Tom Hughes (Australian politician)

Last updated

Joanna Fitzgerald
(m. 1951;div. 1972)
Christine Abel Smith
(m. 1981)
Tom Hughes
Tom Hughes 1969 Colour.jpg
Hughes in 1969
Attorney-General of Australia
In office
12 November 1969 22 March 1971
Children3, including Lucy
Parent(s) Geoffrey Forrest Hughes
Margaret Vidal
Relatives Thomas Hughes (grandfather)
Robert Hughes (brother)
See Hughes family
Alma mater University of Sydney
Profession Lawyer

Thomas Eyre Forrest Hughes AO KC (born 26 November 1923) is an Australian former barrister and politician. A member of the Liberal Party, he served as Attorney-General in the Gorton government from 1969 to 1971 and was a member of the House of Representatives from 1963 to 1972, representing the New South Wales seats of Parkes and Berowra. He is a former president of the New South Wales Bar Association and was one of Sydney's most prominent barristers for a number of decades. Hughes is the last surviving Liberal minister of the Gorton and McMahon Governments.


Early life and education

Hughes was born on 26 November 1923 in Rose Bay, New South Wales. [1] [2] He was the son of lawyer and aviator Geoffrey Forrest Hughes. His brother was the writer and critic Robert Hughes. His grandfather and great-uncle were members of the New South Wales Legislative Council. He was educated at Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview, and the University of Sydney, [3] where he graduated in law. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in May 1942 and was discharged in February 1946. [2] In 2005 he was awarded the French Légion d'honneur for his courage while flying planes in the Invasion of Normandy. [4] He was called to the New South Wales bar in 1949, becoming a QC in 1962.

Hughes appeared in a number of high-profile defamation cases. In 1960 he successfully defended Australian Consolidated Press, its editor-in-chief David McNicoll, and political journalist Alan Reid against a suit brought by union secretary Charlie Oliver. [5] In 1964 he represented author Hal Porter against The Mercury for publishing a bad review of his autobiography. [6]


Hughes in 1964. TomHughes1964.jpg
Hughes in 1964.

Hughes defeated the long-serving Labor member Les Haylen to unexpectedly win the seat of Parkes at the 1963 elections. He switched to the Division of Berowra at the 1969 federal election. He served on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1964 to 1969. [7]

Hughes continued to practise as a barrister during his time as a backbencher. In 1967 he represented Clive Evatt Jr., nephew of former ALP leader H. V. Evatt, against the New South Wales Bar Association in a professional misconduct case. [8] In August 1969, he represented Alexander McLeod-Lindsay at a special inquiry into his conviction for attempting to murder his wife, arguing there had been a mistrial. [9]


Hughes was appointed Attorney-General in the second Gorton ministry in a major reshuffle after the 1969 federal election. [7]

In May 1970, Hughes publicly spoke in favour of decriminalising homosexuality, in the context of the drafting of new criminal codes for the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. [10] In the same year he supported Rae Else-Mitchell's call for federal and state courts to be merged into a single judicial system. [11]

Hughes came into conflict with university students on a number of occasions. He was "jostled" by protestors after a speech at the University of Sydney in July 1970 and subsequently abandoned his car, inadvertently causing over 300 police to be called out when the event's organisers could not locate him. [12] At a speech to the Australian National University's Liberal Club in September 1970, he was interrupted by anti-war demonstrators and "grabbed a Vietcong flag from a student and tore it from its supporting pole". [13] The previous month his home in Bellevue Hill had been invaded by anti-war demonstrators, resulting in eight students and two press photographers being arrested. He reportedly "came out carrying a cricket bat and scuffled with some of the demonstrators" before performing a citizen's arrest on one student. [14] [15] Hughes was charged with unlawful assault in relation to his use of the bat, but was found not guilty by reason of provocation. [16]

Hughes supported John Gorton in the 1971 leadership spill and was not retained as attorney-general when William McMahon replaced Gorton as party leader and prime minister. He later spoke of a "feeling of having been wronged" over the demotion. [17] In August 1971 he opposed McMahon's attempts to sack Gorton from the new ministry, describing them as "bordering on the insane". [18] Hughes quickly returned to his legal practice, appearing before the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory a few months after his sacking. [19] He was opposed for Liberal preselection in October 1971 by four other candidates, winning a majority on the first ballot. The Canberra Times reported that his bid for renomination was opposed by the conservative faction led by Jim Cameron, and that since leaving the ministry his comments "had established him as one of the principal spokesmen for the 'radical wing' of the Liberal Party". [20]

In November 1971, Hughes announced his decision to retire from federal politics at the next election, citing a desire to return to practising law full-time. [21]

Later career

In September 1972 Hughes was elected to the council of the Australian National University, to a term expiring in 1975. [22]

After leaving politics he became one of the leading figures at the Sydney bar, and was president of the New South Wales Bar Association between 1973 and 1975. He was formerly engaged in full-time practice as a member of Sydney's Blackstone Chambers, and as of 2016 was the most senior member of the NSW Bar. [23]

In 1974 Hughes defended New South Wales premier Robert Askin against a defamation suit brought by Jack Mundey, the president of the Communist Party of Australia. [24] In 1976 he simultaneously appeared for prime minister Gough Whitlam in the New South Wales Court of Petty Sessions while representing Vic Garland against Whitlam in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory. The cases were unrelated and as such there was no perceived conflict of interest. [25] Hughes assisted media mogul Kerry Packer at the Costigan Royal Commission in 1984. [26] In the same year he represented bookmaker Bill Waterhouse at the New South Wales Racing Appeals Tribunal following the Fine Cotton scandal. [27]

Hughes represented High Court judge Lionel Murphy in several different venues relating to his alleged attempts to pervert the course of justice. In 1984 he appeared for Murphy before a Senate committee, [28] and the following year he represented Murphy in his appeal against a conviction for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. [29]

In 2002, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Hughes was still working full-time at the age of 78, as one of only two active barristers admitted to the New South Wales bar in the 1940s. [3] He retired from the bar in October 2013, a month before his 90th birthday. [30]

Hughes delivered the eulogy at the state memorial service for John Gorton in May 2002. His speech was highly critical of Malcolm Fraser's actions in 1971, which he termed a "political assassination". Fraser was in attendance at the service. [31] [32]

Personal life

In 1951 Hughes married Joanna Fitzgerald, a niece of the poet R. D. Fitzgerald. The couple had three children together – Lucy, Tom Jr. and Michael. [3] Lucy served as Lord Mayor of Sydney (2000–2002) and married Malcolm Turnbull, who became prime minister of Australia (2015–2018). Tom followed his father into the legal profession, often serving as his junior. [3] Michael became a stockbroker and business executive, also holding senior office in the Liberal Party's organisational wing. [33]

Hughes and his first wife divorced in 1972. [34] He subsequently proposed marriage to actress Kate Fitzpatrick, who turned him down. He remarried in 1981 to Chrissie Abel Smith ( née  Taylor), at a ceremony officiated by Ted Noffs. [3]

Hughes was raised Catholic. He left the church for a period due to disagreements with its social policies, but rejoined in the early 1990s. [3]

In the early 1970s Hughes bought an 800-hectare (2,000-acre) farming property at Gurrundah, New South Wales. He initially raised cattle but in 1976 established a Poll Dorset sheep stud with six rams and 320 ewes. He won prizes at local agricultural shows and exhibited at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. [35]


AUS Order of Australia (civil) BAR.svg Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)1988 for services to the legal profession [36]
1939-45 Star.png 1939–45 Star
France and Germany Star BAR.svg France and Germany Star
War Medal 39-45 BAR.svg War Medal 1939–1945
Australia Service Medal 1939-1945 BAR.svg Australia Service Medal 1939–45
AUS Centenary Medal ribbon.svg Centenary Medal 2001 [37]
Legion Honneur Chevalier ribbon.svg Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (France) 2005 [4]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William McMahon</span> Prime Minister of Australia from 1971 to 1972

Sir William McMahon was an Australian politician who served as the 20th prime minister of Australia from 1971 to 1972. He held office as the leader of the Liberal Party of Australia. He was a government minister for over 21 years, the longest continuous service in Australian history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Gaudron</span> 20th and 21st-century Australian judge

Mary Genevieve Gaudron, is an Australian lawyer and judge, who was the first female Justice of the High Court of Australia. She was the Solicitor-General of New South Wales from 1981 until 1987 before her appointment to the High Court. After her retirement in 2002, she joined the International Labour Organization, serving as the President of its Administrative Tribunal from 2011 until 2014.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">H. V. Evatt</span> Australian politician (1894–1965)

Herbert Vere Evatt, was an Australian politician and judge. He served as a judge of the High Court of Australia from 1930 to 1940, Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs from 1941 to 1949, and leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Leader of the Opposition from 1951 to 1960. Evatt is considered one of Australia's most prominent public intellectuals of the twentieth century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ian Sinclair</span> Australian politician (born 1929)

Ian McCahon Sinclair is an Australian former politician who served as leader of the National Party from 1984 to 1989. He served as either a minister or opposition frontbencher for all but a few months from 1965 to 1989, and later Speaker of the House of Representatives from March to August 1998.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Garfield Barwick</span> 7th Chief Justice of Australia and politician (1903-1997)

Sir Garfield Edward John Barwick was an Australian judge who was the seventh and longest serving Chief Justice of Australia, in office from 1964 to 1981. He had earlier been a Liberal Party politician, serving as a minister in the Menzies government from 1958 to 1964.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bill Wentworth</span> Australian politician (1907–2003)

William Charles Wentworth, usually known as Bill Wentworth and sometimes referred to by others as William Charles Wentworth IV, was an Australian politician. He was a member of the Liberal Party for most of his career and held ministerial office in the governments of John Gorton and William McMahon, serving as Minister for Social Services (1968–1972) and Minister in charge of Aboriginal Affairs (1968–1971). Wentworth served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1977, representing the New South Wales seat of Mackellar. He frequently crossed the floor and served his final months in parliament as an independent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Albert Piddington</span> Australian politician

Albert Bathurst Piddington KC was an Australian lawyer, politician and judge. He was a member of the High Court of Australia for one month in 1913, making him the shortest-serving judge in the court's history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kep Enderby</span> Australian politician (1926–2015)

Keppel Earl Enderby was an Australian politician and judge. Enderby was a member of the House of Representatives, representing the Australian Labor Party between 1970 and 1975 and became a senior cabinet minister in the Gough Whitlam government. After politics, he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frank Walker (Australian politician)</span> Australian politician

Francis John Walker, QC was an Australian politician and judge. He was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly representing Georges River between 1970 and 1988 and subsequently a member of the Australian House of Representatives representing Robertson between 1990 and 1996, both for the Australian Labor Party. During his parliamentary careers, Walker held a range of ministerial responsibilities. He was the first New South Wales Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and was responsible for some of the first legislation that recognized the obligation to financially compensate indigenous Australians for the loss of their land. He has been given credit for achieving one of the first big breakthroughs in the protection of Australia's natural environment, the saving of the Terania Creek rainforest.

Kevin Fredrick O'Leary QC was the second Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. He was appointed to that position on 12 September 1985 after James Muirhead had acted in the position following the relocation to Perth of the Territory's first Chief Justice William Forster earlier that year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bob Ellicott</span> Australian politician and judge (1927–2022)

Robert James Ellicott, was an Australian barrister, politician and judge. He served as Solicitor-General of Australia (1969–1973) before entering the House of Representatives at the 1974 federal election as a member of the Liberal Party. He held senior ministerial office in the Fraser government, serving as Attorney-General (1975–1977), Minister for Home Affairs (1977–1980), the Capital Territory (1977–1980), and Home Affairs and the Environment (1980–1981). He retired from politics to be appointed to the Federal Court of Australia, serving as a judge from 1981 to 1983.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nigel Bowen</span> Australian politician and judge

Sir Nigel Hubert Bowen, was a Canadian-born Australian lawyer, politician and judge. He was a member of the Liberal Party and served in the House of Representatives from 1964 to 1973, representing the New South Wales seat of Parramatta. He held senior ministerial office in multiple Coalition governments, serving as Attorney-General, Minister for Education and Science (1969–1971), and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1971–1972). After the Coalition lost the 1972 election he was an unsuccessful candidate to replace William McMahon as Liberal leader, losing to Billy Snedden by a single vote. After leaving politics he served as the inaugural chief justice of the Federal Court of Australia (1976–1990).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ivor Greenwood</span> Australian politician

Ivor John Greenwood was an Australian barrister and politician. He was a member of the Liberal Party and held senior ministerial office in the McMahon and Fraser governments. He served as Minister for Health (1971), Attorney-General and Minister for the Environment, Housing and Community Development (1975–1976). He was a Senator for Victoria from 1968 until his death in 1976, aged 49.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Spender</span> Australian politician (1935–2022)

John Michael Spender was an Australian politician, diplomat and barrister. He was a member of the House of Representatives from 1980 to 1990, representing the Liberal Party, and was a shadow minister under Andrew Peacock and John Howard. He later served as Ambassador to France from 1996 to 2000.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward St John</span> Australian politician

Edward Henry St John QC was a prominent Australian barrister, anti-nuclear activist and Liberal politician in the 1960s. His political career came to a controversial end after he criticised the Prime Minister John Gorton. His book A Time to Speak was an account of his eventful three years in politics from 1966 to 1969. Justice Michael Kirby described St John as a "contradictory, restless, reforming spirit".

Clive Raleigh Evatt was an Australian politician, barrister and raconteur. He was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1939 until 1959. At various times he sat as a member of the Industrial Labor Party, Labor Party and as an independent.

Alan Douglas Joseph Reid, nicknamed the Red Fox, was an Australian political journalist, who worked in the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery from 1937 to 1985. He is noted for his role in the Australian Labor Party split of 1955 and his coinage of the term "36 faceless men" to describe the members of the Australian Labor Party's Federal Conference.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gorton government</span> Government of Prime Minister Gorton

The Gorton government was the federal executive government of Australia led by Prime Minister John Gorton. It was made up of members of a Liberal-Country Party coalition in the Australian Parliament from January 1968 to March 1971.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1971 Liberal Party of Australia leadership spill</span>

The Liberal Party of Australia held a leadership spill on 10 March 1971. Prime Minister John Gorton called for a vote of confidence in his leadership, which was tied, prompting Gorton to resign. William McMahon subsequently defeated Billy Snedden for the leadership, and was sworn in as prime minister on the same day. Gorton was elected as his deputy, defeating Malcolm Fraser and David Fairbairn.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Amsberg</span> Barrister and judge in New South Wales, Australia

George Frederick Amsberg was an Australian barrister and judge of the District Court of New South Wales. He was a prominent member of the Sydney Jewish community. In his legal practice Amsberg defended some of Sydney's most high-profile criminals. In 1953, after becoming a judge, Amsberg was appointed as a Commissioner to preside over the highly political Royal Commission of Inquiry into the conduct of Joshua Arthur, a New South Wales government minister.


  1. "Cabinet's new faces". The Canberra Times. 12 November 1969.
  2. 1 2 "HUGHES, THOMAS EYRE FORREST: World War Two Service". Department of Veterans' Affairs. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "The old silk road". The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 June 2002. Retrieved 11 July 2020.
  4. 1 2 ABC (2008). PM – Australian vets honoured with French Legion of Honour. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
  5. "Defamation suit lost by unionist". The Canberra Times. 29 November 1960.
  6. "Author claims heavy damages". The Canberra Times. 4 December 1964.
  7. 1 2 "Biography for HUGHES, the Hon. Thomas Eyre Forrest, AO, KC". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  8. "Evatt restraint move succeeds". The Canberra Times. 30 March 1967.
  9. "McLeod-Lindsay trial failed, QC says". The Canberra Times. 30 August 1969.
  10. Sekuless, Peter (28 May 1970). "Deviants viewed more liberally, says Hughes". The Canberra Times.
  11. "Plan for courts backed by Hughes". The Canberra Times. 12 September 1970.
  12. "Mr Hughes jostled". The Canberra Times. 31 July 1970.
  13. "Minister blows his cool". The Canberra Times. 1 October 1970.
  14. "Minister scuffles with protestors". The Canberra Times. 17 August 1970.
  15. "Attitude not passive, says Mr Hughes". The Canberra Times. 20 August 1970.
  16. "Hughes not guilty of assault". The Canberra Times. 29 January 1971.
  17. "Hughes denies plot by former ministers". The Canberra Times. 30 November 1971.
  18. Solomon, David (12 August 1971). "Gorton move likely by Sunday". The Canberra Times.
  19. "Damages claim settled out of court". The Canberra Times. 11 May 1971.
  20. Solomon, David (9 October 1971). "Hughes wins right to stand". The Canberra Times.
  21. Solomon, David (22 November 1971). "Mr Hughes to leave federal politics". The Canberra Times.
  22. "Mr Hughes on A.N.U. Council". The Canberra Times. 19 September 1972.
  23. "Blackstone Chambers Barristers - The Hon. Thomas Hughes AO QC". Findmypast . Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  24. "QC accused of 'political speech' in case". The Canberra Times. 15 August 1974.
  25. Waterford, Jack (24 February 1976). "Even-handedness at the Bar". The Canberra Times.
  26. "Costigan under great pressure in Packer probe". The Canberra Times. 28 March 1984.
  27. "Waterhouse had nothing to gain: QC". The Canberra Times. 13 December 1984.
  28. "Full text of Murphy statement". The Canberra Times. 13 October 1984.
  29. "New legal counsel for Murphy". The Canberra Times. 14 July 1985.
  30. "November 26: Australian barrister and politician Tom Hughes (1923 - )". Old Ignatians' Union. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  31. "Fraser under attack at Gorton memorial service". The Sydney Morning Herald. 31 May 2002. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  32. "Hughes's wintry blast for the undertaker PM". The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 June 2002. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
  33. Clennell, Andrew (4 July 2018). "Turnbull's brother-in-law Michael Hughes hunts NSW Liberal donors". The Weekend Australian. Retrieved 11 July 2020.
  34. Blackshield, Tony (1 July 2016). "Contradictory counsel". Inside Story. Retrieved 11 July 2020.
  35. "QC takes honours with his sheep". The Canberra Times. 18 February 1980.
  36. It's An Honour (2008). HUGHES, Thomas Eyre Forrest. Retrieved 31 May 2008.
  37. It's An Honour (2008). HUGHES, Thomas Eyre. Retrieved 31 May 2008.

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by Attorney-General
Succeeded by
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by Member for Parkes
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New division
Member for Berowra
Succeeded by