Described as 'the most English of Australians.' Stanley Melbourne Bruce
became Australia's prime minister in February 1923. Bruce was prime
minister in a period of reasonable stability for the Australian economy,
and the Coalition's policies for developing industry and agriculture won
them victory in 1925, the first election when voting was compulsory. In
1927 Parliament opened in Canberra.
In 1929 the Maritime Industries Bill
caused the defeat of Bruce's government. Bruce became the only prime
minister ever to lose his own seat in an election. He regained it in
1931 but left Parliament for the post of High Commissioner in London,
held from 1933-1946.
"I was bulldozed into
politics," Bruce declared. Described by Manning Clark as
"naturally aloof,"with an Oxford accent and the best of
English fashion (he always wore spats), Bruce formed a Coalition with
Earle Page and together they governed Australia for six and a half
Born in Melbourne on April 15, 1883,
Bruce came from a privileged family and was wealthy all his life. He
studied at Cambridge University, was appointed chairman of the family
company and in 1907 was called to the Bar. He married Ethel Dunlop in
1913. At the beginning of the Great War he became an officer, was
wounded at Gallipoli and then served at Suvla Bay where he earned the
Military Cross. He was persuaded to run for federal Parliament in 1918.
In 1921, whilst in England, he was asked to represent Australia at the
League of Nations in Geneva.
After the December 1922 election the
Country Party under Earle Page forced the resignation of Hughes, and
Bruce was appointed as his successor. The Coalition between Bruce's
National Party and the Country party enjoyed prosperous economic times.
They pursued a policy of development by protecting industry and awarding
export bounties to farmers; increasing British migration and investment;
establishing the Loans Council to control state borrowings; and keeping
a tight rein on union activities. Compulsory voting was introduced in
1924 and the country responded by giving the Coalition a healthy
majority in the 1925 and 1928 elections. In 1926 the Balfour Declaration
recognised the equality and independence of the self-governing
dominions. The Governor-General became the representative only of the
Crown, not of the British Government. That same year, the Council for
Scientific and Industrial Research (later C.S.I.R.O.) was established.
Bruce allocated funds to hasten the
development of Canberra as the National Capital, and in May 1927 the
provisional Parliament House opened; the House would remain provisional
for 61 years. Bruce entertained the Duke and Duchess of York at the
opening. As Canberra had been declared 'dry', toasts to His Majesty were
drunk with fruit cup.
Bruce's downfall was the 1929 Maritime
Industries Bill, aimed at handing over arbitration to the states except
in the case of the maritime industries. This was unlikely to favour
workers as most states had right-wing governments. Hughes put forward an
amendment that toppled the government by one vote-another election had
to be held.
The Coalition lost the election and Bruce
lost his seat. He regained his seat in 1931 but Lyons offered him the
post of High Commissioner in London, a position he held until 1946. In
1947 he was made a viscount, Lord Bruce of Melbourne, but rarely sat in
the House of Lords. He held the post of Chancellor of the Australian
National University from 1951 but only attended ceremonial occasions. He
lived in London until his death in 1967.