28 October 1952

20th Parliament · 1st Session

The President (Senator the Hon. Edward Mattner) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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Minister for Trade and Customs · QueenslandMinister for Trade and Customs · LP

by leave - Honorable senators will have heard with deep regret that the Bight Honorable William Morris Hughes passed awayearly this morning. For nearly 60 years - seven years in the Legislative Assembly of Kew South Wales, and for more than 51 years in this, our National Parliament, since the first meeting - Mr. Hughes filled a dominant role in the political and industrial life of this country. He enjoyed a parliamentary career unparalleled in British parliamentary history, if not in the whole world. The right honorable gentleman was the last surviving sitting member of the first Commonwealth Parliament. He was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales in 1894, and was a member of that Assembly until 1901, when he became a member of the House of Representatives in the first Commonwealth Parliament. Prom 1901 until his death he occupied a seat in that House.

Mr. Hughes first attained ministerial office in 1904, when he was Minister for External Affairs for some months. In 1904-6 he was chairman of the Royal Commission on Navigation and in 1907 he represented the seamen at the Imperial Navigation Conference in London. He was Attorney-General from November, 1908, to June, 1909, from April, 1910, to June, 1913, and from September, 1914, to December, 1921. In October, 1915, .he became Prime Minister and continued to hold that office until February, 1923. He was Australia’s first representative in England during the many conferences held in London from 1916 to 1918 to consider vital matters dealing with the war. The right honorable gentleman was also the principal Australian delegate at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, and signed the treaty with Germany on. behalf of this country. He will always be remembered by Australian soldiers of World War I. as their lifelong friend and helper.

In the years between the two great world conflicts, Mr. Hughes held several portfolios - Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for External Affairs and Minister for Health and Repatriation. He was Attorney-General from 1938 to 1941, a member of the War Cabinet in 1939-41 and of the Australian Advisory War Council from 1940 to 1945. Honours were showered thickly upon him. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1915 and a King’s Counsellor in 1919, and enjoyed the distinction of being a Doctor of Civil Law of Oxford, a Doctor of Law of the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Wales and Birmingham, a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour of Prance, a member of the Grand Order of the Crown of Belgium and a Bencher of Gray’s Inn. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1941.

Throughout the right honorable gentleman’s long ‘and distinguished life it was inevitable that a character so forceful, if not turbulent, would attract great loyalty and devotion, or inspire hostility and opposition. He was never regarded with indifference. It is the fortune of few men to become a legend in their own lifetime, but such was the experience of William Morris Hughes. He did not have to read the history of Australia over the last 60 years; he merely had to remember it, because during all of those years he was a vital part of that history. His tireless body is now at rest. His fighting spirit will live as long as the country and the Empire he served so faithfully endure. That spirit will, I am sure, be a source of great inspiration to generations of Australians yet unborn. His achievements provide further abiding testimony that there is no position within the giving of this country that is beyond the reach of the most humble of our people, provided they have the courage, the industry and the determination to strive for it. I move -

That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the death of the Right Honorable William Morris Hughes, C.H., P.C., Q.C., member of the First Commonwealth Parliament, member of the House of Representatives for 51 years, and member for the division of Bradfield, in that House, former Prime Minister and Commonwealth Minister, places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tenders its sincere sympathy to his widow and members of his family in their bereavement.

Senator McKENNA:
TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition

– On behalf of the Opposition, I second the motion. On this sad and formal occasion, even to attempt to do justice to the work, achievements and outstanding characteristics of the late member for Bradfield, Mr. W. M. Hughes, would need words that would fill many volumes. I do not attempt it. Mr. Hughes was a particularly remarkable man. Tiny and. handicapped physically, he was a giant in internal qualities and leadership. He had all the marks of leadership - high purpose intensely pursued, quick intelligence, ability to act, courage to back his judgment, clear and direct foresight. With a vision splendid, extending far into the future, his was the hand that was on the helm when, during a most formative period, the foundations of Australia’s nationhood and future security were laid during World War I. and the years immediately thereafter. A little man from a small nation, hia voice and his extraordinary personality nevertheless dominated the post-war councils of the world. There are few in this Parliament who will make even a mark upon the pages of Australian history, but this man has written many chapters in the book. His death is a reminder and a challenge to us all to rededicate ourselves to Australia and its future.

Mr. Hughes crashed like a meteor through the political storms of the federal arena of the last half century, always captain of his soul and master of his destiny. On his way he slew smugness, complacency, ignorance and stupidity, very often with a single sentence of atomic power and effect. Throughout his life he enjoyed the great blessings of high achievement, and the companionship and friendship of many of his fellows. He lived to see many of his visions translated intoreality and most of his judgments vindicated. So long as there is a history of Australia, Mr. Hughes will have an imperishable and proud place in its record. He was the one man in this country who became an institution in his lifetime. The Opposition joins with members of the Government and their supporters in expressing the deepest regret at the passing of Mr. Hughes from our midst. “With his going, much colour and vitality will pass from the parliamentary scene. A link with the first 50years of federation has been severed. We of the Opposition extend to his bereaved widow, members of his family, and his sorrowing intimates our deepest sympathy, and we trust that they will be given the strength to bear their heavy burden of sorrow.

Senator COOPER:
Minister for Repatriation · Queensland · CP

– The members of the Australian Country party desire to be associated with the motion. Mr. Hughes will always be remembered as the “ Diggers’ friend “. In fact, since his visit to the “ Diggers “ in France during World War I., he has always been referred to by ex-service men and women, especially those of World War I., as the “ little Digger “. During that war his thoughts and actions were continuously directed towards the welfare of Australia’s fighting men. In the years that followed, Mr. Hughes fought just as strenuously for the re-establishment of his friends, the “ Digger’s “, in civil life. The Repatriation Act, as it stands to-day, particularly in respect of the “ burnt-out “ ex-servicemen, shows in many places the hand of thelate statesman. My colleagues and I express our deepest sympathy to Dame Mary Hughes and members of the family in their bereavement.

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

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Motion (by SenatorO’Sullivan) agreed to -

That, as a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased honorable member, the Senate do now adjourn.

Senate adjourned at 3.12 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 October 1952, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.