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Sir Magnus Cameron Cormack KBE

Bryan Wyndham Westwood (1930-2000), Magnus Corman Cormack (detail), 1973, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection. View full image

President, 17 August 1971 to 11 April 1974
Liberal Party of Australia

Born in Scotland in 1906, Magnus Cormack (1906-1994) emigrated to SA with his family at the age of six. After attending St Peter’s College in Adelaide, he worked as a production manager for the Holden motor company and then as a dairy farmer before becoming a grazier in the Wimmera district of Victoria. Politicised by his experience of the Depression and in the AIF during World War II, Cormack joined the newly-founded Liberal Party in 1946.1

Appointed to the federal Liberal Party’s policy committee in 1947, Cormack served as president of the Victorian Liberal Party from 1948 to 1949. He stood unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in the marginal seat of Fawkner at the 1949 election, losing by just 27 votes. In 1951, he was elected to the Senate, only to lose his seat two years later. Cormack was re-elected in 1961 and remained a senator until his retirement in 1978.2

A self-described ‘man of the Senate’ rather than a party man, Cormack championed the Senate as a house of review, believing that its true role was as a buffer against strong, centralised government.3 To Cormack, the Senate’s function was to ‘see, maintain, observe, overlook and supervise … [and] to impose a delay when necessary’.4

Before his election as President, Cormack devoted himself to committee work, chairing several committees.5 Having travelled to the USA in the 1950s to observe congressional committees, he strongly advocated for the introduction of a permanent system of standing committees, which was to transform the work of the Senate.6

Knighted in 1970 and elected President in 1971, Cormack presided over the Senate in much the same manner as he chaired committees – firm yet seemingly relaxed.7 Concerned that Question Time was ‘degenerating into a propaganda forum’, Cormack vowed to ensure that it functioned as intended as a time for senators to seek information.8 He ruled that questions should not be directed to assistant ministers, whom he refused to recognise, and tried to prevent the use of racist terms in debate.9 He also decided that supplementary questions to elucidate an answer already given were allowed.10

Following the 1974 election, Cormack lost the presidency to Labor’s Justin O’Byrne by two votes. On his retirement four years later, Cormack was described by colleagues as a defender of the Senate and, in the words of Labor Senator Reginald Bishop, ‘one of the greatest supporters of the parliamentary system’.11 Cormack died at Kew in 1994. Predeceased by his wife Mary (d. 1986), he was survived by their four children.

Bryan Wyndham Westwood 
Born in Lima, Peru, portraitist and printmaker Bryan Westwood (1930-2000) began painting professionally during his mid-30s after a varied career in economics, advertising and film. He is known for his photorealistic style with emphasis on composition, symmetry and line. Beyond portraiture, Westwood painted landscapes, interiors, still-life and figurative works. Based in the greater Sydney region for most of his career, he also spent extended periods working in Italy, France, and the USA. In 1990, Westwood was appointed as the official artist for the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing. He travelled with the veterans, and the resulting artworks were exhibited at the Australian War Memorial. Awarded the Archibald Prize for his mannerly portrayals of artist, art critic and writer, Elwyn (Jack) Lynn in 1989, and Prime Minister Paul Keating in 1992, he painted notable figures across such diverse fields as the arts, sport, business, and government. Westwood’s works are held in public and private collections throughout Australia and internationally.12

Magnus Cameron Cormack
by Bryan Wyndham Westwood
Oil on canvas
116 x 80.5 cm
Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection

1. Unless otherwise noted, information is sourced from G Browne, ‘Cormack, Sir Magnus Cameron (1906–1994)’, The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate Online Edition, Department of the Senate, Parliament of Australia, published first in hardcopy 2010; IR Hancock, ‘Cormack, Sir Magnus Cameron (1906–1994)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, ‘Obituary: Sir Magnus Cormack: A man with firm views on Senate’, The Canberra Times, 13 December 1994, p. 4. Websites accessed 7 June 2021.
2. Ibid.
3. The Sun News-Pictorial, 17 August 1971, p. 17.
4. M Cormack, ‘Constitution Alteration (Parliament) Bill 1967: Second reading’, Senate, Debates, 7 March 1967, p. 299.
5. These include the Senate Select Committee on Securities and Exchange (1970–71), the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs (1967–69) and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence (1976–78).
6. Browne, op. cit.; Parliamentary Library, ‘Cormack, the Hon. Sir Magnus Cameron, KBE’, Parliamentary Handbook Online; see also Department of the Senate, ‘Standing Orders Committee’, Navigate Senate Committees. Websites accessed 4 August 2021.
7. Browne, op. cit.
8. M Cormack, ‘Misuse of Question Time’, Senate, Debates, 9 September 1971, pp. 582–83.
9. Browne, op. cit.
10. R Laing, ed, Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 14th edn, Department of the Senate, Canberra, 2016, p. 261, accessed 4 August 2021.
11. D Hamer, ‘Budget Papers 1978–79’, Senate, Debates, 13 September 1978, p. 545; R Bishop, ‘Valedictory’, Senate, Debates, 9 June 1978, p. 2785.
12.‘Westwood, Bryan Wyndham’, A McCulloch, S McCulloch and E McCulloch Childs, eds, The New McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art, Aus Art Editions in association with The Miegunyah Press, 2006, p. 1017; ‘Bryan Westwood 1930–2000’, National Portrait Gallery; ‘Bryan Westwood’, Robin Gibson Gallery; E Taylor, ‘Ancestors, guardians, guides: Bryan Westwood’s Anzac portraits’, Wartime: official magazine of the Australian War Memorial, 1988, no. 8, pp. 25–27. Websites accessed 25 June 2021.

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