Obituary: Reg Downing

The Canberra Times

13 September 1994

Wran mentor dies aged 89.

Reg Downing, AC QC, for 24 years to 1965 a minister in a succession of NSW Labor governments and a link between 1930s Labor and the Wran Government of the 1970s and 1980s, died in Goulburn on Friday and will be buried there tomorrow. He was 89.

Reg Downing was born in Tumut in 1904, and left school at the age of 15 to work as a labourer in the Bonds textile factory in Sydney. He became an active unionist, eventually heading the Textile Workers Union, and, in his early 30s, returned to school by night to matriculate (he slept on later Labor leader [Sir] William McKell's floor while studying). He was appointed to the NSW Legislative Council in 1940, and, on McKell's becoming premier became leader of the Government in the Council and minister for justice. He took a part-time law degree in 1943. He was attorney-general from 1956 to 1965, while continuing to hold Justice.

When Labor lost to [Sir] Robin As kin, he became leader of the Opposition in the Council until he retired in 1972, but remained active, practising at the bar - he took silk in 1972 - and a person with influence over Neville Wran.

In 1947, Downing changed the NSW Juries Act to permit women to serve on juries; he was involved in early consumer law including hire purchase and landlord and tenant legislation, and was not only a strong opponent of capital punishment but the person who persuaded a somewhat unwilling Executive Council to overrule judicial orders of corporal punishment in days when that was permitted.