William Wentworth (Australian politician)

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The Honourable
William Wentworth
AO MA (Oxon)
Billwentworth.jpg
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Mackellar
In office
1949 – 1977
Preceded by Division created'
Succeeded by Jim Carlton
Minister for Social Services
In office
1968–1972
Preceded by Ian Sinclair
Succeeded by Bill Hayden
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs
In office
1968–1971
Preceded by New Title
Succeeded by Peter Howson
Personal details
Born (1909-09-08)8 September 1909
Sydney
Died 15 June 2003(2003-06-15) (aged 95)
Sydney
Political party Independent (1943-1945)
Liberal Party of Australia (1945-1977)
Independent (after 1977)
Alma mater Oxford University
Occupation Politician

William Charles Wentworth AO (8 September 1907 – 15 June 2003), Australian politician, was a Liberal and later Independent member of the Australian House of Representatives from 1949 to 1977, with a reputation as a fierce anti-Communist.

Biography[edit]

Wentworth was born in Sydney, the son of a prominent Sydney barrister of the same name, and the great-grandson of William Charles Wentworth, a leading political and literary figure in colonial New South Wales. He is sometimes referred to as "William Charles Wentworth IV" but he never used this name himself. His family and friends called him Bill or Billy. The prominent journalist Mungo MacCallum is his nephew.

Wentworth was educated at The Armidale School in Armidale in northern New South Wales, and at Oxford, where he gained an MA, and a Blue in athletics (he was a fine half miler and ran as first string to the future Olympic Champion and world record holder Tom Hampson).

Returning to Australia aged 23, he briefly worked as a factory hand at Lever Brothers in Balmain, Sydney, before becoming Secretary to the Attorney-General of New South Wales, Sir Henry Manning.[1] Then he joined the New South Wales public service as an economic advisor to the Premier's Department and the Treasury, a position from which he resigned in 1937 in protest against what he saw as the state conservative government's timid economic policies. He was an early exponent of Keynesianism and favoured an expansion of state credit.

From 1941 to 1943 Wentworth served in the Australian army in administrative positions. At the 1943 federal election, he stood as an independent for the House of Representatives seat of Wentworth (named after his great-grandfather), arguing for an all-party "national government".[2] He polled 20 per cent of the vote against the Deputy Leader of the United Australia Party, Eric Harrison. In 1945 he joined Robert Menzies' new party, the Liberal Party of Australia. At the 1949 election, Wentworth was elected to the House of Representatives for Mackellar in the northern suburbs of Sydney.

By the late 1940s Wentworth had become a fierce anti-Communist, to an extent that even some in his own party regarded an excessive (though Menzies was more than willing to benefit from his frequent red-baiting): he was frequently accused of McCarthyism in making allegations under parliamentary privilege, usually unsubstantiated, of Communist influence in various quarters of Australian public life.[3] He was a leading member of the "Taiwan lobby" in the Liberal Party, which also included Wilfrid Kent Hughes and the young John Gorton.[4] He frequently sought to imply that the leader of the opposition Australian Labor Party, Dr H. V. Evatt, was a communist sypathiser, or at best a dupe of the communists. The communists, he said, wanted to "ride into power on the back of the Australian Labor Party".[5] Menzies's biographer referred to him as "the notorious Liberal Party backbench red-baiter".[6]

Wentworth, however, was more than a one-issue politician, and had great energy and ability. As Gorton's biographer writes: "For all his erratic and sometimes bizarre behaviour, his flaws were at least those of an inventive mind".[7] Despite this, he had a long wait for ministerial preferment, mainly because he was a party-room rebel on other matters, such as pensions. During these years he busied himself with parliamentary committee work. He was an active member of the Foreign Affairs Committee from 1952 to 1961. From 1956 he was chair of the Government Members Committee on Rail Gauge Standardisation. He made important recommendations on solving one of Australia's longest-standing infrastructure problems, the incompatible rail gauges in the different states, a legacy of colonial times. Gough Whitlam, no admirer of Wentworth in other respects, credits him with being one of the architects of the rail standardisation agreement that led to the opening of the single-gauge rail line from Melbourne to Sydney in 1961.[8]

Wentworth's other long-term interest was in Aboriginal affairs. He was one of the Liberal backbenchers who supported a constitutional referendum to give the Commonwealth the power to legislate specifically for the benefit of indigenous Australians, something which was finally achieved under Menzies' successor Harold Holt in 1967 (see Australian referendum, 1967 (Aboriginals)). When Wentworth's friend John Gorton succeeded Holt, he made Wentworth Minister for Social Services and Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, the first minister to hold this office.

As Minister, Wentworth was disappointed that the Cabinet was reluctant to take any steps to pass the kind of far-reaching legislation he wanted, mainly due to the resistance of pastoral interests represented by the Country Party. Nevertheless, Wentworth took the first practical step towards the granting of indigenous land rights when he proposed giving the Gurindji people control of their land at Wave Hill station in the Northern Territory (which was at that time under Commonwealth control): this scheme, in a fine irony given Wentworth's history, was denounced as "communist inspired" by the Cattle Producers Council[9] (a reference to the fact that the Communist writer Frank Hardy was an adviser to the Gurindji).

Wentworth was already 60 when he became a minister, but he proved to be energetic and innovative. When William McMahon succeeded Gorton as Prime Minister in March 1971, he retained Wentworth in the ministry despite dropping Gorton's other proteges. Wentworth contested the Liberal deputy leadership at this time, but was eliminated on the first ballot,[10] with the position going to Billy Snedden, whom Wentworth regarded as a light-weight. When the McMahon government was defeated by Labor under Whitlam in December 1972, Wentworth returned to the backbench.

Snedden succeeded McMahon as leader, but Wentworth was among his most persistent party-room critics. In March 1975 it was Wentworth who moved the motion in the Liberal Party room to depose Snedden from the leadership in favour of Malcolm Fraser.[11] But under Fraser's government he soon found himself back in his old role of the backbench rebel. His lifelong commitment to Keynesianism led him to criticise Fraser's cuts to government spending as deflationary. Having already announced his intention of retiring from Parliament at the next election, he resigned from the Liberal Party in October 1977. He stood for the Senate in New South Wales at the December 1977 election, polling 2.1 per cent of the vote. Later he was active in the Grey Power movement, and stood again for the Senate as a Grey Power candidate at the 1984 election; again, he did badly.

During his time in the House of Representatives, Wentworth voted against his party more often than any other Representative in Australian history.[12]

In 1993 he was appointed an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours for "service to the Australian Parliament, particularly in relation to Aboriginal rights and to the standardisation of inter-state rail gauges".[13]

Wentworth's last appearance in Australian politics was in April 1995, when he contested the by-election in the seat of Wentworth (which was named after his great-grandfather) caused by the resignation of Dr John Hewson. In the absence of a Labor candidate, he polled 18 per cent of the vote, 52 years after he first contested the seat in 1943. He retired to north Queensland, from where he continued to write pamphlets and newspaper articles until his death in Sydney in 2003 at the age of 95. He was survived by his wife Barbara, and four children.

Publications[edit]

  • Referendum and Reform: The Upper House in New South Wales: March 1933: Wholly set up and printed in Australia by DEATON & SPENCER, I Douglas Street, Sydney
  • Labor, Socialism and Soviets: the Trend to Totalitarianism in Australia: The Place of Bank Nationalisation in the Plan: 1947: Compress Printing Limited, Sydney

Ancestry[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Professor D J Anderson, Presentation of the degree of Doctor of the University to William Charles Wentworth IV, The University of Sydney, 15 March 2006, [1]
  2. ^ Gough Whitlam, Abiding Interests, University of Queensland Press 1997, 283
  3. ^ David Lowe, Menzies and the Great World Struggle: Australia's Cold War 1948–1954, University of NSW Press 1999, 106. Lowe describes Wentworth as "a chief proponent of the technique of implying guilt by association."
  4. ^ Ian Hancock, Gorton, Hodder 2002, 67
  5. ^ Lowe, Menzies and the Great World Struggle, 107
  6. ^ Alan Martin, Robert Menzies: A Life Volume II, Melbourne University Press 1999, 258
  7. ^ Hancock, Gorton, 160
  8. ^ Whitlam, Abiding Interests, 236
  9. ^ Hancock, Gorton 182
  10. ^ Hancock, Gorton, 354
  11. ^ Hancock, Gorton, 376
  12. ^ Crossing the floor in the Federal Parliament 1950 – August 2004, Research Note no. 11, 2005–06, Australian Parliament
  13. ^ Its an honour: AO
  14. ^ Francis Cox: Carol Liston: Sarah Wentworth – Mistress of Vaucluse: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales: ISBN 0-949753-34-3: p.8.
  15. ^ George Hill: Australian Dictionary of Biography – online edition
  16. ^ George Hill: List of former members of the New South Wales Parliament
  17. ^ George Hill and Jane Binnie: New South Wales marriage certificate of 1841 – 123, vol 25C
  18. ^ Jane Studdart: In Jane Hill's New South Wales death certificate (1896/004756), Binnie is given as her mother's maiden name; Binnie was in fact her mother's married name and therefore presumably incorrect.
  19. ^ Florence Denise Griffiths: Burke's Landed Gentry: 17th Edition 1952: Copeland-Griffiths of Potterne: p.1083
  20. ^ George Neville Griffiths: Parliament of New South Walws – former members
  21. ^ George Richard Griffiths: Australian Dictionary of Biography – online edition
  22. ^ John Griffiths: Surgeon to Queen Charlotte's Household: 1792–1818: Griffiths, John
  23. ^ Elizabeth Hart, daughter of Sir William Neville Hart
  24. ^ Letitia Chatfield: the peerage
  25. ^ John Scott: Members of the Queensland Legislative Assembly, 1873–1878
  26. ^ John Scott: Members of the Queensland Legislative Council, 1890–1899
  27. ^ John Scott: Queensland death certificate of his son, John Scott: 1898/C1681
  28. ^ Marion Purves: Queensland death certificate of her son, John Scott: 1898/C1681
  29. ^ Agnes Thomson Qld Death Index; Grave Headstone Toowong Cemetery; Scottish Christening Records
  30. ^ Agnes Thomson: New South Wales Death Certificate 1905/000063 of her daughter Ada Frances Griffiths
  31. ^ John Thomson: Queensland death certificate of his daughter, Agnes Scott: 1892/C1494
  32. ^ Elizabeth Rankin: Queensland death certificate of her daughter, Agnes Scott: 1892/C1494
Political offices
Preceded by
Ian Sinclair
Minister for Social Services
1968–72
Succeeded by
Bill Hayden
New title Minister for Aboriginal Affairs
19671
Succeeded by
Peter Howson
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Mackellar
1949–1977
Succeeded by
Jim Carlton