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Greenwood, Ivor John (1926–1976)

by N. A. Brown

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Ivor John Greenwood (1926-1976), by Alan Charles Moir, 1970s

Ivor John Greenwood (1926-1976), by Alan Charles Moir, 1970s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24092848

Ivor John Greenwood (1926-1976), politician and barrister, was born on 15 November 1926 in North Melbourne, eldest of three children of Victorian-born parents Bartlett John Greenwood, boiler-maker, and his wife Joy Olive, née Vickers. Ivor was educated at Hartwell and Mont Albert Central state schools, Scotch College and the University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1949). After graduating, he was an associate, successively, to two justices of the High Court of Australia, (Sir) Frank Kitto in 1950 and Sir Owen Dixon in 1950-52.

Admitted to the Victorian Bar on 1 March 1951, Greenwood soon established a reputation as a scholarly but practical barrister, working principally in the fields of commercial and local government law. For some time he shared chambers with a future governor-general (Sir) Ninian Stephen. On 3 December 1960 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Camberwell, Greenwood married Lola Poppy Roney, a research officer.

Because he did not view the law as a means of making money, he devoted much of his time to voluntary activities designed to enhance the standing of the profession and its social usefulness. Honorary secretary (1963-68) of the Law Council of Australia, Greenwood was also involved in the Law Association for Asia and the Western Pacific, in the hope that the rule of law would become firmly entrenched in the countries of that region. He did not, therefore, achieve the material success that would have been his had he confined himself to the usual activities of a barrister. His practice, however, was extensive enough for him to be regarded as an extremely sound lawyer. He became a leader of the junior Bar before being appointed Q.C. in 1969.

It was not the law, but politics, that was Greenwood's abiding interest. Initially, he had been prominent in the Young Liberal (and Country) Movement before participating in student politics at university where his eloquent opposition to communism endeared him to the hierarchy of the Liberal Party. President (1947) of the Melbourne University Liberal Club, he helped to wrest the Students' Representative Council and the student newspaper, Farrago, from left-wing control. The presidency (1949) of the S.R.C. was a further laurel and he was identified as a rising star in the party.

His life in politics was to be beset with controversy. From his undergraduate days he pursued issues of principle, even at the cost of personal friendship, and he was equally dogged in maintaining his political convictions. He had no qualms about opposing Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies' attempt to outlaw the Communist Party of Australia by referendum in 1951, though it put him at odds with prevailing sentiment in the Liberal Party. Greenwood took this action on the grounds of civil liberties. In supporting his friend Alan Missen who was under threat of expulsion from the party for the same reason, he said: 'this referendum . . . is completely contrary to all that liberalism stands for'.

In 1952-68 Greenwood was a member of the party's State executive (vice-president 1966-68). He found himself opposed to the majority of his colleagues in 1961 when he again sided with Missen who was acting as solicitor for a political candidate expelled from the Liberal Party. In defending Missen's right to give legal representation to anyone who requested it, Greenwood was motivated by a concern for the freedom of the individual.

Nominated under section 15 of the Constitution to fill the casual vacancy occasioned by (Sir) John Gorton's transfer to the House of Representatives, Greenwood entered the Senate in 1968 and was to be returned at four elections. He was minister for health from March to August 1971 in (Sir) William McMahon's administration, then attorney-general until the defeat of the government in December 1972. Deputy-leader of the Opposition in the Senate in 1972-75, Greenwood was spokesman on attorney-general matters and the Australian Capital Territory. In December 1975 the Liberal and Country parties regained power under Malcolm Fraser: Greenwood was appointed deputy-leader of the government in the Senate, and minister for environment, housing and community development.

Although Greenwood maintained his interest in civil liberties throughout his career, there were some who thought that he had begun to move to the right once he entered parliament. As attorney-general, he asserted that there was no evidence to support Labor Party allegations that a right-wing Croatian terrorist organization was operating in Australia; his uncompromising approach to law-and-order issues earned him the nickname 'Ivor the Terrible'; and, in the mid-1970s, he showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for such initiatives as the liberalization of the divorce laws.

Greenwood's apparent assumption of the mantle of a social conservative distanced him from his old friend Missen who had remained on the left wing of the Liberal Party. For his own part, Greenwood could have claimed that he had not changed, and that popular issues should not be slavishly followed lest they undermine institutions which were of greater long-term value to individuals. He was a conservative in that he opposed change unless an overwhelming and logical case were made out for it. Nevertheless, in 1976 he was looking forward to the opportunities his new portfolio presented for 'fashioning [and] moulding' an improved quality of life for Australians.

In May Greenwood fell gravely ill; two months later he was relieved of his ministerial duties. It was a severe blow for the Liberal Party. There were those who thought that he could have transferred to the House of Representatives and that the office of prime minister was not beyond his reach. While somewhat dour in appearance and sombre in manner, he was highly principled, intelligent and articulate. In whatever cause he took up, he was known for his meticulous research and preparation for debate, his forceful and dogmatic presentation, and his absolute conviction. He did not engage in personal abuse. The strongest remark he made of an opponent was, 'But he means well'. Greenwood was devoted to his family and loyal to his staff. He was a lay preacher at the Church of Christ, Hartwell, Melbourne. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of an acute heart attack with anoxic cerebral complications on 13 October 1976 at Parkville and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hermann, Alan Missen (Canb, 1993)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Oct 1971
  • Age (Melbourne), 26 June 1972, 1 Jan 1976
  • Canberra Times, 14 Oct 1976
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

N. A. Brown, 'Greenwood, Ivor John (1926–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/greenwood-ivor-john-10361/text18349, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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