Paddy McGuinness, RIP

By the time I first met Paddy McGuinness, who died yesterday, his persona was much as I would have expected from the columns I had read in The Australian and then the SMH: rather gruff, given to sweeping pronouncements, but showing a very wide range of interests. This was the mid-1990s; I found our few conversations awkward. His uncommunicative style spilled over into the way he edited Quadrant. You knew your submission had been accepted if it appeared as an article in the magazine, you knew it had been rejected if after a few months there was still no sign of it. Apart from that, total silence.

While I never clicked with Paddy, he did seem to have a talent for friendship cutting across journalism, intellectual life, politics and the arts. This went back to the 1950s when he was part of the Sydney Push. According to Anne Coombs’ book on the Push, Paddy had his first contact with this group aged just twelve, having met some of its members at a science fiction conference. She quotes him as saying that he underwent the ‘usual [sic] adolescent progression from Catholicism to Marxism’ before coming to social democratic views. While at Sydney Uni studying economics he was involved in starting the ALP Club, a split from the Labor Club, which had become a front for the Communist Party. An early swipe at the radical left, the target of much of his subsequent commentary.

From there, Paddy was someone who really did have the many careers of pop sociology: economist at the Moscow Narodny bank in London (described in an article called ‘Working for the Soviets’ in the November 2007 Quadrant), the OECD, university lecturer, Ministerial adviser (to Bill Hayden, in the Whitlam government), film critic, economics writer, editor of the AFR, columnist for various papers, and finally editor of Quadrant. If he’d been born 40 years later, Paddy would have been an ideal blogger, knowing something about a lot.

In his time at the AFR, Paddy played an important part of the early history of the CIS. It is described on the CIS website this way:

A conference on the role of government in 1978 proved to be a turning point for the fledgling think tank. The theme for the weekend meeting was ‘What Price Intervention? Government and the economy’. Participants included economists such as Ross Parish, Michael Porter and Warren Hogan.

A hundred people showed up, including Paddy McGuinness, then Economics Editor of the Australian Financial Review. He wrote a famous article, ‘Where Friedman is a Pinko’, giving the phone number and address of CIS at the end. There were days of messages.

That was the start of a long connection between Paddy and the CIS.

According to various reports, a melanoma caused his final illness. It’s a little hard to imagine enough of Paddy being exposed to the sun to cause skin cancer. In the time I knew him, Paddy was always dressed from head to toe in black. Anne Coombs tells a funny story about Paddy’s caftan phase in the 1960s, when on a visit to Turin he was treated with great respect because they thought from his dress he must be some kind of priest. But even as a young man, it sounds like he was into covering up. If I had to guess how Paddy would go, the consequences of decades of heavy drinking would have been top of my list, not the long-term repercussions of sunburn.

But from whatever cause, Paddy is gone after an eventful and unconventional life. PP McGuinness, RIP.

20 thoughts on “Paddy McGuinness, RIP

  1. When McGuiness did film reviews on Channel 7 in the 1970s, he always wore dark glasses. He was known then as Australia’s only blind film critic.

    It was a pity that to his death he was so bitter about only getting an upper second in his economics degree at Sydney University, when he thought he so obviously deserved a first. This explained his life long hatred for Australian universities. Most people get over their academic disappointments eventually but not McGuiness. for him, it got worse over time.

    His life long hatred of John Pilger can be explained in the same terms. They were contemporaries at Sydney Boys High in the 50s. McGuiness, for sure, would have been much the better student, but it was Pilger the school sportsman (he was a member of Sydney High’s last head of the river winning first eight, in 1957) who achieved world wide fame and fortune – writing what McGuiness considered to be soft headed left wing crap.

    Such is life.

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  2. According to the Coombs book McGuinness went to Riverview, though perhaps he went to both schools at different times.

    I’ve heard a lot of Paddy stories over the years, but never the one about the second. He liked sharp criticism, but I don’t think he was much of a hater.

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  3. I think he lived in the vicinity of Rushcutters Bay so the move to SBH would have saved some time for reading science fiction (apparently not for sport). The Coombs book is a lot of fun with photos of people like Paddy, Gordon Barton, and Barry Humphries.
    My first encounter with Paddy was circa 1970 when I gave a talk at Bob Gould’s bookshop (on the North side of Goulburn St) in a series organised Jim Baker and others for the Red and Black Society (mostly Marxist Anarchists). The topic was “In defence of reformism”. Paddy stomped out noisily after about three minutes but he only went as far as the pub where we all followed after the talk.

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  4. It was around that time that he got arrested for not standing up during the playing of God Save the Queen at a movie theatre.

    A big fan of the merchandise at Bob Gould’s bookshop, were you Rafe?

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  5. Hi, I’m interested in the Science Fiction side of Paddy McGuiness’ life. I’d like to do a brief presentation on him at the 2008 Sydney Freecon, if some facts can be determined. I’ve written a letter to this effect to both the SMH and the Telegraph.

    The first Australian Science Fiction convention took place in Sydney in 1952 and they were infrequent until the 1970s, so Paddy may have joined ‘at the groundfloor’. If anyone wants to send me (copies) of documents or references, I live at PO box 152 BEXLEY NORTH NSW 2207 Australia

    Garry P Dalrymple, for the committee of the 2008 Sydney Freecon (Nov 8 & 9, 2008) and the Sydney Futurian (a monthly SF discussion) meeting

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  6. Bob Carr did much the same and he did not have a reputation for being a thug and a head-kicker.

    Incidentally, in reply to Spiros (above) I am not aware that anyone was ever arrested for failing to stand up for the national anthem.

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  7. Paddy was my Uncle.

    I will miss him

    Mind you I never read one of his articles without wanting to ring him and tell him how much I disagreed with it.

    BTW, he got a scholarship to SBH.

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  8. Keating’s article appeared under the headline “Press better off without this vitriolic liar and fraud”, which would have been written by an AFR sub editor, if not the editor. To leave absolutely no doubt, they printed his photo directly under the words “liar and fraud”.

    Shows what they think of their former editor at the AFR. This must be the first time in Australia the former editor of a major newspaper has got this treatment. It was richly deserved and it’s a pity our repressive libel laws prevented it happening while McGuinness was still alive.

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  9. It was not deserved. It is not necessary to agree with Paddy on everything to accept that he was neither a liar nor a fraud. Keating put his feet firmly in the gutter with that piece.

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  10. Keating only got one thing wrong. He said McGuinness became a neo con. He didn’t. He became a whore to the neo cons, flattering them and being flattered in turn, which is much worse.

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  11. “there are no ‘neocons’ in Australia”

    I’m not so sure. The leitmotif of the American neo cons is an aggressive insistence that the United States to throw its weight about, when and where they feel like it. Obviously, Australia’s capacity to do this is much more limited. But the Howard government certainly did it on occasion, most notably bullying the government of Nauru into taking our refugees, intervening in the Solomons, and so on. All of this occurred after the neo cons had taken power in the US and had showed them how to do it.

    Back to McGuinness, the point still stands. Substitute “tories” for “neo cons” if you must.

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  12. Carr and Keating were similar in intent except of course Keating went for the jugular.

    Paddy never liked Keating from the time Keating knew more on a subject Paddy should have been an expert on and showed him up terribly.

    Paddy couldn’t get over the fact a person who never even got the HSC was not only more knowledgable but understood the subject better than he a person of honours and masters degree background.

    It got ridiculous at one stage when at some pub in Balmain he became totaly inarticulate about why Keating was one of the worst PMs ever.

    As more and more people heckled about labour marker deregulation, competition policy etc Paddy got redder and redder. I thought he would burst.

    it is ironic he was friends with Hayden yet the man who he might have enjoyed an intellectual conversation with he hated with a vehemance.

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  13. Er, Spiros, I think you will find that countries throwing their weight around started rather before late 20th century American intellectuals started arguing for an invasion of Iraq.

    And what does shutting down a migration racket operating via refugee law have to do with spreading democracy around the world?

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  14. Andrew, don’t change the subject, which is whether there are neo cons in Australia. Howard and Downer, especially Downer, only started behaving like neo cons after George and Condi showed them how.

    The migration racket could have been shut down without bullying Nauru, a bankrupt state that is entirely dependent on our good graces for its survival, and so open to be pushed around, even by the likes of Alexander Downer.

    And, really, are you so naive as to believe that the neo con agenda was really about spreading democracy around the world? It was about the projection of American power. The stuff about democracy was a pretext, to distinguish it from the Kissinger realist school of American foreign policy power, which did not bother with pretexts.

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  15. The distinctive feature of the neocons – what separates them from realists etc – is their belief in spreading democracy. I agree that this had little to do with the original rationale for invading Iraq. None of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld or Rice are neocons, though of course they were cheered on by neocons who had their own reasons for wanting Saddam gone (though once a dictatorship has been deposed, realists from democratic countries would presumably usually prefer a democracy replace it).

    Iraq was invaded because the American leadership (wrongly, as it turned out) believed that this would serve US national interests. It is the same basic reason that invasions have occurred for thousands of years, and will in all likelihood occur for thousands of years more.

    So you made a specific claim that the previous government’s actions were inspired by a particular ideology. I think this is plainly false. The previous government had no neocons, and even if they did outsourcing refugee detention to a country that was willng to do it (and is now complaining that we are stopping) had nothing to do with it.

    If you want to argue that the previous government was essentially driven by traditional foreign policy realism I will agree with you.

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  16. This would be the same Paul Keating who, a day or so earlier, paid his respects to a monster:

    Communists, red sympathisers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of communists after interrogation in remote jails. Armed with wide-bladed knives called parangs, Moslem bands crept at night into the homes of communists, killing entire families and burying their bodies in shallow graves. The murder campaign became so brazen in parts of rural East Java, that Moslem bands placed the heads of victims on poles and paraded them through villages. The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travellers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies.

    —Time Magazine, December 1965

    But in Keating’s diseased mind, Paddy’s criticism, or anyone else’s, was a far greater crime than a million murders.

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  17. Clancy, condolences, but how exactly was it possible to have a scholarship at SBH? Wasn’t it free to all, albeit selective?

    And AN, I agree that true neocons in Australia are rare, but hangers on of the now passing Bushite Howard ascendancy filled some of the same roles, and in some ways were neocons manque.

    Interesting that Hayden and PPMcG both had the same path of apostasy (that’s the kinder term) from the left. Hayden really seems to have turned into a poor man’s Sir John Kerr on that front. Becoming G-G did for him, I fear. I wonder if it was sycophancy from “Sir” Sir David Smith that did it?

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