Ralph Willis

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For the American musician, see Ralph Willis (blues musician).
The Honourable
Ralph Willis
Treasurer of Australia
In office
23 December 1993 – 11 March 1996
Prime Minister Paul Keating
Preceded by John Dawkins
Succeeded by Peter Costello
In office
9 December 1991 – 26 December 1991
Prime Minister Bob Hawke
Paul Keating
Preceded by John Kerin
Succeeded by John Dawkins
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Gellibrand
In office
2 December 1972 – 31 August 1998
Preceded by Hector McIvor
Succeeded by Nicola Roxon
Personal details
Born (1938-04-14) 14 April 1938 (age 78)
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Carol Dawson
Alma mater University of Melbourne
Occupation Unionist

Ralph Willis AO (born 14 April 1938), Australian politician, was Treasurer for the final years of the Keating Labor Government.


Willis was born in Melbourne to Stan and Doris Willis and educated at Footscray Central School, University High School and Melbourne University, gaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree. He subsequently worked as a research officer and industrial advocate for the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). He and his wife Carol Willis (née Dawson) have three children, Sandra, Fiona and Evan.

In 1972, the year that the Whitlam Labor government was elected, Willis was elected as a Labor member of the House of Representatives for the extremely safe Labor seat of Gellibrand in Melbourne's western suburbs. He was elected to the Opposition front bench after Labor's defeat in 1975, and was Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Economic Affairs and Treasury from 1976 to 1983. In January 1983, however, he was dropped from the position as shadow Treasurer by Labor leader Bill Hayden, who decided that Paul Keating would be likely to put increased pressure on the government in the area of economic policy.[1]

As a former ACTU official, Willis was regarded as a protegee of the new Labor leader, Bob Hawke (a former ACTU President), who became Prime Minister in March 1983. Hawke, however, kept Keating in the Treasury portfolio and Willis became Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. In 1987, he lost part of his portfolio to John Dawkins, who was appointed Minister for Employment, Education and Training, but Willis retained Industrial Relations. In 1988 he shifted to Transport and Communications, and in 1990 to Finance. When Keating resigned as Treasurer in 1991, Willis was again passed over when Hawke gave the Treasury to John Kerin. But Kerin's period as Treasurer was troubled and in December 1991 Willis finally became Treasurer.

Willis's first tenure in the Treasury was brief, however, because Hawke was deposed and succeeded as Prime Minister by Keating only three weeks later. Keating gave Treasury to his ally John Dawkins and Willis was again given Finance. Willis got a second chance when Dawkins, frustrated by Cabinet's rejection of his economic views, resigned suddenly in December 1993. Keating was reluctant to give Willis Treasury again, considering him a low-key Parliamentary performer, but accepted party opinion that Willis deserved the job. Willis served the last term of the Keating government as Treasurer.

One of Willis's final acts, a few days before the 1996 election, was to release (without consulting Keating) a letter purportedly written by the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, which suggested that a Liberal government led by John Howard would cut grants to the states. Unfortunately for Willis, the letter was a forgery, allegedly foisted on Willis by Melbourne University Liberal Club students.[2] This successful ruse impacted somewhat upon the last week of Labor's campaign. After the election Willis retired to the backbench following Labor's defeat in 1996 and retired from Parliament prior to the 1998 election. He and Gareth Evans were the only two people to be a member of every Labor cabinet between 1983 and 1996.

At the time of his retirement, Willis was the only Labor Member of Parliament from the period of the Whitlam government still serving. Had he not retired, he would have become Father of the House in the next parliament.

Since retirement from parliament Willis has served on several boards of companies and charities.


Willis was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 for long service to the Commonwealth Parliament, including as a minister and as Treasurer.[3] On 13 June 2011, he was named an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the Parliament of Australia, particularly in the areas of economic development and industrial relations, to the superannuation industry, and to the community.[4]

On 2 June 2009, Willis was conferred with the degree of Doctor of the University Honoris Causa from Victoria University for services to Australia and in particular the Western Suburbs of Melbourne.[5]

Post-parliamentary appointments[edit]

  • Chair of Western Health Board 1 July 2004
  • Chairman of the Construction and Building Industry Superannuation Fund (C+BUS).
  • Director of the Australian Super Developments.
  • Chair and Treasurer of the Mietta Foundation
  • Member of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors.
  • Member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Youth Employment
  • Chairperson of the Melbourne City Opera
  • Board Member of the Westgate Community Initiatives Group,
  • Board Member of the Stan Willis Trust.
  • Chairman of LeadWest - 2008 to 2011



  1. ^ Bill Hayden (1996), Hayden: An autobiography, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
  2. ^ "Crikey.com". Crikey.com. 2002-11-13. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  3. ^ "Ralph Willis". Australian Honours Database. Retrieved 13 June 2011. 
  4. ^ "Ralph Willis AO". Australian Honours Database. Retrieved 13 June 2011. 
  5. ^ "Victoria University". Vu.edu.au. 2009-06-02. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Ian Macphee
Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations
Succeeded by
John Dawkins
New title Minister for Industrial Relations
Succeeded by
Peter Morris
Preceded by
Gareth Evans
Minister for Transport and Communications
Succeeded by
Kim Beazley
Preceded by
Peter Walsh
Minister for Finance
Preceded by
John Kerin
Succeeded by
John Dawkins
Preceded by
Kim Beazley
Minister for Finance
Succeeded by
Kim Beazley
Preceded by
Graham Richardson
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Frank Walker
Preceded by
John Dawkins
Succeeded by
Peter Costello
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Hector McIvor
Member for Gellibrand
Succeeded by
Nicola Roxon