Billy Hughes

William Morris Hughes, CH, KC (25 September 1862 – 28 October 1952), was an Australian politician who served as the 7th Prime Minister of Australia,[1] in office from 1915 to 1923. He is best known for leading the country during World War I, but his influence on national politics spanned several decades. Hughes was a member of federal parliament[2] from Federation in 1901 until his death, the only person to have served for more than 50 years. He represented six political parties during his career, leading five, outlasting four, and being expelled from three.


Billy Hughes

Hughes in 1919
7th Prime Minister of Australia
In office
27 October 1915  9 February 1923
MonarchGeorge V
Governor-GeneralSir Ronald Munro Ferguson
Lord Forster
Preceded byAndrew Fisher
Succeeded byStanley Bruce
Party leadership positions
Leader of the Australian Labor Party
In office
27 October 1915  14 November 1916
DeputyGeorge Pearce
Preceded byAndrew Fisher
Succeeded byFrank Tudor
Leader of the National Labor Party
In office
14 November 1916  17 February 1917
DeputyGeorge Pearce
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Leader of the Nationalist Party
Elections: 1917, 1919, 1922
In office
17 February 1917  9 February 1923
DeputySir Joseph Cook
Stanley Bruce
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byStanley Bruce
Leader of the Australian Party
In office
2 October 1929  7 May 1931
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Leader of the United Australia Party
Elections: 1943
In office
9 October 1941  22 September 1943
Preceded byRobert Menzies
Succeeded byRobert Menzies
Deputy Leader of the Labor Party
In office
30 July 1914  27 October 1915
LeaderAndrew Fisher
Preceded byGregor McGregor
Succeeded byGeorge Pearce
Deputy Leader of the United Australia Party
In office
22 September 1943  14 April 1944
LeaderRobert Menzies
Preceded byPosition created
Succeeded byEric Harrison
Cabinet posts
Attorney-General of Australia
In office
20 March 1939  7 October 1941
Prime MinisterJoseph Lyons
Earle Page
Robert Menzies
Arthur Fadden
Preceded byRobert Menzies
Succeeded byH. V. Evatt
In office
17 September 1914  21 December 1921
Prime MinisterAndrew Fisher
Himself
Preceded byWilliam Irvine
Succeeded byLittleton Groom
In office
29 April 1910  24 June 1913
Prime MinisterAndrew Fisher
Preceded byPaddy Glynn
Succeeded byWilliam Irvine
In office
13 November 1908  2 June 1909
Prime MinisterAndrew Fisher
Preceded byLittleton Groom
Succeeded byPaddy Glynn
Minister for External Affairs
In office
29 November 1937  26 April 1939
Prime MinisterJoseph Lyons
Earle Page
Preceded byGeorge Pearce
Succeeded byHenry Gullett
In office
21 December 1921  9 February 1923
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byPosition re-created
Succeeded byStanley Bruce
In office
27 April 1904  17 August 1904
Prime MinisterChris Watson
Preceded byAlfred Deakin
Succeeded byGeorge Reid
Constituencies
Member of the Australian House of Representatives
In office
29 March 1901  28 October 1952
ConstituencyWest Sydney (1901–17)
Bendigo (1917–22)
North Sydney (1922–49)
Bradfield (1949–52)
Member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly
In office
17 July 1894  11 June 1901
Preceded byNew district
Succeeded byJohn Power
ConstituencySydney-Lang
Personal details
Born
William Morris Hughes

(1862-09-25)25 September 1862
Pimlico, London, England
Died28 October 1952(1952-10-28) (aged 90)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Resting placeMacquarie Park Cemetery and Crematorium
Political partyLabor (to 1916)
National Labor (1916–17)
Nationalist (1917–29)
Independent (1929)
Australian (1929–31)
United Australia (1931–44)
Independent (1944–45)
Liberal (from 1945)
Height5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Cutts
Mary Campbell
Children7

Hughes was born in London to Welsh parents. He emigrated to Australia at the age of 22, and became involved in the fledgling labour movement. He was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1894,[3] as a member of the New South Wales Labor Party, and then transferred to the new federal parliament in 1901. Hughes combined his early political career with part-time legal studies, and was called to the bar in 1903. He first entered cabinet in 1904, in the short-lived Watson Government, and was later Attorney-General in each of Andrew Fisher's governments. He was elected deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party in 1914.[3]

Hughes became prime minister in October 1915, when Fisher retired due to ill health. The war was the dominant issue of the time, and his support for sending conscripted troops overseas caused a split within Labor ranks. Hughes and his supporters were expelled from the party in November 1916, but he was able to remain in power at the head of the new National Labor Party,[4] which after a few months merged with the Liberals to form the Nationalist Party. His government was re-elected with large majorities at the 1917 and 1919 elections. Hughes established the forerunners of the Australian Federal Police and the CSIRO during the war, and also created a number of new state-owned enterprises to aid the post-war economy. He made a significant impression on other world leaders at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, where he secured Australian control of the former German New Guinea.

At the 1922 election, the Nationalists lost their majority in parliament and were forced to form a coalition with the Country Party. Hughes' resignation was the price for Country Party support, and he was succeeded as prime minister by Stanley Bruce. He became one of Bruce's leading critics over time, and in 1928, following a dispute over industrial relations, he and his supporters crossed the floor on a confidence motion and brought down the government. After a period as an independent, Hughes formed his own organisation, the Australian Party, which in 1931 merged into the new United Australia Party (UAP). He returned to cabinet in 1934, and became known for his prescient warnings against Japanese imperialism. As late as 1939, he missed out on a second stint as prime minister by only a handful of votes, losing a UAP leadership ballot to Robert Menzies.

Hughes is generally acknowledged as one of the most influential Australian politicians of the 20th century. He was a controversial figure throughout his lifetime, and his legacy continues to be debated by historians. His strong views and abrasive manner meant he frequently made political enemies, often from within his own parties. Hughes' opponents accused him of engaging in authoritarianism and populism, as well as inflaming sectarianism; his use of the War Precautions Act 1914 was particularly controversial. His former colleagues in the Labor Party considered him a traitor, while conservatives were suspicious of what they viewed as his socialist economic policies. However, he was extremely popular among the general public, particularly ex-servicemen, who affectionately nicknamed him "the little digger".