Billy Snedden

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The Right Honourable
Sir Billy Snedden
KCMGQC
Billy Snedden.jpg
18th Leader of the Opposition of Australia
Elections: 1974
In office
20 December 1972 – 21 March 1975
Deputy Phillip Lynch
Preceded by Gough Whitlam
Succeeded by Malcolm Fraser
5th Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia
In office
20 December 1972 – 21 March 1975
Deputy Phillip Lynch
Preceded by William McMahon
Succeeded by Malcolm Fraser
Deputy Leader of Liberal Party of Australia
In office
August 1972 – 20 December 1972
Leader William McMahon
Preceded by John Gorton
Succeeded by Phillip Lynch
Treasurer of Australia
In office
22 March 1971 – 4 December 1972
Prime Minister William McMahon
Preceded by Leslie Bury
Succeeded by Gough Whitlam
Minister for Labour and National Service
In office
12 November 1969 – 22 March 1971
Prime Minister John Gorton
William McMahon
Preceded by Les Bury
Succeeded by Phillip Lynch
Minister for Immigration
In office
14 December 1966 – 12 November 1969
Prime Minister Harold Holt
John McEwen
John Gorton
Preceded by Hubert Opperman
Succeeded by Phillip Lynch
Attorney-General for Australia
In office
4 March 1964 – 14 December 1966
Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies
Harold Holt
Preceded by Sir Garfield Barwick
Succeeded by Nigel Bowen
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Bruce
In office
1955–1983
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Ken Aldred
17th Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives
In office
17 February 1976 – 4 February 1983
Preceded by Gordon Scholes
Succeeded by Dr Harry Jenkins
Personal details
Born (1926-12-31)31 December 1926
Perth, Western Australia
Died 27 June 1987(1987-06-27) (aged 60)
Sydney, New South Wales
Political party Liberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Joy Forsyth
Children 4
Alma mater University of Western Australia
Religion Presbyterianism[1]

Sir Billy Mackie Snedden, KCMGQC (31 December 1926 – 27 June 1987) was an Australian politician representing the Liberal Party. He was Leader of the Opposition at the 1974 federal election, failing to defeat the Labor incumbent Gough Whitlam.

Early life[edit]

Born in Perth, the son of a stonemason, Billy Snedden was educated at Highgate Primary School, Perth Boys School and Perth Technical College. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1945. After the war he was discharged and attended the University of Western Australia, where he completed a law degree in 1950. It was at the University of Western Australia as President of the Liberal Club that he first encountered Bob Hawke, who was President of the ALP Club. He was admitted to the bar in 1951. In 1950 Snedden married Joy Forsyth, with whom he had four children. During this time he stood once for the Western Australian state Parliament and twice for the House of Representatives.[2]

Political career[edit]

In 1954 he moved to Melbourne, where he practised law until 1955, when he was elected to the House of Representatives for the outer suburban seat of Bruce. He handily defeated Keith Ewert, the former Labor member for nearby Flinders. Snedden defeated Ewert by a similar margin in 1958.

In 1961, Snedden faced Ewert again, and this time trailed in initial counting. However, he was elected on DLP preferences.[3] Snedden's narrow win was critical in the outcome of what was the closest election in Australian history at the time. Had Labor won it, it would have toppled the Coalition after 12 years of rule. However, with Snedden's win, the best Labor could hope for was a hung parliament, though the Coalition wasn't assured of another term in government until later in the night, with its narrow victory in Moreton.

In 1965 Prime Minister Robert Menzies appointed him Attorney-General. He was Minister for Immigration 1966–69, and Minister for Labour and National Service 1969–71, a difficult job which put him in charge of the government's highly unpopular policy of conscription for the Vietnam War. In 1967, following the death of Harold Holt, he was a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party, but his candidacy was not taken very seriously.

Rise to the Liberal leadership[edit]

In 1971, however, Snedden was appointed Treasurer by William McMahon, and was elected Liberal Deputy Leader, making him the heir apparent to the leadership. When McMahon was defeated by the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam in 1972, Snedden was duly elected Liberal leader. Snedden promised a new and more "liberal" Liberal Party, but he suffered from his continuing image as a light-weight, and many Liberals believed he would never defeat Whitlam.

Snedden allowed himself to be persuaded to use the conservative majority in the Senate to block the Whitlam government's budget in 1974. Whitlam promptly called a double dissolution election for 18 May, at which he was returned to office, albeit with a reduced majority. Labor campaigned on the Slogan "Oh no, not Snedden!". Snedden exposed himself to ridicule by refusing to concede defeat, insisting at a press conference that "while we didn't win, we didn't lose either."

Leadership challenge by Malcolm Fraser[edit]

After the election the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, led by Malcolm Fraser, challenged Snedden's leadership, but he was narrowly re-elected. When he failed to make any headway against Whitlam, Fraser mounted a second challenge, and Snedden was deposed in March 1975, becoming the first leader of the Liberal Party not to gain the Prime Ministership. He retired to the backbench until February 1976, when Fraser supported his election as Speaker of the House.

Speaker of the House[edit]

Snedden was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives on 17 February 1976, defeating the previous Speaker, Gordon Scholes, by a majority of 53 votes.[4] He was re-elected on 21 February 1978, defeating Labor MP Dr Harry Jenkins by a majority of 44 votes,[5] and on 25 November 1980, again defeating Dr Jenkins by a majority of 22 votes.[6]

He was the last Speaker of the House of Representatives to wear the formal regalia of full-bottomed wig and gown inherited from the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, believing that it would restore the dignity of the office of Speaker.[7]

As Speaker, Sir Billy sought to enhance the role and assert its independence. He preferred the Speaker to be recognised as an impartial umpire like the Speaker of the House of Commons.[8] In 1979, he published a paper outlining his proposals for adopting some of the Westminster conventions, namely that the Speaker remain in office for five to seven years then resign and hold no further public office, that the Speaker be unopposed by the major political parties at general elections and that the Speaker resign from his or her party upon becoming Speaker.[9]

Sir Billy tried to strengthen the Parliament's ability to withstand pressures from the Executive.[10] He believed that it was contrary to Parliament's independence for the Executive to control the funds allocated to Parliament so he authorised parliamentary officers to write a paper in 1976 entitled The Parliamentary Budget. Sir Billy later wrote, "You could not have a situation where the Executive decided the level at which Members could operate efficiently."[11] This led to the introduction of the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill in 1982.[12]

One of his most memorable actions as Speaker occurred in February 1982 when a Labor frontbencher, Bob Hawke, referred to then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser as a "liar" during question time. Mr Fraser was answering a question about two joint royal commissions being conducted in Victoria at the time. Fraser allegedly selectively quoted a statement by the Victorian Leader of the Opposition, John Cain, which provoked Hawke to call Fraser a liar. Sir Billy followed parliamentary procedure and asked Hawke to withdraw the remark. When Hawke refused, Sir Billy named him and a motion for his suspension was moved. Sir Billy later wrote that "It was his [Fraser's] instigation which was making the Parliament unworkable, not the Opposition's response, like the classroom situation where the smart little man hits the fellow next to him who retaliates and is seen by the teacher".[13] Members of the Opposition had by that point took up "liar" as a chant, which put Sir Billy in the position where he would have to name every Member, one by one.[14] After realising that the House would be unworkable for that sitting day, Sir Billy declined to put the motion for Hawke's suspension.

Fraser was furious and attempted to intimidate Sir Billy to punish Hawke for not withdrawing or take his "punishment". Sir Billy refused and was convinced that he would no longer be Speaker, but once Fraser realised that he had no support in the Liberal Party to remove Sir Billy from office, he sent Sir Billy a conciliatory message.[15]

After the defeat of the Fraser Government in 1983 and the election of Dr Harry Jenkins as Speaker, Sir Billy resigned from Parliament on 21 April 1983. In doing so, he enacted part of his 1979 paper. He believed that if he stayed in Parliament, he might be called for advice on his successor's rulings and that could not happen as it would be undermining the Chair.[16] Sir Billy said, "I am very conscious that, under the Westminster convention, when the Speaker leaves the chair he leaves the House. I think this is right."[16] He formally resigned from Parliament later that day.[17]

Later life[edit]

When the Fraser government was defeated by Hawke in 1983, Snedden immediately resigned from Parliament. He separated from his wife and was later to withdrew from public life as his health declined from atherosclerosis and heart disease. Snedden was Chairman of the Melbourne Football Club from 1981 to 1986, later a director of the Victorian Football League and also Patron of the Professional Boxing Association of Australia.[2]

Death[edit]

On 27 June 1987, just hours after attending John Howard's election campaign launch, Snedden suffered a fatal heart attack at the Travelodge at Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, while having sex with the ex-girlfriend of his son Drew.[18][19] Melbourne newspaper The Truth headlined its report "Snedden died on the job", while the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Snedden was wearing a condom and that "it was loaded".[20]

Personal life[edit]

His daughter Fiona Snedden was elected to the Melbourne City Council in 2004 after an unsuccessful candidature for the Liberal Party in the seat of Melbourne Ports in the 1998 federal election. She stood for re-election in 2008 but lost her seat.

Honours[edit]

Snedden was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in January 1978.[21] He was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1972.

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b "Sir Billy Mackie Snedden KCMG QC" (pdf). Australian Prime Ministers Centre - Prime Facts. Museum of Australian Democracy. Retrieved 2011-08-31. 
  3. ^ 1961 election results in Victoria from Adam Carr's election archive
  4. ^ Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 17 February 1976, p. 7.
  5. ^ Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 21 February 1978, p. 7.
  6. ^ Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 25 November 1980, p. 5.
  7. ^ Philip McCarthy, "(Formal) order in the House", The Age (Melbourne), 17 February 1976, 3.
  8. ^ Billy Mackie Snedden and M. Bernie Schedvin, Billy Snedden. An Unlikely Liberal, Macmillan, South Melbourne, 1990, p.219.
  9. ^ Michelle Grattan, "Make the Speaker impartial: Snedden", The Age (Melbourne), 12 October 1979, 12; Speaker of the House of Representatives, second edition: APH
  10. ^ Speaker of the House of Representatives, second edition: APH
  11. ^ Snedden and Schevdin, 1990, p. 219.
  12. ^ Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 17 August 1982, p. 75.
  13. ^ Snedden and Schedvin, 1990, p. 222.
  14. ^ Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 18 February 1982, p. 321; Snedden and Schedvin, 1990, p. 222.
  15. ^ Snedden and Schedvin, 1990, p. 224.
  16. ^ a b Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 21 April 1983, p. 4.
  17. ^ Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 21 April 1983, p. 17.
  18. ^ "Billy's bedtime story" 2006-09-25.
  19. ^ "Sir Billy and son 'shared mystery lover'" 2006-09-23.
  20. ^ "Exit Billy Snedden, enter the rumour mill..." 2007-06-30.
  21. ^ It's an Honour
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Bruce
1955 – 1983
Succeeded by
Ken Aldred
Preceded by
Gordon Scholes
Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives
1976 – 1983
Succeeded by
Dr Harry Jenkins
Political offices
Preceded by
Garfield Barwick
Attorney-General of Australia
1964 – 1966
Succeeded by
Nigel Bowen
Preceded by
Hubert Opperman
Minister for Immigration
1966 – 1969
Succeeded by
Phillip Lynch
Preceded by
Les Bury
Minister for Labour and National Service
1969 – 1971
Succeeded by
Phillip Lynch
Preceded by
Les Bury
Treasurer of Australia
1971 – 1972
Succeeded by
Gough Whitlam
Preceded by
Gough Whitlam
Leader of the Opposition of Australia
1972 – 1975
Succeeded by
Malcolm Fraser
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Gorton
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia
1971 – 1972
Succeeded by
Phillip Lynch
Preceded by
William McMahon
Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia
1972 – 1975
Succeeded by
Malcolm Fraser
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Wayne Reid
President of the Melbourne Football Club
1981 – 1986
Succeeded by
Stuart Spencer