Recorded: 9 July 2013
Length: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Interviewed by: Edward Helgeby
Reference: OPH-OHI 408

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Interview with John 'Giff' Jones part 1  

E Helgeby: This is an interview with John Gifford Jones who worked at Old Parliament and the Australian Parliament House and in the Commonwealth Public Service between 1958 and 1999. Gifford, you like to be called Giff?

J Jones: Giff, yes.

E Helgeby: Giff will be speaking with me, Edward Helgeby, for the Oral History Program conducted by the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. On behalf of the director at the museum, I would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this program. Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright in the interview material but disclosure will be subject to any disclosure restrictions that you impose in completing the Rights Agreement?

J Jones: Yes. Yes, that’s fine.

E Helgeby: This being so, may we have your permission to make a transcript or a summary of the recording should we decide to make one?

J Jones: Yes, you can.

E Helgeby: This interview is taking place today on the 9th of July, 2013. Can we begin with a bit of background about your parents?

J Jones: Yes. I was born in Whanganui in New Zealand. My parents lived on a farm, ten miles outside of town in the hill country — a sheep farm. I grew up there all through my childhood until I left school when I went to work in town.

E Helgeby: Your schooling was in New Zealand?

J Jones: My schooling was in New Zealand and my first six years of working life was in New Zealand.

E Helgeby: When did you first come to Canberra?

J Jones: I came to Canberra in 1957. I had come to Australia, to Sydney, in 1956, just to have a bit of a change from New Zealand. I didn’t know how long I would stay. I joined the staff of CSIRO as a clerk in Sydney and I got a promotion to Canberra in 1957. Then I transferred to Commonwealth Public Service in 1958. I’ve been in Canberra ever since.

E Helgeby: Where did you live when you first came to Canberra?

J Jones: The very first place was at Reid House Hostel for Public Servants. Hostels were very much the theme of the day for people coming to work in Canberra then. Just about everybody moved into a hostel first off because there was limited private accommodation. Then I moved to another hostel and finally found a flat, a government owned flat, which I rented for many years.

E Helgeby: Were you married at that time?

J Jones: No, not at that time. I married in 1966 to a Canberra girl.

E Helgeby: What was it like to live in Canberra back in those years?

J Jones: It was certainly a strange place. The population of Canberra in 1957 when I arrived here was about 35,000 as I recall. The National Capital Development Commission was established in that year in 1957 as I recall. That was Bob Menzies deciding to put up a… to light a fire under Canberra’s development because it had been the capital nominally for over forty years and had done little growth in all that time. Many of the departments still had their headquarters in Melbourne which of course was the first capital of the Federation. So it was a rather strange place. A lot of space in between developments but it soon took off with the transfer of departments and became an exciting place to be. It was growing very rapidly and well, I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

E Helgeby: When you first came to Canberra and maybe your first visit to Old Parliament House, what was your first impression of the building and of the place?

J Jones: My first… I’m not sure when I first visited Old Parliament House. But I do remember Bob Menzies standing up and speaking at the time. I was quite impressed with the building, I must say. Then, coming from New Zealand, we didn’t have a very elaborate Parliament House ourselves back in those days. It didn’t take a great deal to impress. I thought it was quite an interesting building.

E Helgeby: Were you interested in politics at that time?

J Jones: Not enormously. After I joined the public service in ’58, I did resume studies I had started in New Zealand towards a degree. That turned into an Economics degree and one of my majors was in Political Science. I remember very well the professor of Political Science at that time in Canberra at the Canberra University College was Fin Crisp who had been head of the department in fact in the days of the Labor government. He was a very interesting guy. He really brought Australian politics to life. So that certainly sharpened my interest.

E Helgeby: Did you ever join a party?

J Jones: Not as a public servant, no. After I retired, I did for a while but not as a public servant. I felt quite strongly the best thing a public servant could do was stay — publicly at any rate — politically neutral because you had to serve whoever was the government of the day. To declare your allegiance to one party or another, whatever the government was, I felt was something better not done.

E Helgeby: So when you worked in Canberra from 1958 through to 1970, you worked for two departments — Immigration and Trade and Industry…

J Jones: And briefly, between those two, for the Tariff Board, I might say. Yes.

E Helgeby: Were there any major issues, policy changes or other significant matters that happened during that time that you were involved in?

J Jones: I was at pretty junior levels, comparatively junior levels at those times. There were, no doubt, some pretty important things going on but they were generally going over my head. I did have, in Immigration, some interesting research work for the Immigration Advisory Council and the Immigration Planning Council. Such things as the mental health experience of migrants and possibilities for the future expansion of the migration program. In my Trade days, with the Manufacturing Industry Advisory Council, again a lot of research work for advice for the Council consisting of leaders of the Manufacturing Industry of the time and through various issues relevant to the further development of industry.

E Helgeby: What made you change over to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1970?

J Jones: I was feeling that the Department of Trade was perhaps not quite… It was a very interesting place to be but not quite suited to my personality, more of a back room boy. Trade was a very brash place in those days, the days of Black Jack McEwen. A very brash sort of place, it was for the go-getting types. I was a bit more of a back room boy. Of course, there was expansion in Prime Minister and Cabinet and they had a promotion available so I tried for it and went there, in the economic division.

E Helgeby: So what was your role when you started out there? What was your primary role?

J Jones: My role there was in the economic division, assisting in the provision of advice going to the Prime Minister on economic matters. It was from the division that I was fingered to be the Parliamentary Liaison Officer. I had a phone call one afternoon from Geoff Yeend, then a First Assistant Secretary who I had not met, asking me to consider and provide him with an answer that afternoon whether I would like to be the Parliamentary Liaison Officer. I had no idea what that meant but I made a few quick enquiries and spoke to my wife and said ‘yes’. So that’s how I came to work as Parliamentary Liaison Officer in Old Parliament House.

E Helgeby: Tell me now, how did that work out in practice? What actually did you do?

J Jones: The Parliamentary Liaison Officer… I don’t know if the position still exists with the same title or in the same style, but it was an officer of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet but he was essentially the off-sider to the Leader of the House — the Leader of the House being the Minister appointed by the Prime Minister to manage the governments business in the House. So I worked directly to the Leaders of the House, the Ministers who were the Leaders of the House during my term. But I was also still an Officer of the Department. It was quite a sort of split personality role I had, if you like. There were two masters, Leaders of the House, but I still was responsible back to the Department.

E Helgeby: Did you have an office at Old Parliament House at the time?

J Jones: An office? I had a desk. [Laughs] Certainly in ’71, ’72. At the end of ’71 when I became the Parliamentary Liaison Officer and in the whole of 1972, I had a desk in one of the small offices, ministerial offices in Old Parliament House. They were very small offices. There were only about… There was only room for about four or five staff as I recall. If the Minister found that he had the Parliamentary Liaison Officer as well, because he was the Leader of the House, then he had to squeeze in an extra desk. So no. I didn’t have an office. I had a desk. It was very cramped quarters in both the office of Reggie Swartz who was the first Leader I worked to and Don Chipp, the second Leader. In 1973, when Labor came into power and Fred Daly became the Leader of the House, I was able to work a little bit of magic for myself I suppose because it was left to the Parliamentary Liaison Officer to assist the Leader of the House in the allocation of ministerial offices. That was the connivance of Fred Daly. I saw that he got Ian Sinclair’s old office. Ian Sinclair having been the Deputy Leader of the National Party, he had one of the better offices — much closer to the Chamber than the offices that Reggie Swartz and Don Chipp had had. Within that office I managed to have an office of my own so that was quite beneficial.

E Helgeby: Can you remember where that office was?

J Jones: It was downstairs at the front of the building. As you came in the main entrance, you went down the stairs and it was the office immediately on the right. I think most recently it might have been a shop, used as a shop in Old Parliament House.

E Helgeby: So that was the one by the Treasurer, was it not?

J Jones: The Treasurer would been the next floor up, immediately above.

E Helgeby: So during that time that you worked as Parliamentary Liaison Officer, did you attend sittings in the Chambers?

J Jones: The Parliamentary Liaison Officer had an allocated seat within the advisors desks within the Chamber and that was reserved for me at the back of the advisors seats within the House of Representatives Chamber. I spent a lot of my time sitting at that seat because the job was to be the eyes and ears of the Leader of the House, to make sure as best I could that the government’s program of business was adhered to and ran smoothly, to make sure that Ministers were there when required, that advisors were there when required and if things started to go wrong — if the opposition started to do things which were going to upset the program or obviously, Ministers needed to know about — then it was very much up to me to ensure that the Leader knew and maybe that the Prime Minister knew, if it was important enough, or that the relevant Portfolio Minister knew what was going on. So yes, I spent a lot of time at that seat in the House, watching proceedings and keeping an eye on proceedings.

E Helgeby: Were you the only Parliamentary Liaison Officer at the time or were there others in more specialised areas of responsibility?

J Jones: I think that just about every Ministerial office had their own Parliamentary Liaison Officer but they had a different role. They had ‘liaison’ between the Parliamentary office and their department. While they might have had the same title as I did, I was the only one in the House of Representatives. There was also in the Senate at the same time. The role of Parliamentary Liaison Officer in the House had been there for some time but it was started up in the Senate at the same time in 1972. Derek Carrington was my counterpart in the Senate.

E Helgeby: In terms of your responsibilities, you said you remained an Officer of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Did you ever have any conflict in a sense between your roles as one advising the Leader of the Government in the House and on the other side, presumably also, conveying and leading, getting advice and advising the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet?

J Jones: The potential for conflict was certainly there but it was fair to say that my Senior Officers in PM and C were aware of the sensitivities of the role. They were aware of the fact that I had to be seen by the Leader of the House as responsible, primarily to him and that I wouldn’t do anything that he wouldn’t wish me to do in terms of reporting activities back to the Department. I had to keep the Department informed but my main role was to ensure that the Leader of the House was able to do his job properly. So there wasn’t really a conflict. There were certainly sensitivities but the unusual nature of the position was well understood by my bosses so it didn’t become an issue.

E Helgeby: What about your relationship with the Parliamentary whips? It sounded as if you had it all…

J Jones: I did. Yes, yes. I had quite a relationship with the Parliamentary whips office. Certainly with the government whip, primarily, because the government whip also had a role in ensuring that the necessary speakers on the government’s legislation were available so you had to be keeping in touch with the whips office all the time to make sure that they were up to date with what was going on. Of course, they were a useful source of information to me as to things that were happening on the Parliamentary scenes — things that I needed to know about. Also, very much you needed to keep in touch with the opposition, work out a good relationship with the opposition’s whips and with the counterpart to the Leader of the House — the opposition leader of business who at that time was Lance Barnard in 1972 and Phillip Lynch in 1973 under the Whitlam government. He was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and therefore was the counterpart to the Leader of the House. So they had quite a lot of need to liaise with the staff of the opposition as well.

E Helgeby: And again, it sounds like quite a balancing operation to make sure you didn’t fall afoul or get offside with either side of politics in this case.

J Jones: Indeed, indeed. Yes. It was a very unusual role for a public servant, a public servant is told that his responsibilities are essentially to the Minister — to his own Minister — and certainly not — and to the government, of course — and not to the opposition. You didn’t have responsibilities of course to the opposition but you had to have a good relationship with them so that you could get information from them about what was going on and that you could keep them informed as necessary and without giving away government secrets or secrets about government tactics. But you needed to have good relationships with them, otherwise you weren’t able to do your job properly if you didn’t know what the opposition was thinking or if you didn’t have good relationships with them then you could be ambushed much more readily. Similarly, you had to have good relationships with the Staff of the House and particularly with the table office. They also have, of course, a considerable responsibility for the running of the Parliament so we had to work closely with them.

E Helgeby: Was there a sort of pecking order there in the sense that you were on top of the pecking order or where do you… first amongst equals perhaps, in terms of getting the job done and keeping the governments and Ministers in particular happy?

J Jones: One was top of one pecking order, everybody had their own pecking order, I suppose. Certainly there was no way in which I was in any way above any Member of the Parliamentary Staff. I was quite separated from them. There was no way in which I was above any Member of the Ministerial Staff. I was separate from them. Of course, there was no way in which I was first among equals in relations with the opposition. I was a government man from their point of view. So no, you can’t really use that sort of expression. You just had to make sure that you had good liaison skills. You negotiated. You didn’t tell anybody. You weren’t in a position to tell anybody what to do. You were just in a position to ask them and make use of the fact that they knew you were responsible to the Leader of the House and that the Leader of the House had the power to decide what the order of government business was going to be. It was liaison and I think that’s a very important word, the best descriptive word in the title.

E Helgeby: You’ve left this or moved on from this job sometime in 1973 and went back to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. What happened then? What led to that?

J Jones: It was always understood to be a two year term of office in that position. There were one or two before me who had been there for three years but that was considered to be rather cruel and unusual punishment, I suppose, because it was a very, very tough job to do during the Parliamentary sitting times. It was quite a schizophrenic job really because outside of the sitting times, you tended to be quite slack in some respects. You had work to do in terms of the development and oversight of the government’s legislation proposals but that was not regarded as a full time thing that you should be doing. It was recognised that during Parliamentary sitting times you were there for a very long day indeed. You were there well before the Parliament sat. You were there until after the Parliament rose on all occasions. So yes, it was that sort of job.

E Helgeby: What was your role when you got back to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet?

J Jones: When I got back to the Department I took up a role as a branch head in what was to be called their Regional Development Branch. This was in the days of the Whitlam Labor government and regional development one of their big initiatives. So I moved into that job and then into other positions later on over the years in PM and C, including at one stage in the Cabinet in office which took me back to an association with Old Parliament House. This is still in the days of Old Parliament House when I was still in the Cabinet office. So what I saw of Old Parliament House there was of the Cabinet office and the Prime Minister’s office, primarily.

E Helgeby: So this was during the years ’73 and then ’80 when you went to the Cabinet?

J Jones: The Cabinet office was ’81 and ’82.

E Helgeby: Right. You left the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1986 and moved to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs?

J Jones: Yes.

E Helgeby: What led to that move?

J Jones: I had been sixteen years in Prime Minister and Cabinet. They had been fascinating years. I had done many interesting things and the role of Parliamentary Liaison Officer was certainly one of the real highlights in those times. But I felt that it would be good to have a change of diet, a change of scene and a change of type of work. I had some interest from the Prime Minister and Cabinet point of view at that stage, in Aboriginal Affairs. So I knew some of the people in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and indeed, some of my former PM and C colleagues had moved over there. I thought it would be an interesting place so I applied for a transfer over there and duly got it. Indeed it was a very interesting change.

E Helgeby: In ’88 you became the Head of Staff or the Senior Private Secretary for working for the Minister Clyde Holding at the time. Can you tell me more about the background to that?

J Jones: Yes. Clyde Holding, when I became his Head of Staff, was actually the Minister for Immigration — to give him the full title… What was he now… the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs. But I had worked with Clyde Holding on a number of matters when he had been the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, as he was when I moved to that Department in 1986 so I was known to him. But I was actually approached by Mike Codd who was the Head of the Prime Minister and Cabinet — this was in 1958 — to see whether I would be prepared to put my name forward to be Clyde’s Head of Staff. Mike’s interest in this was through Clyde’s role as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minster for Multicultural Affairs and because I had been in Prime Minister and Cabinet and had associations with people there and also had association with Clyde Holding through my work in Aboriginal Affairs. He thought I might be well placed to take on that role if Clyde Holding was willing to take me on. Anyway, I thought ‘here’s another change of diet. Why not give it a go and see what happens?’ So I said ‘okay. I’ll try’ and was duly interviewed by Clyde for the job and took it on.

E Helgeby: It’s interesting, you mentioned Clyde holding… He held so many different ministerial roles in a very short period of time. In 1988, he had employment in Youth Affairs and early on in Transport and Communication Support and then in Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs and then finally, Art and Territories — all in the space of a year. Which area was he actually engaged in when you were appointed as his Chief of Staff?

J Jones: Immigration and all those things — not the Arts and Territories job when I went there. Clyde had been moved to Immigration because the previous Minister — I think it was Mick Young who had been the previous Minister. Anyway, the job had become vacant. I think it was when Mick Young retired for health reasons. So he became Minister for Immigration at that time because there was a vacancy and he moved up to a more senior cabinet job. Clyde I must say found Immigration, as many Ministers have since found Immigration, to be a very tough assignment indeed. A lot of very tough human stories to be grappled with as Minister for Immigration, a lot of pleas from Members of Parliament who are under great pressure to exceed to requests to their constituents for their relatives or friends or whatever to be granted immigration. He found that a very, very hard road. Towards the end of the time that I was with him, I think it was fair to say that Bob Hawke was finding that Clyde wasn’t doing all the jobs that he had been given, including as Minister in Assisting the Development of the Multicultural Affairs Agenda which was a big thing at that time for the Prime Minister. He found that Clyde wasn’t doing all those things to the standard that he wanted to so he moved him on yet again to Arts and Territories and Robert Ray became the Minister for Immigration and I stayed on with Clyde for a couple of months but it was not where I wanted to be. Clyde decided and I decided that the parting of the ways was the better course and so I went back to Aboriginal Affairs. My time with Clyde Holding was spent at the end of Old Parliament House and the move to New Parliament House, I might say.

E Helgeby: I might come back to that later. If I could just focus on the actual while you were his Senior Staff or Head of Staff or Senior Private Secretary, what was the structure and size of the office at the time?

J Jones: I can’t remember exactly. I think he had about a dozen staff. It might not have been quite that big when we were in the Old Parliament House. As it happened, he had the same office that Fred Daly had had as Leader of the House so it was quite a big office, a comparatively big office for Old Parliament House. Again, it was quite crowded. I think it might have been about eight or nine people there. No, it might have been about ten people there. There was room for expansion when we went to the New Parliament House. But the exact number, look, I’m afraid I do not really recall.

E Helgeby: That’s alright. What was the general operation of the office? How did it actually work? If you were in charge, how was the office organised? How did you manage it?

J Jones: There was quite a significant presence of departmental staff there — departmental liaison staff. This is because of the very heavy case load — I guess you could call it — that the Minister had to deal with. There were individual cases where the Minister was the last court of appeal for applicants for migration to Australia or for other benefits that were available. There were three or four departmental staff, liaison staff. There was one staff member who was responsible for the Ethnic Affairs aspect of things, the liaison with the national communities and the national community associations. That was a very important part of the Minister’s role. My overall was coordinating all these activities. There was also the Press Secretary, of course. I had a role liaising with him and to a degree, supervising his activities, although he was pretty much independent in terms of role in relation with the Minister.

E Helgeby: Your responsibilities were… Did you see them as managerial or did you have a policy advisory role as well?

J Jones: More managerial than policy advisory. It was up to the Minister really to decide to what extent he wanted to test ideas out with me. Of course, there was also quite a strong liaison role for me with the Senior Officers back to the Department. The Officers of the Department who wanted to get appointments with the Minister, they would take it up with me or with the Minister’s personal secretary who managed his diary. But it wasn’t really a role… It wasn’t a substantial role for me in advising on policy at that time.

E Helgeby: Can you describe what a typical day might have been like when you worked in his office? Did you have regular meetings to go over with the staff the business of the day? How did it work?

J Jones: Not regular meetings. You did talk to various Members of the staff at various times of the day, depending on whether the Parliament was sitting or not. You certainly had a role in helping to brief the Minister for question time. Also, you were available to the staff, of course, who would want to talk to you about all the problems that they had and all the pressures that they had and get your help with them.


Interview with John 'Giff' Jones part 2  

J Jones: It was just a pretty hectic sort of thing, depending very much on whether the Parliament was sitting or not. Some of the time, of course, when Parliament wasn’t sitting, I would find myself with the Minister in Melbourne back at his Electorate office of the Ministerial office in Melbourne. I would usually be one of just a few staff then and perhaps have a greater role in the management of his paperwork and dealing with policy issues.

E Helgeby: What would you describe the working conditions as? What sort of hours would you normally have to put in?

J Jones: Again, it would depend on whether the Parliament was sitting. When the Parliament was sitting, I might be there for the whole of the time that the Parliament was sitting, into the evening. Although it was sometimes possible, with the agreement of the Minister, for that responsibility to be shared with other members of staff. At other times, in the Canberra office when the Parliament wasn’t sitting, in a typical day you would be there at half past eight or nine o’clock and there until somewhere between six and eight at night — later when Parliament was sitting often.

E Helgeby: Did the work impact much on your social and family life?

J Jones: Very heavily on social and family life. Yes.

E Helgeby: How did you deal with it?

J Jones: Well, one was used to dealing with that sort of thing, I suppose. Life in Prime Minister and Cabinet would infringe pretty heavily on social and family life. Often one found oneself working late into the night or at weekends. That was… It just became accepted as the way of things in my family, I suppose. You had a busy existence. We managed. It was okay.

E Helgeby: I was just about to ask you… Which part of the building was this office that you used? Where was the Minister’s staff?

J Jones: In Old Parliament House?

E Helgeby: Old Parliament, yes.

J Jones: It was the same office as Fred Daly as Leader of the House that you used. It was the one that I described which had been Ian Sinclair’s office beforehand. That is to say, downstairs… If you came up the stairs into Kings Hall and then went… Not quite into King’s Hall… Then went downstairs again, immediately below there. That was where the office was.

E Helgeby: On the House of Reps side?

J Jones: On the House of Reps side. Yes.

E Helgeby: So what parts of the building did you use every day and which did you hardly ever or only very infrequently get into?

J Jones: You’re talking here about my time with Clyde Holding?

E Helgeby: Yes, that’s right. Well, we’re talking about the whole period.

J Jones: Essentially one was bound to the office, I suppose. One went around to other offices — other ministerial offices as the need arose but there wasn’t need to have any real liaison with the Parliamentary staff, for instance. That was rarely necessary unless the Minister had some business before the Parliament. He didn’t have a great deal of legislation to deal with so that was unusual. Essentially, one went to the office and that was where one spent one’s time.

E Helgeby: So in this capacity, you wouldn’t attend sessions in the Chamber much?

J Jones: No, no, no. Can I just break here for a moment?

E Helgeby: Yes, we’ll take a short break.


Interview with John 'Giff' Jones part 3  

E Helgeby: Are we ready to go?

J Jones: Yes.

E Helgeby: Okay. In 1988 in June or thereabouts, there was a transition to Old Parliament House to the Australian Parliament House. What was the move like from your point of view? Did the work arrangements or procedures change working at the Australian Parliament House compared to when you were at Old Parliament House?

J Jones: I wouldn’t say that the procedures changed but certainly the atmosphere changed. In Old Parliament House, staff were very much on top of each other. I think I worked out at one stage that if I stretched my arm long enough I could touch four members of staff in Old Parliament House. In the New Parliament House, I had a little office of my own and there was much more space around. You lost something of the intimacy of work in the office. That had its downsides but it also had its good sides because it meant you were less interrupted by what was going on around the place. But Old Parliament House did have that intimacy that is one of the great losses in going to the new building. The new building, you know, it was an office. It didn’t have a… It felt more like an ordinary office, a government office. It didn’t have the buzz of the Old Parliament House. You felt that even within individual offices and more so when you moved out into the corridors.

E Helgeby: Did you feel that this actually impacted in some way on the work you were doing or was it something you just adapted to?

J Jones: It was something you adapted to — you had to adapt to. I don’t think it made a great deal of difference and we adapted fairly quickly I think in a ministerial office. It certainly would have made a difference to the role of Parliamentary Liaison Officer because a lot of the work there was done really in corridors, meeting people and keeping up with people that you met in corridors.

E Helgeby: How was working for Clyde Holding in that capacity? Did you actually have any direct dealings with the Parliamentary Liaison Officer at the time?

J Jones: No, no. I didn’t, hardly any because he had little direct business in the Parliament, other than at question time. He didn’t have much legislation to deal with.

E Helgeby: In your job, working again for Clyde Holding, what sort of equipment did you use if any? Were you into computers?

J Jones: No, we weren’t… Well, I certainly wasn’t into computers at that stage. I didn’t have a computer to use. No, not at that stage.

E Helgeby: What interaction did you have with staff in other sections? Thinking back now, both at the Old Parliament House and the Australian Parliament House, working for Holding again in that period, did you have much contact or interaction with staff from other areas?

J Jones: I’m not quite sure what you have in mind by ‘other areas’. You mean other Minister’s offices or the staff of the house?

E Helgeby: Both. Either, or. Yes.

J Jones: In working with Clyde Holding, I had quite a lot of contact with his Senate counterpart, Margaret Reynolds and her staff. But there was not much with other Ministerial Officers and very little occasion to have any contact with staff of the House of Reps departments. Yes.

E Helgeby: What about with colleague as you might call them, outside of work. Did you have any special friendships, any contact with people that developed over the years.

J Jones: You intending here this to be contacts from Parliament House that I carried on outside?

E Helgeby: Social contacts outside.

J Jones: No, not really. No. In that sense it was not an area in which I developed ongoing friendships.

E Helgeby: So there wasn’t a social club or anything like that based around Old Parliament House or the Australian Parliament House?

J Jones: Well, if there was I certainly didn’t have time for it.

E Helgeby: That’s a good answer. Were you ever a member of a union?

J Jones: As a public servant I had been a member of the relevant union and I was throughout that time, as I recall. Actually, I might have ended my association with the union by the time of my employment with Clyde Holding because I did become very dissatisfied with them, with the union, at one stage in my career. I just don’t recall when that was. It may well have been before that time.

E Helgeby: During when you were working again for Clyde Holding, did your workloads change from between sitting weeks and when the Minister was away, for example?

J Jones: Yes. If the Minister was away your workload could be lighter, not necessarily so. It depended where he was. If he were overseas for instance, then you had an acting Minister to look after. So that didn’t make any real difference. If he were in Melbourne, then you would have to liaise with the Melbourne office or maybe even be down there yourself. There was a difference. You did tend to work longer hours when the Parliament was sitting because the Minister would be there and the Minister would be meeting Members and other Ministers and would want you to be there for most of the time or perhaps other senior staff would be there. But it was still pretty busy outside sitting times, pretty busy. Certainly 9 or 10 hour days would be… You would regard that as normal or easy, outside of sitting hours.

E Helgeby: You mentioned that you had between 8 or 10 or thereabout staff in Clyde Holding’s office. How would you describe your management style in keeping them all sort of working and doing the work that you wanted the office to do?

J Jones: I had the great good fortune to have staff who were all very motivated. They were all very keen on their jobs. They knew their jobs well. I did not feel at any time that I needed to supervise them with a heavy hand. I needed rather to know what they were doing, to be available to help them if their workload became a problem for them or if there were issues to deal with. So it was a pretty light job in terms of staff management because as I say, they were all very much motivated people. There was never any need to push or to council and in that sense, I suppose, I was fortunate. I might be taking it a little bit easy on some people there. There were some who were doing things in a way that I didn’t all together like — and I won’t mention any names here — but it was something that we managed to get around anyway.

E Helgeby: Working with Clyde Holding, how did the relationship between you and him work in practice? In which way did he seek your advice, for example?

J Jones: I think it’s fair to say that my relationship with Clyde Holding — my working relationships — were not easy. That was essentially because Clyde was very much politically oriented the role of his Head of Staff — certainly, as I saw it — had to include him getting through the administrative workload of a Minister which he didn’t like very much. He tended to shirk away from it, I have to say. I found it difficult in getting him to keep his nose to grindstone. That, as I think I mentioned earlier on, was something that not only I had a difficulty with but the Prime Minister eventually came to the conclusion that this was not the job for Clyde and moved him on to another job. So it was not an easy relationship. He for his part, I think, saw me as too much of the public servant not sufficiently concerned about his political life. I felt that he had staff — his personal staff, particularly in his electorate office — who were there to look after his political activities. It was a difficult time. It was a difficult time and in the end, we agreed that it didn’t really work out too well and parted company.

E Helgeby: So that didn’t work for him and it didn’t work for you.

J Jones: It didn’t work for him and it certainly didn’t work for me.

E Helgeby: During this period of time again, how did you see this relationship between the private office and the Prime Minister’s office? In particular, the office and staff as well. There must have been some contact with the Prime Minister’s office and…

J Jones: Between Clyde Holding’s office and the Prime Minister’s office?

E Helgeby: That’s right.

J Jones: Yes and I was the main point of contact there.

E Helgeby: Yes. That is what I was referring to.

J Jones: Certainly the main point of contact and there was quite a lot of contact with the senior staff in the Prime Minister’s office, particularly as this was the period where the government’s multicultural agenda was being developed. That was being developed within the Prime Minister’s department by Peter Shergold who actually later became my boss in Aboriginal Affairs in ATSIC. So there was quite a lot of contact between myself and senior staff mainly in relation to the development of the multicultural agenda and getting Clyde to do what he was expected to do on that — what he was expected by the Prime Minister’s office to be doing. To a lesser extent on immigration matters as such because the private office — the Prime Minister’s office — didn’t get as heavily involved in the development of immigration policy or in individual immigration cases. It was mainly on the multicultural affairs side of things.

E Helgeby: Who were the people in the Prime Minister’s office you dealt primarily with?

J Jones: The names I recall primarily were Sandy Hollway who was the Prime Minister’s head of staff and John Bowen who was one of his senior advisors. I can’t recall his exact name. He later became… I think he became the Ambassador to Germany or a very senior man in the Embassy there anyway.

E Helgeby: Again, at the same time when you were working in Holding’s office, what was the relationship between your office – as his Chief of Staff or working as a senior staff member — and government departments? How did that work out?

J Jones: Of course, the main point of liaison was with the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. I had a lot of contact with Secretary of the Department and with other senior members of the Department. I think that worked out well. I managed to get good relationships going with those people. They, of course, wanted think from the Minister and wanted my assistance in getting the Minister to lift particular subject matters up to the top of his pile of things. So there was a lot of liaison there involved in the role that I had.

E Helgeby: Obviously it was high intensity in an office like the Ministers, what were your coping strategies both during work and away from work? How did you deal with it yourself?

J Jones: How did I cope with it? I don’t know that I developed particular coping strategies. I had long accepted that, as a senior public servant, you worked long hours and you did the best that you could. If you got overloaded, you sought to avoid letting it get you down. I managed. Look, I coped by coping. That sounds highly simplistic, I know, but one does, one does.

E Helgeby: What about the relationship between your office and yourself and members of the press? The Minister, did he have separate media secretaries or was that part of your duties?

J Jones: Clyde Holding had a separate press secretary so that my own involvement was pretty limited. It was mainly left to him, to Peter Cotton. But I did have some liaison with the press. Particularly if Peter wasn’t around, they would look to me to see if they could get an answer to their questions out of me. I had more of a relationship with the press as the Parliamentary Liaison Officer than I did I think as head of Clyde Holding’s staff because he had his own press secretary.

E Helgeby: While, again, limiting this to Holding’s time in office, did Parliamentarians from outside your office seek to obtain confidential information from you or your staff? And if so, how did you deal with that?

J Jones: Yes, they did. Particularly on the raft load of individual cases that were put before the Minister for final decision. He was the final court of appeal, as I said earlier, for people who wanted to get their relatives or friends the right to migrate to Australia. The individual members of the community would approach their members of Parliament who would come along to see the Minister and if the Minister wasn’t there or if the Minister didn’t have time to talk to them, they would talk to individual members of the staff who were dealing with the cases. That tended to be more the departmental, the liaison officers who dealt with the individual case work and managed the individual case work more than me — but they would talk to me as well. We told them what you could but if that matter was before the Minister then the matter was before the Minister and there was nothing else that you could… ultimately that you could say other than it was in the Minister’s pile and he would perhaps see if it could be lifted up in the list and draw the Member’s interest in the matter to the Minister’s attention. You would do that. You would find yourself doing a lot of that. The poor Minister of course would find himself overwhelmed by the pressures to deal with cases.

E Helgeby: Did you general view of politics change from the time working with Holding at all?

J Jones: No, I don’t think so and I don’t think so because I think I had had quite an association with politicians of course and with politics in my period as Parliamentary Liaison Officer and working in the Cabinet office and generally working with senior public servants and with Ministers in my time as an officer of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

E Helgeby: Did you ever feel uncomfortable about what you were doing in any of the jobs there in a sort of philosophical or moral sense?

J Jones: Certainly there were times when one did things or found oneself doing things that one would not… or in a way that one would not have chosen to do but if that was what you were required to do. If that was as a result of a Ministerial or government decision then if you couldn’t change that decision then you went along with it. That’s a part of what being a public servant is. You implement the decisions of others. You advise when asked to advise. If you don’t like the decision, you live with it and if you can’t live with it then you go and get another job.

E Helgeby: In the later years, after you left office working for Clyde Holding, in the years you worked for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and ATSIC, did you have any contacts or connections with the Australian Parliament House?

J Jones: Yes I did and quite a lot of contacts in my days in one period of my time in Aboriginal Affairs. This was when we were setting up the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission — ATSIC. I became, at that time, the head of the task force that was setting up ATSIC and as such, I was directly responsible to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Gerry Hand, so I spent a lot of time in the Australian Parliament House while developing the legislation for ATSIC and getting that through both Houses of the Parliament — particularly getting it through the Senate. That was a very, very long process getting it through the Senate. I think the legislation to develop ATSIC was, at the time, the second or third most amended legislation that there had been so I spent a lot of time in Parliament House for the most of 1989 and the early part of 1990, working on the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

E Helgeby: In your notes you’ve mentioned that there were a number of Ministers that stand out in your memories of the time and obviously for reasons that I would like to hear more about. The first that you mention is Reg Swartz, Minister for Repatriation. It must have been in the early years of 1961 to ’64.

J Jones: Can we just take another break here? I’m sorry.

E Helgeby: Yes. We can.


Interview with John 'Giff' Jones part 4  

J Jones: Ready to go.

E Helgeby: Okay. Yes, there was Reg Swartz as Minister for Repatriation between 1961 and ’64. If I could talk about him as an individual, his strengths and weaknesses, perhaps, if you had any contact with him.

J Jones: Actually, he was the Minister for National Development in 1971 and ’72 that I got to know him and not in his role as Minister for National Develop but as Leader of the House. He was the Leader of the House in the McMahon government. So it was as Leader of the House that I got to know him. I worked to him. He was a very, very impressive man I felt, in a very understated way. As a Parliamentary performer he could appear to be quite pedestrian, I suppose. But he was, in fact, a very, very skilled Parliamentary manager and, I think, an excellent Leader of the House. He had the capacity to calm things down when they were getting out of hand — and they often got out of hand in the chaotic last year of the McMahon government. He was excellent in his relationships with the opposition because the Leader of the Opposition has to negotiate on behalf of the Prime Minister if you like on matters of Parliamentary business with his counterpart Lance Barnard or indeed, with the Leader of the Opposition who was no less than Gough Whitlam. His relationships with those two were, I felt, were admirable. He was a very good man to work for. He was a very hardworking fellow. He always kept on top of his work. He would work until whatever hour in the morning was necessary to be on top of his work and be up fresh as a daisy again the next day. Yes. I had a lot of time for Reg Swartz. He retired as Leader of the House at the end of the autumn sittings in 1972. I think he had just had enough. He was going to retire from Parliament at the elections of 1972 anyway and he just found the business of being Leader of the House in — as I said, those chaotic days — rather more than he wanted to keep doing.

So the job then passed on to Don Chipp who was the Deputy Leader of the House and became the full-time Leader. A very different kettle of fish, Don Chipp, he certainly wasn’t the sort of fellow you would say… He got stuck into whatever he wanted to do and he didn’t give up until it was done. That was Reg Swartz. Don Chipp was much more instinctive politician, I suppose you would say. He was much more of an animal than a good administrator. I got the impression working in his office that he did those things that he liked to and those things that he didn’t like to do… Well, they waited. As Leader of the House… Actually, in the Chamber he did well but outside of that, he was a bit reluctant to take his responsibilities as seriously as I thought he should take them. But he was an interesting chap to work with, a pleasant enough sort of guy. I was not surprised — put it this way — when at the end of the Whitlam government and Malcolm Fraser came into power, he didn’t find a place for Don Chipp in his Ministry because I thought Don Chipp was a bit of a play boy Minister, I suppose would be the way to put it. If he hadn’t been, of course, Australia’s political history might have been very different indeed.

E Helgeby: So your contact with him was mainly as…

J Jones: Again, as Leader of the House, in his role as Leader of the House.

E Helgeby: So you were his Parliamentary Liaison Officer?

J Jones: As Parliamentary Liaison Officer.

E Helgeby: That was your contact with him?

J Jones: Yes.

E Helgeby: You also mentioned Fred Daly?

J Jones: Yes. Fred Daly became the Leader of the House in the Whitlam government so there again it was in that particular role. Fred was the father of the House. He had come into Parliament in 1943. He was very much a great Parliamentary performer when in opposition and I think a very good choice as Leader of the House. A lovely fellow to work for, Fred, a delightful fellow to work for. I found him, despite the fact that he was seen by both sides of politics as a masterful Parliamentary performers… He was surprisingly unfamiliar, I suppose, with how government business actually was developed and put through the Parliament. You would have thought that with 29 years in Parliament before he became a Minister, that he would have had a pretty good grasp with the mechanics of things but not really. So it was a learning thing for both of us, really. Of course, to be in a government… You know, for Fred to be the Leader of the House in a government which had had 23 years in the wilderness. There had only been the odd state Minister who had made it into the Labor Ministry of Gough Whitlam. Otherwise, they were all new chums at the business of being Ministers. So it was quite surprising to me how little they knew about and how little they understood about running government business. They knew how to stop the running of government business by opposing it but not how to run it.

E Helgeby: That’s where you came in?

J Jones: I found myself educating Fred Daly about the running of the Parliament in a way that surprised me. He was a quick learner, mind you, a very quick learner and delighted in the job, I might say. What he particularly loved being able to do as Leader of the House was to find an excuse to move the gag because he’d had it moved on him so often over all those years. He just loved the opportunity to do that. Yes. So a very interesting trio but Fred was a lovely fellow to work for. So it was a very interesting, very different trio of Ministers that I worked for all over the space of two years.

E Helgeby: You’ve already spoken quite a bit about Clyde Holding, but talking about him as an individual, what did you see as his strengths and weaknesses?

J Jones: His strength certainly was his strong political Labor background because he had been the Leader of the Labor Party in Victoria, of course, in the Victorian Parliament for many years. That was his political strength. I think he was not as happy, not as much at home in the job for Minister of Immigration, as he was as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I think he would have rather liked to have kept that job. It really was his love, his passion. He was very passionate about Aboriginal Affairs and remained so, retained that interest certainly throughout his period as Minister for Immigration. I think his strengths lay in that sort of area and in the Party political field as well.

E Helgeby: You’ve also mentioned that people you had got strong impressions of were William McMahon and Gough Whitlam, two of our Prime Ministers. What were your personal impressions of both of them?

J Jones: If ever a man was out of his depths it was Billy McMahon as Prime Minister. I had already formed that impression back in the Department. When he became Prime Minister back in ’71 — it had been Gorton before, of course — I had never met Gorton and didn’t have much knowledge of his modus operandi but I did develop more of that, even before my Parliamentary Liaison days with McMahon. I found his judgement erratic, right from the world go when he first became Prime Minister. I thought he lacked balance, lacked judgement. I can’t give particular examples of it but it certainly showed up in his performance and in the Parliament, I think. I would see a lot of that. For instance, I mentioned earlier on that I would be in the Chamber throughout question time. Question time was a very big test of Billy McMahon’s performance as Prime Minister. Up against a superb Parliamentary performer like Gough Whitlam, he was just floundering. But at question time, he would get questions put to him and often he would answer them, start answering them competently enough. But he would get to a certain point and then not know when to stop it seemed to me and keep going and start getting irrelevant, start bringing in things that were not necessary. Where I sat — I was sitting next to a number of back benchers, government back benchers — you could sense in them, during question time, you could sense the tension and when Will was performing you could sense how they were trying not to put their heads down on the desk in front of them. He was just not up to it, Billy McMahon. It was no wonder that he went. Whitlam on the other hand, yes, a masterful Parliamentary performer and an impressive man to meet and to deal with — a very good man to deal with. He was always polite and courteous to me and I had quite a lot of dealings with him, both as Leader of the Opposition and later as Prime Minister. You always felt he was on top of the job. As a Parliamentary performer, as I said, he was absolutely superb. Yes. But of course, he showed his weaknesses.

I think there was one early example of this that I happened to see which wasn’t directly to do with my role as Parliamentary Liaison Officer. It was with the Sydney second airport. Nigel Bowen, who had been one of the strengths of the McMahon government, decided after the 1972 election to stand aside from Parliament. So there was to be a by-election in Parramatta which was a marginal electorate which Labor had every hope of winning because Nigel had been a very strong local member. But Gough Whitlam was dead keen on putting the Sydney second airport at Galston in Northern Sydney in the heart of Liberal country in the Berowra electorate. He had made that point clear, I think. The silly thing was that during the election campaign, the government decided to announce their decision to make Galston the second airport of Sydney. When Fred Daly showed me where Galston was and where the airport alignment would be. The main airport runway, you could see, took off over Parramatta. I thought ‘what madman decided to do this now?’ To make Sydney’s second airport a by-election issue, I mean, I could see that that was stupid. It became a major part of the election campaign. Labor failed to win Parramatta. So already, Whitlam was showing this… This was very early on as I said it had been in the first few months of the Whitlam government. They threw that crash-through mentality that he developed and they just stuffed things up, right from the start.

E Helgeby: Did you have much contact with Parliamentarians other than Ministers?

J Jones: Not a great deal, no. Other than the Whips no, not a great deal.

E Helgeby: Were there any of them or any of the ordinary members of Parliament that you particularly admired or perhaps the opposite, did not admire and did not respect?

J Jones: I don’t know that I could mention any particular names but I think, as a general observation, I developed a pretty healthy, respectful… For by far the greater part of Parliamentarians — there were a few undoubtedly that didn’t pull their weight — but by and large, they felt committed. They were committed people. They were there to do their best, not only by their Party but by their electorate and by the people. They impressed me as a group and yes, I have had a soft spot for Parliamentarians ever since those days. They have their failings. They have their egos. Not all of them were up to speed, but the greater majority of them worked their hardest. I wouldn’t take on the job.

E Helgeby: You mentioned there were three events that happened during your time. The first one was the change of government in December, 1972. It must have made quite a significant impact on you and not just your work as well.

J Jones: Yes. I think I touched on that quite a bit in terms of my job as Parliamentary Liaison Officer because I did that on both sides of that election. It was, of course, a remarkable time in Australian political life anyway — 23 years the Liberal/National Party had been in power. It’s a political lifetime. It’s half of any ordinary working person’s lifetime. So to be around when there was that changeover and to be pretty much at the centre of things in the Parliament where it was all happening was a fantastic experience. I think I was extraordinarily fortunate to be so close to the action at that time.

E Helgeby: You were involved virtually from day one?

J Jones: Oh yes, yes, very much so. I think one of the early jobs that I had to do was, as soon as the Ministry was announced, was to make myself known to the Leader of the House and then to help him in one of the little tasks that he had which was the allocation of Ministerial officers.

E Helgeby: The Minister of two, you mean?

J Jones: The Ministerial officers within Parliament House.

E Helgeby: There were only two of them then, doing the first… [Laughs]

J Jones: [Laughs] Oh, he didn’t have to do that. The second Ministry, yes. Okay. When the full Ministry came in, yes, it was deputed to him to allocate the various officers in the Rep side of Parliament House to the Ministers which enabled him to take my advice and to take a very good office for himself. By and large, it wasn’t a difficult thing because the new Ministers were just so pleased to be Ministers. They didn’t really care what offices they got. Excuse me again. [Coughs] Have we got much longer to go? I’m afraid I’m packing up. I’m sorry.

E Helgeby: No, just a couple more minutes. The second one you mention was the opening of the new extensions to Old Parliament House in 1973. How did that impact on you?

J Jones: Yes. Only in a minor way but in an intriguing little way. That was… with the new extensions to Old Parliament House, the Cabinet moved around to the Senate side of the building and, as a result, when the bells rang in the House of Reps for a quorum or any other reason, if Ministers were around on the other side, as they often were over in the Cabinet room on the other side of the building, they couldn’t make it in time. So there was negotiation with the opposition about extending the time of ringing the bells from two minutes to three. I remember that, the opposition I thought their great folly was to oppose this dreadful reduction or this dreadful slackness, I suppose and intrusion into Parliamentary time. I thought it was a great sign into their lack of ability to adjust to life. The final night of sittings in June, 1980, I don’t remember anything particular about that.

E Helgeby: You didn’t go to the party?

J Jones: No, I didn’t go to the party. No, I didn’t go to the party. I’m sorry.

E Helgeby: That was very famous. There have been many reports.

J Jones: No, I didn’t go to that. No. I came home to be with my darling wife.

E Helgeby: If you look back at your time, particularly focussing on the connection to Old Parliament House and the Australian Parliament House, what would be your fondest memory of your time working here?

J Jones: Fondest memory… My fondest memory is not of a specific time but just of being there, of the buzz of the place, the buzz around the corridors of Old Parliament House when the House was sitting, of the way in which journalists, members, Ministers, private staff, Parliamentary staff all mixed together and all chased each other around — particularly members of the Press gallery would chase you around there. It was just such a buzz to be working in such a place. The loss of closeness with the Press gallery was one of the really big down sides from moving to the new building.

E Helgeby: So do you have any positive memories of your time at the Australian Parliament House in that sense? Or do you think…

J Jones: No, not really. No. I don’t have any particularly fond memories of the New Parliament House at all.

E Helgeby: What about, asking the other way around, were there anything that you remember most unsatisfactory and unhappy times?

J Jones: One particular occasion was when I got Billy McMahon and Billy Snedden and Reggie Swartz running around like bees in bottles because they thought I had done something that I hadn’t done. That was a very difficult time to manage but we got over it. [Coughs] I’m sorry about this. I think we’ll have to call it a day. I don’t get over these fits.

E Helgeby: Alright. On behalf of the Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy, I would like to thank you for your willingness to participate in this interview. If there is anything that you would like to add or to change in the recordings or the copies of the recordings, please just get in touch with us.

J Jones: Thank you. Thank you very much. I do apologise for my less than perfect state of health but there you go.

E Helgeby: Not a problem.