Lionel Hill

Last updated

Lionel Hill
Lionel Hill1.JPG
Premier of South Australia
In office
17 April 1930 13 February 1933
Monarch George V
Governor Earl of Gowrie
Preceded by Richard L. Butler
Succeeded by Robert Richards
In office
28 August 1926 8 April 1927
Monarch George V
Governor Sir Tom Bridges
Preceded by John Gunn
Succeeded by Richard L. Butler
Leader of the Opposition
in South Australia
In office
8 April 1927 17 April 1930
Preceded by Richard L. Butler
Succeeded by Richard L. Butler
Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party of South Australia
In office
14 August 1931 13 February 1933
Preceded byparty splintered
Succeeded by Robert Richards
Leader of the South Australian
Labor Party
In office
28 August 1926 15 August 1931
Preceded by John Gunn
Succeeded by Edgar Dawes
Alderman on the Kensington and Norwood Council
In office
5 July 1958 19 March 1963
Preceded byCecil Thomas
Succeeded byReginald Nurse
ConstituencyEast Norwood
Personal details
Lionel Laughton Hill

(1881-05-14)14 May 1881
Adelaide, South Australia
Died19 March 1963(1963-03-19) (aged 82)
Norwood, South Australia
Political party Australian Labor Party (SA)

Lionel Laughton Hill (14 May 1881 – 19 March 1963) was the thirtieth Premier of South Australia, representing the South Australian Branch of the Australian Labor Party.


Early life

Born in Adelaide, South Australia but raised on a farm near Maitland, Hill left school aged 12 to work on the South Australian government railways, where he first became involved in the labour movement. This led to his appointment as the secretary-treasurer of the Boilermakers' Assistants' Union in 1901, a position he held until 1914. Hill was also able to combine his work with a distinguished Australian rules footballing career, starring for Norwood Football Club in the South Australian National Football League in the first years of the twentieth century and representing South Australia.


After marrying in 1908, Hill further increased his stature in the labour movement in 1910 by becoming secretary of the South Australian branch of the Australian Tramway Employes' Association and its federal president in 1912. Hill then gained Australian Labor Party pre-selection for the South Australian House of Assembly electorate of East Torrens, which he duly won at the 1915 election.

In parliament Hill was considered "a slow thinker and unimpressive orator" but gained statewide recognition for his role as President of the Anti-Conscription Council, an issue so divisive during World War I that it caused the 1916 Labor split. In the wake of the split, Hill resigned his East Torrens seat in 1917 to unsuccessfully contest the Australian Senate elections as an anti-conscriptionist Labor candidate.

Remaining in the political spotlight by becoming President of the South Australian branch of the Labor Party, Hill returned to South Australian politics at the 1918 election as the member for the rural electorate of Port Pirie. His time in parliament was undistinguished but when the John Gunn led ALP won government following the 1924 election Hill was appointed Minister of Education and industry and Commissioner of Public Works. And upon Gunn's resignation in August 1926, Hill became Premier and Treasurer of South Australia for eight months until the 1927 election when the Richard Layton Butler led Liberal Federation returned to power and Hill became opposition leader.

The onset of the Great Depression in Australia, in combination with a serious drought gripping the state, cast shadows over the 1930 election as the Liberal Federation struggled to combat the resulting severe economic downturn. During the election campaign Butler cautioned voters to expect hardships ahead, while Hill promised a golden future under the slogan "Work for the Workless; Land for the Landless and Equitable Taxation for All" and was elected in a landslide, winning 30 of the 46 seats in the House of Assembly, the largest percentage of seats won by South Australian Labor in any election.

Former South Australian premiers (from left) Robert Richards, Sir Richard Butler, Lionel Hill and Sir Henry Barwell meet with then Premier Tom Playford in 1940 South Australian premiers.gif
Former South Australian premiers (from left) Robert Richards, Sir Richard Butler, Lionel Hill and Sir Henry Barwell meet with then Premier Tom Playford in 1940

Hill returned as Premier and treasurer but faced problems like high unemployment, a formidable state debt, a shrinking economy and a strike prone workforce. His cabinet found themselves in the unenviable position of being quite incapable of finding a solution to these problems and led to Hill accepting the contentious Premiers' Plan of 1931 which advocated reductions in spending (including aid to the unemployed), public works and wages. Such was the public outcry against the Plan, particularly from traditional Labor supporters, that the executive of the South Australian ALP expelled all of the MPs who supported it from the party, including Hill and his entire cabinet. After an unsuccessful appeal to the federal ALP, Hill and his followers organised as the splinter Parliamentary Labor Party, with Hill as leader. He was only able to remain Premier with the support of the Liberal Federation.

The Hill government continued to stagger from crisis to crisis as riots and protests rocked the state and unemployment reached 35%. In the lead up to the 1933 election Hill continued to quarrel with his cabinet colleagues, leading to his resignation from parliament and the Premiership on 13 February 1933 to controversially assume the position of South Australian Agent-General in London, leaving his successor Robert Richards with the unenviable task of leading the state until the election. At that election, the Liberal and Country League—formed a year earlier from the merger of the Liberal Federation and the Country Party—won a sweeping victory. The three competing Labor factions—the PLP, the official ALP and the Lang Labor Party—were reduced to only 13 seats between them.

Controversy and Hill remained on close terms as complaints about his performance as Agent-General led to Hill's resignation from that position in August 1934 and his return to South Australia, where he joined the LCL and sought preselection. This failed to materialise but Hill was appointed in 1936 by the federal government to chair the ACT Industrial Board.

Hill returned to South Australia in 1958 and found the lure of politics too great, successfully standing for the Town of Kensington and Norwood council. [1]


Any plans of further electoral success were stymied only by his death in 1963. Thirty years after his departure from the ALP, he was still disliked by many Laborites with long memories. Ross McMullin, in his history of the Labor Party, The Light on the Hill, describes him as one of the worst Labor leaders federally or in any state.

See also

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Political offices
Preceded by
George Jenkins
Commissioner of Public Works
1924 1926
Succeeded by
John McInnes
Preceded by
John Gunn
Premier of South Australia
Succeeded by
Richard Layton Butler
Treasurer of South Australia
Preceded by
Richard Layton Butler
Leader of the Opposition of South Australia
Premier of South Australia
Succeeded by
Robert Richards
Treasurer of South Australia
Parliament of South Australia
New district Member for East Torrens
Served alongside: John Southwood, Frederick Coneybeer
Succeeded by
Walter Hamilton
Preceded by
William Cole
Member for Port Pirie
Served alongside: John Fitzgerald
Succeeded by
Andrew Lacey
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Gunn
Leader of the Australian Labor Party (South Australian Branch)
Succeeded by
Edgar Dawes
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Henry Barwell
Agent-General for South Australia
Succeeded by
Charles McCann