Bill Slater (politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

William Slater
William Slater.jpg
Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly
for Dundas
In office
15 November 1917 – 14 May 1932
Preceded byWilliam Kennedy Smith
Succeeded byAthol Cooper
In office
6 September 1932 – 8 November 1947
Preceded byAthol Cooper
Succeeded byWilliam McDonald
Member of the Victorian Legislative Council for Doutta Galla Province
In office
18 June 1949 – 19 June 1960
Preceded byPercy Clarey
Succeeded byJohn Tripovich
1st Australian Minister to the Soviet Union
In office
January 1943 – April 1943
Succeeded byNoël Deschamps (Chargé d'Affaires)
Personal details
Born(1890-05-20)20 May 1890 (approximate)
Wangaratta, Victoria
Died19 June 1960(1960-06-19) (aged 70)
South Melbourne, Victoria
Political partyLabor Party
Spouse(s)Mary Gordon (1923–1960)
Military service
Branch/serviceAustralian Imperial Force
Years of service1915–1918
Unit10th Field Ambulance
Battles/warsWorld War I

William "Bill" Slater (c. 20 May 1890 – 19 June 1960) was an Australian lawyer, politician and diplomat.

Early life[edit]

Slater is believed to have been born around 20 May 1890 to parents of Irish background in Wangaratta, Victoria. After his father left his family when he was four years old, he and his two siblings were brought up by his mother in Prahran. After briefly attending Armadale State School, Slater left school early to sell newspapers. Being caught and fined for nude swimming in the Yarra River led him to decide to better himself. Using a free library and with support from the Try Boys' Society he was able to educate himself to the point he was able to be employed as an office boy.[1][2]

In 1910 he was employed as a clerk for Percy Park, a solicitor based in Mildura. While living in Mildura, Slater saved enough money to buy two small fruit properties.[2]


As a socialist, Slater refused to enlist with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at the beginning of World War I. However, spurred on by the aftermath of the Gallipoli campaign, he decided to enlist with the AIF.[2] His first attempt to enlist was unsuccessful as he was deemed unsuitable for service due to varicose veins. After an operation to fix the ailment he enlisted in December 1915 with the 10th Field Ambulance.[3][4]

Slater left Melbourne with his unit in June 1916, arriving in Plymouth, England in August of the same year. In November he was disciplined for poor conduct. In July 1917 he was wounded in action, sustaining a gunshot wound to the leg.[2][4]

Public life[edit]

While recovering in an English hospital he agreed to stand for election to the Victorian Legislative Assembly. In November 1917 he was elected to the seat of Dundas.[2] The Argus newspaper later reported that fellow patients at the hospital mistook his appointment as a Member of Parliament as being a promotion to the Military Police.[5]

He left for Australia in early 1918. Returning to Australia he was arrested by military police in Fremantle for speaking in defence of John Curtin, then the editor of a trade union newspaper. He was discharged from active service due to a recurrence of his varicose veins.[2] [4]

On his return to Victoria he was engaged by Maurice Blackburn as an articled clerk. When he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1922 he became a partner in Blackburn's practice which was renamed Blackburn and Slater.[2][6]

He was Attorney-General and Solicitor General on 5 occasions. In July 1924 he was appointed Attorney-General and Solicitor General in the Prendergast government which only lasted five months. He was given the same cabinet posts under the premierships of Edmond Hogan in 1927–1928 and 1929–1932.[2]

At the 1932 state election, Slater was defeated in Dundas by United Australia Party candidate Athol Cooper. However the closeness of the result prompted a recount, and on 6 September 1932, the Committee of Elections and Qualifications presented its report on the recount to the parliament, which unseated Cooper and declared Slater duly elected.[7]

In 1935 he entered into partnership with Hugh Gordon, his brother-in-law, forming Slater & Gordon.[2][8]

Slater was appointed as Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1940.[2]

In 1942 he was appointed by Prime Minister John Curtin as minister to the Soviet Union, the first Australian diplomatic representative to the country. En route to his new appointment he visited the United States, eventually arriving in the Soviet Union in late 1942. He took residence in Kuybyshev in January 1943. After falling ill in April 1943 he returned to Australia in June. Although the official reason given for his early return was illness, speculation in the Australian press centred on a disillusionment with the Soviet version of Socialism.[2][9][10]

Under John Cain he was Attorney-General and Solicitor-General between 1945 and 1947 when he lost his seat. In 1949 he returned to Parliament in the Victorian Legislative Council seat of Doutta Galla. He once again served as Attorney-General and Solicitor-General between 1952 and 1955.[2]


Slater died in 1960 of a heart attack in South Melbourne. He was survived by his wife and three children.[2]


  1. ^ Málloch, H. W. (13 February 1943). "FROM "TRY" BOY TO DIPLOMAT IN SOVIET RUSSIA". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. p. 3S. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Cannon, M. "Slater, William (Bill) (1890? - 1960)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
  3. ^ "William SLATER". AIF Project. Australian Defence Force Academy. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
  4. ^ a b c "William Slater – Discovering Anzacs". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  5. ^ "Not That Kind of MP". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 17 October 1942. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
  6. ^ "William Slater". re-member: a database of all Victorian MPs since 1851. Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
  7. ^ Votes and Proceedings 1932, Parliament of Victoria, 1932.
  8. ^ "History". Slater & Gordon. Retrieved 22 June 2010.
  9. ^ "Choice of New Envoy to Moscow". Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 8 April 1946. p. 2. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
  10. ^ Holt, Stephen (December 2002). "A Lifetime of Service" (PDF). The National Library Magazine. Canberra: National Library of Australia. XIII (3): 15–17. ISSN 1836-6147. Retrieved 28 June 2010.


Victorian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
William Kennedy Smith
Member for Dundas
Succeeded by
Athol Cooper
Preceded by
Athol Cooper
Member for Dundas
Succeeded by
William McDonald
Preceded by
Tom Tunnecliffe
Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Assembly
Succeeded by
George Knox
Diplomatic posts
New title
Position established
Australian Minister to the Soviet Union
Succeeded by
Jim Maloney
Victorian Legislative Council
Preceded by
Percy Clarey
Member for Doutta Galla Province
Served alongside: Paul Jones (1949–58)
Samuel Merrifield (1958–60)
Succeeded by
John Tripovich