Former Australian Liberal Party leader Andrew Peacock dies in the US at the age of 82


Andrew Sharp Peacock AC was born in Melbourne on February 13, 1939.

His father, an engineer with a ship repair business, and his mother, a buyer and designer of fashion houses, met while on a cruise to the US and were married in San Francisco.

He had an upper middle class education in Melbourne – Scotch College and law at the University of Melbourne.

Peacock joined the Liberals as a teenager and in 1961, while still in college, took on Jim Cairns, Labour’s darling of the left, cutting off his majority.

In 1965 he became the youngest president of the Victorian Liberal Party, replacing the outgoing Robert Menzies in the Kooyong seat the following year.

By then he was married to Susan Rossiter, a daughter of the Victorian liberal establishment.

Peacock became Secretary of the Army in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, making him the youngest federal minister up to that point.

However, tensions soon developed with Malcolm Fraser, who was his portfolio commander as Secretary of Defense.

As foreign minister, he developed a close relationship with the young pro-independence leader of PNG, Michael Somare, and encouraged constitutional change.

While Gough Whitlam’s victory in 1972 meant that it was Labor overseeing the final steps towards PNG independence, Peacock’s role in developing largely self-governing government under Somare as Prime Minister was a crucial intermediate step. Later, the PNG government appointed him an honorary Great Companion of the Order of Logohu (bird of paradise), the highest honor.

After Fraser became Prime Minister in 1975, Peacock was appointed Secretary of State, a position he held for five years.

Although he loved the job, he sometimes found it difficult to work with Fraser.

He threatened to resign because of his morally impeccable demand that Australia recognize Pol Pot’s government in exile after the murderous regime was thrown out of Cambodia by the Vietnamese.

During this period he divorced and Susan and Peacock became a conscientious single parent to their three daughters.

It was also then that Peacock’s romantic interests became the stuff of Hollywood-style celebrity gossip.

He was, at times weakly, associated with several glamorous figures, including Princess Margaret.

Above all, there was MacLaine, with whom he had a very long, close and much-photographed relationship. The actress once said he was the only man she knew who kept a Gucci toothbrush in his bathroom.

In 1983 he married Margaret St George, a union that lasted five years.

After the 1980 election, Peacock unsuccessfully challenged Phillip Lynch as deputy Liberal leader and was moved to industrial relations.

But after an argument with Fraser and Lynch the following year, he quit his job and went to the backseat.

In 1982, faced with speculation that Peacock was organizing a challenge, Fraser launched a preemptive strike.

At a special banquet meeting, he had the very dry Howard Lynch replaced and comfortably beat Peacock for leadership.

But before the end of the year, Fraser took him back as Secretary of Industry and Trade and, after his defeat to Bob Hawke in 1983, backed him over Howard for the leadership of the opposition. Peacock won 36-20, with Howard taking over.

When Hawke called early elections in 1984, Peacock was an underdog. But it was generally believed that he had campaigned Hawke outside of the campaign and narrowed his margin.

He got nervous when Howard was performing strongly and in 1986 tried to remove his rival by running his mate John Moore for the deputy position.

Howard survived and Peacock, who interpreted the result as a vote of no confidence in him, quit. Howard took over.

Worse followed in 1987 when Howard fired him from the front seat.

Hawke defeated Howard later that year. Howard declined Peacock’s challenge to leadership, but in an unsuccessful attempt at unity, his rival was brought back as his deputy.

In 1989, when Howard languished in the polls and was unable to heal the party’s schisms, a secret coup d’état was staged that put Peacock back in charge.

The 1990 elections should have been his moment. Hawke had lost its luster and the economy was struggling, but Peacock was narrowly defeated.

The Liberals turned to John Hewson, but when he lost the ‘impossible to close’ 1993 election, Peacock used his influence to keep Howard from returning to leadership.

A year later, he left politics and his departure paved the way for Howard’s return in 1995.

In 1997, Howard’s government appointed Peacock ambassador to the US.

In his three years there, Peacock became a society figure and a celebrity column.

He was most proud of winning Washington’s hesitant support for Australia’s role in East Timor.

After returning to Australia, he embarked on US affiliates, became president of Boeing Australia, and in 2002 married Penne Korth, a Texan with Republican connections.

He moved to Austin, the capital of Texas, in 2007 to repay Penne for her loyalty by coming to Australia with him for years.

Peacock was handsome and charming, but he didn’t have Howard’s absolute focus and enjoyed other things too much.

In 1991, a colleague said his priorities were, in order, Shirley MacLaine, Essendon Football Club, Melbourne horse racing and its social world, the Liberal Party and – finally – the federal parliament.

When this list was presented to him, he said it was near perfect – except his main priority was his daughters.