|19th Premier of New South Wales|
30 June 1913 – 12 April 1920
|Governor||Sir Gerald Strickland
Sir Walter Davidson
|Preceded by||James McGowen|
|Succeeded by||John Storey|
|Member of the Australian Parliament
19 December 1931 – 5 June 1934
|Preceded by||John Eldridge|
|Succeeded by||William McCall|
4 August 1871|
St Pancras, London, England
|Died||5 June 1934
Gordon, New South Wales, Australia
|Political party||Labor (1907–17)
William Arthur Holman (4 August 1871 – 5 June 1934) was the second Australian Labor Party Premier of New South Wales, Australia. He later split with the party on the conscription issue in 1916 during World War I, and immediately became Premier of a conservative Nationalist Party Government.
Holman was born in St Pancras, London, England in 1871, the son of William Holman, an actor, his mother was also on the stage under the name of May Burney. He was educated at an Anglican school and was apprenticed as a cabinetmaker. He attended night classes and literary societies. There were bad times in the theatrical profession during the 1880s, and the Holmans were glad to obtain an engagement with Brough and Boucicault in Australia. The family migrated to Melbourne, Australia in October 1888. The burning of the Bijou theatre in Melbourne resulted in their move to Sydney.
Trade union activity
As a cabinet maker in Sydney he was interested in the ideas of John Stuart Mill, William Morris, Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin, and became very active in the Australian labour movement. He joined the Single Tax League, the Australian Socialist League and the newly formed Labor Electoral League, a forerunner to the Australian Labor Party (ALP). In the Australian Socialist League he mixed with anarchists and socialists and met future Prime Minister Billy Hughes, Creo Stanley, Ernie Lane, Henry Lawson and J.D.Fitzgerald. Holman and Hughes were associated with Arthur Desmond on the scandal sheet paper, The New Order.
In 1893 he became Secretary of the Railways and Tramways Employees’ Union, representing the union on the Sydney Trades and Labor Council. With the support of the Labor Electoral League he unsuccessfully stood for election to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1894 and 1895. During this period he was the proprietor of the Daily Post newspaper, sympathetic to the labour movement, which wound up in liquidation, with Holman and four other directors convicted of fraud. He spent nearly two months in jail before the conviction was quashed. He went on to become a journalist for the Grenfell Vedette, and later its proprietor. From 1896 to 1898 he worked as an organiser for the Australian Workers' Union.
In 1900 Holman began to study law part-time and in 1903 he passed the University of London's intermediate examination, and was admitted to the bar as a barrister of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 31 July 1903. In 1909 he co-authored with P.A. Jacobs Australian Mercantile Law. In the 1920s, when he resumed his legal practice, he was made a Kings Counsel. After a lectureship in Brisbane in 1928, The Australian constitution : its interpretation and amendment was published.
Politician and Premier
In the late 1890s Holman was on the central executive of the embryonic Labor Party, before being elected as the Member for Grenfell in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1898. He became deputy-leader of the Labor party in 1905, and at the 1907 election he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for the seat of Cootamundra. In 1910 the Labor Party first won Government in New South Wales with a slim majority of 46 seats in a parliament of 90 seats, with James McGowen as Premier, and Holman made Attorney General.
On 30 June 1913 McGowen resigned and Holman was named leader of the New South Wales Labor Party and hence became Premier. During his government many state-owned enterprises were established to compete with private businesses, as a compromise to the Labor policy on Nationalisation. The Labor Party had a policy commitment to abolishing the New South Wales Legislative Council, with Holman moving a motion in 1893 that the upper house be abolished. Only 47 per cent of Government bills were passed by the Upper House for the period between 1910 and 1916. But Holman contradicted his position in 1912 by making nine appointments to the Upper House, some of which were not members of the Labor Party, without consultation with the party machine or the Trades and Labor Council. Other issues placing him at odds with the labour movement include the failure to control prices and profiteering during the war, and attitudes to pay and conditions of public servants.
In 1916 the conscription issue divided the Labor Party and wider Australian Community. While much of the Australian labour movement and general community were opposed to conscription, Australian Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes and Premier Holman strongly supported conscription, and both crossed the floor to join the conservative parties. Holman formed a coalition on 15 November 1916 with the leader of the opposition Liberal Reform Party, Charles Wade, with himself as Premier. Early in 1917, Holman and his supporters merged with Liberal Reform to form the state branch of the Nationalist Party of Australia, with Holman as leader. At the general election held that March, the Nationalists won a huge victory.
During his leadership of the Nationalist Government he vigorously defended the Government-owned enterprises from his fellow conservatives in power. In the 13 March 1920 state election, Holman and his Nationalists were thrown from office in a massive swing, being succeeded by a Labor Government under the short-lived John Storey. Unusually for a long-serving premier, Holman was defeated in his own seat. However, he continued outside Parliament as a senior figure in conservative politics.
Holman's later parliamentary career was less notable than might have been expected from his 1910-20 achievements. Elected as a federal United Australia Party MP, for the Division of Martin, to the Australian House of Representatives in December 1931, he had an undistinguished time as a backbencher in the Joseph Lyons government. His health having deteriorated over a considerable period, he died on 5 June 1934 in the Sydney suburb of Gordon, apparently from shock and loss of blood after a difficult tooth extraction on the previous day. He was cremated at Northern Suburbs crematorium on 6 June 1934.
Holman is a controversial figure, as along with Hughes, he became and remains a traitor in Labor histories for joining forces with the non-Labor forces. Although he protected the state-owned enterprises he helped create, the Australian labour movement still considers him a "rat."
- Serle, Percival. "Holman, William Arthur (1871 - 1934)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
- Nairn, Bede. "Holman, William Arthur (1871 - 1934)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
- "Mr William Arthur Holman (1871 - 1934)". Members of Parliament. Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
- Sydney Morning Herald- Death/Funeral Notice 06/06/1934 (page 12)
- Australian labour leader : the story of W.A. Holman and the labour movement Herbert Vere Evatt (1940).
- The First New South Wales Labor Government 1910-1916; Two Memoirs: William Holman and John Osborne Michael Hogan (2005) ISBN 0-86840-880-8