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Maloney, James Joseph (1901–1982)

by Phillip Deery

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

James Joseph Maloney (1901-1982), trade unionist, politician and diplomat, was born on 28 July 1901 at Goulburn, New South Wales, son of Mary Ann Pickels, born in New South Wales.  He later stated that James Maloney, baker, was his father.  After leaving Goulburn South Public School at 13, Jim was employed as a messenger boy and apprenticed in 1915 to a local boot factory.  He moved to Sydney in 1920 where he became an amateur boxer and worked in several footwear factories before being forced on to the dole during the Depression.  Jim, a committed Catholic, married Hannah Emily Dent, a boot machinist, on 19 April 1924 at St Michael’s Church of England, Sydney.

In 1915 Maloney had joined the Goulburn branches of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Boot Trade Employees’ Federation.  He became an executive officer (1922) in his union branch, delegate (1930-43) to the Trades and Labor Council of New South Wales and editor (1937-43) of Unity, the union’s journal; he was also State secretary (1932-43), federal president (1940-43) and federal secretary (1943) of the union.

During the Depression when he was a member (1932-33) of the central executive of the State ALP, Maloney was associated with the party’s left wing.  He joined the so-called Inner Unit, an unofficial general council of the ALP socialisation units, that fought against J. T. Lang’s dictatorial control of the State branch of the ALP.  In 1936 Maloney’s group ensured that radio-station 2KY, owned by the Labor Council, did not pass into Lang’s control.

By the time World War II commenced, Maloney had shifted to the right.  In 1941 he won the presidency of the State TLC, decisively defeating the incumbent M. J. R. Hughes, a communist trade-union leader and vice-president of the Hughes-(W. P.) Evans State Labor Party.  Maloney resigned in 1943.  A member of the Legislative Council from August 1941, he was granted leave of absence after Prime Minister John Curtin appointed him Australian minister to the Soviet Union in November 1943.

Maloney’s posting (December 1943-February 1946) caused 'a complete readjustment' of his thinking about the Soviet Union.  His critical views, leaked to the press in June 1945, caused considerable diplomatic embarrassment.  On his return from Russia, shaped by experience and fuelled by Catholicism, Maloney became an active and prominent opponent of the Soviet Union.  In March 1946 he told the Empire Parliamentary Association that Russia was a more extreme totalitarian dictatorship than Nazi Germany.  This theme was subsequently developed in radio programs, public meetings, a series of six feature articles entitled 'Inside Russia Today' for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Herald, and a nationally broadcast debate with the communist trade-union leader Ernie Thornton.  His activities provoked parliamentary debate, press comment and sharp rebuke from both Moscow and the Australian Left.

In 1948 Maloney published the occasionally polemical but essentially accurate Inside Red Russia.  It sought to expose the 'Soviet myth' about superior working conditions and analysed Russia’s oligarchic and repressive political structure.  This influential book was staple reading in Catholic seminaries.  During the bitter 1949 general coal strike, Maloney was part of the ALP 'mission' to the northern coalfields that alleged the strike was a communist conspiracy to destroy the economy.  He was one of the founders of the Australian Committee (Association) for Cultural Freedom.

Maloney served as research officer and assistant arbitration officer (1946-50) and arbitration officer (1950-54) for the State TLC.  In 1946 he returned to the Legislative Council.  Minister without portfolio in 1954-56, he was minister for labour and industry (1956–65) in successive Cahill, Heffron and Renshaw Labor governments and, for five years, deputy-leader (1966–71) of the Opposition in the council.  He was a forceful and persuasive debater:  colleagues described his oratory as 'thunderous', even 'quite violent'.  His deep voice, possibly affected by his heavy smoking, was powerful enough to override interjections at public meetings.

When Maloney resigned from the Legislative Council in February 1972 on the grounds of ill health, he was deemed to have placed himself outside the ALP ostensibly because he had not first obtained permission from the party.  In retirement he provided 'valued' counsel to future ALP leaders, such as Barrie Unsworth, and maintained his interest in boxing, horse racing and rugby league.  Maloney died on 28 January 1982 at Kogarah and was buried in Rookwood cemetery.  Predeceased (1977) by their son, he was survived by his wife and their three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Dodkin, Brothers, 2001
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 16 February 1972, p 4277
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 17 February 1972, p 4307
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 16 February 1982, p 1847
  • Smith’s Weekly, 6 November 1943, p 13
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 November 1943, p 8
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 June 1945, p 4
  • Unity (Australian Boot Trade Employees’ Federation), 15 December 1943, p 2
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 April 1946, p 1
  • A.L.P. Journal, July 1964, p 9

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Citation details

Phillip Deery, 'Maloney, James Joseph (1901–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/maloney-james-joseph-14672/text25809, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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