Simon was educated at Middle Park Central School, Melbourne High School and Monash University where he obtained degrees in economics and law. Simon was at Monash University at the height of the anti-Vietnam war protests, and this sparked his interest in a career in politics.
Following the completion of his studies, Simon took up a number of positions in the union movement and counts as some of his proudest achievements rising to head the Storemen and Packers Union and his election as President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in 1985.
Simon was a member of the governing body of the International Labour Organisation, the Economic Planning and Advisory Council, the Rural and Allied Industries Council, the board of Qantas, the board of the Australian Industry Development Corporation and the Transport Industry Advisory Council.
In 1990 Simon was elected to Parliament and appointed directly to the front bench as Minister for Science and Technology in the fourth Hawke Labor Government. This meant he had to introduce a number of pieces of legislation before he had even given his first speech.
As Minister for Science and Technology, Simon oversaw the stabilisation of funding to scientific organisations based on three year funding programs as well as the implementation of the government's historic decision to establish Co-operative Research Centres.
From June 1991 until December 1993, Simon was Minister for Primary Industries and Energy at a time of great hardship in the rural sector due to the drought, and the collapse of the wool floor price scheme. During his time in this portfolio he played an important role in restructuring Australia's wool industry and putting in place the drought relief system to speed up the payment of assistance to farmers, and help them keep their farms going.
From December 1993 until March 1996, Simon was Minister for Employment, Education and Training. In that role he had primary responsibility for developing and implementing the four-year Working Nation jobs and training strategy, an initiative focused on ensuring everyone who was out of work, especially the long-term unemployed, could receive the training and assistance they needed to get back into the workforce. He was also responsible for policy relating to higher education, schools and vocational education.
After Labor lost office in March 1996, Simon was appointed Shadow Minister for Industry and Regional Development and Manager of Opposition Business. Following the 1998 election, he was elected Deputy Opposition Leader and appointed Shadow Treasurer.
Simon was Leader of the Opposition between November 2001 and December 2003, and Shadow Treasurer and Deputy Manager of Opposition business between December 2003 and October 2004. As Federal Leader, he opposed the war in Iraq. Simon also introduced fairer ALP rules designed to improve access for the rank and file to have a greater say and to help prevent branch stacking.
After the election of the Labor Government in November 2007, he was appointed Minister for Trade.
Simon was appointed Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion in June 2010.
Simon served as Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, and Minister for the Arts in the Gillard Government from September 2010 til 21 March 2013.
Simon has been married to Carole since 1973 and they have two daughters. Simon's father, Frank Crean, had a long and distinguished career in the Federal Parliament, entering Parliament when Ben Chifley was Prime Minister and rising to be Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer in the Whitlam Government.
Simon Crean enjoys bushwalking, tennis, and swimming and football. He is the Patron of the Kangaroos Football Club and enjoys going to their games whenever he can.