Joseph Lyons

Joseph Aloysius Lyons CH (15 September 1879 – 7 April 1939) was an Australian politician who served as the 10th Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1932 until his death in 1939. He began his career in the Australian Labor Party (ALP), but became the founding leader of the United Australia Party (UAP) after the 1931 ALP split. He had earlier served as Premier of Tasmania from 1923 to 1928.


Joseph Lyons

Lyons in the 1930s
10th Prime Minister of Australia
In office
6 January 1932  7 April 1939
MonarchGeorge V
Edward VIII
George VI
Governor-GeneralSir Isaac Isaacs
Lord Gowrie
Preceded byJames Scullin
Succeeded byEarle Page
Leader of the Opposition
In office
7 May 1931  6 January 1932
Prime MinisterJames Scullin
DeputyJohn Latham
Preceded byJohn Latham
Succeeded byJames Scullin
26th Premier of Tasmania
In office
25 October 1923  15 June 1928
GovernorSir James O'Grady
Preceded bySir Walter Lee
Succeeded bySir John McPhee
Party leadership positions
Leader of the United Australia Party
Elections: 1931, 1934, 1937
In office
7 May 1931  7 April 1939
DeputyJohn Latham
Robert Menzies
Preceded byPosition Established
Succeeded byRobert Menzies
Leader of the Labor Party in Tasmania
Elections: 1919, 1922, 1925, 1928
In office
2 November 1916  16 September 1929
Preceded byJohn Earle
Succeeded byAlbert Ogilvie
Federal cabinet posts
Treasurer of Australia
In office
6 January 1932  2 October 1935
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byTed Theodore
Succeeded byRichard Casey
Minister for Commerce
In office
6 January 1932  2 October 1935
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded byCharles Hawker
Succeeded byFrederick Stewart
Postmaster-General
In office
22 October 1929  4 February 1931
Prime MinisterJames Scullin
Preceded byWilliam Gibson
Succeeded byAlbert Green
Minister for Works and Railways
In office
22 October 1929  4 February 1931
Prime MinisterJames Scullin
Preceded byWilliam Gibson
Succeeded byAlbert Green
State cabinet posts
Treasurer of Tasmania
In office
25 October 1923  15 June 1928
PremierHimself
Preceded byWalter Lee
Succeeded byJohn McPhee
In office
6 April 1914  15 April 1916
PremierJohn Earle
Preceded byHerbert Payne
Succeeded byElliott Lewis
Minister for Education
In office
6 April 1914  15 April 1916
PremierJohn Earle
Preceded byAlbert Solomon
Succeeded byWalter Lee
Constituencies
Member of the Australian House of Representatives
In office
12 October 1929  7 April 1939
Preceded byLlewellyn Atkinson
Succeeded byLancelot Spurr
ConstituencyWilmot
Member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly
In office
30 April 1909  13 September 1929
ConstituencyWilmot
Preceded byNew division
Succeeded byWilliam Shoobridge
Personal details
Born
Joseph Aloysius Lyons

(1879-09-15)15 September 1879
Stanley, Tasmania
Died7 April 1939(1939-04-07) (aged 59)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Cause of deathHeart attack
Resting placeMersey Vale Memorial Park, Quoiba
Political partyLabor (to 1931)
Independent (1931)
UAP (after 1931)
Spouse(s)
(m. 1917)
RelationsLibby Lyons (granddaughter)
Kevin Lyons Jr. (grandson)
Children12; including Kevin and Brendan
EducationHobart Teachers' College
OccupationSchoolteacher

Lyons was born in Stanley, Tasmania, and before entering politics worked as a schoolteacher. He was active in the Labor Party from a young age and won election to the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 1909. He served as state treasurer (1912–1914) under John Earle, before replacing Earle as party leader in 1916. After two elections that ended in hung parliaments, Lyons was appointed premier in 1923 at the head of a minority government. He pursued moderate reforms and successfully negotiated a constitutional crisis over the powers of the Legislative Council. At the 1925 election he led Labor to its first majority government in Tasmania, but the party lost office three years later.

In 1929, Lyons resigned from state parliament to enter federal politics, winning a House of Representatives seat in Labor's landslide victory at the 1929 election. He was immediately appointed to cabinet by the new prime minister James Scullin, becoming Postmaster-General and Minister for Works and Railways. In 1930, he served as acting treasurer while Scullin was overseas, and came into conflict with the Labor caucus over the government's response to the Great Depression; he preferred orthodox financial policies. In early 1931, Lyons and his followers left Labor to sit as independents. His exact motivations for leaving the party have been subject to debate. A few months later his group merged with other opposition parties to form the United Australia Party; he was elected Leader of the Opposition.

Lyons led the UAP to a landslide victory at the 1931 election. Nicknamed "Honest Joe", he was known as a masterful political campaigner and became popular with the general public. His personal popularity was a major factor in the government's re-election in 1934 and 1937; he was the first prime minister to win three federal elections. The UAP initially governed alone but after 1934 formed a coalition with the Country Party. Lyons served as his own treasurer until 1935 and oversaw Australia's recovery from the Great Depression. He faced a number of foreign-policy challenges, but accelerated Australia's transition towards an independent foreign policy. In the lead-up to World War II his government pursued a policy of appeasement and rearmament.

Lyons died of a heart attack in April 1939, becoming the first Australian prime minister to die in office. He is the only prime minister from Tasmania and one of two state premiers who have become prime minister, along with George Reid. Several years after his death, his widow Enid Lyons became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives.