|1st Leader of the Country Party|
24 February 1920 – 5 April 1921
|Succeeded by||Earle Page|
|Member of the Australian Parliament
16 December 1903 – 16 December 1922
|Preceded by||New seat|
|Succeeded by||Alfred Seabrook|
17 November 1928 – 22 October 1929
|Preceded by||Alfred Seabrook|
|Succeeded by||Charles Frost|
12 October 1856|
|Died||22 October 1929
|Political party||Revenue Tariff (1903–06)
|Religion||Church of England|
William James McWilliams (12 October 1856 – 22 October 1929) was the inaugural leader of the Country Party of Australia.
Born in Bream Creek, near Sorell, Tasmania, the son of Irish immigrants who ran the local school. Originally trained as a teacher, McWilliams became a journalist in 1877, rising to editor of the Launceston Telegraph in 1883. Marrying Josephine Fullerton in Melbourne on 19 October 1893, McWilliams’s role as editor helped his stature in the local community enough to ensure his election to the Tasmanian House of Assembly for the electorate of Ringarooma in the December 1893 election.
In parliament, McWilliams advocated strongly on behalf of farmers, investigated the possibility of introducing sugarbeet farming into Tasmania and helped found the Tasmanian meteorological bureau. He also supported giving women and ex-convicts the vote but opposed Federation, believing it should be delayed.
McWilliams bought the Hobart-based Tasmanian News in 1896 and moved to Hobart shortly after, unsuccessfully standing for the seat of Glenorchy in 1900. Switching to federal politics, McWilliams won the Franklin at the 1903 election as a Revenue Tariffist supporting the Free Trade Party on most economic issues.
In parliament, McWilliams, like almost all his fellow members, strongly supported the White Australia Policy, but opposed federal spending on issues such as the establishment of the High Court of Australia, a federal department of agriculture, a transcontinental railway and federal acquisition of the Northern Territory. As in state parliament, McWilliams was a staunch advocate on rural matters, supporting the timber industry and primary producers. After assisting in the formation of the Country Party in 1920, McWilliams was appointed as its first federal parliamentary leader.
However McWilliams did not always see eye to eye with his party colleagues and at times voted against the wishes of the party. He was relieved of the leadership of the Country Party in April 1921 and lost his seat at the 1922 election. McWilliams left the Country Party soon after and unsuccessfully contested Franklin at the 1925 election as a Nationalist.
Running as an independent, he regained Franklin in 1928 and was again successful in 1929, although there was little time for celebration following his second win, because McWilliams died in Hobart from angina pectoris within hours of the declaration of the poll. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.
- Neilson, W. A. (1986). "McWilliams, William James (1856 - 1929)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 2007-09-20.
- "Women Tasmania - Reaching For New Horizons". Department of Premier and Cabinet. 2003. Retrieved 2007-09-24.
- Graham, B. (1966) The Formation of the Australian Country Parties, ANU Press
|Parliament of Australia|
|Member for Franklin
|Member for Franklin