Lindsay Thompson was a cabinet minister before I was born, and when I became active in politics myself he was still there, as my local member and ultimately premier of Victoria.
But Thompson, who died on Wednesday night aged 84, had more going for him than just political longevity. He represented a type of politician that we rarely see these days; someone who saw politics not as a meal ticket or a power trip, but as a way to utilise his talents for the public good, and who genuinely tried to put the public’s interests first.
Thompson spent almost 24 years as a minister, a record for the state; 12 of them (also a record) as education minister. This morning’s obituaries highlight his role in the Faraday kidnapping of 1972, but his heroism on that occasion was of a piece with his whole career.
He served under the state’s two longest-serving Liberal premiers, Henry Bolte and Dick Hamer; a time when the Liberal Party reached the peak of its success and then precipitously fell from favor. In the last years of the Hamer government, Thompson as treasurer kept the state’s finances on an even keel while the rest of the government was falling apart through scandal and recrimination.
Although the differences between them were sometimes evident – most notably when he used a stint as acting premier to get the controversial Newport power station built – Thompson was never accused of complicity in the plotting that eventually brought down Hamer in 1981. In the succeeding leadership ballot, Thompson narrowly defeated the left’s Bill Borthwick to become Victoria’s 40th premier.
By then, nothing could save the Victorian Liberals, and defeat in the following year’s election was a foregone conclusion. True to form, Thompson didn’t spit the dummy, but stayed in parliament for several months to help ease the party’s transition to opposition.
Now that the Liberal Party has reached an even lower ebb than the dark days of 1982-83, one of the things it needs most is to find and promote more people like Lindsay Thompson. But that’s easier said than done.