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Camm, Ronald Ernest (Ron) (1914–1988)

by Joanne Scott

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Ronald Ernest (Ron) Camm (1914-1988), cane farmer and politician, was born on 22 July 1914 at Emerald, Queensland, second of eight children of Jonathan Robert Camm, locomotive fireman, and his wife Tassie, née Johnson, both Queensland born. Ron was educated at Rockhampton and Mackay primary schools and at Mackay State High School. From 1931 he worked as a labourer at Mackay and then at Bloomsbury, where his father had a small farm. On 17 June 1939 at St Joseph’s Cathedral, Rockhampton, he married with Catholic rites Florence Alice Leech. Next year he acquired a cane farm at Mount Julian, near Proserpine. Director (1949-65) and chairman (1960-65) of the Proserpine Co-operative Sugar Milling Association Ltd, he was an executive member (1961-65) of the Australian Sugar Producers Association Ltd.

On 1 July 1961, following a by-election, Camm entered the Queensland parliament as Country Party member for Whitsunday. He was to serve in the Nicklin, Pizzey [qq.v.15,16] and Bjelke-Petersen Country-Liberal coalition governments. Best known as minister for mines (1965-80), he also held the portfolios of main roads (1965-74), electricity (1968-69), energy (1974-80) and police (1977-80). After unsuccessfully contesting the party’s deputy-leadership against (Sir) Johannes Bjelke-Petersen in January 1968, he secured the post on 2 August when, following Jack Pizzey’s death, Bjelke-Petersen became leader. Two years later he almost gained the leadership when a group of Country Party politicians planned a coup against the premier, with Camm as their preferred alternative; Bjelke-Petersen survived by two votes. Camm was to remain deputy-leader until his retirement from parliament.

Throughout his political career, Camm espoused the ideology of development and progress that underpinned the Nicklin and Bjelke-Petersen governments. As Queensland’s longest-serving minister for mines, he oversaw the dramatic growth of the State’s mining industry and was a key figure in negotiations with major overseas companies, including the Utah Development Co. In his portfolios of main roads, electricity and energy, he played an important role in the development of infrastructure in Queensland. A self-proclaimed `champion of free enterprise’, he was an enthusiastic advocate of overseas capital investment. He judged virtually everything according to its contribution to Queensland’s `progress’.

Camm’s commitment to resource exploitation and his promotion of the mining industry placed him in opposition to major environmental campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s. He supported oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef and in 1967, with Bjelke-Petersen’s help, persuaded the Nicklin government to zone most of Queensland’s offshore territory, some 80,000 sq. miles (207,199 km²), into seventeen areas. Cabinet then secretly allocated prospecting rights to six companies. Responding in 1969 to concerns about the threat posed to the reef by drilling, he asserted in parliament that an oil spill would, if it occurred, have the positive outcome of providing an additional food source for fish. He appreciated the beauty of the State’s natural attractions, including the reef, in terms of their potential for tourism. During the controversy in 1979 over the demolition of the historic Bellevue Hotel in Brisbane, he chided members of parliament for extending a debate that `has not in any way been constructive or directed towards the development or progress of this State’.

In 1978 Camm unsuccessfully defied his leader in one of the most serious cabinet disputes of Bjelke-Petersen’s coalition government. He and six of the seven Liberal Party ministers supported Millmerran as the site of a new power station against Bjelke-Petersen’s preferred option of Tarong. The rift probably shortened Camm’s parliamentary career; he retired from politics in July 1980 and later that month was appointed chairman of the Queensland Sugar Board, prompting Opposition claims of `jobs for the boys’. He held the post until 1986.

A bridge over the Pioneer River at Mackay had been named in Camm’s honour in 1980. He was patron of the Port Denison Sailing Club and enjoyed fishing and playing bowls. Survived by his wife, and their son and two daughters, he died on 15 March 1988 at Auchenflower, Brisbane, and was buried with Uniting Church forms in Proserpine lawn cemetery. Bjelke-Petersen described him as `one of my most loyal ministers’ and his former colleague W. A. M. (Bill) Gunn acclaimed him as a team member, `a big man and a very strong man’.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Patience (ed), The Bjelke-Petersen Premiership 1968-1983 (1985)
  • B. Galligan, Utah and Queensland Coal (1989)
  • J. & M. Bowen, The Great Barrier Reef (2002)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 11 Sept 1969, p 498, 24 Sept 1974, p 996, 24 Apr 1979, p 4223, 17 Mar 1988, p 5295
  • Morning Bulletin (Townsville), 26 Mar 1980, p 27
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 14 Aug 1980, p 6.

Citation details

Joanne Scott, 'Camm, Ronald Ernest (Ron) (1914–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/camm-ronald-ernest-ron-12283/text22053, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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