Laurie Brereton

Laurence John "Laurie" Brereton (born 29 May 1946) is a former Australian politician who was a state minister, a federal member of cabinet, and kingmaker in the election of several Australian Labor Party leaders, including Paul Keating and Mark Latham. He was a Labor member of the Australian House of Representatives from March 1990 to October 2004, representing the Division of Kingsford Smith, New South Wales. He is credited with building Sydney's controversial monorail.[1]

Laurie Brereton
Laurie Brereton in 2016. Photo by Rob Keating
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Kingsford-Smith
In office
24 March 1990  31 August 2004
Preceded byLionel Bowen
Succeeded byPeter Garrett
Personal details
Born (1946-05-29) 29 May 1946
Kensington, New South Wales
Political partyAustralian Labor Party
Spouse(s)Tricia Kavanagh
RelationsDeirdre Grusovin (sister)

Early life

Brereton was born in the Sydney suburb of Kensington, and was educated at De La Salle Catholic College, Coogee, now defunct. He was apprenticed and worked as an electrical tradesman to the Sydney County Council, a former council-owned retailer of electricity in inner Sydney.[2]

Political career

New South Wales politics

He survived the political controversy of the Botany Council affair in the mid-'70s when he was accused of attempting to influence ALP aldermen who were considering an application to rezone a block of land. He and Geoffrey Cahill, then Labor's NSW general secretary (and son of former Premier Joseph Cahill), appeared in court on bribery and conspiracy charges but after 17 days of hearings and evidence from high-powered witnesses, including Rupert Murdoch, all charges were thrown out.[3]

Brereton served in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as member for Randwick 1970–71 and Heffron 1973–90. In the governments led by Neville Wran and (from 1986) Barrie Unsworth, Brereton was Minister for Health 1981–84, Minister for Roads 1983–84 and 1984–87, Minister for Public Works 1984–87 and Minister for Employment 1984.[2] He was instrumental in allowing the monorail in Sydney to be built, and opposed the development of a light rail project.

Federal politics

Upon switching to the federal Parliament, Brereton was Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister 1991–93, Minister for Industrial Relations 1993–96, Minister for Transport 1993–96, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters 1993. In March 1996 the ALP government lost office to John Howard.

Brereton was a member of the Opposition Shadow Ministry 1996–2001 serving as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Assisted by his adviser, Dr Philip Dorling, Brereton was instrumental in revising Federal Labor policy to support self-determination and independence for East Timor. Brereton was a vocal critic of Howard, who supported East Timor's continued integration in Indonesia. He was also strongly critical of the performance of past Labor Governments, in particular Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who acquiesced to Indonesia's intentions to invade East Timor in 1975.

During 1998 and 1999 Brereton highlighted evidence of the Indonesian military's involvement in pro-integrationist violence in East Timor and was a strident advocate of United Nations peacekeeping to support East Timor's independence ballot. Brereton was a member of the Australian Parliamentary observer mission that witnessed the conduct of the ballot.

Brereton's break from previous Australian bipartisanship on East Timor policy was an important factor in the Howard Government's eventual decision to change Australian policy and intervene in East Timor in September 1999. According to historian and former Australian Army officer Clinton Fernandes, "The ALP's change of policy – and the resulting pressure of the [Australian] Government – was a critical factor in the independence of East Timor."[4] Brereton's activism on the East Timor issue was strongly opposed by senior Labor political figures, notably Whitlam and former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and found little support from Federal Labor leader Kim Beazley. However Beazley was reluctant to challenge Brereton's handling of the issue and eventually accepted the change in Labor policy. Following controversy in 1999 over leaked Australian intelligence reports relating to East Timor and the Indonesian military, Australian Federal Police and Defence Security agents raided Dr Dorling's home in September 2000, but no classified material was found.

Taking into account his service in the New South Wales Parliament, Brereton had the longest period of parliamentary service of any member of the Parliament elected in 2001. In June 2004 he announced his retirement from politics at the 2004 federal election. He helped engineer the candidacy of the rock singer Peter Garrett as his successor in the seat.

His wife, Justice Tricia Kavanagh, sits on the Industrial Relations Commission of New South Wales. They have two sons. Brereton is the younger brother of Deirdre Grusovin.


  1. Saulwick, Jacob (18 June 2013). "Never the rail deal". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  2. "The Hon. (Laurie) Laurence John Brereton (1946– )". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  3. Totaro, Paola (14 June 2004). "Brereton's last revenge". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 April 2007.
  4. Fernandes, Clinton (2004). Reluctant Saviour: Australia, Indonesia and the independence of East Timor. Melbourne: Scribe. p. 32.
New South Wales Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Lionel Bowen
Member for Randwick
Succeeded by
Seat abolished
Preceded by
New seat
Member for Heffron
Succeeded by
Deirdre Grusovin
Political offices
Preceded by
Kevin Stewart
New South Wales Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Ron Mulock
Preceded by
No portfolio
Minister for Employment
Succeeded by
Bob Debus
Preceded by
Laurie Ferguson
Minister for Public Works
Succeeded by
Peter Cox
Preceded by
Rex Jackson
Minister for Roads
Succeeded by
Wal Murray
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Lionel Bowen
Member for Kingsford Smith
Succeeded by
Peter Garrett
Political offices
Preceded by
Peter Cook
Minister for Industrial Relations
Succeeded by
Peter Reith
Preceded by
Bob Collins
Minister for Transport
Succeeded by
John Sharp
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