Rupert Hamer

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Rupert Hamer

Dick Hamer.jpg
39th Premier of Victoria
Elections: 1973, 1976, 1979
In office
23 August 1972 – 5 June 1981
MonarchElizabeth II
GovernorSir Rohan Delacombe
Sir Henry Winneke
DeputyLindsay Thompson
Preceded bySir Henry Bolte
Succeeded byLindsay Thompson
18th Deputy Premier of Victoria
In office
21 April 1971 – 23 August 1972
PremierHenry Bolte
Preceded byArthur Rylah
Succeeded byLindsay Thompson
Member of the Victorian Parliament
for Kew
In office
April 1971 – July 1981
Preceded byArthur Rylah
Succeeded byPrue Sibree
Member of the Victorian Legislative Council
In office
21 June 1958 – 17 March 1971
Preceded byClifden Eager
Succeeded byHaddon Storey
ConstituencyEast Yarra Province
Personal details
Rupert James Hamer

29 July 1916
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died23 March 2004(2004-03-23) (aged 87)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Political partyLiberal Party
Spouse(s)April Felicity Mackintosh (1921-2015)

Sir Rupert James Hamer, AC, KCMG, ED (29 July 1916 – 23 March 2004), generally known until he was knighted in 1982 as Dick Hamer, was an Australian Liberal Party politician who served as the 39th Premier of Victoria from 1972 to 1981.[1]

Early years[edit]

Hamer was born in Melbourne to Elizabeth Anne McLuckie and Hubert Hamer, a solicitor. His three siblings all achieved success in their fields: his sister was Alison Patrick (1921–2009), an internationally known historian of the French Revolution; his brothers were David Hamer (1923–2002), a federal Liberal politician, and Alan, a Rhodes Scholar, chemist and Managing Director of ICI Australia.[2]

Hamer was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and Geelong Grammar School and graduated in law from the University of Melbourne, where he was resident at Trinity College from 1936. He was a member, with his brother Alan, of the College First XVIII Australian Rules football team, and was Secretary of the Student Club. He joined the Melbourne University Regiment of the Australian Army in 1935 and served with them until 1939. He was commissioned as an officer in August 1940 in 2nd/43rd Battalion AIF and served at Tobruk, Syria, El Alamein, New Guinea and in Normandy. After the war he became a partner in his family's law firm and was active in the Liberal Party. In 1944 he married April Mackintosh, with whom he had five children.[3] He continued his military service and remained active in the Citizens Military Force joining the Victorian Scottish Regiment in 1948, of which he was Commanding Officer from 1954 to 1958.[4]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Hamer was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council for East Yarra Province in 1958. He was appointed to the cabinet of the long-serving Premier, Henry Bolte, in 1962, becoming Assistant Chief Secretary. He was Minister for Local Government from 1964 to 1971.

After Deputy Premier Arthur Rylah was forced to retire due to a stroke, Hamer was elected in a by-election for Rylah's Legislative Assembly seat of Kew in East Melbourne. He immediately assumed Rylah's portfolios of Deputy Premier and Chief Secretary. Although he was loyal to Bolte, he had a reputation for being much more liberal than his rough-edged conservative leader.

Premier of Victoria[edit]

By the 1970s, the Liberal government was losing its appeal to younger, urban voters in Melbourne. Realizing that the Liberals had a year at most to retool their image before a statutory general election, Bolte retired in 1972 and endorsed Hamer as his successor. Despite opposition from the conservative wing of the party, Bolte's support was enough for Hamer to prevail in the ensuing leadership ballot, and he was sworn in as premier on 23 August.

Hamer represented such a sharp change from the Bolte era that he was able to campaign in the 1973 election as a new, reformist leader, despite the fact that the Liberals had been in power for 18 years. Employing the slogan "Hamer Makes It Happen", he won a landslide against the Labor opposition under Clyde Holding, increasing his party's already large majority. He won an even larger victory in 1976, also defeating Holding.

Hamer, assisted by key allies such as Planning Minister Alan Hunt, Conservation Minister Bill Borthwick, Attorney-General Haddon Storey, Social Welfare Minister Vasey Houghton, Housing and Youth Sport and Recreation Minister Brian Dixon and Community Welfare Services Minister Walter Jona moved to modernise and liberalise government in Victoria. Environmental protection laws were greatly strengthened,[5] the death penalty was abolished, Aboriginal communities were given ownership of their lands, abortion and homosexuality were decriminalised and anti-discrimination laws were introduced.

Hamer began the modernisation of Melbourne's moribund tramway system (now the world's biggest by route length), ordering 100 new trams immediately with further orders following, and approving the extension of the Burwood tram line from Warrigal Road to Middleborough Road. These were the first new trams and first new tram line since 1956, when Bolte stopped further expansion of the system and cancelled an order for 30 extra W7 class trams.

Restrictions on shop trading hours, and on public entertainment on Sundays, were eased. A major new centre for the performing arts was built in the centre of Melbourne. These measures won the support of middle-class voters, and the Melbourne daily The Age, which had been critical of Bolte during his later years in power, strongly supported Hamer's government.

Hamer was instrumental in the introduction of the Historic Buildings Act 1974 and made significant moves in 1977 which guaranteed the protection of several significant buildings including the Windsor Hotel and Regent Theatre in Melbourne and Shamrock Hotel in Bendigo.

By 1979, however, the gloss was wearing off the Hamer image, as Victoria was beset by increasing economic difficulties, rising unemployment, industrial unrest and a decline in Victoria's traditional manufacturing industrial base. At the same time, the Labor Party was mounting a stronger challenge to the Liberals than it had in some time. Frank Wilkes had taken over as ALP leader from Holding in 1977, and took Labor into the 1979 election with a realistic chance of winning government for the first time since 1955. Ultimately, the Liberals suffered an 11-seat swing, losing many seats in eastern Melbourne. Their majority was reduced to only one seat, although they could also count on the support of the rural-based National Country Party.

In spite of the setback, Hamer continued in office. He promoted some new younger ministers such as Lou Lieberman (Planning), Norman Lacy (Educational Services and The Arts) and Jeff Kennett (Housing) who continued to pursue a reformist liberal agenda particularly in human services, education, environment protection, planning and the arts. It reformed the administration of the highly centralised Department of Education in Victoria into a regionalised organisation with devolution of greater control to local schools. It established a Special Assistance Program to address illiteracy and innumeracy in primary schools. It introduced a Health and Human Relations Education curriculum and compulsory Physical Education in government schools. Also, it completed the construction of the Victorian Arts Centre, established the Australian Children's Television Foundation, established the Meat Market Craft Centre, acquired and established the Heide Museum of Modern Art, created Film Victoria and reconstituted the Victorian College of the Arts.

However, during this period the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, which had always disliked Hamer's social liberalism, began to undermine his position. The leading conservative, Economic Development Minister Ian Smith, was sacked from Cabinet for disloyalty in March 1981. He was reinstated after pledging loyalty to Hamer, but resigned again in May. It was apparent by this stage that Hamer had lost the support of his party. He resigned in June, and was succeeded by Deputy Premier Lindsay Thompson. The following month he resigned from Parliament, and was knighted, becoming Sir Rupert Hamer. At the ensuing by-election, Prue Sibree retained his seat for the Liberals. At the election the following year the Liberals were defeated after 27 years in power.

Hamer is the last non-elected Victorian Premier to have subsequently been elected in his own right.

Later career[edit]

Hamer remained active in public and community affairs after his retirement. He was chairman of the Victorian State Opera from 1982 to 1995, president of the Victorian College of the Arts from 1982 to 1996 and a patron of the Public Transport Users Association from 1989. He died of heart failure in his sleep on 23 March 2004, and his family accepted the offer of a state funeral from the Labor Premier, Steve Bracks. Hamer was praised by Victorians of all political views. The former Labor federal president, Barry Jones, called him "the finest flower in the Victorian Deakinite tradition.".[6]

Despite being a knight, Hamer was a staunch republican and a member of the Australian Republican Movement's advisory committee.[7]

Hamer Hall[edit]

Shortly after his death in 2004, the main concert hall of the Melbourne Arts Centre, of which Hamer had played a significant role in its development and the arts in Victoria generally, known as the Melbourne Concert Hall, was renamed the Hamer Hall.[8]


  1. ^ "Hamer, Sir Rupert James ('Dick')". Re-Member (Former Members). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  2. ^ McPhee, Peter (10 April 2009). "Maintained family's tradition of high achievement with learned French work". The Age. Retrieved 12 November 2010.
  3. ^ "April love keeps the Hamer flame alight as tributes flow". The Age.
  4. ^ Speed, F.W. (1988). Esprit De Corps - The History of the Victorian Scottish Regiment and the 5th Infantry Battalion. Allen & Unwin. p. 386 and 414. ISBN 0043020070.
  5. ^ Danielle Clode (2006) As if for a thousand years: A history of Victoria's land conservation and environment conservation councils, Victorian Environmental Assessment Council ISBN 1-74152-463-6
  6. ^ Darren Gray; Jesse Hogan (24 March 2004). "Sir Rupert Hamer dies". The Age. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Rodan, "Rupert 'Dick' Hamer: The urbane liberal", pg.297


  • Rodan, Paul (2006). "Rupert "Dick" Hamer: The urbane liberal". In Paul Strangio, Brian Costar (ed.). The Victorian Premiers, 1856-2006: Volume 2. Leichardt: The Federation Press. pp. 294–313. ISBN 9781862875494.
Victorian Legislative Council
Preceded by
Clifdon Eager
Member for East Yarra Province
Succeeded by
Haddon Storey
Victorian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Arthur Rylah
Member for Kew
Succeeded by
Prue Sibree
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Rylah
Deputy Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Lindsay Thompson
Preceded by
Henry Bolte
Premier of Victoria
Treasurer of Victoria
New title Minister for the Arts
Succeeded by
Norman Lacy
Party political offices
Preceded by
Henry Bolte
Leader of the Liberal Party in Victoria
Succeeded by
Lindsay Thompson