‘Dad lived a wonderful life and achieved many things as the son of a railway worker from Bathurst’ –John Cox
Peter Cox was a long-serving NSW Labor politician of the ‘old school’ variety in that he had no tertiary education and was a trade unionist. He was also founding Chair and member number 1 of Motor Transport Credit Union. In his maiden speech to parliament in 1965 he asked for, “an immediate decision to implement a Credit Union Act [and] for representation of all interested bodies on the credit union advisory committee”.
Peter was born in Bathurst in 1925 in a political household that was friends with future Prime Minister and railways man Ben Chifley. He went to high school at Marist Brothers at Lidcombe in Western Sydney where he developed a love of English and history as well as sport, especially rugby league and cricket. In fact, he told Richard Raxworthy in the 1989 oral history interview held in our archives that he was still playing rugby league at age 29 and said that “I don’t know how I kept it up to be honest”.
His first job after school was in an electrical supplies store in Auburn and he eventually took up a job as a clerk with the NSW Motor Transport Department after serving in World War II. Transport was clearly in the Cox blood. His father worked on the railways and his deep and lifelong political engagement was centred on transport issues where he left his mark to the extent that his Liberal opponent, Milton Morris, called him “the second best Transport Minister ever”.
The Australian Society of Labor History wrote the following about Peter Cox’s contribution to transport as a politician:
When at last Cox became a Minister he divided the cumbersome Public Transport Commission into the Urban Transit Authority and State Rail Authority, appointing David Hill as the SRA chief executive. He lifted public transport from long decay by cutting rail fares by 20 per cent to win back passengers, and ordering extra buses, double-decker trains, new signalling systems, track upgrades and new ferries. He completed the Eastern Suburbs railway and electrification to Newcastle, Wollongong and Macarthur. He pushed through national emission standards for motor vehicles, and introduced lead-free petrol, and the random breath test.
Cox was Minister for Transport and Minister for Highways from 1976 to 1984. Together with Paul Landa, he revised inner-city freeway proposals that would have demolished much of Pyrmont and Glebe, and broadened heritage laws. Later he became Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, Minister for Industry and Small Business and Minister for Energy and Technology and Minister for Public Works and finally as Minister Assisting the Premier.
Peter credited the legendary Father Gallagher as a big influence on the formation of what began as Motor Transport Employees Savings and Loans Co-operative in July 1953. The credit union was to a large extent created from the trade union of which Peter held a senior position. He also believed that much of the early success of the credit union was due to Arthur Johnson who was a rarity in the early credit union years by being trained in accounting.
In his interview with Richard Raxworthy, Peter had this to say about Arthur Johnson, who incidentally did all the books by hand:
Arthur was a great fellow. They were all terrific people on that first Board. But Arthur was the one that had an accountancy background, which was good. He was the steadying influence to some extent. Noel Payne and Jack Kennerman, Malcolm McNeill and Bill McMahon. Billy Hill. I met Billy Hill some time back and he is still around. They were all fellows that had a bit of stability about them.
Peter Cox retired from Parliament in 1988 and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in the same year.