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Missen, Alan Joseph (1925–1986)

by Anton Hermann

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

Alan Joseph Missen (1925-1986), solicitor and politician, was born on 22 July 1925 at Kew, Melbourne, only child of Victorian-born Clifford Athol Missen, moulder, and his wife Ethel Violet Maud, née Bartley, born in New South Wales. Educated at Kew Primary and Box Hill and Melbourne High schools, Alan joined the United Australia Party in 1943. He attended the University of Melbourne (LL.B, 1946; LL.M, 1947), where he was active in the Liberal Club. A foundation member of the Liberal Party of Australia, he joined the Kew branch in 1946. Admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Victoria on 1 April 1948, he worked with Roy Schilling, solicitor. In 1971 he became a senior partner of Schilling Missen & Impey.

As vice-president of the Young Liberal and Country Movement in 1951, Missen opposed, with a small group of other Liberal Party members, the referendum proposal of Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies to outlaw the Communist Party of Australia. His article in the Argus in August that year, when he objected to the use of totalitarian methods to restrict the traditional freedoms of a democratic country, caused a furore in the party and his temporary suspension. The referendum was narrowly defeated and Missen’s defiance caused him to be effectively overlooked for Liberal preselection for the next two decades. He was a member (1955-67) of the Victorian executive of the Liberal Party and helped to form the Young Liberal Movement (patron 1982-84).

On 4 May 1963 at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Victories, Camberwell, he married Mary Martha (Mollie) Anchen, a schoolteacher and a brilliant debater and public speaker. President (1958-60) of the Debaters Association of Victoria, and co-author of The Australian Debater (1963), Alan Missen was national president (1964-68) of the Australian Debating Federation.

After the 1972 defeat of the Federal Liberal government, the Victorian branch underwent substantial changes. In 1973 Missen was elected vice-president of the Victorian division on the same ticket as the president, Peter Hardie. Chairman (1972-74) of the party’s State platform committee, he had a mandate to revise the political platform for the first time since 1952. In 1973 the Victorian State executive placed him high on the Senate ticket and he was elected in 1974. At the time, a journalist, Alan Trengove, speculated whether Missen had learned ‘the art of political compromise’ or whether his party had ‘simply come to terms with his brand of liberalism’.

In his maiden speech on trade practices legislation, Missen showed his close attention to detail and interest in law reform. During the 1975 constitutional crisis, he opposed the Senate’s withholding of supply from the government, although he reluctantly voted with the Opposition on procedural issues. An activist back-bencher and champion of the Senate committee process, he was chairman of the Senate standing committees on constitutional and legal affairs (1976-83), on regulations and ordinances (1978-80) and on scrutiny of bills (1982-83). He served on the joint select committee on the Family Law Act (1978-80), as deputy-chairman (1984-86) of the joint statutory committee on the National Crime Authority and as a national vice-president of the International Commission of Jurists; he had been able to influence the passage of freedom of information and other legislation.

Missen believed in the value of individual human rights and civil liberties. Independent and persistent in pursuing his ideals, he crossed the floor forty-one times. Chairman of the Australian parliamentary group of Amnesty International (1978-80, 1983-86) and an outspoken supporter of the Human Rights Commission, he was active in Aboriginal affairs. He took an interest in environmental issues, particularly the Great Barrier Reef, and he spoke out against the building of Tasmania’s Franklin River dam; he was the long-time honorary solicitor for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

In Opposition from 1983, Missen was among a small and shrinking band of small ‘l’ Liberals. He found himself increasingly isolated as a new generation of economic reformers took control of the party in Victoria and elsewhere across Australia. As a supporter of Andrew Peacock during the mid-1980s, he was further alienated when John Howard replaced Peacock as Liberal leader in 1985; that year he wrote an unpublished paper about the direction of the Liberal Party, entitled ‘The Winter of Our Discontent’.

Warm, gentle, tolerant and humble, Missen was a man of principle. Described by the Australian Labor Party minister for science, Barry Jones, as ‘robust and full fleshed’, he was gaunt in his last years. He enjoyed playing tennis, golf and contract bridge. Survived by his wife, he died of diabetes and coronary artery disease on 29 March 1986 at his home at Balwyn, Melbourne, and was buried in Templestowe cemetery. He had no children. The ALP minister for resources and energy, Senator Gareth Evans, described him as ‘absolutely, unequivocally and uncompromisingly an idealist—right over at the far, idealistic end of the political spectrum’. He is commemorated by the Alan Missen Foundation and two annual memorial lectures, organised by the Amnesty International parliamentary group and the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties (Liberty Victoria).

Select Bibliography

  • A. Hermann, Alan Missen (1993)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Senate), 8 Apr 1986, p 1393
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), 8 Apr 1986, p 1783
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 29 Aug 1973, p 8
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 Mar 1986, p 1 and 11, 9 Apr 1986 p 16
  • T. Miller, interview with A. Missen (typescript, 1980, National Library of Australia)
  • A. Missen papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Anton Hermann, 'Missen, Alan Joseph (1925–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/missen-alan-joseph-14975/text26164, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 May 2019.

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

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