H. V. Evatt
|The Right Honourable Dr|
Herbert Vere Evatt
PC QC KStJ
|Justice of the High Court of Australia|
19 December 1930 – 2 September 1940
|Nominated by||James Scullin|
|Preceded by||Sir Charles Powers|
|Succeeded by||Sir Dudley Williams|
|Chief Justice of New South Wales|
15 February 1960 – 24 October 1962
|Preceded by||Sir Kenneth Street|
|Succeeded by||Sir Leslie Herron|
|Leader of the Opposition|
Elections: 1954, 1955, 1958
20 June 1951 – 9 February 1960
Sir William McKell|
Sir William Slim
|Prime Minister||Robert Menzies|
|Preceded by||Ben Chifley|
|Succeeded by||Arthur Calwell|
|Leader of the Labor Party|
20 June 1951 – 9 February 1960
|Preceded by||Ben Chifley|
|Succeeded by||Arthur Calwell|
|Attorney-General of Australia|
7 October 1941 – 19 December 1949
|Preceded by||Billy Hughes|
|Succeeded by||John Spicer|
|Minister for External Affairs|
7 October 1941 – 19 December 1949
|Preceded by||Sir Frederick Stewart|
|Succeeded by||Percy Spender|
|Member of the Australian Parliament|
21 September 1940 – 22 November 1958
|Preceded by||Albert Lane|
|Succeeded by||Len Reynolds|
|Member of the Australian Parliament|
22 November 1958 – 10 February 1960
|Preceded by||Rowley James|
|Succeeded by||Bert James|
Herbert Vere Evatt|
30 April 1894
Maitland, New South Wales, British Empire
2 November 1965 (aged 71)|
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
(m. 1920; wid. 1965)
Clive Evatt (brother)|
Elizabeth Evatt (niece)
Penelope Seidler (niece)
|Education||Fort Street High School|
|Alma mater||University of Sydney|
Trade union executive|
(University of Sydney Union)
Trade union lawyer
(Transport Workers Union
Herbert Vere Evatt, PC, QC, KStJ (30 April 1894 – 2 November 1965), usually known as H. V. Evatt or Bert Evatt, and often as "Doc" Evatt on account of his Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree, was an Australian judge, lawyer, parliamentarian and writer.
Evatt was a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1930 to 1940; Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs from 1941 to 1949; the third President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1948 to 1949, when he helped to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Leader of the Australian Labor Party (and Leader of the Opposition) from 1951 to 1960; and Chief Justice of New South Wales from 1960 to 1962.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Early career
- 3 High Court (1930–1940)
- 4 Federal politics
- 5 Personal life
- 6 Death
- 7 Literary works
- 8 Honours
- 9 In popular culture
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
Early life and education
Evatt was born in Maitland, New South Wales, the fifth of eight sons of John Ashmore Evatt, an English publican from British India, and Sydney-born Irish-Australian Jane "Jeanie" Sophia (née Gray). His younger brother was the politician and lawyer Clive Evatt. Their father died when Bert was seven years old, and his mother shouldered the task of encouraging an intellectually gifted family. (He was never known as Herbert, as his family called him "Bert".)
He attended local public schools of East Maitland Superior Public School and then Fort Street High School in Sydney, winning scholarships to the University of Sydney, where he was a resident of St Andrew's College. He graduated in 1919 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, Logic, Philosophy and English with (Triple) First-Class Honours and the University Medal in Philosophy in 1915, a Master of Arts in 1916, and a Bachelor of Laws with First-Class Honours and the University Medal in 1918.
Evatt played cricket, rugby league football, hockey and baseball. He was also the Editor of Hermes, the annual student literary journal, was a Tutor at St Andrew's College, and the President of the University of Sydney Union from 1916–17. He graduated Legum Doctor (LLD) in 1924 from the University of Sydney with a thesis on the royal prerogative.
Because of poor eyesight, Evatt was unable to serve in the First World War, in which two of his brothers were killed. He became a prominent industrial lawyer in Sydney, working mainly for trade union clients. In 1925 Evatt was elected as an Australian Labor Party member for Balmain in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Re-elected as an "Independent Labor" candidate in 1927, Evatt served in the Legislative Assembly until 1930.
High Court (1930–1940)
In 1930 the Labor government headed by James Scullin appointed Evatt as the youngest-ever justice of the High Court of Australia. Regarded by some as a brilliant and innovative judge, he delivered a number of minority judgments, several of which were adopted by High Court majorities decades later. Evatt could, however, be partial on the bench. Sir Owen Dixon noted in Australian Woollen Mills Ltd v F.S. Walton & Co. Ltd (1937 58 CLR 641) that Evatt was on that occasion "full of antagonism to the respondent ... Most unjudicial." Whenever Evatt was not particularly interested in a case he appears to have generally gone along with Dixon.
Evatt was one of six justices of the High Court who had served in the Parliament of New South Wales, along with Edmund Barton, Richard O'Connor, Adrian Knox, Albert Piddington and Edward McTiernan. In 1934 Evatt played an important part in the Egon Kisch exclusion when he ruled that the Lyons Government's ban on Kisch entering Australia had been incorrectly executed and that Kisch was free to enter the country.
In 1940, Evatt resigned from the High Court to return to politics, and was elected federal MP for the Sydney seat of Barton in the House of Representatives.. When Labor came to power under John Curtin in 1941, Evatt became Attorney-General and Foreign Minister. He became deputy leader of the Labor Party after the 1946 election, under the leadership of Ben Chifley.
While in London, Evatt acted as the spokesperson for the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket and made personal representations to the Marylebone Cricket Club who were reluctant to send a cricket team to tour Australia so soon after the war. He put forward convincing arguments as to the need to re-establish sporting relations and the financial benefits of the tour and the MCC agreed to the 1946–47 Ashes series. Don Bradman would later aver that the "quick resumption of Anglo-Australian Tests had justified itself in every way, psychologically, technically, financially".
Evatt was a defender of the White Australia Policy. There was a strong view in Australia that any softening of the White Australia stance might result in cheaper labour being imported from overseas. Another prevailing sentiment was that multiculturalism resulted in instability. Evatt, opposing resolutions which could have led to more Asian immigration to Australia, told the Chinese delegation at San Francisco:
You have always insisted on the right to determine the composition of your own people. Australia wants that right now. What you are attempting to do now, Japan attempted after the last war [the First World War] and was prevented by Australia. Had we opened New Guinea and Australia to Japanese immigration then the Pacific War by now might have ended disastrously and we might have had another shambles like that experienced in Malaya.
President of the UN General Assembly
Evatt joined the diplomatic councils of the allies during World War II. In 1945, he played a leading role in the founding of the UN. He was President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1948 to 1949, and was prominent in the negotiations that led to the creation of Israel as chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question. He wrote in his memoirs: "I regard the establishment of Israel as a great victory of the United Nations." He helped draft the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Leader of the Opposition (1951–1960)
In the 1949 election, Labor was defeated by Menzies' new Liberal Party. At this election, Evatt faced war hero Nancy Wake and suffered a massive swing in his own electorate, seeing his majority reduced from a very safe 66.9 percent to an extremely marginal 53.2 percent. He faced Wake again in the double dissolution election of 1951 and was nearly defeated, seeing her off by only 243 votes (out of more than 41,600 cast). When Ben Chifley (still Labor leader) suddenly died several months later, Evatt was elected unopposed as his successor. At first his leadership went well. He campaigned successfully against Menzies' attempt to amend the Constitution to ban the Communist Party. Many convinced anti-Communists in the Labor Party believed this was both bad politics and bad policy because of the active Communist infiltration of numerous trade unions, and because of the threat to national security posed by Communism. None of the anti-Communists, aside from Stan Keon, openly censured Evatt's stance.
Evatt's failure to win the 1954 election led him to blame the Catholic-dominated "Groupers" in the party for sabotaging his campaign. He reportedly believed Menzies had conspired with the security services to bring about the defection of a Soviet diplomat (see Petrov Affair), and to do so with the specific purpose of discrediting Evatt. Documents shown to the commission members were alleged to provide evidence of an extensive Soviet spy ring in Australia, and named (among many others), two of Evatt's staff members. Evatt appeared before the Royal Commission as attorney for his staff members. His cross-examination of the key ASIO operative Michael Bialoguski transformed the commission's hearings and greatly perturbed the government. The Royal Commission quickly withdrew Evatt's leave to appear. Evatt claimed this denial was because of judicial bias in favour of the Menzies government.
Evatt's loss of the election and his belief that Menzies had conspired with ASIO to contrive Petrov's defection led to criticism within the Labor Party of his decision to appear before the Royal Commission. He compounded this by writing to the Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, asking if allegations of Soviet espionage in Australia were true. When Molotov replied, naturally denying the allegations, Evatt read the letter out in Parliament, bringing the House into silence momentarily before both sides of Parliament began laughing.
Evatt later publicly attacked "The Groupers", who had infiltrated the Victorian Labor Party, thus precipitating a split in the party, with most of the "Groupers" leaving or being expelled. The disaffected formed the Democratic Labor Party, which directed its preferences against Labor at subsequent elections. This, together with an obsessive hatred of Menzies, led Evatt into a number of unforced errors. Due to these factors, Labor was roundly defeated in the 1955 election, suffering an 11-seat swing. Evatt himself was nearly defeated in Barton after almost three-quarters of independents' preferences flowed to his Liberal opponent. For the 1958 election, he transferred to Hunter, one of the few safe country seats for Labor. He offered to resign as leader if the DLP would return to the party. The offer was rejected and Labor was soundly defeated again.
Chief Justice of New South Wales (1960–1962)
In 1960, the Labor government in New South Wales appointed Evatt the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, an appointment that was widely seen as a means of giving him a dignified exit from politics. Tom Hughes, a leading Sydney barrister and former Liberal Attorney-General, averred that all the judgements issued by Evatt during this period were co-authored with a judicial colleague.
Two years after being admitted to the New South Wales Bar, Evatt, an Anglican, married Mary Alice Sheffer at the Congregational Church in Mosman, New South Wales on 27 November 1920. Even with his sometimes turbulent nature, the relationship was one of devotion. The couple had two children, Peter and Rosalind, whom they adopted due to Mary Alice's serious gynaeocological issues.
Peter Evatt became an Olympic rower, who was 1953 national sculling champion and represented Australia in rowing at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. Peter was a member of the ALP, like his father, and stood for the seat of Bennelong at the 1969 federal elections.
In 1972, aged 50, Peter died by accidental electrocution while trying to repair a faulty electric toaster. He was survived by his six children. His death was reported by The Age on 27 December 1972.
Recent biographies of Evatt agree that his behaviour became more eccentric from the late 1950s. Pat Fiske and David McKnight, in their 1995 television documentary Doc, attributed what they described as Evatt's "deteriorating mental functioning" to arteriosclerosis.
In 1962, Evatt was suffering from stress and was persuaded to retire from the bench. He also suffered from arteriosclerosis which led to his death. He died in Canberra on 2 November 1965, aged 71.
During his life, Evatt had a varied career as a writer, covering such topics as law and labour history. His book on the politics of the Rum Rebellion is still considered relevant, although others disagree with Evatt's view. Evatt contributed an article on "Cricket and the British Commonwealth" to the 1949 edition of the Wisden Cricketer's Almanack.
His publications include:
- H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader: The Story Of W.A. Holman and the Labour Movement, 1954
- H. V. Evatt, The King and His Dominion Governors, 1936
- H. V. Evatt, Injustice within the Law. A study of the case of the Dorsetshire Labourers, 1937
- H. V. Evatt, The Royal Prerogative, 1930 (this was his LLD thesis)
- H. V. Evatt, Rum Rebellion: A Study of the Overthrow of Governor Bligh by John Macarthur and the New South Wales Corps, 1943
- In 1924 Evatt was awarded the degree LLD, for his dissertation on prerogative powers of Governors in the British legal system.
- The Evatt Foundation, a research institute for the labour movement, is named in his honour.
- The suburb of Evatt, which lies in the Belconnen district of Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, is also named in his honour.
- One of the high schools (Maitland Boys High School) in his home town of Maitland was briefly renamed Evatt High School in his honour, before being renamed Maitland High School when it became unisex some years later.
- In November 1965, the NSW State Government opened Evatt Park in Lugarno, which is still used frequently for recreation.
- United Nations Youth Australia runs an annual national high schools Model United Nations Security Council competition, the Evatt Competition, which has rounds in every state and territory.
In popular culture
- "Doc Evatt". Evatt Foundation. 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
- Robyn Walden. "Evatt Biography". Evatt Collection, Special Collections. Flinders University Library.
- Bolton, G. C. (1996). "Evatt, Herbert Vere (Bert) (1894–1965)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 14. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
- "Dr. H. V. Evatt". The Canberra Times. 19 December 1930. p. 1. Retrieved 10 April 2018 – via trove.nla.gov.au.
- H V Evatt, "The Royal Prerogative". Written in 1924 for the award of his LLD from the University of Sydney.
- K.H. Bailey, "Introduction to the First Edition" in Herbert Vere Evatt, The King and His Australian Governors (Melbourne, F.W. Cheshire, 1936, 2nd edn 1967), p xxxvi.
- Owen Dixon Diary, 29 April 1937, found in Dixon's personal papers.
- Ayres, Philip (2003). Owen Dixon profile. The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University. ISBN 0-522-85045-6. p 62.
- Carolyn Rasmussen (2006). "Kisch, Egon Erwin (1885–1948) profile at". Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. Retrieved 20 July 2008.
- Clif Cary, Cricket Controversy, Test matches in Australia 1946–47, T. Werner Laurie Ltd, 1948, pp 3–4.
- Ray Robinson and Mike Coward. England vs Australia 1932–1985, p. 292, in E.W. Swanton (ed), Barclay's World of Cricket, Willow, 1986.
- E.W. Swanton, Swanton in Australia with MCC 1946–1975, Fontana/Collins, 1975, pg. 68.
- William Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945–1951, pp. 19–20. Oxford: Clarendon Press (1984).
- Report on Petrov Affair, moadoph.gov.au
- Robert Menzies profile, National Archives of Australia
- Sir William Francis Langer Owen profile, Australian Dictionary of Biography
- T.E.F. Hughes QC, "As Time Goes By", New South Wales Bar News (Winter 2006), pp 58–63 at page 59
- G.C. Bolton. "Evatt, Herbert Vere (Bert) (1894–1965)" profile in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 14, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne (1996).
- Michael Kirby. "Independence of the Judiciary: Basic Principles, New Challenges"
- "Peter Evatt Wins Sculling Title", The Canberra Times (16 February 1953).
- "Peter Evatt Found Dead", The Age (27 December 1972).
- "Notable Canberra Wedding", The Age (30 November 1953).
- Gerard Henderson. "Labor in denial about Evatt, its flawed hero", The Age, 12 April 2005.
- Andrew Campbell. (2007.) "Dr. H. V. Evatt, Part One: A Question of Sanity", National Observer, 73: 25–39.
- Michael Duffy. Proof of history's rum deal Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 2006.
- "Evatt Foundation". Evatt.labor.net.au. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
- Wake, Valdemar Robert. No Ribbons or Medals: the story of "Hereward" an Australian counter espionage officer (2004), Jacobyte Books.
- Buckley, Ken; Dale, Barbara and Reynolds, Wayne. Doc Evatt, Cheshire, Melbourne (1994); ISBN 0-582-87498-X
- Crockett, Peter. Evatt: A Life, Oxford University Press, Melbourne (1993); ISBN 0-19-553558-8
- Dalziel, Allan. Evatt. The Enigma, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne (1967).
- Makin, Norman. Federal Labour Leaders, Union Printing, Sydney, New South Wales (1961), pp. 140–145.
- Murphy, John. Evatt: A Life, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney (2016) ISBN 9781742234465
- Renouf, Alan. Let Justice Be Done. The Foreign Policy of Dr H.V. Evatt, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Queensland (1983); ISBN 0-7022-1893-6
- Tennant, Kylie. Evatt. Politics and Justice, Angus and Robertson, Sydney (1970); ISBN 0-207-12533-3
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