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Maxwell Greayer Cooke (1898–1989)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

Maxwell Greayer Cooke (1898-1989), insurance manager, was born on 31 December 1898 in Perth, son of William Ernest Cooke, government astronomer, and his wife Jessie Elizabeth, née Greayer, who were both born in South Australia. In 1912 Maxwell moved with his family to Sydney and completed his schooling at Sydney Grammar School. From 1917 to 1920 he studied economics at the University of Sydney (B.Ec., 1921).

Cooke devoted his entire life to the insurance industry. He began work with the Mutual Life & Citizens’ Assurance Co. Ltd in Sydney in 1917 and after appointments as branch manager of the Commonwealth General Assurance Corporation Ltd in Adelaide and of Commonwealth Life (Amalgamated) Assurances Ltd in Perth in 1928, he was appointed branch manager of the Prudential Assurance Co. Ltd in Adelaide in 1933. In New South Wales the government had been involved with insurance in a small way from 1911 through its Treasury Fire Insurance Board (from 1917 Treasury Insurance Board). The Government Insurance Office was established in 1926 to cater for the business generated by the Workers’ Compensation Act, 1926, which had been bitterly opposed by private insurance companies. The Government Insurance (Amendment) Act, 1941, introduced by the McKell Labor government, allowed the GIO, as a corporate body, to expand its business to include all forms of insurance. Cooke became general manager on 16 November 1942.

Bringing to the GIO an extensive knowledge of all types of insurance, Cooke helped the organisation to enter the life assurance field. The GIO was less successful, however, in the contentious field of third-party (motor vehicle) insurance that private firms generally shunned. Between February 1943 and December 1953, after underwriting nearly 70 per cent of the State’s third-party business, it lost £1.1 million. Blaming this loss on the four-person jury system that made disproportionately high awards for `pain and suffering’ and press publicity of these large awards, Cooke advocated `some sort of stability’ in the scale of awards so that insurers could fix premiums with some notion of how much they could expect to pay claimants. By mid-1959, with 82 per cent of the State’s third-party business, the GIO had an accumulated loss of £4.5 million. Cooke’s view was that `if motorists were careless in the control of their vehicles, they must expect to pay compensation. If this compensation exceeds the total of insurance premiums, the premiums must be increased’. The government substantially increased premiums in late 1959. Cooke claimed that the GIO was not less efficient in its claims settlements than other insurers and ran its third-party business at an expense rate of 3-4 per cent, `by far the lowest in Australia’. In June 1959 he opposed any change in the law that prevented husbands and wives from suing each other.

The losses, however, on third-party were more than offset by profits in other types of insurance, and Cooke could justly claim to have `constantly done everything possible to keep down the costs of all classes of insurance’. On his retirement on 31 July 1962, GIO had 91 per cent of the third-party business and was one of Australia’s leading life companies with total assets under management exceeding £50 million. Later that year he became general manager of Security Life Assurances Ltd. He had been appointed OBE in 1959.

A director of Coal Mines Insurance Pty Ltd, and a member of the Mine Subsidence Board and the Actuarial Society of Australasia, Cooke was also involved in the management and regulation of the insurance industry; in 1954 he was president of the Insurance Institute of New South Wales. A fellow of the Australian Insurance Institute, he served as president in 1962. Tennis and bowls were his main recreations; he belonged to the Double Bay Bowling Club, the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Tattersall’s Club, Sydney.

Cooke had married Georgina Liggins Rankin, née Denning, a divorcee, on 21 April 1928 at North Unley, Adelaide. Following her death he married with Anglican rites Dulcima Gladys Anthony, a secretary, on 8 October 1954 at the Church of St John the Baptist, Milson’s Point. There were no children of either marriage. Survived by his wife, he died on 7 June 1989 at Surry Hills and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. C. Gray, Life Insurance in Australia (1977)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Aug 1942, p 4, 15 Dec 1953, p 3, 16 Dec 1953, p 10, 5 June 1959, p 1, 9 June 1959, p 13, 1 Oct 1959, p 6, 7 Nov 1959, p 2, 10 Oct 1961, p 2, 24 May 1962, p 11, 1 Aug 1962, p 8
  • Security, June 1945, p 4, Jan 1950, p 47
  • Journal (Incorporated Australian Insurance Institute), vol 40, 1962-63, p 5
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 13 June 1989, p 34.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Cooke, Maxwell Greayer (1898–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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