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Starr, Graeme (c. 1941–2021)

Last week Dr Graeme Starr, former Director of the NSW Liberal Party, Research Officer at the Federal Liberal Secretariat, chief of staff to a senior federal Coalition cabinet minister and John Howard, and highly regarded academic and author including for the Menzies Research Centre, passed away. It was unexpected. He was 80 years old.

Dr Graeme Starr was born in Granville, Sydney into a working-class family, his father a cook, his mother a homemaker.

Graeme Starr did the Australian dream. He was one of the ‘aspirational’ Australians before the term was invented.

As he said recently, ‘there’s no reason in this country you can’t make some progress in your life — it’s a wonderful country.’

After leaving Parramatta High School Graeme went to night college to enter Sydney University. He benefited from the Menzies Government’s Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme but also less narrow university entry requirements. He quickly gained his Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in politics.

Graeme married Beverley in March 1964. It was rock solid. This year they celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary.

Graeme won a scholarship to Carleton University in Canada, completed his masters’ degree and then his doctorate at West Virginia University in the United States where he also taught. He was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellow, though last year he wrote a letter of complaint when the Woodrow Wilson Foundation under pressure from the cancel culture mob removed Woodrow Wilson from its nomenclature. He found it ‘unfathomable’.

His time in America cemented his love for not just that great country, but for politics of the democratic kind where debate is welcomed and overreach by government questioned. It is easy to see his attraction to the Liberal Party of Robert Menzies – Menzies too was a scholarship boy.

Graeme became a Research Officer for the NSW Liberal Party secretariat and was mentored by then-State Director, Sir John Carrick. Later he joined the Federal Liberal Secretariat in Canberra. In these roles he learnt his craft and became involved in everything from campaigning to research to preparing policy papers.

During the 1970s Graeme was Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of New England. Articles, books, and chapters flowed. He co-edited Political Parties in Australia, and then delivered the 400-page primer, The Liberal Party of Australia — A Documentary History with a Foreword by Prime Minister Fraser — a must for any Liberal and scholar. At UNE during the 1975 constitutional crisis, he sought to ensure all views could be expressed. This caused him considerable odium from some colleagues. He stuck to his principles.

Politics beckoned and during the 1980s he became Chief of Staff to then-Federal Cabinet National Party Minister, Ian Sinclair, Minister for Defence and later Communications in the Fraser Government, and then State Director of the NSW Liberal Party overseeing the Liberal landslide in 1988. He fell foul of the party power brokers because as historian Ian Hancock wrote, ‘he believed in upholding the Party’s Constitution and observing all its conventions’. Subsequent events proved him right. After a time on John Howard’s staff then in opposition, Graeme returned to academia at Newcastle University where he taught on issues management and government-business relations and lectured into the Master of Public Affairs Program at Macquarie University.

In 1997 he co-edited the first book on the newly elected Howard Government – Policy and Change: The Howard Mandate.

Graeme became Visiting Fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Public Policy Institute and wrote Variety and Choices: Good Schools for All Australians for the Menzies Research Centre. It celebrated the Liberal Party’s all too forgotten contributions to education. In 2012 his superb Carrick: Principles, Politics and Policy, was launched by John Howard. Liberals today could learn much from this volume. He contributed to other recent MRC volumes on Menzies and the Liberal Party.

Graeme was often frustrated, as he wrote in 1996’s The Menzies Era, at the Liberals’ failures to ‘grasp the importance of their history’, too often leaving it to their Labor opponents to belittle their achievements.

Never idle and very much interested in the well-being and future of the Liberal Party, Graeme remained actively involved in the NSW Division, serving in recent years on its Disputes Panel. Indeed, it was only a few weeks ago that he followed up on some research the NSW Party needed.

Graeme leaves behind his wife Bev, his daughter Kimberley and son Sam and grandchildren whom he cared for deeply.

Original publication

  • Menzies Research Centre, 29 March 2021

View the list of ADB articles written by Graeme Starr

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Starr, Graeme (c. 1941–2021)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/starr-graeme-31621/text39094, accessed 16 May 2021.

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