25 November 2022
At the BCCM’s Taste of Australia Dinner held on November 17 as part of the BCCM 2022 Leaders’ Summit, a special mention was made to acknowledge the significant contribution of the Hon Dr Race Mathews to the co-operative and mutual movement in Australia. Dr Mathews has had a distinguished and varied career, and his work to champion the co-operative and mutual model forms an important part of his legacy.
Dr Race Mathews is a former Victorian and federal politician and is a labour historian and an Australian co-operative economist. Dr Mathews was born in Hawthorn, Victoria in 1935. His first job was as a clerk for the Shell Oil Company, before going on to work as a primary school teacher, and a speech therapist. A long career in politics and academia followed. Dr Mathews has held numerous positions in the Australian Labor Party and the co-operative and credit union movements and has written extensively on their history, attributes and accomplishments.
Dr Mathews joined the ALP in 1956 and served as chief of staff to Gough Whitlam and Labor leaders in the Victorian Parliament before, he himself, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1972. From 1972 to 1975, Dr Mathews was the Federal Member for Casey in the Whitlam Government where he served as chairman of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties and chairman of the Government Members’ Committee on Urban and Regional Development.
From 1979 to 1992, Dr Mathews served in the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the Member for Oakleigh. During the Premiership of John Cain, he served as chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Co-operatives, and held a number of portfolios including, Minister for Community Services, Minister for Police and Emergency Services and Minister for the Arts.
In his academic career, Dr Mathews has held positions at Government and Business Schools at the universities of Monash, Deakin and Kent State in the United States. A major focus for his research has been the complex of worker-owned co-operatives of the Mondragon Corporation in the Basque region of Spain and its origins in the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Mondragon was extensively referenced in his book Of Labour and Liberty: Distributism in Victoria 1891-1966 and was the core focus of his previous work, Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stake-Holder Society.
Referring to Mondragon, Dr Mathews stated:
All my life I’ve been on the hunt for good ways of making a better world – making life more rewarding for ordinary people … [I was delighted to hear in the 1980s that] something extraordinary was going on in an obscure valley in the Basque region of Spain.”
Dr Mathews has also written important works on credit unions including Credit Unions and the New Mutualism, Where Credit Is Due, Reinvigorating Credit Union Mutuality and A Future or No Future: Credit Unions in a Globalising Economy.
Dr Mathews has been a significant contributor to numerous topics including Mutualism, Distributism, Labour Movement History and Public Policy. These books include:
- Building the Society of Equals: Worker Co-operatives and the A.L.P. and
- Turning the Tide: Towards a Mutualist Philosophy and Politics for Labor and the Left.
Dr Mathews has mentored many emerging co-operative leaders over the years. Away from the limelight, Dr Mathews has also quietly responded to many invitations to inspire grass-roots groups and their members struggling to make a better life for themselves through the promise of co-operation. Dr Race Mathews has had an extensive and varied career, yet for us it is his tireless work as an advocate and historian of co-operation that we honour him today.
The BCCM is grateful for the enormous contribution of Dr Mathews and thanks him for his ongoing leadership within and beyond the sector.