Kep Enderby (1926-2015): A life-long socialist

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Kep Enderby, lifelong socialist, former Whitlam minister, Supreme Court judge and Green Left Weekly supporter.

Kep Enderby, a former Whitlam government minister, barrister and Supreme Court judge remained true to his socialist principles and was a valued supporter and subscriber to this publication, Green Left Weekly until his passing on January 7.

As attorney general and minister for the ACT under the Whitlam Labor government, he decriminalised abortion and homosexuality in that territory in 1975, setting a dramatic lead at that time in social reform that many Labor governments would be challenged to match these days.

Enderby was very public about his disappointment in the ALP. In a conversation I had with him in 2013, he explained how he had finally decided to stop voting for the ALP because of the Rudd government's treatment of asylum seekers. This was shortly after Rudd introduced the notorious “PNG solution”, which established the deadly refugee concentration camp on Manus Island.

He declared this decision in a short letter published in the Australian and repeated it to Linda Mottram on ABC Sydney Radio 702.

The progressive reforms that the Whitlam Labor government introduced are a strong contrast to ALP governments today, he said, urging other ALP members to speak up on this issue.

Socialist Alliance member Margaret Gleeson remembers Enderby from her time as a trade union and social movement activist in Canberra.

“He was a great stalwart for civil liberties. As a leading barrister (before he became an MP) he could always be relied on to act for demonstrators hauled before the courts. He was also a keen supporter of Cuba,” Gleeson recalls.

He was also prominent in the Esperanto movement and attended an Esperanto conference in Havana. Esperanto was a new language that was created in the late 19th century by Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof to foster harmony between people from different countries. Esperanto spawned a popular progressive social movement in the early 20th century.

Enderby explained to me that he first became a socialist when he was working as a barrister in London in the 1950s, where he was strongly influenced by a British lawyer who tirelessly took up civil liberties issues.

Enderby, who was born in Dubbo in rural NSW, had earlier obtained a scholarship to study law at Sydney University because he had spent a year in the air force during World War II. “This gave me a few benefits, including a free university education and a low-cost loan to buy a home in Balmain. I was very fortunate.”

After his brief time as a minister in the Whitlam government, Enderby returned to his profession as a barrister and went on to become a NSW Supreme Court judge. While serving as head of the Serious Offenders Review Council in NSW, between 1997 and 2000, he was outspoken against the manipulation of public hysteria about crime and the consequent rising rates of imprisonment.

Later, in deep despair about the ALP, Enderby became an avid reader and supporter of Green Left Weekly — as did another prominent Labor figure, Clyde Cameron.

“I am of the opinion, after years of reading the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian, it is necessary for Australians to read Green Left Weekly," Enderby told me in the 2013 interview.

“It has material in it that you can't get anywhere else. It is important that Australians should be able to read that material...

“The world is shrinking and it is only in Green Left Weekly that you can read about it the way it should be read about.”

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