Don Day opens the childcare centre of the School of Arts in South Grafton in 1997.
Don Day opens the childcare centre of the School of Arts in South Grafton in 1997.

Don Day battled barriers

IN his retirement, Don Day was often told by the people of the Clarence Valley that he was the best MP they ever had.

Forging an affiliation with the Labor Party during his childhood in the Depression years, Day resolved from an early age to help the worker and the disadvantaged, and went on to become the first long-term Labor MP between Newcastle and the Queensland border and a champion of the sugar, dairy, beef and timber industries.

He staged one of the biggest political upsets of the time, rising from political obscurity to win the traditional safe Country Party seat of Casino for the Labor Party in 1971; a seat he retained for five terms.

It was an election that saw a 25 per cent swing against the Askin government, an election the political pundits said he should never have won. But Day put his heart and soul into it and was victorious.

Day was well known in Maclean local government and had spent 19 years on local council as deputy shire president, as the chairman of the Lower Clarence County Council and on the Maclean hospital board; but this was his first foray into state politics.

He had thrown himself into community life in Maclean with his new wife Marie after serving in South East Asia in the RAAF during WWII; ran a successful Ford dealership that employed 22 people at its height while developing an interest in agriculture on his hobby farm on the outskirts of Maclean.

Initially entering government in opposition during the reign of Premier Bob Askin, Day would go on to secure his seat time and again, gaining 60 per cent of the primary vote in the Maclean area and preferential votes from his Country party opponent in the 1973 election and was, according to his son Bill Day, instrumental in the 1976 election victory for Neville Wran.

During the Wran years he held the office of Minister For Agriculture, Minister For Decentralisation and various other portfolios and has been credited as saving the NSW sugar industry in the late 1970s when CSR announced it was walking out on the three mills in the Northern Rivers.

“If you’re going to scrap the mills, we’ll give you scrap for them,” he said at CRS’s proposal to sell off the mills’ equipment to the Queensland sugar industry.

As agriculture minister he abolished the bulk milk quotas (BMQ’s) that were crippling the northern NSW dairy industry and enabled their access to the Sydney milk market, only to be disappointed in his later years to see NSW decimated by the Victorian dairy industry.

The last of his great battles would be his greatest defeat, and lead to an irreparable war with Wran and Day’s retirement in 1984 at 60 years of age.

“He had had as many fights within the Labor party as outside, but if you had him on your side you had him 150 per cent,” Bill Day said.

Day had fought “tooth and nail” for the timber industry, lobbied ministers and arranged protests over the establishment of NSW national parks at Washpool and Terania Creek (Nightcap National Park).

It was a fight that put him at loggerheads with the conservation groups within the Labor Party, but Day did manage to obtain compromises and concessions for the logging industry.

“He took it hard and called it a day,” Bill Day said.

Don Day died on Tuesday at home, aged 86.

He is survived by his wife Marie and three children Jenny, Bill and Sue

A funeral will be held on Monday at the Church of England in Maclean at 1pm.

His family welcomed the community to attend.

“Without a doubt the community is welcome; Dad was the community,” Bill Day said.

“The biggest problem with Dad when we were growing up was that everyone wanted access to him.

“The community were his wider family and the needs of his constituents always came ahead of politics.

“He always did what was best for the local community and was a courageous and passionate campaigner that never gave an inch.”

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