Al Grassby

Al Grassby

Albert Jaime Grassby, AM (12 July 1926 – 23 April 2005), Australian politician, was Minister for Immigration in the Whitlam Labor government. He initiated sweeping reforms in immigration and human rights and introduced the word "multiculturalism" to Australian society.

Born Albert Grass in Brisbane, Queensland to parents of Spanish and Irish descent, Grassby changed his name to emphasise his Irish roots. After working as a journalist and a consultant on agricultural issues, Grassby was elected as a Labor Party MLA for the New South Wales state electorate of Murrumbidgee in 1965, where he served as Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Conservation between 1968 and 1969. His high profile and popularity in the local community encouraged him to enter federal politics.

Political career

Grassby won the rural electorate of Riverina for the Labor Party at the 1969 federal election and following Gough Whitlam's victory at the 1972 election, he was appointed Minister for Immigration. In this role, Grassby quickly became one of the more high profile members of the Whitlam ministry as he gained a reputation as a one person propaganda unit for the benefits of multiculturalism and, among other initiatives, pushed for more immigration from non-English-speaking countries, banned racially selected sporting teams from playing in Australia and repealed the law that required Indigenous Australians to seek permission before going overseas.

In addition to his high profile crusade for multiculturalism, Grassby also gained wide attention for his flamboyant dress sense, his colourful ties and suits setting him apart from the unwritten dress code for politicians of sombre dark suits and plain ties.

As the White Australia Policy had only been formally revoked in 1973, Grassby's actions provoked disquiet among sections of the Australian community, including in his Riverina electorate and some of his ALP colleagues, who thought his reforms too radical for the period, but Grassby could point to his enormous popularity within multicultural Australia and the subsequent growth of support for the ALP from this section of the community as more than adequate recompense for any possible loss of support from white Australia.

Grassby's actions attracted criticism from anti-immigration groups, led by the Immigration Control Association, which targeted his electorate in a campaign at the May 1974 election. Partly as a result, Grassby was defeated by the National Party candidate, John Sullivan. Grassby and his supporters accused these groups of mounting a racist smear campaign against him.

Commission for Community Relations

Following his defeat, Grassby was appointed as the first Commissioner for Community Relations, administering the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 that he had championed while in parliament. While he continued to work towards a multicultural Australia, Grassby couldn't escape controversy. In one case, Grassby nominated for preselection for the safe federal Labor seat of Parramatta following encouragement from Gough Whitlam, who sought to return Grassby to the ministry. However, Grassby surprisingly lost the preselection ballot as many rank and file Labor members objected to an outside candidate being foisted upon them. In another case, he became entangled in one of the more sensational political cases of Australian history when he hired Junie Morosi to work at the Commission for Community Relations, which brought her into contact with a number of government ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Jim Cairns. Cairns appointed Morosi as his Principal Private Secretary, a job traditionally held by a senior public servant. The ensuing controversy surrounding the appointment led to the downfall of Cairns and while Grassby was not guilty of any misconduct himself, he attracted criticism by his connection to the case.


Grassby published a number of books, including a biography of early Australian Prime Minister Chris Watson and various studies of multiculturalism in Australia.


In recognition of his pioneering work on immigration, Grassby was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1985. He received the United Nations Peace Medal in 1986.

Legal action

In 1980 Grassby was charged with criminal defamation when it was alleged that he had asked a New South Wales state politician, Michael Maher, to read in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly a document that imputed that Barbara Mackay and her family solicitor were responsible for the disappearance (and probable murder) of her husband Donald Mackay, a prominent Riverina businessman who had been a Liberal candidate against Grassby in 1974. Grassby maintained his innocence and fought a twelve year battle in the courts before he was eventually acquitted on appeal in August 1992. He was awarded $180,000 in costs.Fact|date=May 2008

Death and subsequent media reports

Grassby died on 23 April 2005, two days after suffering a heart attack, after several months' pneumonia. He was survived by his wife Ellnor Grassby and his daughter Gabriella Davis.

After Grassby's death renewed attacks were made on his reputation, particularly in relation to his alleged links with the Calabrian Mafia (known as the 'Ndrangheta) in Griffith and to the events surrounding the disappearance and probable murder of a local anti-corruption campaigner, Donald Mackay. Beginning on 9 May 2005, the Melbourne "Herald Sun" ran a series of articles alleging that Grassby used his influence to thwart a National Crime Authority investigation into the Mafia, and to "let mafia criminals into Australia", and that he was "paid to do the mafia's bidding", including receiving a $40,000 payment from the Griffith Mafia to smear Barbara Mackay.

Giafranco Tizzoni, a Mafia supergrass, identified Grassby as being at the "beck and call" of the Calabrian Mafia for at least 40 years and according to the National Crime Authority the Mafia funded Grassby's election campaigns. One of Al Grassby's closest associates was Toni Sergei, the man identified in court and in Parliament as the Mafia leader who ordered the execution of Donald Mackay. [ [ Mafia Influence and the Whitlam Government] , National Observer Winter, 2005]

It was also revealed that Grassby had maintained a "double life" with his wife of forty three years, Ellnor Grassby and his mistress of twenty five years Angela Chan. His wife Ellnor, although admitting that Grassby was a "ladies man" denies any knowledge of a continuing relationship with Chan.Fact|date=May 2008

A recent decision by the ACT Jon Stanhope Labor Government to erect a statue of Al Grassby in Canberra has been the subject of much controversy.Fact|date=May 2008


External links

* [ of Grassby about 1970]

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