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Ruddock was born in Sydney, New South Wales, the son of Max Ruddock , who was a Liberal member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. He was educated at Barker College in the Sydney suburb of Hornsby and the University of Sydney, and became a solicitor. He joined the firm Berne, Murray and Tout, and was promoted to partner.
In 1973, he was elected to the House of Representatives, as a Liberal member for the seat of Parramatta. He shifted to the seat of Dundas in 1977 and to Berowra in 1993. In the 1980s and early 1990s, he was an active member of the parliamentary group of Amnesty International.
Ruddock was a member of the Opposition Shadow Ministry from 1983 to 1985 and from 1989 to 1996. In 1988, while a backbencher, he crossed the floor, which is almost unheard of in Australian politics, to support a Labor move to ensure that immigration did not discriminate on the basis of race.
In 1996, when the Liberals gained office, Ruddock was appointed to the Cabinet as Immigration Minister. In this role, he presided over the Howard government's hardline policies on asylum seekers. He maintained and extended the practice of mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and played a key role in both the Tampa crisis and Children overboard affair.
These events made Ruddock one of the most controversial figures in Australian politics, and led to Amnesty International's public attempt to distance the organisation from him. The asylum seekers issue played a significant role in the Liberal victory at the 2001 election, and Ruddock was subsequently rewarded with the additional portfolio of Indigenous Affairs. By 2001 he had become a hero of the Liberal Party's rank-and-file, while being a hated villain to left-wing activists and human rights advocates alike. At one point he was one of the few senior ministers (besides the prime minister) to have needed personal security details.
In 2003, Ruddock was accused by the Labor immigration spokesperson, Julia Gillard, of personally intervening to give asylum seekers favourable treatment in exchange for donations to the Liberal Party.
Soon afterwards Ruddock was transferred to the position of Attorney-General in a ministerial shakeup. He is now responsible for the government's policy on national security, and has introduced legislation giving greater powers to Australia's security agencies, ASIO and ASIS.
Ruddock is the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. He has become a hero of the rank-and-file of the Liberal Party and of conservatives generally, and one of the most intensely disliked politicians by members of the Labor Party and people on the left of politics.
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