swimming and Rugby playing.

Lord Wiki says that in 1922, Askin joined the Savings Bank of New South Wales. I'm not sure what he means by that. I'm GUESSING it means he started working for them. But it might have some other meaning. How old would have been then? Fourteen. Wow. That's pretty young to be working at a bank.

Besides banking, Askin also did some writing. He wrote for Smith's Weekly and The Bulletin.
Sometime during the Great Depression, the Savings Bank of New South Wales closed. Askin went to work for the Rural Bank of New South Wales. At some point, Askin became President of the Rural Bank Officers Association. That's pretty impressive.

In 1937, Askin got married to a woman named Mollie Underhill.

Lord Wiki says that Askin's interest in politics began when he joined the campaign for Percy Spender. He was an independent candidate going for the Federal seat of Warringhah. This is a Northern Beaches division in Sydney. It looks like it has almost always been Liberal....or at least one of the Liberal related party. Spender was independent, but he later became Liberal. Well, I think the Liberal Party came into existence, and when it did...Spender joined.

I wonder if he's related to Lizzie of the wives of Barry Humphries.

In World War II, Askin did some fighting. He spent time in New Guinea and Borneo.

When he returned, he went back to working at the bank. By this time, his interest in politics had increased a bit. He assisted in another campaign. This time he helped a guy named Murray Robson keep his seat in Federal Parliament.

The Liberal Party was a toddler at this time, and Askin decided to join. By the late 1940's, Askin was President of of the Manly Branch.

When I think of Manly I think of Royal Copenhagen ice-cream. When I think of Copenhagen, I think of the upcoming environmental summit. Isn't that nice?

Askin did some more campaigning for others. Then finally, in 1950, he got himself elected somewhere. Askin got the seat of Collaroy. When I say that in my head, it sounds a little bit like Cholera.

Askin was the first and last person to have this seat. He had it from 1950 to 1973. That's a pretty long time. It ranges from the time my mom was two-years-old till the time she was a mother of two kids.

I just went back to check whether this seat was in Federal Parliament, or the local NSW one. It's the latter. I thought it would be that, but I wasn't a hundred percent sure.

In 1954, Askin became Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. Again, this was local, not Federal.

Now we get to some confusing stuff. I'm very tempted to skip over it, but then I'll feel all guilty.

Let me try.....

When Askin was Deputy Leader, he wanted his friend Murray Robson to become the leader. This is the guy that Askin had helped earlier to get elected. Robson managed to become the leader, but that lasted for only thirteen months.

Pat Morton became the next leader. Morton lost the 1956 election, and 1959 election.

I'm now looking at Lord Wiki's list of New South Wales Premiers. Labor was in power from 1941 to 1964. That's a pretty long time. So I guess the Liberal Party had been struggling a bit. Well, that's understandable. They were sort of new.

Anyway, when Morton lost twice, the Liberal Party lost a little bit of faith in his leadership. They decided to vote and see if he should stay as leader.

The vote said no.

The party people wanted a guy named Eric Willis to run. He refused. Why?

Well, Lord Wiki doesn't say. But he does say Willis EVENTUALLY become Premier. Maybe he just hadn't been ready at that particular time.

Anyway, Askin volunteered to take the job. The party people voted whether on whether or not they agreed this was a good idea. The vote turned out to be yes. He became leader. Willis became Deputy-Leader. I wonder if perhaps Willis was just trying to be humble. I've been watching news reports with politicians lately, and they seem to have this habit of denying any amount of ambition. I've seen newly elected Members of Parliament refusing to admit they'd like to get on the front bench. And I've seen politicians vow that they're not planning to be the next Premier. A little time later, they become Premier. Go figure.

Maybe Willis pretended to refuse the Premier job. Perhaps he was waiting for people to beg him.

In 1950, the Labor Premier, Joseph Cahill, died. That name sounds a little familar to me.

Oh! Lord Wiki says he's the Premier that approved instruction on the Opera House. Maybe that's why I've heard of him.

Bob Heffron became the Premier. He was Labor, but Lord Wiki says that he was a friend of Askin. I forgot sometimes that left politicians can actually be friends with right politicians. I definitely believe it's possible. Two of my favorite friends are totally right-winged. I think I have friends all over the political spectrum. And with politicians in power, they're usually center-left or center right. With my relationships, it's me way over on the fairly far left, and my friends are pretty far right. Well, at least one of them is. She's WAY right. At least it seems that way to me. I'm not quite sure about the other one.

Askin and Heffron ran against each other in the 1962 election. If they were really friends, I can imagine that being a bit odd. Then again, people from the SAME party compete with each other.

In 1965, Askin finally became Premier. Lord Wiki says Askin's success in winning might have been partly due to support from rich guy, Frank Packer. It probably wasn't just Packer's wealth that helped....although money CAN help with stuff like that. Packer's wealth was in media stuff. I bet if you're politician, it's good to have buddies in that area of industry.

All right. Now we get to Askin's Premier Days. Lord Wiki says he had a strong opposition to Commonwealth powers. I guess that means he was more into state power. He was into laissez-faire economics. I'm pretty sure that would be synonymous with free trade. It all reminds me of the Republican Party in America....the whole free market, capitalism, and less federal intervention thing.

All right. Now we get to stuff about the Opera House. Askin demanded that Jorn Utzon (the Danish architect) provide a final cost and completion date. This caused all kinds of we know. In 1966, Utzon angrily threw in the towel, and left. I hadn't realized he left so early. When was the Opera House completed? 1972? 73?

Lord Wiki says it was 1973. He has a lot of information about the resignation. Before Askin had even become Premier, he had been critical of the project. Bah HumBug!

The guy Askin had appointed as Minister for Public Works was also critical. Lord Wiki says that this Minister, David Hughes, attempted to portray Utzon as an impractical dreamer.

I think that's sad. I think it's so sad that Utzon felt compelled to quit. And I think it's sad that he never saw his completed project in person. Now I know who I can blame.

Askin had some other controversies. Under his government, he wanted a massive freeway system that would go through suburbs like Glebe and Newton. He also wanted to do something called slum clearance. Lord Wiki says that would have included the destruction of places like The Rocks and Woolloomooloo. Wow. Did this guy have absolutely no appreciation for architecture and all that? For a guy who did good in High School history, Askin sure didn't seem to appreciate that stuff. He was all into new development.

It is a difficult balance. I know this is probably a silly example, but I see the conflict within Disney World. I've always loved that place, but sometimes I have a hard time adjusting to the changes they make there. This is especially true with Epcot. I LOVED that place when I was a kid. Now they've gotten rid of most of the rides I loved, and they've changed other rides. I understand that things can't always stay the same. Places need to PROGRESS. But sometimes it seems the old stuff was better. Sometimes I can't understand why they made the change.

How do we move to the future without completely eradicating the best of the past?

Anyway, I do feel Sydney is a beautiful mix of old and I'm guessing Askin didn't end up completely destroying the place.

In the late 1960's, Askin found himself in more controversy. If I'm reading this right, he didn't get in trouble until he told the story at a luncheon. I guess he boasted about something he shouldn't have boasted about. What he talked about was a visit from American President, Lyndon B. Johnson. Askin and Johnson were in the car together, with the whole motorcade thing. Some anti-Vietnam protesters threw themselves in front of the car. Their driver asked Askin what they should do. Askin said, Run over the bastards.

What an asshole. I'm not liking this guy. Okay, it's probably because he was rude to the Danish architect. What can I say? I have a soft spot in my heart for Utzon. I think I have a soft spot for Danish people in general. They're holding that environmental summit for everyone. And aren't they the ones who were so helpful to the Jews during the Holocaust? Plus, I like those Danish breakfast pastries. They're yummy. We ate them recently at our character breakfast in Disney World.

Lord Wiki says that organized crime made an increase during Askin's reign of power. Was that coincidence, or did Askin have mob ties? Lord Wiki says there were rumors that Askin might have done some illegal favors during his youth.


I'm not sure how much those rumors are rooted in fact.

Crap. I'm looking down further. There's all kinds of corruption. During the Askin days, a police computer expect (Phillip Arantz) found that New South Wales had been underreporting their crime statistics. Yikes!

This was all about organized crime and police involvement. Corruption city!

Arantz approached the senior police. They just dismissed him.

This is like a movie.

I'm confused. Lord Wiki is suddenly talking about a guy named Allan. I have no idea who that is.

Wait. Maybe it's the senior police guy. Lord Wiki is being a bit evasive here. What's the deal? Is he TRYING to confuse me?

Since the police wouldn't help Arantz, he became a whistle-blower and went to the media. To combat this, Allan started a smear campaign against Arantz. He made Arantz look mentally ill. What an ASSHOLE. I mean Allan, NOT Arantz.

Arantz was dismissed from the force. His reputation was destroyed. Fortunately though, it seems he finally was able to clear his name. Lord Wiki says by the time the claims of Arantz were vindicated, Allan and Askin were dead.

Well, that really makes me hope there is an afterlife. Now I don't believe in hell, and I wouldn't want anyone tortured for eternity. But I do hope that those guys are out there somewhere filled with remorse....Or at least had remorse at some point.

I don't think I like Askin very much. He seems like a scary corrupt villain to me. And it's really not nice to threaten to run over war protesters. I don't like people like that.

Lord Wiki says there's really no proof yet of his corruption. So I shouldn't go totally off on him. It's one of those unproven rumors. Maybe we'll never know.

Anyway, Askin died in 1981....about six years after he retired from politics.

The Crikey website has an editorial about Askin. It's written by a guy (Norman Abjorenson) who seemed to have liked Askin. Abjorenson says most people see Askin as a corrupt politician best forgotten. He says this is especially true for the Liberal Party. I guess maybe they're a bit embarrassed to be associated with him.

Abjorenson said the whole corruption thing became an issue after Askin's funeral. Some journalist called him a friend of crooks, and quoted from unnamed sources. Okay, but what about the whole Arantz thing. Weren't there hints of corruption back then? It's not like Askin was seen as this innocent honest politician, and then somebody blew the whistle after he died.

Abjorenson says he knew Askin (personally, I assume) and liked him. He thinks Askin was NOT corrupt. He also says the mysterious unnamed source was a close relative. Does he mean his (Abjorenson's) relative? Or does he mean a relative of the journalist? Or maybe he's referring to a relative of Askin. I don't know.

Abjorenson says, He might have played fast and loose at times, but I doubt that he was corrupt.
Yeah. We don't really like to imagine our friends might be corrupt.

Abjorenson works to defend Askin by quoting from a guy who worked with Askin....Charles Cutler. Cutler, the Deputy Premier, under Askin wrote his memoirs. They were published after his death. Cutler says, Askin was branded as a gambler, which he was, and a crook and a womaniser, which he wasn’t. I lived and worked closely with the man for 17 years as co-leaders and I recall no incident which supports such claims.

It kind of reminds me of the teenager who tells her parents her uncle molested her. They say, Impossible. Not Uncle Ronny. I've known him my whole life. He'd NEVER hurt a child.
Sometimes we don't know the people we think we know. Sometimes people hold nasty secrets that we're unaware of. Then again, sometimes people are accused of crimes they didn't commit. So, you never know.....

Here's a Sydney Morning Herald article about Askin and his corruption. This article goes with the belief that Askin WAS corrupt. It starts by saying, the disgraced former Liberal premier Bob Askin was not only on the payroll of the late crime boss Abe Saffron, but was the recipient of payments via horse races that were fixed as "a courtesy to premier Askin".

This information is coming from Mr. Saffron's son who wrote a book about his father. Here's the book It actually looks pretty good to me, even though I'm not usually into mafia stuff. Well, I did watch a few episodes of The Sopranos. That was fairly okay. Anyway, I'm going to see if Powells has the book.

No. They don't have it right now. Oh well.

Saffron's book talks about how his father had a friendship with both Askin and that police guy, Allan.

If this is all's some pretty scary stuff.

The Canberra Times has an actual excerpt from the book. I'm not in the mood to read the whole thing. I'm gonna skim, and see if there's anything about Askin.....

No, I don't see anything about him.....

Anyway, I'm going to end this year. I need to do laundry. Our kitchen towels are looking a bit gross.


  1. Always wanted to know a bit more about Askin. I understood he was as corrupt as you are nice....oh dear, too schmaltzy.

    'and my friends are pretty far right.' So I guess you don't discuss politics with friends too much. We have a similar friend. Only talk in generalities about politics.

  2. Schamltzy, but sweet.... Thanks.

    We USUALLY avoid talking politics. One day, the flood gates opened though and my friend shared a lot of what was on her mind. Because I get my own feelings out plenty on this blog, I felt okay just listening for the most part. It was REALLY enlightening. I found out most of my stereotypes were true...well, at least for this particular person.

    I have right-winged family members too...Fox News fans...the whole bit.

    For the most part, I think avoiding politics is a good way to keep the peace. I think a discussion every so often can be educational. But for the most part, best to talk about other stuff.

    What about you? Are most of your friends politically similar to you?

  3. Good question. I don't really know. I suspect possibly not, but then our left and our right are so close nowadays, it matters little.

  4. Andrew,

    Well, there are degrees of left and right.