ASPI lost a good friend and long-time supporter in the Hon Jim Carlton AO, who passed away on Christmas Day 2015. Jim was the personal nominee of then Prime Minister John Howard when appointed to the inaugural ASPI Council in July 2001. Jim was a voice of practical good sense on the Council for seven years stepping down in late 2008.
Professor Robert O’Neill, ASPI’s first Council Chairman observed that ‘Jim Carlton’s death is a major loss to the nation. He was such an able and sensible political leader. He did much to help ASPI in its early years, not least through his knowledge of Canberra politics and his access to the most senior members of the Government.’ ASPI’s current Chair, Stephen Loosley, was the Leader of the Opposition’s nominee to the first Council. He saw Jim as a friend and a steady, thoughtful contributor through the early years of ASPI’s consolidation.
Jim was elected to the Australian House of Representatives at the 1977 election for the seat of Mackellar and was Minister for Health from May 1982 to March 1983 when the Fraser Government lost office. Jim held a number of shadow minister positions in Opposition, including for Defence from 1989 to 1990, resigning from Parliament in January 1994.
My first personal connection with Jim Carlton was in his shadow defence minister role. He was a reformist by nature with deep interests in organisational design and using practical business-like strategies to improve Defence management and decision-making. Within the Liberal Party Jim had a well-deserved reputation for putting some harder intellectual spine into policy thinking on economics and government administration. After years of policy drift Jim’s dry economic approach helped create the intellectual platform for John Hewson’s Fightback policies. No political party in opposition has since had such a thorough-going commitment to the policy as opposed to the theatre of politics.
For all of his intellectual sharpness Jim Carleton was not a zealot. He was well respected and liked by all sides of politics as a thoroughly decent man, someone who was pleasant to young staffers and Cabinet ministers alike. He had a rare capacity to listen and was interested in all the ideas and people around him.
Jim stayed in close and regular contact with ASPI staff well into 2015. He cared about the organisation and its people, just as he had a career-long passion to improve the quality of policy making throughout government. We will miss him.