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Mal Colston, Venal Politician, Labor Rat, Dead At 65

Mal Colston, the former Labor senator, whose name has become synonymous with politicians’ rorts, has died, aged 65.


Colston was elected to the Senate in 1975 and sat as an undistinguished backbencher until 1999. He resigned from the ALP in 1997 after failing to secure nomination for the deputy presidency of the Senate. His vote gave John Howard the majority he needed to pass legislation to privatise Telstra.

Following his departure from the Senate following the 1998 election, Colston faced 28 charges relating to travel rorts. On medical advice that he had only months to live, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the charges in 1999.

There have been intermittent calls for the charges to be reinstated, but two weeks ago the current DPP, Damian Bugg QC, said Colston’s condition was deteriorating and no further charges would be brought. Colston reportedly had cancer of the bile duct.

Colston’s inglorious political career began in the shadow of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. When the Queensland Labor Senator, Bert Milliner, died in 1975, Colston was the ALP’s nominee to replace him in the Senate. The then Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, refused to accept the ALP’s nomination of Colston and appointed Albert Patrick Field to the vacancy.

Field was dedicated in his opposition to the Whitlam Government. Together with a similar flouting of convention by the NSW government, his appointment led directly to the blocking of Supply in the Senate and the dismissal of the Whitlam by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, on November 11, 1975.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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