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Issue #1570      24 October 2012

October is CPA History Month

Election of Fred Paterson to Queensland Parliament

At a time when Comrade Tony Oldfield won a seat on Auburn (Sydney) Council, it is good to remember Fred Paterson and his successful campaign to win the Queensland seat of Bowen in April 1944.

Fred Paterson

“In 1944 the first communist was elected to a state parliament. He was Fred Paterson, member for Bowen, Queensland. Since then a number of other Communists have been elected as municipal and shire councillors but such is the grip of the two-party system at state and federal levels that it has proven difficult to break into these spheres.

“But it can be done and it is has been done.

“Fred Paterson’s campaign shows us that winning elections requires long and patient work at grass roots, campaigning with Party policies in the best interests of working people, and persuading voters that the Party’s candidate is the best.

“The campaign also underlines that there is little point in taking a “we know we can’t win” approach. This was not the case in Bowen.

“The Communist Party of Australia continues the traditions and fighting spirit which got Fred Peterson elected.”

Thus wrote the former Party General Secretary Peter Symon in his introduction to the leaflet on Fred Paterson’s victory.

The leaflet called The Election of Communist Fred Paterson to the Queensland Parliament was published in 1986. It was written by former Central Committee member and Queensland State Secretary Jim Henderson.

Here he described the Party campaign for Fred Paterson:

“Paterson was without doubt the best known communist in Queensland and had contested the Bowen seat on two previous occasions. On each occasion there had been an increase in his vote. There had also been a steady increase in the number of communist party members and party branches in the electorate. The Bowen seat extended from Home Hill in the north to south of Proserpine.

“In the elections we called for the continuing of the war effort by all Australians, the guarantee of not less than the basic wage for the primary producers and the steady rise in wages for the working class. Our overall policy was to win the war as necessary for ending all wars of aggression and for rising standards of living for the working people.

“At all times it was stressed that only by the introduction of a socialist system of society could such a state of affairs be won and maintained. Nobody could have done a more effective job of advocating such a policy than Fred Paterson, Barrister-at-Law, popularly known as the ‘people’s barrister.’

Jim Henderson continued:

“There were three candidates – Dick Riordan (ALP, the sitting member), Hancock (Country Party) and Paterson the Communist.

“Riordan had been a waterside worker in Bowen prior to his election, was regarded as a one-time militant and had been a member of the Bowen Town Council. Hancock was fairly well known and was regarded as an honest farmer. Both lived in the electorate, Paterson did not. His home was in Townsville but he was well known throughout the north.

“It was clear that Riordan was the man to beat. We shaped our campaign accordingly….

“As the Labor government had been in office since 1915 with one break of three (1929-1932) and Bowen had been represented for the whole period by an ALP member, we quite deliberately attacked the Labor government for the troubles of the working people. At the same time we pointed to the disastrous three years that the Country Party had been in government.

“And we had plenty of solid ammunition to throw at the Labor Government.

“In the campaign we did not advance the slogan of election of a Labor government strengthened by communists as the Communist Party often did but came out with the need to have better representatives in parliament than the Labor Party and at the same time strongly attacking the Country Party.

Strong Party base

The strength of the Party in the electorate was the most important factor in the successful outcome, according to the comrades working on the campaign.

For years the strength of branch membership and organisation had been growing. There was not one spot of any significance in the whole area where the Party had not been active.

Some people claimed that it was just because Fred was so personally popular that a communist won.

Jim Henderson, Fred’s campaign manager, firmly rejected that idea. While paying tribute to Fred as great campaigner, he maintained that the strength of the party was the essential factor.

The results

Hancock (Country Party) 1,043, Riordan (ALP) 2,487, Paterson (Communist) 2,817. Of the 29 polling booths Paterson received majorities in 16. In those days it was a first past the post election rule.

These results in any election are very impressive and Fred has set a high bench mark for us to reach.

However, as Peter Symon confidently wrote in 1986, Fred will not be the last Communist Party representative in an Australian parliament.

Jim Henderson, “The election of Communist Fred Paterson to the Queensland Parliament”, SPA leaflet, 1986.
Ross Fitzgerald: “The Peoples Champion”, University of Queensland Press, 1997.  

Next article – AEU members take fight direct to Baillieu’s office

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