George Turner (Australian politician)

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The Right Honourable
Sir George Turner
18th Premier of Victoria
In office
27 September 1894 – 5 December 1899
Preceded by James Patterson
Succeeded by Allan McLean
In office
19 November 1900 – 12 February 1901
Governor Thomas Brassey, 1st Earl Brassey
Preceded by Allan McLean
Succeeded by Alexander Peacock
Constituency St Kilda
1st Treasurer of Australia
In office
1 January 1901 – 29 April 1904
Prime Minister Sir Edmund Barton
Alfred Deakin
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Chris Watson
In office
17 August 1904 – 4 July 1905
Prime Minister Sir George Reid
Preceded by Chris Watson
Succeeded by John Forrest
Constituency Balaclava
Personal details
Born 8 August 1851
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died 13 August 1916(1916-08-13) (aged 65)
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Resting place St Kilda Cemetery
Nationality Australian
Spouse(s) Rosa Morgan

Sir George Turner, KCMG PC (8 August 1851 – 12 August 1916), Australian politician, was the 18th Premier of Victoria and the first Treasurer of Australia in the federal Barton Ministry.

Turner was born in Melbourne: he was the first Premier of Victoria born in the colony. He received a sound education and began work as a clerk in a law office, matriculating in 1872 and being admitted to practise as a solicitor in 1881. He was a founding member of the Australian Natives' Association, an influential lobby group of Australian-born political liberals who campaigned for Australian federation and other causes. He was a member of the town council in St Kilda and was mayor in 1887–1888.

Colonial politics[edit]

A liberal, Turner was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly for St Kilda in 1889. He was Minister of Health and later Solicitor-General in the liberal government of William Shiels from 1891–1893. When Shiels was defeated by the conservatives under James Patterson in 1893, he went into opposition, and succeeded Shiels as leader of the liberal party – mainly because Alfred Deakin, the colony's leading liberal, refused the position.


In September 1894 the Patterson government, floundering in the face of the deep depression which followed the Crash of 1892, was heavily defeated at the polls. Turner's image as a modest, dependable suburban solicitor proved popular, and he also gained the support of the newly emerged Labour Party, which won 17 seats. As well as Premier, Turner was Treasurer, Minister for Defence and Vice-President of the Board of Land and Works. His ministry included Alexander Peacock, John Gavan Duffy and Isaac Isaacs.

Turner imposed a policy of strict economy and balanced budgets, raising taxes and cutting spending in accordance with the economic theory of the time. Although these policies did little to relieve the effects of the Depression, they did restore confidence in Victoria's public finances and the banking system. The historian Don Garden describes Turner as "frugal, prudent, unyielding and self-sacrificing," an image in tune with the deeply depressed economy. His policies of cutting government spending caused increased unemployment, but were accepted as necessary. His government was re-elected in 1897.

In other areas Turner's government was more liberal. He persuaded the Legislative Council to accept the abolition of plural voting, and tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill giving votes to women (achieved in South Australia in 1892). He also introduced Victoria's first scheme of old-age pensions, together with the Victorian wages boards. This latter measure was considered to be his greatest accomplishment, which aimed to combat sweating and poverty together with reforming the hours and working conditions in shops and factories. He was made a Privy Councillor and a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1897.

In December 1899 discontented radicals joined with the conservative opposition to defeat Turner's government in the Assembly, and he resigned. He was succeeded by the conservative leader Allan McLean, but Mclean was unable to consolidate his position, and at elections in November 1900 the liberals were returned and Turner again became Premier. He retained office until February 1901, when he resigned to contest the first federal elections.

Treasurer of Australia[edit]

Turner was elected to the first Australian House of Representatives in 1901 as a Protectionist member for the Division of Balaclava. His long experience in Victoria made him a natural choice to be Treasurer in the first federal ministry under Edmund Barton. He held this post from January 1901 under Barton and then Deakin until April 1904, and again in George Reid's conservative government in 1904–1905. His acceptance of office under Reid offended the Deakinite liberals, and he was not re-appointed to Deakin's second ministry in 1905. He retired from politics in 1906, and served as Chairman of the Commissioners of the State Savings Bank of Victoria until his death in 1916.


See also[edit]


  • Geoff Browne, A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament, 1900–84, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1985
  • Don Garden, Victoria: A History, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne, 1984
  • Kathleen Thompson and Geoffrey Serle, A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament, 1856–1900, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1972
  • Raymond Wright, A People's Counsel. A History of the Parliament of Victoria, 1856–1990, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992
  • Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991
Parliament of Victoria
Preceded by
Joseph Harris
Member for St Kilda
Succeeded by
William Henry Williams
Political offices
Preceded by
James Patterson
Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Allan McLean
Preceded by
Allan McLean
Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Alexander Peacock
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Balaclava
Succeeded by
Agar Wynne
Political offices
Preceded by
Treasurer of Australia
Succeeded by
Chris Watson
Preceded by
Chris Watson
Treasurer of Australia
Succeeded by
Sir John Forrest