Neville Wran has been remembered as one of the country’s greatest politicians, with Labor veteran Bob Carr saying the former NSW premier could have become prime minister.
Mr Carr, who overtook Mr Wran’s record as NSW’s longest continuous serving premier, believes the boy from Balmain could have been the country’s leader.
“Neville might have beaten Bob Hawke for the federal Labor leadership, but I think he was very reluctant to give up running NSW,” Mr Carr 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 Hawke said he was saddened by Mr Wran’s death, praising him for the “enormous contribution” he made to NSW.
“Aside from that, he was a very important part of the councils of the Labor party nationally, always ensuring the ALP was relevant to the challenges of the time,” he told AAP.
Despite being put into power by the NSW Right, Mr Wran was “never captive” to the factions, Mr Hawke said.
“He was a pragmatist, his own man. We have much to thank him for.”
Mr Wran, who led the state between 1976 and 1986, died in Sydney on Sunday aged 87 after a long battle with dementia.
As premier, his 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.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott described Mr Wran as one of the most significant figures of his generation.
“Neville Wran made his mark on NSW and Australia,” he said on Monday.
Mr Abbott’s communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, was more effusive, saying he couldn’t have asked for a better friend and colleague in Mr Wran.
“He was able to achieve a lot in NSW – to do a lot – and at the same time maintain high levels of popularity,” Mr Turnbull told ABC radio on Monday.
“He was not an old person in the way he thought about things. He was always a lateral thinker and very much focused on getting something done.
“This was the distinctive thing about Neville as a politician. He got into politics to do things, and he did.”
Mr Wran’s wife, Jill Hickson, said death had come as a blessed release for her husband; “a great man, a true political hero”.
NSW Premier Mike Baird said Mr Wran was a towering figure in the NSW Labor Party and in the state during the 1970s and 80s.
“His legacy is positive and lasting,” he said.
Mr Baird confirmed that the Wran family had accepted the offer of a state funeral.
The date and location of the service will be announced in coming days.
“It is an entirely fitting tribute to a man who has left his mark on this state,” Mr Baird added.
NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson described Mr Wran as a giant of the Labor Party and one of the great leaders of his party and the state.