Ted Mack tribute
Edward Carrington Mack; December 20, 1933 - November 6, 2018
A pure model of public accountability by Malcolm Brown
He went to Cleveland Street High School and spent his last two years at Sydney Boys’ High. Good at sport, especially cricket, Mack was also successful academically and, in 1950, enrolled in architecture at the University of NSW. He studied full-time for two years, and was then obliged to work part-time. He completed his course in 1957. In 1958, he married a Rural Bank employee, Wendy Loubet. Together they went to London to work, returning in 1961 with their first child, Jennifer.
In Sydney, Mack resumed work as an architect, focusing on hospitals. His next three children arrived in rapid succession: Geraldine in 1961, Jeffrey in 1962 and Peter in 1963.
For two years, Mack supervised the construction of the Port Kembla Public Hospital. In 1966, he was appointed architect-in-charge for NSW public hospitals. He bought a modest house in North Sydney. With the help of his wife and fellow architects, he turned it into an impressive home, only to see a 17-storey office block erected virtually next door, seemingly out-of-keeping with the area.
He pursued his career, as assistant chief architect for the NSW Housing Commission, making him aware of Indigenous housing problems, but his political instincts had been aroused. Previously he had participated in a “Bring Back Utzon” campaign, now he aspired to government. In, 1974 he successfully stood for election to North Sydney Council. In 1975, he was appointed to a committee chaired by Dr H.C. Coombs to monitor and advise on Aboriginal housing in remote areas of Australia.
In 1980, Mack was elected mayor of North Sydney. He gave up his architectural practice, reduced his mayoral allowance and sold the mayoral Mercedes to buy a community bus. He proposed amendments to the residential flat code so as to preserve a village atmosphere, recommended that all spare council land go to public housing and decreed that, as far as practicable, all council meetings and its records should be open to the public.
Mack wanted more direct public participation, through referenda, and through “precinct committees” to whom council matters could be referred. In the years that followed, he attended about 3000 public meetings and held 36 referenda. He reduced rates dramatically by having the council make its own money, through such things as building and leasing shops.
In 1981, Mack stood as an independent for the newly created seat of North Shore in the State Parliament and won it by defeating NSW Opposition leader Bruce McDonald. He remained mayor but gave up his mayoral allowance and handed back his parliamentary gold pass.
Mack introduced North Sydney‘s first heritage study and conservation plans. He opened a civic square near North Sydney’s CBD and fought to prevent the State Bank building in Martin Place being demolished. He opposed a second harbour crossing and the monorail, attacked the Wran government for treating the inner city like a plaything and sided with Sydney City Council independents in their resistance to the NSW government.
In 1987, after he introduced a direct popular vote for mayorship, he received 90 per cent of the vote. In 1988, re-elected to Parliament, he decided, just before he reached the milestone of seven years of service, entitling him to a parliamentary pension, to resign, thereby foregoing more than $1 million.
He also resigned from North Sydney Council, saying in passing that the “brown paper parcels” could “flow again at Christmas”, a remark which offended other councillors, some of whom cmplained he had become remote and autocratic, attacks which among others were echoed in the Mosman Daily. Mack said there should be a two-term limit for any parliamentarian, declaring anyone exposed to the government environment long enough would be adversely affected.
Mack did not stay still for long. In 1990, he stood for the federal seat of North Sydney and won it, defeating the federal opposition frontbencher, John Spender. In his maiden speech in Parliament, he spoke against “corrupt and secretive government”.
He spoke out against Australia’s participation in the Gulf War, the sale of Qantas and the nuclear establishment at Lucas Heights. For six years, he served on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure. But he resisted to the end the idea of being an elitist decision-maker and in fact advocated a Citizens Initiated Referenda system as practised in Switzerland.
Re-elected to Federal Parliament in 1993, Mack continued until 1996, when he left just before he reached the seven-year mark and again purposefully missed a parliamentary pension. Mack made further forays into public life, but although an avowed republican, could not accept the model of a Parliament-appointed president.
In 2016 he was diagnosed with cancer, but held it off by participating in a global immunotherapy trial. After a stroke, he died on Tuesday, November 6.