Former Labor leader Nev Warburton dies aged 86
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Former Labor leader Nev Warburton dies aged 86

Electrician Nev Warburton, who led the Australian Labor Party in Queensland in the 1980s, died on the Sunshine Coast on the weekend.

He was 86.

Mr Warburton was the member for Sandgate and leader of the Queensland opposition from 1984 to 1988 and served a minister in the Goss ministry from 1989 to 1992.

Queensland's opposition leader Nev Warburton during a media conference in 1987.

Queensland's opposition leader Nev Warburton during a media conference in 1987.

Photo: SN

Mr Warburton was opposition leader when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was Queensland’s premier and during the controversial SEQEB strike.

At that time, the South East Queensland Electrical Generating Board — who wanted to be able to employ cheaper casual staff — sacked 1000 Electrical Trades Union staff.

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He was the Member for Sandgate from 1977 to 1992 and one of Labor's "Old Guard" MPs on the Trades and Labor Council, the representative body for Queensland's affiliated unions until 1999.

Mr Warburton made way for Wayne Goss after Labor's unsuccessful 1986 election, which he ran on a platform that included introducing random breath testing and a ban on uranium mining.

When Mr Goss became premier in 1989, Mr Warburton became employment, training and industrial relations minister.

In 1991, he became police minister until he retired from Parliament in September 1992.

Current Sandgate MP Stirling Hinchliffe said he met Mr Warburton many times before he himself decided to stand for the seat.

He told of asking Mr Warburton's advice as he first sought preselection.

"I sought Nev out to have a talk to him and ask for his blessing, so to speak," Mr Hinchliffe said.

"He was long retired and up the Sunshine Coast by that stage and he told me, 'Young man you don't need my blessing if you have the numbers'.

"He was very practical in that sense, but he did wish me well and he did encourage me in the party's return in those days of the Newman government when he wanted us to return.

"I remember him being a very approachable and down-to-earth man in the community but holding important offices of state, including police minister in the Goss government.

"That was still in the post-Fitzgerald reform time, with the implementation of new practices and standards in the Queensland Police Force, and he took that role very seriously.

"He was just a good man, a very good man."

Dick Williams was an ETU organiser, later ETU state secretary and ALP state president during Mr Warburton's, or "Warby's", time.

"He was one of the most humane people I ever met," Mr Williams said.

"He was a man who was extremely humble, but he was extremely dedicated to his principles and his causes," he said.

Mr Williams said Mr Warburton was involved in the early debates about staff contracting and became assistant secretary with the ETU before entering politics.

"He led the ALP opposition in the crucial time during the SEQEB strike in 1985," he said.

When Labor returned to office under Wayne Goss, Mr Warburton, as employment and industrial relations minister, returned conditions that electricians had before the SEQEB strike, Mr Williams said.

"He then repealed all of the anti-worker legislation that the Bjelke-Petersen government had imposed on the electricity industry," he said.

"This is why he was made a life member of the ETU."

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk tweeted her respects for Mr Warburton at noon, thanking him for a "lifetime of public service".

Goss government attorney-general Dean Wells first met Mr Warburton when the site for a new train station at Carseldine was announced around 1984, when Mr Wells was federal MP for Petrie.

"He came up to me and shook my hand and introduced himself — 'Hi, I'm Nev Warburton' — as if I wouldn't know he was the leader of the opposition," Mr Wells said.

"He was a very modest man. He was humble and I always had the deepest respect for him."

Mr Wells, who later held the nearby state seat of Murrumba from 1986 to 2012, said the news was a "sad passing".

"He was a Labor leader and a great man. He cared about those in need and he dedicated his life to making a fairer and more equitable society," he said.

"As employment minister, he introduced many humane reforms which enormously benefited the people of Queensland."

His son, Ross Warburton, said his father was a champion schoolboy boxer, tennis player and an A-grade rugby league player as a young man, playing for Norths in the 1950s and 1960s. He finished his sports career as a lawn bowler representing Queensland in 1975, 1989 and as a member of the state fours in 1994.

Former Queensland Opposition Leader Nev Warburton in his rugby league playing days in Brisbane. Mr Warburton played for Brisbane in the Bulimba Cup against Ipswich.

Former Queensland Opposition Leader Nev Warburton in his rugby league playing days in Brisbane. Mr Warburton played for Brisbane in the Bulimba Cup against Ipswich.

Photo: Supplied Ross Warburton.

"He actually played with Clive Churchill, whom they called 'the little master'. Clive played with Norths for a year towards the end of his career and Dad was in that team.

"He was always into helping workers' rights, right from when he was an organiser with the Electrical Trades Union," Mr Warburton said of his father.

"He was also an alderman in Brisbane City Council. He was elected in 1976 and it was unusual because he had one term and it overlapped with his state politics career," he said.

"In those days you could do both, because in 1977 he was elected the Member for Sandgate.

"Almost everyone I have spoken to has described him as an honest, straight-talking man with a steely determination."

Mr Warburton has two daughters, Kym and Sandy, and two grandchildren.

Mr Warburton's funeral will be held at the Gregson and Weight funeral home at 159 Wises Road in Buderim on Tuesday from 1pm.