|34th Premier of South Australia
Elections: 1962, 1965
10 March 1965 – 1 June 1967
|Preceded by||Thomas Playford IV|
|Succeeded by||Don Dunstan|
|Political party||Australian Labor Party|
Francis Henry "Frank" Walsh (6 July 1897 – 18 May 1968) was the 34th Premier of South Australia, serving from 10 March 1965 to 1 June 1967.
One of eight children, Walsh was born into an Irish Catholic family in O'Halloran Hill, South Australia. After an education at Christian Brothers College, Walsh left school at fifteen to work as a stonemason, which sparked his interest in the trade union movement. Walsh would serve as President of the South Australian Stonemason's Society and the national stonemason body and as a member of the United Trades and Labour Council of South Australia, while still finding the time to continue working as a stonemason and marry on 29 December 1925.
Walsh first stood for the Australian Labor Party in the safe conservative electorate of Mitcham at the 1938 state election and while losing to the Liberal and Country League (LCL) member, impressed senior ALP figures sufficiently to gain endorsement for the safe Labor seat of Goodwood (replaced by Edwardstown in 1956). Walsh duly entered parliament in March 1941 and was elected as Deputy Opposition Leader of the state parliamentary Labor Party in 1949, when it became clear no one else wanted the job. Labor had by then been in opposition in South Australia since 1933. The LCL, led by Sir Thomas Playford, ruled South Australia through a time of strong economic development and held power thanks to an electoral malappointment known as the Playmander. In response, many South Australian Labor politicians despaired of ever being in government, and believed the Deputy Opposition Leader's role to be a thankless, poor-paying job.
Following the split in the Labor Party in 1955, Walsh, along with Opposition leader Mick O'Halloran, resisted numerous overtures to join the heavily Catholic Democratic Labor Party (DLP). Their opposition ensured that the DLP did not attain the same influence in South Australian politics that it did in Victoria and Queensland.
Following the sudden death of O'Halloran in 1960, Walsh was narrowly elected to the Labor leadership ahead of Don Dunstan and followed O'Halloran's lead of preferring co-operation with the LCL to criticising them and maintained friendly relations with Playford, who treated him in a somewhat avuncular manner.
Walsh fought his first election as state Labor leader in 1962. Labor won decisively on the two-party vote, taking 54 percent of the vote. However, due to the Playmander, Labor won 19 seats, two short of a majority. The balance of power rested with two independents, who threw their support to Playford a week after the election. Walsh lobbied Governor Edric Bastyan to appoint him Premier instead, arguing that he had won a clear majority of the popular vote. It was to no avail. Nonetheless, the election showed just how distorted the Playmander had become. Even though Adelaide accounted for two-thirds of the state's population, a vote in Adelaide was effectively worth only half a rural vote.
Labor finally overcame the Playmander in the 1965 election, taking 55 percent of the primary vote. For this election, Walsh abandoned a statewide campaign, instead targeting marginal LCL seats. However, the Playmander was strong enough that Labor only netted 21 seats to the LCL's 18—just enough for a majority. Walsh thus became the first Labor Premier of South Australia in 32 years, as well as the first Catholic to hold the post. He found himself the head of an inexperienced government, as no current ALP parliamentarian had previously served as a minister. This left him no choice but to entrust sensitive portfolios to men more used to criticising government actions. Walsh himself took the portfolios of Treasurer and Minister for Immigration.
Walsh's term as Premier was marked by increased spending on public education and the implementation of far-reaching social welfare and Aboriginal Affairs legislation, although many of these changes were spearheaded by his Attorney-General, Dunstan, by far the youngest member of the cabinet (he was the only minister under 50, and one of only three under 60). The socially conservative Walsh may well have personally opposed some of these moves, but felt compelled to go along.
Walsh was never comfortable dealing with the media, particularly television, and his ascension to the job of Premier only exacerbated these problems. Even before 1965, he was notorious for using complex words in the wrong context, and his speeches were often peppered with malapropisms. Walsh regularly had journalists, Hansard reporters, and political ally and foe alike bewildered by his statements. To give but one example, Walsh once said in parliament "In this manner, Mr Speaker, the government has acted as if this were a diseased estate. It's not sufficiently elasticated... The government is suffering from a complete lack of apathy in the case." His unease with the media was seen in stark contrast to Dunstan, who would prove to be a media relations master throughout his later terms as Premier.
Walsh's awkwardness with the media was further highlighted after 1966, the year Playford retired as Opposition Leader and the 37-year-old Steele Hall took his place. Hall's advent, a sagging economy and poor polling figures convinced local ALP heavyweights that Labor could not win the next election with Walsh as Premier. Additionally, since he was aged 67, Walsh was required under party rules to retire from parliament at the next election. Things came to a head in January 1967, when South Australian Labor power-broker Clyde Cameron publicly thanked Walsh for making the noble decision to retire to make way for a younger person. This was news to Walsh, who had made no such decision. After initially digging in his heels, Walsh eventually announced his retirement two weeks later, but not before attempting (without success) to manoeuvre his protégé Des Corcoran into the Premiership ahead of Dunstan.
Walsh died less than two months after his retirement at the 1968 election, and was given a state funeral. While Walsh, who was considered "kindly, generous and unpretentious" by friend and foe, was credited his long parliamentary service and his support for unionism and working-class families, he would frequently infuriate fellow party members by habitually becoming obsessed with trivial issues to the detriment of affairs of state.
- "Francis Henry Walsh". Former Member of Parliament Details. Parliament of South Australia.
- Walsh, Francis Henry (1897–1968) at the Australian Dictionary of Biography
Thomas Playford IV
|Premier of South Australia
1965 – 1967
|Parliament of South Australia|
|Member for Goodwood
1941 – 1956
|New creation||Member for Edwardstown
1956 – 1968
|Party political offices|
|Leader of the Australian Labor Party
1960 – 1967