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Klugman, Richard Emanuel (Dick) (1924–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

Dick Klugman, born in Vienna of Jewish-Italian parents, had a job in front of him when he arrived in Australia at the age of 14. He spoke no English and to do his schooling was obliged to board with a family in Glenfield, in Sydney's south-west.

But his lively intellect helped him through. He became a physician, joined the Labor Party, became a great civil libertarian and enjoyed a long career in federal politics.

His life epitomised the gains Australia enjoyed from European migration associated with World War II.

Richard Emanuel Klugman was born in Vienna on January 18, 1924, the son of a businessman, Bernard Klugman, and Ella. The family migrated in 1938 to escape the Nazi menace. He attended Hurlstone Agricultural High School, then the University of Sydney to study science and medicine.

Former Liberal MP Peter Baume, a fellow parliamentarian of the late Dick Klugman recalled his glory days on the university's second-grade soccer team. Klugman supported his studies with various jobs, including as a builders' labourer and a bookie's clerk, giving him an insight that turned him into a friend of the battler.

Interested in politics, Klugman became the president of the Sydney University Labor Club and later the president of the Australian Student Labor Federation. He was was involved as a student in a number of issues, including the Indonesian struggle for independence and experienced a police reaction that he considered oppressive.

Klugman was written up in newspapers as a ''commo demonstrator'', which angered him because he was anti-communist. In one famous incident, he was arrested at a demonstration at the Dutch consulate but persuaded the court that if he had called a police officer a ''f---ing commo'', it did not amount to an assault.

A member of the Humanist Society, he strongly opposed compulsory religious education. He also protested against racial discrimination and police and government treatment of Aborigines. A strong advocate of law reform, he advocated decriminalisation of such things as gambling, drug use, prostitution and vagrancy. Klugman, concerned about pro-Moscow influence in the Labor Club, established the Socialist Group in 1948.

He graduated in medicine and went to practise in Guildford and Villawood. He married Karin Joseph in 1953. He and Karin had a daughter, Vikki, born in 1957. He served as an honorary medical officer at Liverpool, Parramatta and Royal North Shore hospitals.

Klugman also retained a healthy interest in trotting and owned a number of horses. A former parliamentary colleague, Laurie Ferguson, said: ''My mother recalls his regrets when, as the local GP, he could not be around at the birth of a sibling, because the Harold Park trots were on that Friday.''

In 1963, together with Ken Buckley and Jack Sweeney, Klugman founded the NSW Council for Civil Liberties and became its treasurer. In 1964, he was married for a second time, to Kristine Barnard. They had three daughters, Jeni (born in 1964), Julie (1965) and Kathy (1967).

In October, 1969, Klugman was elected as the ALP member for the federal seat of Prospect. His maiden speech was anything but conventional, touching on such matters as decriminalising marijuana and homosexuality.

He helped establish the world's first Parliamentary Amnesty Group. His emphasis on freedom led him to be a passionate critic of the Soviet bloc and, on occasion, perhaps somewhat unquestioning of US policy. Klugman was prominent in doubting the advisability of the Khemlani-Baathist initiative by the Whitlam government.

He did not believe the Iraqi regime was all that ''fraternal''.

He famously proposed to rename the street outside Canberra's Soviet embassy after Alexander Solzhenitsyn and was actively associated with the League of Captive Nations.

He served on joint parliamentary committees or select committees on a wide range of matters including video material, road safety, electoral reform, foreign affairs and defence. The former parliamentary leader Kim Beazley would recall a period when, with minimal opposition staff, Klugman could be relied on to produce the detailed costings in the health portfolio area and he played an important role in the design of Medibank.

Klugman retired from federal politics in 1990. He was married for a third time, to Margaret Healy. Ferguson said that to the end, Klugman was ever the inquiring, undiplomatic sceptic.

''It is not surprising that he was a doubter even about climate change, seeing a possibility that some professional analysts had a personal interest. With others this might have been a symptom of innate conservatism or corporate self-interest. With Dick Klugman, it epitomised his endless questioning, his belief in not worshipping gods and love of debate. It was fitting that a favourite song, It Ain't Necessarily So, was played at his funeral.'' Dick Klugman is survived by his widow, Margaret, his daughters and six grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March 2011

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Klugman, Richard Emanuel (Dick) (1924–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 7 August 2020.

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