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'He loved the business of politics': SA Labor veteran dies

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Former state Labor MP and minister Terry Groom has died, aged 76.

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Friends and SA Labor figureheads have paid tribute after the lawyer and former MP died yesterday, expressing shock and sadness at his sudden passing.

Former Premier Jay Weatherill told InDaily his own passion for the law began with a stint doing work experience at Groom’s law firm in 1979.

“Terry was a mentor and friend – he gave me my first work experience job at his law firm in the Paringa Building in Hindley St,” he said.

“His infectious laugh, mischievous sense of humour and wise political counsel will be my enduring memories of Terry.

“I wish to extend my love and best wishes to Kay and all of Terry’s family at this sad time.”

Groom, who served as Primary Industries Minister in the early 1990s, remained active in SA life in recent years as a consultant with law firm Camatta Lempens, where he was a consultant to the corporate and commercial team.

He held the seat of Morphett from 1977 to 1979, when he lost to Liberal John Oswald.

However, he returned to state parliament as the member for Hartley, which he held for 11 years until 1993.

He also served on the committee overseeing electoral reform, revealing to InDaily in 2016 that he had warned Liberal members at the time the so-called ‘fairness clause’ they were pushing for “wouldn’t work”.

“It wasn’t going to work as long as you had single-member electorates… the only way to achieve that was the top-up system [but] we couldn’t get a consensus on that,” he said at the time, arguing the Liberals could have won several subsequent elections had they taken a different course.

“They’re the authors of their own predicament, and it’s no use blaming the Commission or the boundaries.”

Groom served the final two years of his term as an independent, briefly walking away from the ALP after the party failed to back him for an alternative seat when a redistribution effectively wiped out his margin in Hartley.

However, he returned to the fold and helped his close friend and former staffer Grace Portolesi campaign successfully for his former seat in 2006.

“There are few [Labor] people that actually understand the eastern suburbs, how to campaign in the eastern suburbs – and Terry is one of them,” Portolesi told InDaily today.

“He’ll be dearly missed for lots of reasons – his sense of fun, he was a great mentor to young people and he loved the business of politics… the Labor Party will miss him terribly.

“He’s left a huge hole in terms of how the future is approached.”

She said Groom had in later years proved a valuable conduit between the party and the business community.

He served on several boards, including that of the Repatriation General Hospital, Motor Accident Commission, the Environment Protection Authority, the Parole Board and recently ended his term with Renewal SA.

Former SA Attorney-General and Left faction heavyweight Peter Duncan wrote a tribute on Facebook overnight, saying: “I have just received the terribly shocking news of the death tonight of my friend, former legal partner and comrade Terry Groom.”

“To say his death comes as a shock is a vastly inadequate expression of my grief,” he said.

“Terry and his wife Kay were friends of mine and my wife Julie Duncan from the early 1970s, when Terry joined my law firm as a partner.

“That friendship lasted throughout our lives.

“I served in the SA House of Assembly with Terry from 1977 until 1979 when he lost his seat and again after he was re-elected from 1982 until 1984.

“Terry had a wicked sense of humour and was always good for a story about the latest political goings-on.

“We shared time together in Italy where he had arranged to meet the Pope, not something I must say that I aspired to do.

“On occasions Terry could be ‘out there’. He had that side to him.

“But he could also be quite cautious politically and realistic about the electorate.

“He certainly knew that in politics both compromise and disappointment were a substantial part of the deal.”

He said Groom was “one of the most accomplished practitioners in the commercial [law] field and had continued practicing until his death”.

Former Labor Premier Lynn Arnold commented on the post, saying: “I am so very sorry to hear this news – Terry was a great person, politician and advocate.”

“I appointed him to the Ministry when I formed a coalition government on October 4, 1992 [and] Terry was a loyal pillar of strength to my cabinet,” he wrote.

Current Labor leader Peter Malinauskas said in a statement: “It is with deep sadness that I learned today of the passing of Terry Groom, former Minister and Member of the House of Assembly.”

“In 1992 he was appointed Minister for Primary Industries and Minister Assisting the Premier on Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs in the Arnold Labor Government.

“While he served as an independent between 1991 and 1993, Terry returned to the Labor family in 2000 and provided valuable advice and support to Premiers, Ministers and MPs. “

Malinauskas said Groom “continued to support Hartley campaigns right up to the last state election”, noting “Terry’s connection with the Italian Community was partly why his work and support of numerous Hartley campaigns was so valuable”.

“He learnt to speak Italian and was much loved and highly regarded by the Italian community,” he said.

“He continued to attend Italian events well after he had left Parliament. Terry loved being part of and serving the community.”

Groom is survived by his partner Kay and three children, Anthony, Tristram and Zoe.

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