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Little, John Albert (1914–1988)

by Harry Evans

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

John Albert Little (1914-1988), trade unionist and politician, was born on 13 October 1914 at Maryborough, Victoria, fourth child of John Richard Little, boot salesman, and his wife Elizabeth Florence, née Terry, both born in Victoria.  Educated at East Brunswick and Thornbury state schools, Jack gained employment in the shoe manufacturing industry and joined the Boot Trade Employees’ Federation.  He was Victorian president in 1944-45.  As treasurer in 1948-54, he was a full-time union official.  On 10 September 1938 at North Richmond Methodist Church he had married Ila Elizabeth Clark, a photographic examiner.  Delegate to the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Australian Labor Party conferences, he rose to become federal vice-president of the union.  In 1952 he won a Commonwealth Bank of Australia travelling scholarship, and spent six months studying industrial matters in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Britain, Europe and the United States of America.

Having joined the Northcote branch of the ALP in 1940, Little was State president in 1953-54.  In 1954 he won a by-election for the Victorian Legislative Council in Melbourne North Province.  He belonged to Labor’s militant anti-communist wing and was active in the industrial groups, which sought to limit communist influence in the party.  The source of his politics lay, however, in evangelical Protestantism, rather than the Catholicism of the 'groupers'.  His well-known rapid-firing, energetic and articulate debating style was more often exercised against communists and their sympathisers than against the party’s conservative opponents.

In the Labor split of 1955, Little was one of twenty-four Victorian members of State and Federal parliaments expelled from the ALP and one of two Protestants who helped to form the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist).  This became the Democratic Labor Party with Little as its leader in the Legislative Council.

Defeated in the election of 1958, Little bought into a newsagency at Reservoir and remained active in the new party.  He narrowly missed out on election to the Senate in 1958, and unsuccessfully contested State and Federal elections from 1961 until finally elected to the Senate in 1967.  He was the first DLP candidate to gain a quota in his own right.  In the Senate, Little spoke vigorously on anti-communism and moral standards.  He gained much publicity for attacks on pornography, homosexuality and immorality among university students.  Like his party colleagues, he supported federalism and the rights of parliament against the executive.  His term as a senator was shortened by the 1974 double dissolution, in which the DLP was swept away.  After an attempt to gain re-election in 1975, he retired from politics.

Little was of stocky build, with an intense, nervous energy and a somewhat overwhelming voice when 'wound up'.  He was a keen fisherman, a racehorse owner and a trustee of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.  Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 25 November 1988 at Preston and was cremated with Anglican rites.  The leader of the Labor government in the Senate moved the customary condolence motion, but no other party members spoke; the old feud had not been forgotten.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties, 1970
  • F. McManus, The Tumult and the Shouting, 1977
  • Parliamentary Debates (Senate), 30 November 1988, p 3137
  • Unity (Australian Boot Trade Employees' Federation), 15 March 1948, p 14
  • Unity (Australian Boot Trade Employees' Federation), 15 May 1952, p 7
  • Australian Democratic Labor, November 1958, p 2
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 November 1967, p 5

Citation details

Harry Evans, 'Little, John Albert (1914–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/little-john-albert-14293/text25358, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 September 2019.

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

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