AFTER WORK, AFTER PLAY, AFTER ALL is the story of Dr John Cornwall’s remarkable life from modest beginnings to an outstanding reformer as a Labor Government Minister. Spanning eight decades it covers a childhood in Bendigo, two decades of veterinary practice from the 1950s to the 1970s, and life as a Minister in the South Australian Government in the 1980s.
This political memoir gives a rare insight into the challenges faced by a politician with a passion for social justice and a commitment to universal access to health care. It tells the story of how he introduced wide ranging reforms in public and environmental health in the 1980s, inspired by a worldwide movement for ‘Health for All’. It details the opposition he encountered from vested interests and how his skillful private negotiations turned things around.
There were many ‘firsts’; banning tobacco sponsorship of sport, decriminalising possession of marijuana for personal use, establishing Aboriginal controlled community health services, expanding community health centre networks, incorporating productivity and quality of care as markers in hospital budgets. redirecting resources to the most disadvantaged and a world leading program to clean up pollution from the lead smelter in Port Pirie.
The book also touches on the challenges of family life as husband and father to seven children.
It tells the story of a country vet who had bigger ambitions. Born at the height of the Great Depression, he grew up in Bendigo during the Second World War and survived a Catholic school education. It tells how he was inspired by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and South Australian Premier Don Dunstan. It recalls his early run for Parliament in the Liberal Party stronghold of Barker in the 1972 federal election, when Labor swept to victory in the It’s Time campaign.
The greatest drama, however, is the unlikely story of his political demise. Caught up in the controversy over the introduction of Medicare in 1984, in which the states’ public hospitals were central, he was sued for defamation by an orthopedic surgeon. Four years later the Minister in court on the witness stand, a hostile judge, a judgement written with what the author describes as ‘malign ferocity’, and resignation forced by a timid Premier less than 48 hours after it was delivered. It all makes a riveting read.
He survives, but not unscarred. There’s a third career and a marriage that endures.
About the Author:
John Cornwall was a member of Legislative Council in the South Australian Parliament from 1975 to 1988 and the State’s health minister for six years from 1982. He was a reforming Minister of Health during the tumultuous years of the introduction of Medicare, quality and productivity criteria as markers in hospital budgets and the rapid expansion of community health centres. The philosophy that health is a state of physical and emotional wellbeing, not just the absence of illness, drove much of his reform agenda.
Following his resignation from politics in 1988 Rex Jory, the senior political reporter at The Advertiser, described him as ‘the most innovative and effective health minister in SA history’.
Cornwall was born in Melbourne in January 1935, grew up in Bendigo and completed his school education at Xavier College in Melbourne. He graduated with a degree in veterinary science from the University of Queensland in 1957 and conducted practices in country Victoria and South Australia (‘all creatures great and small’) before moving with his family to a small animal practice in Adelaide in 1970.
After leaving politics he became a senior executive for various not for profits in Sydney, including the Australian Veterinary Association and the Australian Youth Foundation. In 1997 he accepted an appointment as managing consultant of the fledgling Delta Society Australia, ‘promoting positive interaction between people and companion animals’, where he developed Delta’s national therapy dogs program. In retirement he spent seven years in a voluntary capacity as President and Executive Director of the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Agency.
He wrote his first book about his years in the Bannon government Just for the Record (Wakefield Press) in 1989.
He lives in Sydney with his wife Patrice. They have a son, six daughters, six grandsons and two foster grandsons.