Former NSW premier Bob Carr says Neville Wran could have been prime minister if it wasn’t for Bob Hawke.
Mr Wran died in Sydney on Sunday aged 87 after a long battle with dementia.
Mr Carr on Monday hailed his predecessor as one of Labor’s greatest leaders, saying Mr Wran could have been prime minister but didn’t want to contest Mr Hawke for the Labor leadership, preferring to remain premier.
“Neville might have beaten Bob Hawke for the federal Labor leadership, but I think he was very reluctant to give up running NSW,” he told reporters in Sydney on Monday.
“He relished the use of power in good causes, and you don’t surrender that easily for the prospect of being marooned in opposition in Canberra.”
Mr Carr, who surpassed Mr Wran’s record for the longest continuous service as NSW premier, said working under him as a Cabinet minister had shaped his own approach to politics.
“To sit at a cabinet meeting and watch him at work, to have him interrogate you as a minister, was an education in how a crafty, alert, earthy, political mind was roaming over the landscape.”
As premier, Mr Wran’s greatest achievements included saving the rainforest in northern NSW and putting conservation on the political agenda, said Mr Carr.
The lowest point, however, was a Royal Commission in 1983, which examined allegations he tried to influence a magistrate over a misappropriation hearing against rugby league boss Kevin Humphreys.
Even though he was cleared, it hung over the Wran government.
“He was stung by that. He was hurt by it. He was like a wounded lion in the parliament – but still magnificent,” said Mr Carr.
He said Mr Wran was generally non-abrasive, but also someone who wasn’t afraid to say what he thought.
“I remember his cheeky humour, and sometimes his foul mouth, especially when he was pulling a minister into line,” recalled Mr Carr.
He described the former premier’s battle with dementia as a blow to Mr Wran’s renowned intellect.
“He was aware it was happening to him, which is very sad. He told a friend that he felt it close on him like a cloud.”