Henry Bolte

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sir Henry Bolte
GCMG
Henry Bolte.jpg
38th Premier of Victoria
In office
7 June 1955 – 23 August 1972
Deputy Sir Arthur Rylah (1955–1971)
Sir Dick Hamer (1971–1972)
Preceded by John Cain, Sr.
Succeeded by Sir Rupert Hamer
Member of the Victorian Parliament
for Hampden
In office
November 1947 – August 1972
Preceded by Raymond Hyatt
Succeeded by Tom Austin
Personal details
Born 20 May 1908
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Died 4 January 1990(1990-01-04) (aged 81)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Nationality Australian
Political party Liberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Edith Elder
Religion Christian Anglican

Sir Henry Edward Bolte GCMG (20 May 1908 – 4 January 1990) was an Australian politician. He was the 38th and longest serving Premier of Victoria.

Early years[edit]

Henry Bolte was born in Ballarat, the son of a publican of German descent (the family name was pronounced Bol-tee). He was to spend the first 24 years of his life (apart from three years at boarding school) in the small western district town of Skipton. He was educated at Skipton primary school and Ballarat Grammar School: he was the last Victorian Premier not to attend a university. After working in various manual jobs he married Edith Elder in 1934 and bought a small farm at Bamganie near Meredith, where he lived for the rest of his life, running sheep and cattle.

In 1940 Bolte joined the Australian Army and served as a sergeant with a training regiment until 1945. After the war he returned to farming and became active in the newly formed Liberal Party. At the 1945 election he stood unsuccessfully for the seat of Hampden in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, but in 1947 he stood again and was elected.

Parliamentary career[edit]

Victorian politics was volatile at this time, with a succession of weak short-term governments. The electoral system was malapportioned in favour of rural areas, which gave the minority Country Party disproportionate power. As a rural Liberal, Bolte despised the Country Party nearly as much as the Labor Party.[1] This came about when Albert Dunstan (Deputy Premier and leader of the Country Party) unexpectedly withdrew support for the Premier, Stanley Argyle, breaking the coalition agreement and forming a minority Country Party government, which Labor supported in return for some policy concessions in April 1935.

When Bolte was elected to Parliament in 1947 the Liberal leader was Thomas Hollway, who also came from Ballarat but was a much more liberal politician than Bolte. In 1951 Hollway tried to reform the electoral system, which caused a split in the Liberal Party and his replacement by Trevor Oldham, with Bolte as Deputy Leader. When Oldham was killed in an air crash on the way to the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, Bolte was elected leader.

The Labor Party under John Cain had come to power at the 1952 elections, but in 1955 the party suffered a split over the issue of communist influence in the trade unions, and Cain's government had fallen when a faction of anti-communist Catholics MPs voted against it in Parliament. Bolte won the 1955 elections with a huge majority, routing both Labor and the Country Party. He was able to form the first stable conservative government in Victoria for many years.

Bolte was a rough-hewn politician who liked to be seen as a simple farmer, but he had a shrewd political mind. He rapidly consolidated himself in power, helped by the expelled faction of the Labor Party, the Democratic Labor Party, which directed its second preferences to the Liberals at elections. His populist attacks on the trade unions, intellectuals, protesters and the press won him a large following.

Infrastructure building[edit]

Bolte used state debt to provide a wide range of state infrastructure and he was very successful at winning overseas investment for the state. Some of his large projects were increased coal production and power generation in the Latrobe Valley, new offshore oil and gas fields in Gippsland, the West Gate Bridge over the lower Yarra River, a new international airport for Melbourne at Tullamarine and two new universities (Monash University and La Trobe University). Bolte was easily re-elected at the 1958, 1961 and 1964 state elections.

He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in the New Year's Day honours list of 1966.[2] In the New Year's Day honours list of 1972 he was advanced to the rank of Knight Grand Cross (GCMG).

Capital punishment controversy[edit]

Bolte was a proponent of using capital punishment as a deterrent against violent crime. Many believed he was foiled when Robert Peter Tait murdered the old woman of a Hawthorn vicarage and was sentenced to hang but was granted an eleventh-hour reprieve in 1962 after the High Court had found him insane.[3][4]

Justice Starke subscribed to the substitute Tait theory, Starke had defended Tait but later on was the sentencing judge in the R v Ryan & Walker 1966. Starke said After Bolte was denied with Tait he simply waited for the next cab off the ranks, and poor Ryan happened to be the next cab! [5]

In 1967, Bolte would not be denied; in 1965, two prisoners, Ronald Ryan and Peter Walker, had escaped from Melbourne's Pentridge Prison, killing a prison guard in the process. They were recaptured, and Ryan was sentenced to death for murder. Bolte had the power to recommend clemency, but declined to exercise it, arguing that the death penalty was a necessary deterrent for crime against government officials and law enforcement officers.

All calls for clemency, petitions and protests were to no avail.[6] Bolte was determined that the law be upheld. Ryan was hanged in February 1967. Bolte had said "If I thought the law was wrong I would change it".[7]

Bolte's insistence on having Ryan hanged earned him the opposition of the Melbourne press, particularly the The Age, the churches, the universities and most of the legal profession. It also alienated sections of the Liberal Party and some members of his own Cabinet, including his eventual successor, Rupert Hamer. But Bolte had correctly interpreted the populist appeal of his law-and-order stand, and at the 1967 elections the Liberals gained six seats. The Liberals went from 38 of 66 seats in 1964 to 44 of 73 in 1967.

Later career[edit]

After 1968, when Bolte turned 60, his appeal to younger urban voters declined, and he showed little sympathy with new issues such as the environment and civil liberties. His standing was also reduced by a crisis in the state education system, with teacher shortages and overcrowded schools as the children of the baby boom passed through the education system. The government recruited large numbers of American schoolteachers to deal with the shortage. At the same time the Labor Party began to revive under a new leader, Clyde Holding.

At the 1970 state elections the Liberals seemed in serious danger of losing office, or at least being forced into a coalition with the Country Party, but Bolte was saved by Holding's left-wing enemies in the Labor Party, who sabotaged his campaign by publicly opposing government funding for non-government schools (which Holding and Gough Whitlam had made Labor policy). Nevertheless the Liberals lost six seats.

Bolte was promoted to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the New Year's Day Honours of 1972.[8]

Bolte was shrewd enough to see that the Liberals needed a new leader and a new image for the 1970s and in August 1972 he resigned, apparently with no regrets. He arranged for Rupert Hamer, a Melbourne-based progressive Liberal, to succeed him. This proved a sound judgement, since Hamer went on to win three more elections for the Liberals. Bolte retired to his farm, where he lived quietly until his death in January 1990.

Drunk driving controversy[edit]

On 24 March 1984, Bolte was involved in a serious head-on accident when he was driving home after an evening in the local hotel near his property at Bamganie. Bolte and the occupants of the other car were taken to the Ballarat Base Hospital, where blood samples were taken to test for alcohol levels. Whilst there was no evidence of alcohol in the blood of the other driver involved, there were indications of an alcohol content in excess of 0.05% in Bolte's blood. Subsequently, further samples were collected from the hospital by the police, but these were found to have been substituted, and the sample box containing them had been unlocked by an unknown person. An enquiry found that it would have been unfair to proceed with prosecution because of interference with the evidence.[9][10] Bolte later told Prior Of course I know nothing, I was unconscious [11]

Bridge[edit]

The Bolte Bridge that spans Melbourne's Docklands is named after him.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tom Prior, Bolte by Bolte (Craftsman Publishing, 1990) ISBN 1-875428-00-3
  • Peter Blazey, Bolte: a Political Biography (Mandarin Press, 1990)

References[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Cain, Sr.
Premier of Victoria
1955–1972
Succeeded by
Rupert Hamer
Party political offices
Preceded by
Trevor Oldham
Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia in Victoria
1953–1972
Succeeded by
Rupert Hamer

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2004/s1234228.htm