Three time Prime Minister of Australia for a
period in total of almost five years. A gifted writer and orator, he
entered Victorian State Parliament in 1879. He championed federation and
was the Victorian delegate when the Australian Colonies Government Bill
was presented to the Imperial Parliament.
A founder member of the Australian
parliament he was Attorney-General and deputy prime minister in Sir
Edmund Barton's ministry and became prime minister on Barton's
resignation in 1903. Nicknamed 'Affable Alfred', Deakin's ideal was a
just and progressive Australia with equal rights for all citizens
regardless of wealth or standing. His vision saw Australia as an
Anglo-Celtic nation, separate but true to the traditions of Empire.
Alfred Deakin was born on August 3, 1856
in Fitzroy. His parents had migrated from England in 1849 and joined the
rush to the gold fields, but not finding their fortune settled for a
modest living in Melbourne. Deakin studied law at Melbourne University.
He married Elizabeth 'Pattie' Browne in 1882 against the wishes of her
father. They had three children.
Whilst at university, Deakin wrote plays
and discovered a great aptitude for journalism. Throughout his career in
federal politics he wrote an anonymous column for the London Morning
Post in which he criticised his own performance as well as that of his
opponents. It was David Syme, the publisher of the Age , who persuaded
him to run for the Victorian parliament in 1879 as a Protectionist
He was an effective administrator. Two
particularly important pieces of legislation concerned industrial reform
and the first government-sponsored irrigation scheme. When Chairman of
the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Irrigation, he persuaded the
Chaffey Brothers to come from the United States to oversee irrigation
projects at Mildura. His Factories Act 1885 defined for the first time
the working conditions and hours of employment for children. A modest
man, he refused a knighthood offered to him when he attended Queen
Victoria's Jubilee in London in 1887.
Losing all his savings in the land crash
of 1890, Deakin resigned from his ministerial post and returned to the
Bar. As a strong believer in federation, he represented Victoria at
various constitutional conferences and became a great friend of Edmund
Barton. He used his powers of oratory to ensure that Victorians voted
'Yes' to a new federal constitution. Not surprisingly, he was appointed
Victorian representative to present the Australian Colonies Government
Bill to the British Parliament. Deakin was Attorney-General in the first
federal government, the youngest member of the ministry, and became
Barton's closest friend and adviser. On Barton's resignation in
September 1903, Deakin was chosen as prime minister at age 47.
Deakin was prime minister of Australia
three times between September 1903 and April 1910-a total of almost five
years. For his first two terms, he had to rely heavily on the Labour
(later Labor) Party to keep his Protectionist Party in power. Deakin
resigned in 1904 after disagreements with Labour over amendments to the
Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.
Deakin made a new bid for power in 1905
with the support again of Labor under Watson. This Protectionist/Labor
coalition lasted for three controversial years. Deakin's opposition to
the Labor sponsored Excise Tariff Act 1906 was vindicated when, in the
famous Sunshine Harvester decision, the High Court ruled the act
invalid. However, the Sunshine Harvester case established the principle
of 'the basic wage', a landmark judgment handed down by Henry Higgins,
president of the court. It was during Deakin's second term in 1908 that
the old-age pension of ten shillings per week was proposed for persons
over 65 years who had lived in Australia for 25 years (but not
Aborigines), who were of good moral character and did not own private
property over 310.
In 1900 it was agreed that the new
federal capital should be within New South Wales, at least 100 miles
away from Sydney. However, the site of the new capital was not finally
decided until 1908, when the Limestone Plains area (now Canberra) was
chosen over Tumut and Dalgety. During 1908, the Labor Party, which held
twice as many seats as the Protectionists, again agitated to govern in
its own right. Fisher called for a vote of confidence in Deakin. Losing
42 to 13, Deakin resigned. Meanwhile, Cook had replaced Sir George Reid
as leader of the Free Traders. Deakin persuaded Cook to join his Party
to the Protectionists to defeat Labor. The new Fusion Party defeated the
Labor Party in the House of Representatives in May 1909. Deakin was
asked by the Governor-General to form a government and the Fusion Party
remained in power until the general election of 1910.
The Deakin-Cook ministry turned its
attention to defence matters, as Deakin was fearful of the colonial
ambitions of Germany, France and Japan within the Pacific region.
Britain agreed to the establishment of an Australian navy, to be under
Australian command in peace time but under the Royal Navy in times of
conflict. A period of compulsory military service was also proposed and
Lord Kitchener asked to advise on Australia's needs.
The election of 1910 was a two party
contest. In spite of Deakin's energetic campaigning Labor was swept into
power. Deakin remained as leader of the opposition until 1913 when he
resigned. He died in 1919. Deakin was one of the fathers of Australian
federation. Many consider him Australia's greatest prime minister
because he laid the foundations upon which Australian society and
legislation were based until the 1980s. The Fusion Party which he
initiated was the forerunner of today's Liberal Party.
Prime Minister Index