House of Representatives
28 October 1952

20th Parliament · 1st Session

Mr. Speaker (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

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Return to Writ: Mr. Keith Walter Wilson Ewert Sworn


– I have to announce that I have received a return to the writ which I issued on the 16th September, for the election of a member to serve for the electoral Division of Flinders, in the State of Victoria, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Mr. Rupert Sumner Ryan, and that, by the endorsement thereon, it is certified that Keith Walter Wilson Ewert bas been elected in pursuance of the said writ.

Mr. Ewert made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.

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Prime Minister · Kooyong · LP

– It is my duty to convey to honorable members officially, what they already know unofficially, that early this morning our friend and colleague, the Right Honorable William Morris Hughes, died in Sydney. He was the only original member of the :first Commonwealth Parliament remaining in this House, or in this Parliament. He entered the Parliament as> the representative of the Division of West Sydney in 1901. Before I speak of. his remarkable history in this country, I should like to place on record his public service and the posts which he occupied in public life. He entered the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales as the member for Lang in 1894. How great & .span of time .that is will be fully understood: when I point out, merely for the purposes of comparison of time, that be entered the New South Wales Parliament before I myself was born. He represented the same electorate until his election to the Federal Parliament in 1901, and he thus possessed the remarkable, and,, indeed, unique record of having sat in parliament continuously for a period of 58 years. In 1001 he was elected to this House as the representative of the Division of West Sydney, and he represented that division until 1917. From 1917 to 1919 he was the member for Bendigo. He then transferred to North Sydney and remained’ the representative of that division until 1949, from which date, upon a redistribution of seats, he became the member for Bradfield.

His career as a member, of this House covers an extremely wide field: He was Minister for External Affairs in’ 1904 - two years after the Boer War. .. He was Attorney-General from 1908 to 1909, from 1910 to 1913, and from 1914 to 1921. He was Prime Minister from 1918 .’ to 1922. He was a member of the Imperial War Cabinet from 1916 onward during World War I. He was Minister for Health and Minister for Repatriation from 1934 to 1987, with one slight interruption, as honorable members know. He was Minister for External Affairs and VicePresident of the Executive Council from 1937 to 1939. He was once more AttorneyGeneral from 1939 to 1940, and he was Attorney-General and Minister for the Navy in 1940 and 194:1. ‘ He was a member of the Australian Advisory War

Council ia World War II., and continued to. hold that position after our late friend, John .’Curtin^, became Prime Minister, on the .express invitation of Mr. Curtin.

His career outside this House was just as : varied and just as remarkable. He was one of the founders of the Australian. ‘ Labour party. He was general secretary of the Sydney Wharf Labourers Union for over twenty years. He was, indeed, a pioneer in the modern trade union movement. He was president of the Waterside Workers Federation until 1917, after having helped to establish that union sixteen years before. He was president of the Transport Workers Federation. He was president of the Trolley, Draymen and Carters Union for sixteen years. Yet, despite all these activities, he found time to study the law and to be admitted as a- member of the bar of Now South Wales. He became a Privy Councillor in 1916, and was appointed a King’s Counsel in 1919.

Very seldom can it be said truthfully that a man is as well known outside his own country as inside it, but I think it can be said that William Morris Hughes was as well known outside Australia as inside Australia. He represented our country at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, and it will never be forgotten by any Australian that, at that conference, he conducted a magnificent and successful battle to ensure that Australia should have the mandate over New Guinea, a matter of profound historic significance. With the late Sir Joseph Cook, he signed the Peace Treaty at Versailles on behalf of Australia. In 1932, he represented Australia at the League of Nations Assembly.

I shall not dwell, beyond stating them, upon the honours and awards that were conferred upon him by overseas governments and institutions. Everybody in this House, whatever his party may be, is proud to think’ that a fellow countryman of ours was- made a Companion of Honour and Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour; Ho also received the Order of the Grand Crown of Belgium, and was presented with ‘the freedom of the cities of London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh,’- Glasgow, and ten other cities in the United Kingdom. The universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, “Wales and Birmingham conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, whilst the University of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Civil Law.

When one has recited the bare bones of that most imposing record, it is still left to say that from time to time he wrote books of a variety of kinds that have attracted the attention of honorable members, from the first of his works that I remember reading, The Case for Labour - which I still think was a magnificent piece of controversial English of the highest possible kind and the most formidable case in the political field that has ever been presented in writing in this country - right up to the time when, in a rather reminiscent mood, he produced such books as Crusts and Crusades, which will never equal his own story as told by his own word of mouth. I have always believed that the greatest biography of Billy Hughes would have been one spoken by himself, in the right mood, in the right company, with all the lovely qualities that it possessed. But, short of that, we must take his writings. In Crusts and Crusades, in particular, in one or two chapters I felt almost that I heard the man himself speaking.

When I found early this morning that it would be necessary to say something about our late most distinguished friend and colleague, I was a little comforted to remember, as I am sure all honorable members are, that literally only a few days ago, while he was with us, we did honour to him in this House. I think I have had occasion to say on other occasions that, as a race, we have something of a passion for epitaphs and tombstones. It will always comfort me to know that, while he was with us and in possession of all his own breezy, witty and devastating characteristics, we sat down to dinner with him to honour him on his birthday, and spoke about him, all of us, from our hearts. I know, as do honorable members generally, that that was an occasion of immense comfort and immense satisfaction to him. So the first thing I have in mind is that I am glad that we had a chance to say things about him while he was alive.

The other thing that I should like to say about him is that there was a most remarkable duality about his career. Here was a man, born and bred in Wales, who became the most distinguished Australian of his time. Here was a man who, beginning his industrial career as what we should now call a militant unionist, became one of the greatest champions of constitutionalism in the industrial field. Here was a man who was, beyond question - and every honorable member opposite will agree with me in this - one of the great founders of the modern Labour party, who lived long enough to find himself the leader, and indeed the Prime Minister, in a camp opposite to which the Labour party sat. Here was a man who, in World War I., was Prime Minister of Australia and who, by his voice and spirit and fire, shook the whole of Great Britain in the darkest hours of that war. In World War II., at a time when most men might have been abed or writing their memoirs, or thinking quietly of the past, he found himself once more a Minister of the Crown, a member of a war cabinet and a member of a war council. This, I think, is of all lives that we have witnessed in Australia, the most astonishing. A little man, a wisp of a man, must have tremendous personality to assert himself over vast multitudes of people, and he did it. A man coming in his late youth, not in his earliest youth, but in his late teens, to a country like Australia, must have had a most remarkable adaptability to- become a commanding leader in the corin try of” his adoption.

I find it difficult to believe, as will all honorable members, that this is the first day in the history of more than half a century of this Parliament in which William Morris Hughes has not sat as a member of it. I find it very difficult to believe that from now on he will not be with us, because, whether one agreed with him or disagreed with him - and I am bound to say he made it perfectly easy to do both, if one wanted to - he had a patriotism, a fire, a rare eloquence and a pungent wit that I have, I think, seldom seen equalled and have never seen surpassed in my own lifetime*

The last thing I wish to say on this sad occasion is: that every honorable member of this House has a great affection for Dame Mary Hughes. ‘ It would be the wish of everybody in this House that I should, so far as words can express such a matter, convey to her on behalf of us all, our affection, our warm goodwill and our deep sympathy upon an occasion which to her, as to us, must seem like the closing of an epoch in the history of this country. I move -

That this House expresses its deep regret at the death of the Right Honorable William Morris Hughes, C.H., Q.C., member of this House for the Division of Bradfield, a former Prime Minister of Australia and for many years a Minister of the Crown, places on record its appreciation of his distinguished public service, and tenders its profound sympathy to his widow and other members of his family in their bereavement.

Leader of the Opposition · Barton

– I second the motion, which has been so ably proposed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). At the death of any member of the Parliament, all conflicts are, for the moment, stilled, and all of us tend to put an assessment upon the man who has gone from us that is quite independent, and even judicial. In the case of William Morris Hughes, it is even more so. He had reached such an advanced age, and had been so long with us, that we are able to assess the great service which he performed for Australia arid for the British Commonwealth. The Prime Minister has undertaken that task of assessment to some degree.

The public career of William Morris Hughes has been almost miraculous. The particulars which the Prime Minister has given speak for themselves. His fame is not confined to this nation, or to the British Commonwealth, but is worldwide. We tend to forget how great a career he had in New South Wales before federation. In the politics of New South Wales, then a colony and not a State, he did great things. He played a vital part in the development of the political Labour movement and in the pioneering of the industrial movement.

When the movement for federation was made, he again played a leading part. He tried to have the draft constitutional charter made more democratic and more responsive to the will of the people. When federation came, he was elected a member of this Parliament, and has continued in that capacity ever since. I think he aimed, through federation, not only at having a united people integrally associated with Britain but also at working towards a great national destiny for Australia in the Pacific. He lived to see a great deal of that objective fulfilled.

His positive achievements were really amazing. The various legislative measures which were introduced in New South Wales, first when the Labour party

WaS associated with Sir George Reid. and later when it was associated with the Protectionist party, were remarkable achievements. I have particularly in mind the introduction of the old-age pension system, which, I think, was the first in Australia. In the Commonwealth of Australia, his name will always be associated with the great struggle for industrial conciliation and arbitration, because he knew, from his experience as a great leader of the trade unions, howvital such a system was to the growth of unionism in this country, and to an appreciation of the necessity for industrial justice.

He was a pioneer in the defence preparations of this country, and warned the people of Australia in relation not only to World War I., but also to World War II., of the possible or probable enemies which this country or Great Britain might have to face. He was the pioneer in legislation directed against trusts and combinations, to which he so often referred in those clays.

We know his career. It aroused tremendous enthusiasm and support, and, at times, violent antagonisms. The Prime Minister has referred to the fact that at one time the late right honorable gentleman led the Labour party, and at another time he led a party opposed to it. Years later he opposed that party in its turn. I suppose that, perhaps, the greatest quality of the man was his fiery spirit of independence. Because of his work during World War I., and since, he won the affection of hundreds of thousands of Australian soldiers. He was a man who made governments, and also unmade them. In World War II., as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said, he played a most important part. I remember him very well as I first met him when I was a boy of fifteen or sixteen years of age. Together with some schoolboy friends from a Sydney school I assisted him in his electorate by giving out election cards. I have never ceased to try to appreciate the qualities of the man. What were those qualities? He was always, perhaps in the background, a man of commanding intellect. He had a fiery energy and independence of mind. One writer in trying to assess his qualities used the words of Dryden -

A fiery soul, whieh, working out its way,

Fretted the pigmy-body to decay, and o’er-inform’d the tenement of clay,

He was a man with that very rare quality - a powerful imagination. His speeches, at their best, were unequalled in the history of this or, I believe, of any other country. His vivid imagery and metaphors made listening to him a delight. I recollect, with pleasure, many speeches that I heard him deliver down through the years. He was a man of supreme courage. I like to think of the recent occasion to which the Prime Minister has referred. At the instance of the Prime Minister, a parliamentary dinner was tendered to Mr. Hughes on his 88th birthday, and at that dinner he treated us to a magnificent and compelling address. During the day of the dinner he had not been well, and no doubt that address took a heavy toll of his strength. Only a few weeks ago he made his last speech in this House. He rose during the course of a somewhat dull debate, and seemed at once to grip the attention of all honorable members present. His voice was not strong. The old ring and fire that 1 remember so well had gone; but the nervous energy, the vitality and the deep conviction of the man were all still apparent. There was an amazing scene in this chamber while he was speaking. Nobody left the House, and no one seemed to dare to move. Thirty or 40 honorable members on each side of the House listened to him in intense silence, and one could have heard a pin drop during the course of his speech. I ask honorable members whether they could imagine a more fitting tribute to a man of 88 years. At the end of his speech - what he spoke about is not to the point at the moment - he was cheered by every honorable member in the House.

Mr. Hughes was a Welshman, but I believe that his supreme devotion was to Australia. It was to Australia - its destiny, security and the welfare of its people - that he was passionately devoted. The whole of his life in politics in New South Wales and in the federal sphere will stand as a monument to his devotion to Australia. I join with the Prime Minister in offering sympathy to Dame Mary Hughes, who has been for so long the close and constant comrade of this great man. We do well to cherish the memory of this Welshman who became so great and so outstanding a leader of Australia. He was small, almost tiny of stature, but his energy was boundless and his mind independent. His faith in Australia’s greatness was steadfast. He was an inspiration to us all, and we shall not look upon his like again.

Minister for Health · Cowper · CP

– On behalf of the Australian Country party in this House and throughout Australia, I support the motion that has been moved by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), and supported by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), in admiration of the wonderful work that was done by our late colleague William Morris Hughes in this Parliament. We all extend our sympathy to Dame Mary, his widow, who was his constant friend and companion, and to the members of his family. I take this opportunity to thank the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), as leader of the Australian Country party in this House, for giving me the privilege of speaking in support of this motion, because of my association for over 34 years in the Parliament and for a considerable time previously with the right honorable gentleman who has passed away. The Empire and Australia have lost a great war-time Prime Minister, a great statesman, and a great patriot, but we in this Parliament have lost a familiar friend, whom we learned to love and appreciate and who seemed to us, as the years passed, to mellow and become more and more genial, hopeful, helpful and friendly. The Prime Minister, in the course of his remarks, said that he had not been born when the late Mr. Hughes was first elected to the Parliament of New South

Wales. I was still a lad at school in Sydney when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of that State. At that time, it was the custom of the people of Sydney, when the results of general elections were coming through, to gather in the streets in their thousands to read the results as they were posted outside the various newspaper offices. I recall the keen interest that was shown in the result of the general election that was held in 1894. Everybody was interested in the advent of the new Australian Labour party, and every one then learned that Mr. Hughes had been elected for the electorate of Lang. I can scarcely recall a period in my lifetime when the name of” William Morris Hughes - better known as .Billy Hughes - was not a household word throughout Australia.

During the whole of his political career he was a familiar figure, not only in New South Wales but also throughout Australia as a whole. When the fight for federation occurred the Australian Labour party took a positive stand in respect of the issues involved. It opposed the bill as it was originally drafted. Later, throughout the early decades of this century, after federation had been accomplished, Mr. Hughes, as the Prime Minister has said, published his book, The Case for Labour, and, daily, in the great metropolitan newspapers, issued the ablest and most continuous and effective propaganda that I have seen. All of it came from the pen of our late friend. Then, when he entered this Parliament, he espoused definite ideals, especially the ideal that Australia should be properly defended. He introduced the system of universal military service and strongly advocated adequate naval defence because he believed that at that time the protection of this country depended principally upon naval strength. After World War I. broke out, he went’ to Great Britain in the darkest hours of that conflict and moved like a quickening fire and a spiritual force, throughout England cheering the people of that country who were fighting with, their backs to the wall. He then went on to France to visit members of the Australian Imperial Force and ensured that our soldiers were properly looked after. After the conclusion of World War I. he introduced in this Parliament our first repatriation measure, and to his credit it can be said that it has not been necessary to amend the main provisions of that important measure. That legislation is evidence of his keen interest in the welfare of ex-servicemen. As we were so closely associated I remember quite well how he insisted that while the members of the Australian Military Forces engaged in World War I., should make common cause with other members of the Empire, they should also retain their identity and individuality and should continue to be controlled, ultimately, by the Australian Government. Practically no other dominion was able to achieve a similar position in respect of the control of its forces; but Mr. Hughes was able to do so because of his persistence. When World War I. was over he proceeded to the Peace Conference at Versailles and he put Australia on the map at that conference. A matter of the utmost importance to us was that he secured for Australia control of New Guinea under mandate, and that control may ultimately prove to be one of the real bulwarks of this country.

In the Parliament itself, Mr. Hughes showed himself to be one of the greatest and shrewdest leaders yet to be seen in this sphere. At one time, for a period of approximately ten months, he ruled the country with the support of only sixteen members. During that period he completely controlled the political situation in this Parliament. Later, when he again assumed office in the 1930’s, many said that age had commenced to overtake him, but compared with the age that he ultimately attained he was then still a boy. On the occasion of the silver jubilee of King George V., he sponsored a campaign to raise £250,000 for the purpose of erecting as a monument to that monarch in this country a maternity hospital because he was so interested in the welfare of the mothers and children in Australia. That fund was used to finance the construction of the King George V. Maternity Hospital, which is now associated with the Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, and which will probably remain the best monument to his memory. In the Parliament he graduated in a hard fighting school in which it seemed everybody contended with a battle axe, a heavy sabre, or a lightning rapier. Mr. Hughes was a pastmaster in the use of all of those weapons, and he ably held his own. His speeches were noted for their quick wit and keen humour and were invariably whimsical. He made his points without offending even those against whom he directed them. I do not think that any one who has been a member of this Parliament had a keener or surer political sense. He understood ordinary men, how they felt and how they reacted. He loved our children; and he loved our soldiers. Every year, without fail, he was to be seen in his accustomed place to view the Anzac march. He never ceased his fight for the rapid peopling of Australia by natural increase and immigration, and he was always interested in the health of children. To-day, the whole of Australia mourns the passing of the “ Little Digger “, a great Australian and a great Empire statesman and patriot.


– I support the motion that has been moved by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). It is not my purpose as a junior member of the House to speak of Mr. Hughes and of his great career and achievements. That is a matter for the leaders of the parties in this House and all honorable members are indebted to them for the manner in which they have discharged that duty. I have known Mr. Hughes for as long as I can remember. He has been a good and true friend to my family for over 40 years, embracing the members of four generations of it ; and it is in that respect that I wish to address a few words to the House. Having heard him and having heard so much about him as he was at the height of his power, it is a matter for regret to me that honorable members who knew him only in recent years cannot in the nature of things have a full appreciation of his great talents and of the fascination that he exercised over this country. It is one of the tragedies of life that when we come to know a distinguished man only in his old age we have difficulty in imagining him as he was when he was young and in his strength. So it is with many of us when we speak of Mr. Hughes. Many personal stories have been told about him and he told many stories about himself.

In those stories, indeed, is revealed a true picture of his life. I have heard him tell stories of his life in Wales as a poor boy in that country, and of how he came here as an immigrant with very little in the world but his talents. It is a wonderful inspiration to all newcomers to our country to think that that young man came here in such circumstances and that, although English was not his native tongue, he rose to the very highest office that the country had to offer him. I have heard him tell how, one night in Sydney while crossing a bridge, he dropped the only shilling he had in the world, and how he enlisted in the Queensland Colonial Navy, a service which most of us do not even remember from our history ever to have existed, and how, as a drover, he went on horseback with great mobs of sheep up and down the back country of Australia, which he came to know so well. Later on, as we know, it was he who rode around the western lands, to the great stations and the shearing sheds, to address the men, champion their cause, and organize them into the great Australian Workers Union, which, perhaps, is one of his greatest memorials. I have heard him tell stories of the waterfront and the union there, which he led so well, and of the early days of trade unionism, of federation, of diggers in World War I., of Versailles, and of kings, presidents and shearers.

Such was the stuff of the life of this extraordinary man which became a part of the history of the people whom he did so much to lead into nationhood. He led a truly remarkable life which has never been equalled in this country. So much for him as a man of action. There was also the other ‘side of his character, which lias already been mentioned - that matchless talent to observe the men and the incidents about him, some great and some trivial, and to record them in that marvellously whimsical and precise way of which he was the master and in which he had no rival. All this was achieved despite a very grave handicap which he never mentioned but of which, I know, he was very acutely aware - an extreme and increasing deafness. No enterprise seemed to be too great for him to undertake and to succeed in.

His passing, in a sense, marks the end of an era in this country. He was the last of the colonials and embodied the spirit of the age of colonialism, an age when, for all its injustices, it seems that men were more confident of the future, more robust, and, perhaps, happier than they are at present. Certainly men in those days were more individualistic than they are to-day. He embodied the spirit of that era and represented it throughout his life. He was a true friend to those whom he liked, and all his friends will greatly regret his passing. I do not think this country will see his like again.


– I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt), the Minister for Health (Sir Earle Page), and the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett). I knew Mr. Hughes for many years, and I sat with him in this Parliament for 24 years. The tributes that have been paid to him are fully justified. He had an association with an organization to which I have belonged throughout my working life. I am still a member of the miners’ federation. The late Mr. Hughes was general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation. Frequently those two organizations made common cause to fight for what they claimed to be the just rights of their members. Apart from that, he was one of the founders of the political party to which I belong, the Australian Labour party. There is a tree in Islington Park at Newcastle under which he addressed one of the first meetings that was called for the purpose of forming the Australian Labour party. That tree is known as the “tree of knowledge”. Many meetings have been held there since.

William Morris Hughes had great personal courage, and he also had genuine sympathy for others in trouble. I have suffered some hard knocks through the loss of sons and a serious accident to myself. The right honorable gentleman was never backward in expressing heartfelt sympathy with me in those troubles. I shall never forget the stand that he took on the issue of conscription for overseas service during World War I. He went overseas during the war and returned with the belief that conscription for overseas service was necessary. Many of his colleagues thought that a measure to introduce conscription should be enacted by this Parliament. But he rejected their advice and decided to consult the people at a referendum. I have never ceased to admire him for having made that decision. The conscription proposal was twice rejected by the people at a referendum. His stand on that issue illustrated his courage. Probably he could have held the Labour party together and remained in its ranks if he had adopted the advice to introduce conscription by parliamentary act. After the people had twice given their verdict at a referendum, he formed the Nationalist party. I am very pleased that the old gentleman finally scored a victory on the same issue in this House during World War II. Most honorable members who were in this Parliament at that time will recall the occasion when the Labour Government proposed that service in the defence of Australia should be compulsory as far north as the equator. In other words, it proposed to introduce conscription for service overseas. Mr. Hughes, who sat in Opposition then where I sit now, said, “ I have waited many years for this “. He said no more. He was kind enough to refrain from further comment, and many of us were deeply impressed by his attitude when the Labour party at last decided to impose conscription for service outside Australia in defence of the country. The old gentleman had caused a split in the party because be consulted the people on this issue instead of introducing conscription by parliamentary act.

I also recall with great admiration another courageous act by the old gentleman. When the miners threatened to go on strike in order to enforce their claim for an eight-hour day, bank to bank, while he was Prime Minister in 1916, he said to the general secretary of the miners’ federation, another Welshman called Albert Willis, who, I believe, is still alive, “Don’t go on strike. I’ll fix it”. He appointed Mr. Justice Higgins and told him what he should do. Mr. Justice Higgins refused. He sacked him and put Mr. Justice Edmonds in to do the job. . That action indicated courage.

When a government is elected to govern, it should do so. From my own experience, I know that a government does govern when it imposes a sort of semidictatorship. We do not care to envisage such a system of government in this country, but after all, why should not the government dictate what should be done?

I join with other honorable members in tendering my heartful sympathy to Dame Mary Hughes and family. I know that the sympathy of both Dame Mary and the late right honorable gentleman went out to me during my trouble.

Mr. MENZIES (Kooyong - Prime Minister). - I crave leave, Mr. Speaker, to mention a matter which should he in the record and which I had overlooked. It is that the late right honorable gentleman had the remarkable distinction of being a member of the Privy Council of Canada. Through the distinguished High Commissioner for Canada, I have just been requested to make it clear that the Dominion of Canada mourns the loss of its Privy Councillor just as we mourn the loss of our friend.

Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.

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Prime Min ister · Kooyong · LP

– As a mark of respect to the memory of the late right honorable gentleman, I move -

That the House do now adjourn.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 3.22 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 October 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.