Les McCarrey CMG, B Econs (Hons), B Sc
From humble beginnings, Les McCarrey rose to high posts in the Treasury of Western Australia, serving under five Premiers from Brand to Burke. He left an indelible mark on the Treasury in terms of its staffing and efficiency, and on the modern economy of WA. Always met with offers of employment, he never had to contest a position, demonstrating the high regard in which he was held.
Born in 1927, seventh and youngest in a working class family, he has fond memories of his childhood in Mosman Park and on the nearby Swan River. Swimming and fishing became frequent pastimes, the latter helping provide for the family table.
Though his father’s family originated from Ireland via the Victorian goldfields, his mother came from England – recruited to help redress the male-female imbalance of WA’s frontier society.
Their father being unemployed for much of the 1930s, the older siblings left school early to find work. Les, however, completed his Junior Certificate at Fremantle Boys’ School, where outstanding teachers inspired him to become a teacher himself. He entered Perth Modern School as a ‘new four’, matriculating to the University of WA where he studied Science, majoring in Mathematics and Physics.
During wartime, too young to join up, he expressed his loyalty by entering the Air Training Corps, becoming proficient in morse code, aircraft identification and navigation. Also with Army Cadets at Modern School, he learned to use firearms.
The Anglican Youth Fellowship at St Luke’s, Mosman Park, provided opportunities to hone leadership skills. There Les met Eleanor Pickering who later became his wife, and Canon Norwood, Rector, whose counsel he valued.
After graduating, Les tutored ex-servicemen at the Mildura campus of Melbourne University, taught Science at Hale School in Perth, and worked as a Senior Compiler with the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Canberra and later in Perth, whilst pursuing part-time studies in Economics, before taking a position at the University of WA preparing submissions to the Universities Commission.
Dr Alex Kerr nominated Les as part-time adviser in Economics to Sir Charles Court, the then Minister for Industrial Development.
Later, at the invitation of Ken Townsing, then Under-Treasurer, Les became Assistant Under-Treasurer. He became immersed in the policy and research aspects of Treasury, preparing for annual Premiers’ Conferences and Grants Commission hearings. His experience in statistical analysis and research helped revolutionise the efficiency of Treasury.
He identified a lack of university-trained people there, to deal with the complexities of commonwealth-state finance, so he proposed a scheme for recruitment of new graduates. This brought a number of talented young people into the service, including several women. Women had formerly been employed only in secretarial and typing positions.
On the retirement of Ken Townsing, Les was an obvious candidate to become Under-Treasurer. Once again, though the post was widely advertised, it became his without contest.
Because most Premiers held the portfolio of Treasurer, they leaned heavily on advice from Treasury. Permanent public servants offering independent advice without fear or favour, continues to be an ideal model in Les’ opinion. In his lighter moments he relishes Yes Minister where this situation is parodied.
Les accompanied successive Premiers of WA to Premiers’ Conferences for twenty years, and was instrumental in driving changes to the Loan Council processes, which restored the right of states to borrow in local and overseas markets. As Assistant Under-Treasurer he assisted Sir David Brand on his trip to Rome, Israel, Greece and Singapore. This experience gave Les confidence to negotiate on the international scene.
Much later, Sir Charles Court, the then Premier, gave Les key responsibility in arranging loans to fund the pipeline from Dampier to Bunbury, an adjunct to North- West Shelf Gas development. He dealt with bankers and pipe-manufacturers in USA, Italy, France, Germany and Britain over several years to achieve success in this assignment.
By managing funding, Les played a significant role in beautification of the eastern approaches to Perth and restoration of His Majesty’s Theatre.
Recognised with a CMG in January 1982 for his outstanding contribution to WA, Les now enjoys a riverside retirement: reading, playing golf, gardening and relaxing with family and friends.
Above: Les McCarrey (2nd from left) with Premier David Brand (2nd from right) with Israeli hosts, August 1969.
Above: Les with official of Korean Heavy Industries Construction Company, Korea 1984.
Page last updated 25 June 2014