Lewin Blazevich and the Australian Assistance Plan

At a meeting of the Queensland Parliament Public Works Committee on March 31st, 2006, the question was posed: why does Victoria have fewer prisoners than Queensland? Part of the answer, according to Keith Hamburger, was the Australian Assistance Plan.

Here is how Lew came to be involved in this project. In early 1973 Lewin Blazevich resigned from the position of President of Queensland University Students’ Union. He had some major disagreements with others on the Left. At the same time, our marriage was failing. We had married in January 1971 when aged 19 and 21. Neither of us understood why, but from the moment our marriage began, I was obliged to care for Lew. I’d had no warning from his family about the damage he sustained from the Homes; I believe they were unaware of it themselves. Suffice it to say, he required a lot of care, even then. But with this care, he was able to express more of his passion for politics.

In 1972, Lew’s PhD supervisor ‘fired’ him after a letter appeared in The Australian. Lew’s letter criticized the practice of publishing research under the name of the supervisor even if they had not been closely involved with the study. Lew began his PhD research in 1971, and had been accepted as a full candidate by the Professorial Board after two years. At this stage, he had completed his thesis, and a rough draft existed.  Early in 1973 we had just moved into a place in Holland Park. Lew was angry with me, and angry with others on Union Council. One night he lit a bonfire in the backyard and burned the draft of his thesis.

Although his Supervisor had already written to the University Registrar, Sam Rayner, ‘resigning’ as the supervisor for Lew’s PhD, a pro forma supervisor was found in the Head of the Department. I recall his comment that Lew was behaving like a ‘prima donna’. Lew’s professors resented his political activity; they didn’t like that a light was shone on academic exploitation, and perhaps didn’t understand what drove him. Neither did I. The destruction of his thesis officially ended his career as a research scientist, with implications for our survival.

Since our marriage we had lived on Lew’s Commonwealth Postgraduate Award and my Commonwealth Undergraduate Scholarship. In those days, a couple could avoid starvation on these two scholarships. With Dr Ridge’s letter to the Registrar, our source of income, as well as any hope Lew had of a career in Science, was destroyed. His Scholarship ended. Years later we wrote to the University to try and gain access to the original letter from Dr Ridge to Dr Rayner. This request was denied.

Around the same time he burnt his thesis, Lew resigned as Union President and I moved back to my parents’ home. Lew stayed briefly at the house at Tarragindi. He called me one day sounding very excited. He had been contacted by the office of Lord Mayor Clem Jones. The Mayor had seen the front page news when Lew left the Student Union, as well as the interview on the 7:30 Report. That interview must have impressed Clem, because he offered Lew a job soon afterwards. Even more significantly for me, one of the ‘grown-ups’ i.e. my friend’s mother, told me she could see why I had fallen in love with Lew.

Clem wanted Lew to work as his personal assistant. During that year at the Council, he looked after inquiries to the Ward Office, learned PR from Don Trebble, an original ‘graduate’ of Madison Avenue, and wrote government submissions and press releases. Lew told me that unlike other press releases that had to be re-written several times before Clem was satisfied, the drafts he submitted rarely needed correction. He had to wear a suit every day. Despite (maybe because of!) our separation, 1973 was a year that saw Lew’s star rise. Some in the Council thought he should be groomed for the position of Town Clerk. He sat on Committees that discussed re-zoning applications. In the meantime, I finished my degree.

Towards the end of 1973, Lew was becoming increasingly dissatisfied at the Council. He didn’t like having to address Clem as “My Lord Mayor”. He was worried about evidence of corruption in some committees. He submitted his resignation. This did not go over well with Clem, who never forgave him, and made this known to several ALP members. Nevertheless, one Alderman, Bill Burton of Annerley, believed in Lew enough that he supported his bid for a seat in Federal Parliament. During 1974, after a disastrous stint working for a multinational PR firm, Lew became ill. After a torrid interview with Social Security, he was granted Sickness Benefits for three months.

Meanwhile, the effort to gain the ALP nomination for the seat of Moreton began. Alderman Burton knew we were living on the breadline. At one point he sent us $100. In those days, a sum like that could feed us for weeks.

The Whitlam Government was implementing a scheme known as the Australian Assistance Plan. Brisbane was to have four Community Development Officers, one for each geographical region. It was an ambitious plan to centralize welfare funding, doomed to fail when Whitlam fell.

Although it was a position normally occupied by social workers, through Alderman Burton’s efforts Lew was appointed as a CDO on the strength of his work at the Council. He threw himself into the task of writing leaflets and press releases and attending meetings of community groups to explain the AAP. The Secretary of the governing Board in Brisbane enthused about Lew’s commitment to the job. As always, he was passionately committed to the task at hand.

What we didn’t know was that “The Honourable” Don Lane, Member for Merthyr, who was jailed following the Fitzgerald Enquiry, had it in for Lew. In March 1975 I was 8 months pregnant with our first child. Lew had suffered a collapsed lung and pneumonia and was in Intensive Care at Chermside following major lung surgery. My father was distraught about the Hansard excerpt (p. 368, 18 March 1975) reproduced below, which calls my husband a thief. It is hardly necessary for me to say it; it was a total fabrication by Don Lane only able to be made under the protection of Parliamentary privilege.

My father pleaded with University of Queensland Vice Chancellor Zelman Cowen to issue a statement clearing Lew’ name. Cowen refused. As my father expressed it at the time:

“Lew’s finished”.

Hansard

Cheers

Sylvia

 

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