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Ralph Willis biography



Ralph Willis (born 14 April 1938), Australian politician, was Treasurer for the final years of the Keating Labor Government. Willis was born in Melbourne to Stan and Doris Willis and educated at Footscray Central School, University High School and Melbourne University, gaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree. He subsequently worked as a research officer and industrial advocate for the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). He and his wife Carol Willis (née Dawson) have three children, Sandra, Fiona and Evan. In 1972, the year that the Whitlam Labor government was elected, Willis was elected as a Labor member of the Australian House of Representatives for the extremely safe Labor seat of Gellibrand in Melbourne's western suburbs. He was elected to the Opposition front bench after Labor's defeat in 1975, and was Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Economic Affairs and Treasury from 1976 to 1983. In January 1983, however, he was dropped from the Treasury position by Labor leader Bill Hayden, who was trying to shore up his position by making a key factional leader, Paul Keating, Shadow Treasurer. As a former ACTU official Willis was regarded as a protegee of the new Labor leader, Bob Hawke (a former ACTU President), who became Prime Minister in March 1983. Hawke, however, kept Keating in the Treasury portfolio and Willis became Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. In 1987, he lost part of his portfolio to John Dawkins, who was appointed Minister of Employment, Education and Training, but Willis retained Industrial Relations. In 1988 he shifted to Transport and Communications, and in 1990 to Finance. When Keating resigned as Treasurer in 1991, Willis was again passed over when Hawke gave the Treasury to John Kerin. But Kerin proved a failure and in December 1991 Willis finally became Treasurer. Willis' first tenure in the Treasury was brief, however, because Hawke was deposed and succeeded as Prime Minister by Keating only three weeks later. Keating gave Treasury to his ally John Dawkins and Willis was again given Finance. Willis got a second chance when Dawkins, frustrated by Cabinet's rejection of his economic views, resigned suddenly in December 1993. Keating was reluctant to give Willis Treasury again, considering him a low-key Parliamentary performer, but accepted party opinion that Willis deserved the job. Willis served the last term of the Keating government as Treasurer. One of Willis' final acts a few days before the 1996 election, was to release (without consulting Keating), a letter purportedly written by the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, which suggested that a Liberal government led by John Howard would cut grants to the states. Unfortunately for Willis, the letter was a forgery, allegedly foisted on Willis by Melbourne University Liberal Club students . This successful ruse impacted somewhat upon the last week of Labor's campaign. After the election Willis retired to the backbench following Labor's defeat in 1996 and retired from Parliament at the 1998 election. At the time of his retirement, Willis was the only Labor Member of Parliament from the period of the Whitlam government still serving. Had he not retired he would have become Father of the House in the next parliament. Since retirement from parliament Willis has served on several boards of companies and charities (see below). On June 2, 2009 Willis was conferred with the degree of Doctor of the University Honoris Causa from Victoria University for services to Australia and in particular the Western Suburbs of Melbourne .