Peter Coleman

For other people named Peter Coleman, see Peter Coleman (disambiguation).
Peter Coleman
30th Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales
Elections: 1978
In office
16 December 1977  7 October 1978
Monarch Elizabeth II
Deputy John Mason
Preceded by Sir Eric Willis
Succeeded by John Mason
Member of the New South Wales Parliament
for Fuller
In office
24 February 1968  12 September 1978
Preceded by New district
Succeeded by Rodney Cavalier
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Wentworth
In office
11 April 1981  5 June 1987
Preceded by Robert Ellicott
Succeeded by John Hewson
Personal details
Born (1928-12-15) 15 December 1928
Caulfield, Victoria, Australia
Political party Liberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Verna Susannah Coleman
(née Scott)
Children Tanya Costello
Ursula Dubosarsky
William Coleman
Alma mater University of Sydney
London School of Economics
Occupation Writer, journalist

William Peter Coleman AO (born 15 December 1928) is an Australian writer, and former politician. A widely published journalist for over 60 years, he was editor of The Bulletin (1964–1967) and of Quadrant for 20 years, and has published 16 books on political, biographical and cultural subjects.[1] While still working as an editor and journalist he had a short but distinguished political career as a Member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1968–1978 for the Liberal Party of Australia, serving both as a Minister in the State Cabinet and in the final year as Leader of the New South Wales Opposition.[2] From 1981–1986 was Member for Wentworth in the Australian House of Representatives.[3] In 2001 he was awarded the Centenary Medal. [4] In 2008 he was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) at the University of Sydney for services to Australian intellectual life.[5] On 8 June 2015 he was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia "For distinguished service to the print media industry as a noted editor, journalist, biographer and author, to the Parliaments of Australia and New South Wales, and to the community".[6]

Early life

Coleman was born in Melbourne, the son of Stanley Charles Coleman, an advertising agent, and Norma Victoria Tiernan. Moving to Sydney, he was educated at North Sydney Boys High School and at the University of Sydney under philosophers John Anderson and John Passmore.[7] Fellow students included the philosophers David Armstrong and David Stove. Coleman then travelled to the United Kingdom to study political philosophy at the London School of Economics under Michael Oakeshott, completing a thesis on the French philosopher Georges Sorel.[8] He graduated as Master of Science (Economics) in 1952.

On 5 April 1952 he married the writer and librarian, Verna Scott. Together they had two daughters, Tanya, who became a lawyer and later wife of Deputy Liberal Leader Peter Costello, Ursula, a children's writer, and a son William, who is an economist.[9]

After teaching English for a year in the Sudan, Coleman returned to Australia to undertake a career as a journalist. In 1958 he became associate editor of The Observer, a fortnightly magazine founded in 1958 and published by Australian Consolidated Press. Other staff members included the editor Donald Horne and financial editor Michael Baume.In 1961 it was absorbed by the legendary but ailing political and literary magazineThe Bulletin and Coleman subsequently became editor of The Bulletin between 1964 and 1967.[10] In these years he published his first books Australian Civilization, a symposium which brought together writers and critics ranging from Manning Clark and Max Harris to James McAuley and Vincent Buckley; Obscenity Blasphemy Sedition, a study of the first 100 years of censorship in Australia; the anthology The Bulletin Book and Cartoons of Australian History, with cartoonist Les Tanner. When Coleman resigned from The Bulletin in 1967 he became editor of Quadrant magazine, a position he held for twenty years.[3]

Political life

In 1968 Coleman was elected the Liberal member for Fuller, a marginal seat taking in North Ryde, Gladesville and Hunter's Hill, in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, defeating the Labor Member Frank Downing.[11]

Originally serving on the backbench, Coleman gained experience through his appointment as a member of the Australian Council for the Arts from 1968 to 1973, a councillor of the National Institute of Dramatic Art from 1970 to 1985, and as Chairman of the Interim Council of the National Film and Television School from 1971 to 1973.[2] In 1974, Coleman became the Chairman of the Select Committee into Appointment of Judges to the High Court, which examined different judicial appointment methods prior to the 1977 Federal Referendum.[12]

Coleman was then further promoted in June 1975 as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier Tom Lewis, in which capacity he served only five months until his promotion to Cabinet.[3] He was made a Minister of the Crown in October 1975 as the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue. When Sir Eric Willis became Premier, Coleman was appointed to the revived office of Chief Secretary from January 1976. He served in Cabinet until the defeat of the Willis government in the May 1976 election, at which he retained his seat on a slightly increased margin of 52%.[11]

In opposition under Eric Willis, Coleman served as the Shadow Minister for Justice and Services.[13] On 15 December 1977 four party MPs declared that they would oppose Willis in a leadership ballot the next day. On 16 December 1977, Willis resigned and Coleman was elected as the leader by the party.[14] At the 1978 election, Coleman and the Coalition campaigned on a platform based around the spectre of "Whitlamism" and attempted to undermine the strong central leadership of Wran.[15] This failed to resonate with voters, and the election, which was later termed the "Wranslide", saw a massive defeat for the Opposition Coalition. Coleman himself lost his seat of Fuller to Hunter's Hill Municipal Council Alderman, Rodney Cavalier, a result that had been anticipated by some.[16][17]

In September 1979, Coleman was appointed as Administrator of Norfolk Island. Following the resignation of Robert Ellicott, he gained Liberal Party pre-selection for the federal seat of Wentworth and was elected in a by-election in April 1981. He retired from parliament before the 1987 election[3] and resumed his literary career.


On leaving politics, Coleman resumed his career as a full-time writer, publishing widely both journalism and books, including a major history of the intellectuals and the Cold War, The Liberal Conspiracy. The Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Struggle for the Mind of Postwar Europe[18] and biographical works on the Australian poet James McAuley, comic artist Barry Humphries, film director Bruce Beresford and economist Heinz Arndt. He also published a selection of poetry, a cookbook and a collection of his Quadrant essays, The Last Intellectuals. In 2008 Coleman assisted his son-in-law, Peter Costello, in writing and editing his account of his career: The Costello Memoirs. The Age of Prosperity.

During this period he also recorded interviews, held by the National Library of Australia as part of the oral history project, with leading Australian figures in journalism, arts, law, economics, philosophy and politics, including Hugh Atkinson, Garfield Barwick, Bruce Beresford, Jim Carlton, Madge Eddy, Charles Higham, Kenneth Jacobs, Eugene Kamenka, Michael Kirby, Kenneth Minogue, Barry Oakley, Desmond O'Grady, Clyde Packer, John Passmore, Peter Porter, Adrian Rawlins and Amy Witting.[19]

He currently is a regular contributor to the Australian edition of The Spectator with a weekly column entitled 'Australian Notes' since 2009[20] and also contributes to The Australian and ABC programs.

Selected Publications


Books Edited

Official Reports

Essays, interviews, chapters, lectures

'An Interview with Peter Coleman' Frank Devine, Quadrant May 2006

‘A Political Formation or No Roads to Damascus' (Cheshire 1963) in Australian Politics. A Third Reader edited by Henry Mayer and Helen Nelson.

'Ballade of Lost Phrases: James McAuley' from The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics, Quadrant Books, 2010.

'Conservative without a Cause? Andrew Norton Talks with Peter Coleman.' Policy Autumn 1995.

‘From Fellow Travelling to Political Correctness' Political Correctness in South Africa edited by Rainer Erkens and John Kane-Berman. South African Institute of Race Relations, 2000.

'How I wrote 'The Liberal Conspiracy' from The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics, Quadrant Books, 2010.

'I Thought of Archimedes' from The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics, Quadrant Books, 2010.

‘Leaves from the Diary of a Madman' in Confessions and Memoirs edited by Michael Wilding and David Myers. Central Queensland University Press, 2006.

‘Political Cartoonists', 'Political Correctness', 'Political Journalists' The Oxford Companion to Australian Politics edited by Brian Galligan and Winsome Roberts, Oxford University Press, 2007.

Preface to Cricket versus Republicanism and other Essays (1995) Quakers Hill Press, 1995.

Preface and 'The Santamaria Story' The Bulletin Book. A Selection from the 1960s Angus and Robertson, 1963.

'The Patron State' Bert Kelly Lecture, 1995.

'The Phoney Debate' from Australia and the Monarchy: A Symposium, edited by Geoffrey Dutton, Sun Books, Melbourne, 1966.

'The Sad and Noble Music of Michael Oakeshott' from The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics, Quadrant Books, 2010.

'The Usual Suspects. Quadrant at 50' Martin Krygier. The Monthly December 2006.


  1. Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1994) Hyde, Hooton, Andrews, OUP. "Peter Coleman" accessed 8 June 2012
  2. 1 2 "Mr (Peter) (William) Peter Coleman (1928–)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 23 February 2010.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Biography for Coleman, William Peter". ParlInfo Web. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 23 February 2010.
  5. accessed 5 June 2012
  7. accessed 6 June 2012
  8. Transcript of interview with Alan Saunders and Dr Ian Tregenza accessed 6 June 2012
  9. Retrieved 26 June 2012
  10. "Left to Right" Christopher Pearson 31 July 2010
  11. 1 2 "NSW elections, Elections for the District of – Fuller". NSW Electoral Commission. Retrieved 24 August 2007.
  12. Retrieved 9 June 2012
  13. "Opposition Shadow Ministries from 1973". Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  14. Hancock, Ian (2007). The Liberals: The NSW Division 1945–2000. Sydney: Federation Press. pg 181. ISBN 978-1-86287-659-0.
  15. "Liberal Party advertisement: 'Coleman introduces the Liberal team with a plan of action for NSW'". Sydney Morning Herald 4 October 1978 pg 7. Google News Archive. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  16. "All eyes will be on Fuller". Sydney Morning Herald pg 2. 4 October 1978. Check date values in: |access-date= (help);
  17. Troy Bramston, editor (2006) "The Wran Era" Federation Press, with a foreword by Neville Wran
  18. Retrieved 26 June 2012
  19. Retrieved 9 June 2012
  20. Retrieved 26 June 2012

Peter Coleman on "Radical Students. The Old Left at Sydney University" Alan Barcan. Melbourne University Press

"What is Political Correctness" Peter Coleman

"The Devil and James McAuley" review by Peter Coleman, Weekend Australian 17 July 1999

"James McCauley's 20 Quadrants" paper by Peter Coleman, Sydney University 2002.

"James McCauley: A Poet in Politics" Peter Coleman 1992.

"Ballade of Lost Phrases: James McAuley" from The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics, Quadrant Books, 2010.

"I Thought of Archimedes" from The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics, Quadrant Books, 2010.

"How I wrote 'The Liberal Conspiracy'" from The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics, Quadrant Books, 2010.

"The Sad and Noble Music of Michael Oakeshott" from The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics, Quadrant Books, 2010. "All That Swagger – Robert Manne's Virtuous Trajectory" Peter Coleman, Quadrant 2005.

"Leaves from the Diary of a Madman" Peter Coleman 2006.

"The Bulletin, the Editor and The Cherry Orchard", Peter Coleman. Voices, Quarterly Journal of the National Library of Australia, Volume V11, Number 1, Autumn 1997, Pages 88–95.

Parliament of New South Wales
New district Member for Fuller
1968  1978
Succeeded by
Rodney Cavalier
Political offices
Preceded by
Max Ruddock
Assistant Treasurer of New South Wales
1975  1976
Succeeded by
Max Ruddock
Minister for Revenue
1975  1976
Title last held by
Ian Griffith
Chief Secretary of New South Wales
Title next held by
Garry West
Preceded by
Sir Eric Willis
Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales
1977  1978
Succeeded by
John Mason
Party political offices
Preceded by
Sir Eric Willis
Leader of the New South Wales Liberal Party
1977  1978
Succeeded by
John Mason
Government offices
Preceded by
Desmond Vincent O'Leary
Administrator of Norfolk Island
1979  1981
Succeeded by
Ian Hutchinson
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Robert Ellicott
Member for Wentworth
1981  1987
Succeeded by
John Hewson
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