|Senator for Queensland|
3 September 1975 – 11 November 1975
|Preceded by||Bertie Milliner|
|Born||11 October 1910|
|Died||1 July 1990(aged 79)|
Albert Patrick Field (11 October 1910 – 1 July 1990) was an Australian French polisher and Labor Party member who in 1975 was chosen as a Senator, in unusual circumstances that played a significant role in precipitating the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis. Gough Whitlam described him as "an individual of the utmost obscurity, from which he rose and to which he sank with equal speed".
Albert Field was born in Durrington, Wiltshire, England in 1910. Due to his parents' frequent ill health, he spent much of his childhood in orphanages and boys' homes. He migrated to Australia in 1926, working in mines and on sheep stations.
He joined the Australian Labor Party in 1937, becoming president of the Morningside branch of the party. He served in the Australian Army in New Guinea during World War II. On discharge he took up the profession of French polisher. He worked for the Queensland Education Department, and was elected president of the Queensland branch of the Federated Furnishing Trade Society of Australasia in the early 1970s.
Rise to prominence
On 30 June 1975, Bertie Milliner, a Queensland ALP Senator, died suddenly. The question then turned to who would replace him. It was longstanding tradition that, when a casual vacancy occurred in the Senate, the relevant political party would nominate the replacement to the state premier, and the state parliament would formally appoint the new senator. As was usual practice, the Labor Party nominated only one name, Mal Colston, to replace Milliner. The Country Party Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen asked for a list of three names, from which he would choose the replacement; he was possibly relying on a 1962 precedent when his predecessor Frank Nicklin had also required such a list of names. The Labor Party refused to provide a list, and insisted on Colston being appointed.
Although Field had long Labor and union connections, he was certainly not an active politician, and he had never before sought to become one. Nevertheless, at this time he made himself known to the Premier's office and offered his services. Although he would be technically a Labor Senator, he vowed never to vote for the Whitlam government. Field was of a conservative and religious bent and was openly critical of what he saw as a range of "immoral" policies being advanced by Whitlam and his government. This was exactly the sort of person Bjelke-Petersen wanted. He responded by nominating Albert Field in the Parliament of Queensland as the new senator. The parliament and indeed the government were far from unanimous in supporting this strange appointment, but it passed by 50 votes to 26. The appointment was formally made by the parliament on 3 September 1975. Malcolm Fraser, the federal opposition leader, had misgivings and stated publicly that Colston's name should have been accepted. However Fraser's deputy, the Country Party leader Doug Anthony, had no such qualms.
Field was automatically expelled from the Labor Party by offering his name for Senate selection against the official ALP candidate. He took his seat in the Senate as an Independent on 9 September. Most Labor senators boycotted his swearing-in; the Labor Senate leader Ken Wriedt attended but sat with his back to Field.
Field had resigned from the Education Department immediately prior to his Senate appointment, but there was a dispute about whether he remained a public servant when appointed, as the Education Act required him to give three weeks notice. This may have made him constitutionally ineligible to be chosen as a senator, so the Labor Party challenged his appointment in the High Court. (This requirement had applied to several previous appointments, but had always been ignored). Consequently Field was on leave from the Senate, unable to exercise a vote, from 1 October 1975. (He had not given his maiden speech and had asked only a single question in Question Time.) Going against tradition, the opposition parties refused to provide a "pair" to maintain the relative positions of the Government and Opposition. This gave the Coalition a majority in the Senate, allowing them to pass motions to defer consideration of supply and force the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.
The end of Field's Senate term came on 11 November 1975 when the parliament was dissolved in a double dissolution. He stood at the consequent 13 December election that resulted in part from his appointment, but was not elected. He formed his own party in 1976, which folded three years later, and later joined the National Party.
The controversy surrounding his and Cleaver Bunton's appointments prompted an amendment to the Constitution in 1977, requiring that casual Senate vacancies be filled by a member of the same party. The appointment is still made by the State Parliament, which may choose not to fill the vacancy.
Albert Field lived out his days in Caboolture, Queensland. He suffered from Parkinson's disease in later life, and died of asphyxiation from hanging in 1990, survived by a daughter and step-daughter.
- John Wanna, Australian Dictionary of Biography: Field, Albert Patrick (Pat) (1910-1990)
- Gerard Newman (14 May 2002). "Senate Casual Vacancies". Research Note no.35 2001-2001. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 23 March 2010.
- Four Corners Reflections from the Seventies
- Parliamentary Library paper Candidates, Members and the Constitution (see section "The Field Affair")