Former Labor Senator and minister John Button has died at the age of 74 after suffering cancer.

Mr Button served in the Federal Parliament between 1974 and 1993 as a Victorian Labor Party senator and was Minister for Industry and Commerce for 10 years from 1983.

As minister, Button carried through major changes in industry policy, including a reduction in tariffs and protectionism in the manufacturing industry. Button implemented vast reform plans for steel, heavy engineering, textiles, clothing and footwear, shipbuilding and motor vehicles and according to many, “The Button touch” was a significant contributing factor to a 17 per cent growth a year since 1986-87 in manufactured exports.

Button was responsible for the failed Button car plan, which reorganised the Australian car industry in an attempt to make it competitive without tariff protection. A major component of the plan, badge (reverse) engineering, failed due to unforeseen resistance from the buying public.

Button is also credited with playing a crucial role in the election of Bob Hawke as Prime Minister, persuading then Opposition Leader and close friend Bill Hayden to step down after PM Malcolm Fraser called a snap election in February 1983.

Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard paid tribute to Mr Button this morning, saying she admired Mr Button for his honesty and conviction:

He was a legend of the labour movement and he is particularly responsible for driving the economic debate in this country during the era of the (Bob) Hawke government … John Button was always a voice for reform.

The senator retired from politics in 1993, but continued to lead trade missions and went on to become a professorial fellow at Monash University.

Listen here for Bob Hawke’s take on Button, as told to Jon Faine on ABC Melbourne 774 this morning.

And click here for John Button on life and life after politics, as told to George Negus in 2004.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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