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BUTTON, John Norman (1930-2008)

BUTTON, Hon John Norman (1930-2008)


John Button at the College Speech Day, 1993.

John Button

John Button

John Button, circa 1950.

John Button, circa 1950.

Former Federal Senator and Government Minister, John Button was the son of the Rev Dr N Button and attended the Geelong College as a boarder from 1946 to 1950. He had previously attended Ballarat College.

In 1946, he won the H V McKay Scholarship awarded by the College for 1947. (Ironically, Hugh Victor McKay whose bequest sponsored the scholarship, was the proprietor of Australia's largest manufacturing businesses of the 1920s, the 'Sunshine Harvester Co' and was no supporter of unionism or the Australian Labor Party.) In his final year 1950, John was Captain of Boats, unusually so, as he coxed the 1950 Rowing Crew rather than being a rower. He was particularly notable in his role as the chief student editor of Pegasus, the School Magazine writing editorials in both the June and December issues, the subject matter of which suggested that the leanings of his future political career were then already set. That he also won the History Prize and was a secretary of the debating society that year supports such a view. Indeed, in Pegasus he wrote with considerable authority of the final debating event of 1950 which was held as a mock parliamentary debate in which he played the Speaker of the House. During his Form V year he also made an appearance in the 1949 Glee Club production of The Mikado as a Japanese Noble. A member of Morrison House he was also a Cadet Corporal of ‘A’ Company and won House Colours in football and Honours Colours in rowing.

John Button was at the forefront of political life in Australia spending 19 years in Federal Politics as a Senator. As Minister for Industry, Commerce and Technology, he took up the challenge of market reform and deregulation. His approach was to tackle the protection-induced inefficiencies of Australia's large-scale industries, while laying the groundwork for participation in high-value-added sectors. John Button's industry plans for steel, heavy engineering, textiles, clothing and footwear (TCP), shipbuilding and motor vehicles have had mixed but generally very positive results. "The Button touch" was a significant contributing factor to an extraordinary 17 per cent a year growth in manufactured exports. John had a clear idea of the importance of technology to the economy and he helped develop a range of programs aimed at influencing management decision-making. The result was that, in 1993, hi-tech exports topped $1 billion for the first time. As a politician John, was often described as 'too honest'. He retired from politics in 1993 and, between August 1993 and April 1996, he was the Commonwealth Government Special Trade Representative.

Neil Everist remembered his friend and fellow Old Collegian: 'In the early fifties, I was fortunate, as stroke of the Melbourne Inter-varsity rowing eight, to sit opposite John Button, who was the coxswain. We covered hundreds of miles together as he navigated some of Australia's most beautiful waters. As we trained, I remember that he liked to make comments about life in general, and although I was often too exhausted to respond, it did not appear to worry him one bit. He liked to draw on an eclectic mix of topics including the arts, literature, philosophy, law, politics, girls and "The Cats". I now realise that in later life, he had become an authority on most of them and I recognise what a wealth of wisdom and wit emerged from his megaphone. He was a strong, determined and successful cox, and these characteristics were later confirmed, particularly in his political career, and also in a wide variety of other disciplines and interests. His wry sense of humour, his integrity, energy and generosity all contributed to his colourful and unique legacy.'

In 2011, John Button was inducted into the Old Geelong Collegians' Association (OGCA) Notables Gallery.

Sources: See Photo 3rd VIII; 1948 and 1st VIII, 1950; John Button Collection.
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