Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Landa, David Paul (Paul) (1941–1984)

by Rodeny Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

David Paul Landa (1941-1984), solicitor, barrister and politician, was born on 29 May 1941 at Camperdown, Sydney, third of four children of Maurice Landa, a grocer born at Belfast, Ireland, and his Polish-born wife Fay (Frania), née Tyk.  He was named David Henry.  Abram Landa was his uncle.  Maurice Landa died when David was 8.  His mother subsequently took in boarders and did piece-work.  Educated at Kogarah Boys’ Intermediate and Sydney Boys’ High schools, he studied law at the University of Sydney (LL.B, 1965).  Admitted as a solicitor on 24 July 1964, he joined J. R. McClelland & Co. in 1965, becoming a partner in 1971.  He was admitted to the Bar on 1 August 1975.  Landa had married Annika (Anne) Veronica Sendro, a Hungarian-born chemist, on 17 December 1967 at the North Shore Synagogue, Lindfield.  In public life, he used the name Paul to distinguish himself from his cousin David Landa, a lawyer who later became the New South Wales Ombudsman.

At the age of 18 Landa had joined the Australian Labor Party.  Through his work at McClelland’s he became part of a notable circle of labour lawyers, which included a future premier, Neville Wran.  In April 1973 Landa was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council.  After the ALP’s 1976 election victory, he became the leader of the government in the Legislative Council; it was believed at the time that he was the youngest ever.  He held this position, and the vice-presidency of the Executive Council, almost concurrently for nearly eight years.  By piloting the government’s reforms through a chamber in which the Opposition held a majority, he enhanced his political reputation.  The journalist Gavin Souter saw him as possessing 'pugnacious drive' and 'restless energy', his talking having 'the same restless quality: witty, irreverent and habitually scatological'.

Until October 1978 Landa was the only minister in the Legislative Council; he held the portfolios of industrial relations (May-August 1976) and of planning and environment (1976-80).  In the latter role he oversaw the extension of national parks and nature reserves, the protection of historic buildings and the planning reforms contained in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979, and four accompanying Acts.  These changes raised his public standing but soured his relations with some caucus and cabinet colleagues, as did his evident ambition to become premier and his often impatient and abrasive manner.

Landa served as minister for education (1980-81), and for energy and for water resources (1981-83), before becoming attorney-general, and minister of justice and for consumer affairs in February 1983.  His reform program as attorney-general was overshadowed by his responsibility for handling corruption allegations against Wran and other Labor figures.  Apart from the deputy-premier, Jack Ferguson, Landa was the minister closest to Wran.  He was widely believed to be Wran’s favoured successor, although the premier publicly prevaricated on the issue.  In March 1984 Landa won the Legislative Assembly seat of Peats.  He was appointed QC on 19 November 1984.

As a non-religious Jew, Landa was unwilling to become involved in Jewish community affairs; however, he did play for the Maccabi A-grade tennis team.  He was also a keen swimmer and runner, and he enjoyed theatre and music.  Survived by his wife and their daughter, he died of coronary artery disease on 24 November 1984 at Darlinghurst after a game of tennis.  He was buried in the Jewish section of the Northern Suburbs cemetery following a funeral at the Chevra Kadisha, Woollahra.  Wran and his government were deeply unsettled by the loss of the youthful minister.  After Landa’s death, public allegations emerged that he had taken bribes but police investigations into these claims petered out for lack of conclusive evidence.  The New South Wales government established the David Paul Landa memorial scholarship for pianists in recognition of his support for the arts.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Steketee and M. Cockburn, Wran, 1986
  • D. Clune and G. Griffith, Decision and Deliberation, 2006
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 59, no 2, 1985, p 127
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 1976, p 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 May 1976, p 6
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 1984, p 4
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August 1988, p 7
  • Bulletin, 27 May 1980, p 22

Citation details

Rodeny Smith, 'Landa, David Paul (Paul) (1941–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/landa-david-paul-paul-14142/text25153, published in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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