To a giant reformer, vale

Bigger than Ben Hur: A personal tribute to John Button. TIM HARCOURT John Norman Button, the man who did more than anyone else to make Australian manufacturing competitive, died this week.


John had a quick wit and a sense of mischief and was a very accomplished writer (a skill clearly shared with his award winning journalist son James).


But beneath this humorous style lay a determined and hardnosed reformer who could drive through great changes to his party and to the Australian economy – particularly in the manufacturing sector.


The Button steel plan and the Button car plan are testament to that determination, and also to the skill of his advisers, which included economists of the calibre of Nick Gruen and Mike Lawson.


My last correspondence with John centred on his two great loves – the Geelong football club and politics, as we discussed the Cats’ record grand final win last September and of course the Kevin 07 campaign and election result in November.


He received the news about illness about the same time as he was finally finding joy in his two winning teams.


John died in the same week as Hollywood legend Charlton Heston. But while John was small in stature, in terms of Australian politics and public policy, he really was bigger than Ben Hur.



Tim Harcourt is a family friend of John Button. These are his personal views only.


Tim Harcourt is Chief Economist of the Australian Trade Commission and the author of Beyond Our Shores and The Airport Economist see:

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