Robert Richards (Australian politician)

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Robert Richards
Robert Richards (Australia).gif
32nd Premier of South Australia
Elections: 1933, 1941, 1944, 1947
In office
13 February 1933 – 18 April 1933
Monarch George V
Governor Earl of Gowrie
Preceded by Lionel Hill
Succeeded by Richard L. Butler
Personal details
Born (1885-05-31)31 May 1885
Moonta, South Australia, Australia
Died 24 April 1967(1967-04-24) (aged 81)
Moonta, South Australia, Australia
Political party Australian Labor Party

Hon. Robert Stanley “Bob” Richards (31 May 1885 – 24 April 1967), generally referred to as "R. S. Richards" was the 32nd Premier of South Australia.

Born in Moonta, South Australia, the youngest of twelve children to Cornish miner Richard Richards and his wife Mary, Richards was locally educated before leaving school at age 13 to work in the Moonta mines, initially in menial jobs and later as a carpenter.

In his early twenties Richards moved to Burnie, Tasmania to manage a copper mine before returning to Moonta, where he married Ada Dixon on 31 January 1914. Richards also became involved with the labour movement and was elected President of the mining section of the Australian Workers' Union in 1917, proving himself to be a forceful and competent leader. A lay Methodist preacher, Freemason and keen cricketer and Australian rules footballer, Richards was a popular and well known local identity and it came as no surprise when he sought Australian Labor Party preselection.

Elected to the Electoral district of Wallaroo (which covered Moonta) in the South Australian House of Assembly at the 1918 election, Richards quickly gained a reputation in parliament for his leadership and debating abilities and following Labor’s victory at the 1924 election, Richards was named Chairman of Committees, firstly in the John Gunn led government and, following Gunn's resignation, in Lionel Hill’s cabinet.

Ousted from government at the 1927 election by the Richard Layton Butler led Liberal Federation, South Australia first enjoyed the boom of the 1920s and then suffered the onset of the Great Depression. The 1930 election was highlighted by Butler’s warning to voters that the Depression would worsen before it improved and Labor leader Hill’s promise of a master plan to solve the problems of the Depression. Labor was swept to power and Richards appointed to the positions of Commissioner of Crown Lands, Minister of Mines and Marine and Minister of Labour and Employment.

Unfortunately, Labor did not have a master strategy to combat the Depression, and was instead forced to institute wage cuts and sweeping retrenchments in the public service as part of implementing the frugal measures of the 1931 Premier's Plan enacted to fight the Depression. The Premier’s Plan saw widespread discontent in South Australia, particularly within traditional working-class Labor supporters, resulting in the ALP state executive expelling the Hill cabinet (including Richards) from the Labor Party later in 1931.

Due to the support of the opposition, the Hill Cabinet remained precariously in power until February 1933 when Hill happily resigned as Premier nine weeks before the 1933 election to move to London as Australian Agent-General. This abrupt departure left Richards a reluctant Premier, lacking public or party support.

Richards spent his nine weeks as Premier attempting to talk up the achievements of his cabinet[1] but the effects of the Depression, a fragmented ALP (three Labor parties contested the election; the Parliamentary Labor Party, of which Richards was a member, the official ALP and Lang Labor), and a revitalised opposition in the guise of the Butler led Liberal and Country League, a merging of the Liberal Federation and the Country Party, led to a heavy defeat for Labor.

Former South Australian premiers (from left) Richards, Sir Richard Butler, Lionel Hill and Sir Henry Barwell meet with then Premier Tom Playford in 1940

Richards spent the next year working to reunite the ALP and following his success, served as Deputy Leader of the party from 1934 (under the leadership of Andrew Lacey) and, following another heavy defeat in 1938, where more independents were elected to parliament than ALP members, Richards was returned to the Labor leadership.

Richards remained opposition leader for 11 years, during which Labor increased its vote at three consecutive elections, but could not win government, because of the electoral gerrymander (known as the Playmander). By 1949, Richards had suffered the death of his wife and, with the realisation that under the current electoral system there was little chance of Labor returning to government, retired from politics to serve as the Commonwealth Government’s Administrator of Nauru, taking his new bride with him.

He returned from Nauru to Adelaide in 1951; served as Director of Radio 5KA, then under Methodist control; and was appointed to the South Australian government Forestry Board in 1954. Playford, never afraid to make use of opponents’ skills for the greater good, also commissioned Richards to investigate issues relating to delinquent children, mining issues and housing.

Afflicted by diabetes, Richards nonetheless lived long enough to see a Labor government returned to South Australia (under the leadership of Premier Frank Walsh) in 1965. He died in Moonta two years later, and received a state funeral.

Family[edit]

Richards married Ada Maude Dixon (ca.1883 – 20 July 1948), whose sisters married S. R. Whitford and Oswald Pryor, on 31 January 1914. Their children included two daughters: Joyce and Kathlean.

References[edit]

  1. ^ McMullin, R. (1991) The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991. Oxford University Press, South Melbourne. ISBN 0-19-553451-4.
Political offices
Preceded by
Lionel Hill
Premier of South Australia
1933
Succeeded by
Richard Layton Butler
Party political offices
Preceded by
Lionel Hill
Leader of the Australian Labor Party
(SA division)

1933
Succeeded by
Andrew Lacey
Preceded by
Andrew Lacey
Leader of the Australian Labor Party
(SA division)

1938 – 1949
Succeeded by
Mick O'Halloran