Ian Sinclair

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For other people named Ian Sinclair, see Ian Sinclair (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Ian Sinclair
42nd Minister for Defence
In office
Preceded by Jim Killen
Succeeded by Gordon Scholes
Leader of the National Party of Australia
In office
17 January 1984 – 9 May 1989
Preceded by Doug Anthony
Succeeded by Charles Blunt
Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives
In office
4 March 1998 – 10 November 1998
Preceded by Bob Halverson
Succeeded by Neil Andrew
Member of the Australian Parliament for New England
In office
30 November 1963 – 31 August 1998
Preceded by David Drummond
Succeeded by Stuart St. Clair
Personal details
Born (1929-06-10) 10 June 1929 (age 85)
Sydney, New South Wales
Political party National Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Rosemary
Children 1 son, 1 daughter

Ian McCahon Sinclair AC (born 10 June 1929) is a retired Australian politician. During his career he was leader of the National Party of Australia and later Speaker of the House of Representatives.


Sinclair was born in Sydney, the son of a suburban accountant. He was educated at Knox Grammar School and at the University of Sydney, where he graduated in arts and law. Later, he practised law in Sydney, but soon developed an interest in farming, and acquired a property near Tamworth, in the New England region of northern New South Wales. In 1956, he married Margaret Tarrant, with whom he had three children. After the early death of his wife, in 1970, he married again, to former Miss Australia 1961, Rosemary Fenton, with whom he has one son. His eldest daughter, Fiona, is married to the former Australian politician Peter King.

Political career[edit]

In 1961 Sinclair became a Country Party member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, and at the 1963 election, he was elected to the House of Representatives for the Division of New England.

Two years afterwards, Sinclair was promoted to the ministry, becoming Minister for Social Services in the Liberal-Country Party coalition government of Robert Menzies. In 1968, he became Minister for Shipping and Transport. He and Doug Anthony were seen as the most likely successors to the veteran Country Party leader John McEwen, but when McEwen retired in 1971, it was Anthony who was elected party Leader, while Sinclair was elected Deputy Leader, becoming at the same time Minister for Primary Industry.

After spending the three years of the Whitlam Labor government in opposition, Sinclair again became Minister for Primary Industry in 1975, in the Fraser government. He held this position until 1979, when he was forced to resign from the ministry after being charged with forgery. The charges arose from a dispute over his father's will, on which he was accused of having forged his father's signature. He was acquitted of these charges in August 1980, and then returned to the ministry as Minister for Special Trade Representations. After the 1980 elections he became Minister for Communications. In May 1982, he became Minister for Defence, a post he held until the defeat of the Fraser government at the 1983 election.

Party leader[edit]

In January 1984 Anthony resigned the leadership of the National Country Party (as the Country Party had been renamed in 1975), and Sinclair succeeded him. Under his leadership the party was renamed the National Party of Australia (NPA), reflecting the need to broaden the party's base beyond its declining rural constituency. The party aggressively challenged the Liberals in urban seats, but had little success except sometimes in Queensland.

Sinclair tried to position the NPA as the party of social conservatism. During the 1984 election he created a controversy by blaming the appearance of AIDS on what he claimed was the Hawke Labor government's policy of "condoning" homosexuality.[1] He also wanted to reduce the number of Asian people immigrating to Australia. [2] In August 1988, he said:

"What we are saying is that if there is any risk of an undue build-up of Asians as against others in the community, then you need to control it ... I certainly believe, that at the moment we need ... to reduce the number of Asians ... We don't want the divisions of South Africa, we don't want the divisions of London. We really don't want the colour divisions of the United States."


Sinclair had a poor relationship with Liberal leader Andrew Peacock, and supported his more conservative rival, John Howard. When Howard became Liberal leader in 1985, the two formed a close partnership.

This alliance was disrupted by the determination of the extremely conservative Queensland branch of the NPA and its leader, Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, to seize the national political agenda. The 76-year-old Bjelke-Petersen launched a campaign to make himself Prime Minister at the 1987 election. As leader of the NPA's most powerful branch, he forced Sinclair to break off the coalition agreement and support his bid. The "Joh for Canberra" campaign was a complete failure. Due to numerous three-cornered contests and swing voters' alarm at the prospect of Bjelke-Petersen being kingmaker in a hung parliament, the NPA lost several seats, particularly in Queensland, and the Hawke government was elected to a third term.

Following the 1987 debacle, Sinclair and Howard both found their leaderships under pressure. In May 1989, there were simultaneous, co-ordinated leadership coups in both parties, with Peacock displacing Howard as Liberal leader and Charles Blunt replacing Sinclair. When Blunt lost his seat at the 1990 election, Sinclair made a determined attempt to regain the NPA leadership, but was defeated by Tim Fischer, and retired to the back bench. He was thus the first NPA leader since the formation of the Coalition to have never served as Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. By this time he was the Father of the House of Representatives. He was also the last serving Australian politician to be a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, entitling him to the prefix "The Right Honourable".


Aged nearly 70 and having had heart problems for some time, Sinclair announced his intention to retire from parliament at the 1998 election. In February 1998 Howard appointed Sinclair as Chairman of the Constitutional Convention which debated the possibility of Australia becoming a republic, a role in which he won praise from all sides. When the Speaker of the House, Bob Halverson, suddenly resigned in March, Sinclair was elected to replace him.

Sinclair liked serving as Speaker so much that he wanted to run for another term. However, Stuart St. Clair had already been preselected as the new National candidate in New England and Sinclair had no choice but to retire, which he did at the October 1998 election. He was the last parliamentary survivor of the Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon governments.

In January 2001, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).[4]

Sinclair is now the President of AUSTCARE, an international, non-profit, independent aid organisation.[5]


  1. ^ Sendziuk, Paul (2003). Learning to trust: Australian responses to AIDS. Sydney: UNSW Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-86840-718-6. Retrieved 5 October 2009. 
  2. ^ Bird Rose, Deborah (2005). Dislocating the Frontier: Essaying the Mystique of the Outback. Canberra: Australian National University E Press. p. 35. ISBN 1-920942-37-8. Retrieved 30 November 2007. 
  3. ^ Markus, Andrew (2001). Race: John Howard and the Remaking of Australia. Allen & Unwin. p. 89. ISBN 1-86448-866-2. 
  4. ^ It's an Honour: AC
  5. ^ http://www.austcare.org.au/aboutus/our-board.aspx
Political offices
Preceded by
Reginald Swartz
Minister for Social Services
Succeeded by
William Wentworth
Preceded by
Gordon Freeth
Minister for Shipping and Transport
Succeeded by
Peter Nixon
Preceded by
Doug Anthony
Minister for Primary Industry
Succeeded by
Ken Wriedt
Preceded by
Rex Patterson
Minister for Primary Industry
Succeeded by
Peter Nixon
Preceded by
Paul Keating
Minister for Northern Australia
Succeeded by
Evan Adermann
Preceded by
Douglas Scott
Minister for Special Trade Representations
Position abolished
Preceded by
Tony Staley
Minister for Communications
Succeeded by
Neil Brown
Preceded by
Jim Killen
Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
Gordon Scholes
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
David Drummond
Member for New England
Succeeded by
Stuart St. Clair
Preceded by
Tom Uren
Father of the House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Philip Ruddock
Preceded by
Robert Halverson
Speaker of the House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Neil Andrew
Party political offices
Preceded by
Doug Anthony
Leader of the National Country Party/
National Party of Australia

Succeeded by
Charles Blunt
Preceded by
Doug Anthony
Deputy Leader of the Country Party/
National Country Party/
National Party of Australia

Succeeded by
Ralph Hunt