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Mervyn George (Merv) Everett (1917–1988)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published:

Mervyn George (Merv) Everett (1917-1988), lawyer, politician and judge, was born on 7 October 1917 at Sandy Bay, Hobart, third of four children of William George Everett, clerk, and his wife Cecilia Vida, née Bumford. After leaving Hobart High School, Mervyn was a reporter on the Mercury, then private secretary to Eric Ogilvie, the Tasmanian attorney-general and minister for education. He studied at the University of Tasmania (BA, 1942; LL B, 1947), winning the James Backhouse Walker prize. At Wesley Methodist Church, Hobart, on 11 July 1940 he married Anna Constance Fraser, a typist; they were to have two children before being divorced in May 1953.

On 3 March 1942 Everett enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He performed intelligence duties in Hobart then served with field security sections in Victoria and Queensland, and at Balikpapan, Borneo, and Morotai. Rising to sergeant, he was discharged on 1 March 1946 and became a clerk to the Tasmanian solicitor-general. Admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Tasmania on 2 April 1948, he next practised in a firm which included (Sir) Reginald Wright. In 1951 he established his own practice; he was to take silk in 1964. On 3 July 1953 at Scots Presbyterian Church, Hobart, he married Jenny Murray Taylor, née Williams, a divorcee; they had two children and were divorced in December 1961.

Elected to the House of Assembly in 1964 as an Australian Labor Party member for Denison, Everett was minister for health under Eric Reece until the Labor government was defeated in 1969. He had married Daphne Grace Hall, matron of Royal Hobart Hospital, on 10 December 1965 at the office of the government statist, Melbourne. On Reece’s return to power in 1972, Everett became deputy-premier, attorney-general and minister for the environment, racing and gaming. He was notable for his `voracious appetite for work’, being `always at his best when heavily engaged with legal and legislative business’.

In July 1972 the Lake Pedder Action Committee sought the fiat of Everett as attorney-general to allow litigation to proceed to test whether the inundation of parts of the South-West National Park was contrary to the proclamation establishing it. Reece refused to accept the legitimacy of this request, but Everett disagreed and resigned from the ministry. His duty `was not to decide whether Lake Pedder should be flooded or not, but whether there was a legitimate legal question in the situation which should be resolved in the courts’. Everett returned to office in August, once legislation validating the flooding had been passed, but his relationship with Reece was permanently damaged. In 1975 he was to support a retiring age for Labor members of parliament that was to see Reece resign his office.

Fellow politicians were surprised when Everett stood for the Senate in 1974, the Mercury marvelling at this decision by `the man who has greatly dominated State politics for a decade’. He was elected and, showing the self-confidence of one who had held ministerial office and who believed himself intellectually superior to most colleagues, he quickly settled into the Senate. Of medium height, with thinning hair and bulging eyes, he had various interests, with many of his questions relating to foreign affairs. Unusually for a new senator, he played a major part in the passage of legislation, contributing much insight to debates on trade practices, the family law and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. He also worked on numerous committees.

Everett chaired the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that reported in July 1975 that the Whitlam government’s national compensation bill contained `significant deficiencies’, and recommended that it be reconsidered. A furious Whitlam attacked Everett, declaring his government’s determination to proceed with the legislation, though the bill died with the dissolution of parliament in November. During intense Tasmanian Labor preselection activity, a Senate ticket deadlock was avoided by Everett’s quixotic offer to run in the fifth, and probably doomed, position. He had attacked coalition threats to supply as `the nadir of political perversity’, and his bitterness was evident after his narrow election defeat.

Returning to private practice, Everett was appointed in 1978 a judge of the Supreme Court of Tasmania. He resigned in 1984 to become president of the Inter-State Commission and that year was also appointed to the Federal Court of Australia. In addition, he was chairman (1985-88) of the Constitutional Commission’s advisory committee on trade and national economic management. He retired from the Federal Court and the Inter-State Commission in 1987. In 1988 he was appointed AO.

Merv Everett died on 27 October 1988 in Singapore after a history of heart trouble. He was survived by his wife, the daughter and son of his first marriage and the two daughters of his second marriage. An obituarist in the Australian Law Journal reflected that it was `difficult to think of any other Tasmanian who, with such distinction, served both his State and the Commonwealth of Australia in such a variety of fields, judicial, political, administra­tive and academic’. The University of Tasmania awarded him a posthumous Ph.D. (1992) for his research on the Nuremberg war trials.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Harris and G. Dutton (eds), Sir Henry, Bjelke, Don Baby and Friends (1971)
  • D. Lowe, The Price of Power (1984)
  • W. A. Townsley, Tasmania (1994)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Senate), 21 Oct 1975, p 1302, 1 Nov 1988, p 1681
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1975, vol 11, paper no 142
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 52, no 12, 1978, p 714, vol 63, no 2, 1989, p 143
  • Mercury (Hobart), 2 May 1974, p 1, 15 Dec 1975, p 10, 28 Oct 1988, pp 1, 9
  • Examiner (Launceston), 29 Oct 1988, p 9, 7 Nov 1988, p 7.

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Everett, Mervyn George (Merv) (1917–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 July 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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