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Senator John Button
, 1987

by Andrew Sibley

oil on canvas

John Button (1933-2008), Labor politician, studied arts and law at the University of Melbourne and made his name as a barrister in Melbourne before becoming involved in the Victorian branch of the Labor Party in the late 1950s. Over the next decade he endeavoured along with a group of other moderates to move the branch from the left to the middle ground. In 1974 he was elected to the Senate. Deputy Labor Leader and then Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1977, in the leadup to the 1983 election he helped to engineer Bob Hawke's accession to the leadership. That year, he began a ten-year stint as Minister for Industry and Commerce, during which he pressed through far-reaching industrial reforms. After his retirement in 1993 he continued to influence the party while teaching at Monash University and writing the hit memoir As it Happened (1998). Just before his death, political commentator Alan Ramsey described Button as 'the best Prime Minister we never had'.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 1999
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 1999.38