Watson Government

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Watson Government
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
ChrisWatsonBW crop.jpg
In office
27 April 1904 – 18 August 1904
Prime Minister Chris Watson
Party Labor
Status Minority (Protectionist support)
Start reason Predecessor lost confidence motion
End reason Lost confidence motion
Predecessor Deakin Government (I)
Successor Reid Government

The Watson Government was the third federal executive government of the Commonwealth of Australia. It was led by Prime Minister Chris Watson of the Australian Labor Party from 27 April 1904 to 18 August 1904. The Watson Government was the first Labor Party national government in both Australia and in the world. [1] [2] Watson was aged just 37 when he became Prime Minister of Australia, and remains the youngest person to have held the post. [2]

Chris Watson Australian politician, third Prime Minister of Australia

John Christian Watson, commonly known as Chris Watson, was an Australian politician who served as the third Prime Minister of Australia. He was the first Prime Minister from the Australian Labour Party, and led the world's first Labour Party government, indeed the world's first socialist or social democratic government, at a national level. From paternal German and maternal British ancestry, he is the only Australian Prime Minister not born in a Commonwealth country.

Australian Labor Party Political party in Australia

The Australian Labor Party is a major centre-left political party in Australia. The party has been in opposition at the federal level since the 2013 election. Bill Shorten has been the party's federal parliamentary leader since 13 October 2013. The party is a federal party with branches in each state and territory. Labor is in government in the states of Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, and in both the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. The party competes against the Liberal/National Coalition for political office at the federal and state levels. It is the oldest political party in Australia.

Contents

Background

The Australian Federal Parliament had come into being with the Federation of Britain's Australian colonies in 1901. Edmund Barton's Protectionists held power in coalition with Labour, until Barton was succeeded by Alfred Deakin. The short-lived first Deakin Government failed to pass any legislation in the fledgling Australian Federal Parliament, and its shaky coalition with the Labour Party did not long survive the December 1903 Election. By the resumption of Parliament in March 1904, the Deakin Government had fallen, amid a dispute over a Labour Party amendment to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. [3]

Federation of Australia process by which six separate British self-governing colonies became the country of Australia

The Federation of Australia was the process by which the six separate British self-governing colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia, establishing a system of federalism in Australia. Fiji and New Zealand were originally part of this process, but they decided not to join the federation. Following federation, the six colonies that united to form the Commonwealth of Australia as states kept the systems of government that they had developed as separate colonies, but they also agreed to have a federal government that was responsible for matters concerning the whole nation. When the Constitution of Australia came into force, on 1 January 1901, the colonies collectively became states of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Edmund Barton Australian politician, first Prime Minister of Australia and founding justice of the High Court of Australia

Sir Edmund "Toby" Barton, was an Australian politician and judge who served as the first Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1901 to 1903. He resigned to become a founding member of the High Court of Australia, where he served until his death.

Alfred Deakin Australian politician, second Prime Minister of Australia

Alfred Deakin was an Australian politician who served as the second Prime Minister of Australia, in office for three separate terms – 1903 to 1904, 1905 to 1908, and 1909 to 1910. Before entering office, he was a leader of the movement for Australian federation.

Under Watson, Labour had adopted a policy of support for the Barton and Deakin Governments in return for concessions. However, the response of the conservative Victorian Government to a railway strike led Federal Labour to stridently pursue inclusion of state public servants within the ambit of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, which Deakin was reluctant to accept. Labour made gains at the 1903 Election, and when Deakin sought to reintroduce his Bill following the election, the Labour amendment was again carried, leading Deakin to resign. [4]

Chris Watson

John Christian (Chris) Watson (1867–1941) was a trade unionist, company director, and politician who led Australia's—and the world's—first Labor national government. [5] [2]

Watson left school aged ten, worked as an assistant railway construction worker, farm hand, stable hand and compositor before becoming heavily involved in trade union politics. He was elected to the Trades and Labour Council in 1890, and the following year became involved with the newly formed Labor Party, entering the NSW Parliament as a Labour MP in 1894. [1] He was active in arguing the Labour case for Federation, and joined Labor's opposition to the Australian Constitution put to referendum in the 1890s, though accepted the majority vote once obtained. [5]

Watson entered the new Federal Parliament as Member for Bland, and at the first meeting of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party in May 1901, he was elected leader. Through the first decade of Federation, Labour, the Protectionists and Free Traders were unable to secure majorities and were forced to govern in coalitions. [1] Watson was aged just 37 when he became Prime Minister of Australia, and remains the youngest person to hold the post. [2] McMullin wrote of Watson that "in that era of intractable parliamentary unwieldiness, his party had to pursue its objectives in concert with non-Labor MPs, and Watson's amiable personality was an important factor in Labor's capacity to negotiate desirable outcomes." [1]

The Division of Bland was an Australian electoral division in New South Wales. The division was proclaimed in 1900, and was one of the original 65 divisions to be contested at the first federal election. It was abolished in 1906. It was named for Dr William Bland, a New South Wales colonial politician. Based in rural southern New South Wales, it included the towns of Narrandera, Young, Wagga Wagga and West Wyalong. Bland was held by Chris Watson, the first Leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party and Australia's first Labor Prime Minister. When Bland was abolished in 1906, Watson transferred to South Sydney.

Ministry

Group photograph of all Federal Labour Party MPs elected at the inaugural 1901 election, including Chris Watson, Andrew Fisher, Billy Hughes, and Frank Tudor. Labor 1901b.jpg
Group photograph of all Federal Labour Party MPs elected at the inaugural 1901 election, including Chris Watson, Andrew Fisher, Billy Hughes, and Frank Tudor.

The Watson Ministry was the third Australian Commonwealth ministry, and ran from 27 April 1904 to 17 August 1904. It was the first federal ministry formed by the Australian Labor Party. [6]

Watson became Treasurer, and gave External Affairs to Billy Hughes. Home Affairs went to Egerton Batchelor, and Trade and Customs to Andrew Fisher. Anderson Dawson became Minister for Defence and Hugh Mahon was appointed Postmaster-General. The portfolio of Attorney General went to H. B. Higgins, who was not a Labour member. [2]

Term of office

Watson commanded a majority in neither the House of Representatives, nor the Senate. [1] Many Australian conservatives greeted the arrival of a Labour Government with fear. Deakin promised "the utmost fair play" to allow the new government to operate, but his Protectionist Party was too divided to agree to serve in a Labour led alliance. Watson soon admitted to "despair", and when his government lost a vote on an amendment to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill regarding unionists, Watson resigned. [7]

Amid the volatile environment of early Federation Australian politics, the Watson Government passed just six bills. Other than an amended Acts Interpretation Act 1904, these were all money bills, however, Watson advanced the landmark Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, passed later in 1904 by the Reid Government. [2]

Aftermath

George Reid of the Free Trade Party was sworn in as Prime Minister on 18 August, and Watson returned to negotiations with the liberal wing of the Protectionists. Reid governed in shaky coalition with the Protectionists, and his government lasted until July 1905. Reid denounced Labour as the "Socialist tiger". Watson encouraged Deakin to abandon the Free Traders, saying: "We, and especially me, don't want office, but I have the utmost anxiety to stop the retrogressive movement which Reid is heading." Deakin commenced his second term as Prime Minister in July 1905, with Labour's support. [8]

Reid adopted a strategy of trying to reorient the party system along Labour vs non-Labour lines – prior to the 1906 election, he renamed his Free Trade Party to the Anti-Socialist Party. Reid envisaged a spectrum running from socialist to anti-socialist, with the Protectionists in the middle. This attempt struck a chord with politicians who were steeped in the Westminster tradition and regarded a two-party system as very much the norm. [9]

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 McMullin, p.56
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Australia's Prime Ministers – Watson – In Office; primeministers.naa.gov.au
  3. Australia's Prime Ministers – Deakin – In Office; primeministers.naa.gov.au
  4. McMullin, p.58
  5. 1 2 Nairn, Bede; Watson, John Christian (Chris) (1867–1941); Australian Dictionary of Biography
  6. "Ministries and Cabinets". Parliamentary Handbook. Parliament of Australia . Retrieved 17 September 2010.
  7. McMullin, p.59
  8. McMullin, p.59–60
  9. Fusion: The Party System We Had To Have? – by Charles Richardson CIS 25 January 2009