Andrew Fisher

Andrew Fisher

Infobox Prime Minister
honorific-prefix = The Right Honourable
name=Andrew Fisher

order=5th Prime Minister of Australia
Elections: 1910, 1913, 1914
term_start =13 November 1908
term_end =2 June 1909
term_start2 =29 April 1910
term_end2 =24 June 1913
term_start3 =17 September 1914
term_end3 =27 October 1915
predecessor1 =Alfred Deakin
predecessor2 =Alfred Deakin
predecessor3 =Joseph Cook
successor1 =Alfred Deakin
successor2 =Joseph Cook
successor3 =Billy Hughes
birth_date =birth date|1862|8|29|df=y
birth_place =Crosshouse (Kilmaurs), Scotland
death_date =death date and age|1928|10|22|1862|8|29|df=y
constituency = Wide Bay (Queensland)

Andrew Fisher (29 August 1862 – 22 October 1928) was an Australian politician and the fifth Prime Minister of Australia. Fisher's 1910-13 ministry completed a vast legislative programme which made him, along with Protectionist Alfred Deakin, the founder of the statutory structure of the new nation. According to D. J. Murphy, "his contemporaries saw him as honest and trustworthy, but surpassed by Billy Hughes in wit, oratory and brilliance. Fisher's record however reveals a legacy of reforms and national development which lasted beyond the divisions that Hughes left in the Labor Party and in Australia".

Fisher's second Prime Ministership in 1910 represented a number of firsts: it was Australia's first federal majority government; Australia's first Senate majority, and the world's first Labour Party majority government at a federal level.cite web
first= D. J.
title =Fisher, Andrew (1862 - 1928)
publisher =Australian National University
work=Australian Dictionary of Biography
url =
accessdate = 2007-05-31

Early life

Fisher was born in Crosshouse, a mining village near Kilmaurs, East Ayrshire, Scotland. He was one of seven children of Robert Fisher and Jane Garvin. Fisher's education consisted of some primary schooling, some night schooling, and the reading of books in the library of the cooperative his father had helped to establish. He began working at the age of 10 in the Crosshouse coal mines. At 17 he was elected secretary of the local branch of the Ayrshire Miners' Union,cite web
title =Andrew Fisher, before
work =Australia's Prime Ministers
publisher =National Archives of Australia
url =
accessdate = 2007-08-30
] and was the first step on a road to politics,Fisher, Kathleen (2006) "From pit boy to prime minister: Andrew Fisher", in "National Library of Australia News", XVI (9), June 2006, p. 16] however his election to the position saw him blacklisted from coal mining.

Unable to find work, Fisher and his brother migrated to Queensland in 1885. Despite leaving his homeland Fisher is said to haved retained a distinctive Scottish accent for the rest of his life. Here, Fisher worked as a miner, first in Burrum and then in Gympie. He was active in the Amalgamated Miners Union, becoming President of the Gympie branch by 1891, and was part owner of a labour newspaper, the "Gympie Truth", founded in 1896.cite web
title =Fisher, Andrew (1862 - 1928)
publisher =Project Gutenberg Australia
work=Dictionary of Australian Biography
url =
accessdate = 2007-05-31

In 1891, Fisher was elected as the first president of the Gympie branch of the Labour Party and in 1893 he was elected to the Queensland Legislative Assembly as Labour member for Gympie. He lost his seat in 1896, but won it back in 1899. In that year he was Secretary for Railways and Public Works in the seven-day government of Anderson Dawson, the first parliamentary socialist government in the world.

Member of Parliament

The state Labour parties and their MPs were mixed in their support for the Federation of Australia. [cite web
title =Federation Political Groups—to 1901 and beyond
work=National Library of Australia
url =
accessdate = 2007-08-31
] However Fisher was a firm federationist, supporting the union of the Australian colonies and campaigned for the 'Yes' vote in Queensland's 1899 referendum. Fisher stood for the electorate of Wide Bay at the inaugural 1901 federal election and won the seat, which he held continuously for the rest of his political career. At the end of 1901 Fisher married Margaret Irvine, his previous landlady's daughter.

Labour improved their position at the 1903 election, gaining enough seats to be on par with the Protectionists. When the Deakin government resigned in 1904, George Reid of the Free Trade Party declined to take office, resulting in Labour taking power and Chris Watson becoming Labour's first Prime Minister for a four month period in 1904. Fisher established and demonstrated his ministerial capabilities as Minister for Trade and Customs in the Watson Ministry. The fourth Labour member in the ministry after Watson, Hughes, and Lee Batchelor, he was promoted to deputy leader of the party in 1905.

At the 1906 election, Deakin remained Prime Minister even though Labour gained considerably more seats than the Protectionists. When Watson resigned in 1907, Fisher succeeded him as Labour leader, although Hughes and William Spence also stood for the position. Fisher was considered to have a better understanding of economic matters, was better at handling caucus, had better relations with the party organisation and the unions, and was more in touch with party opinion. He did not share Hughes' passion for free trade or that of Watson and Hughes for defence (and later conscription). In political terms he was a radical, on the left of his party, with a strong sense of Labour's part in British working-class history.

At the 1908 Labour Federal Conference, Fisher argued for female representation in parliament:

With a majority of seats in the Labour-Protectionist government, Labour caucus by early 1908 had become restive as to the future of the Deakin minority government. With the Deakin ministry in trouble, Deakin talked to Fisher and Watson about a possible coalition, and following a report agreed to it providing Labour had a majority in cabinet, that there was immediate legislation for old-age pensions, that New Protection was carried and that at the following election the government would promise a progressive land tax. No coalition was formed, however the pressure from Labour brought about productive change by Deakin: he agreed to a royal commission into the post office, old-age pensions were to be provided from the surplus revenue fund and £250,000 set aside for ships for an Australian Navy. New Protection was declared invalid by the High Court in June, Fisher found the tariff proposals of Deakin unsatisfactory, while caucus was also dissatisfied with the old-age pension proposals. Without Labour support the Deakin government fell in November 1908.

Prime Minister

First government 1908-09

Fisher formed his first minority government and the First Fisher Ministry. The government amended the Seat of Government Act providing for the new federal capital to be in the Yass-Canberra area, passed the Manufacturers' Encouragement Act to provide bounties for iron and steel manufacturers who paid fair and reasonable wages, ordered three torpedo boat destroyers, and assumed local naval defence responsibility and placed the Australian Navy at the disposal of the Royal Navy in wartime.

Fisher committed Labour to amending the Constitution to give the Commonwealth power over labour, wages and prices, to expanding the navy and providing compulsory military training for youths, to extending pensions, to a land tax, to the construction of a transcontinental railway, to the replacement of pound sterling with Australian currency and to tariffs to protect the sugar industry.cite web
title =Andrew Fisher, in office
work =Australia's Prime Ministers
publisher =National Archives of Australia
url =
accessdate = 2007-08-30
] In May 1909, the more conservative Protectionists and Freetraders merged to form the Commonwealth Liberal Party, while the more liberal Protectionists joined Labour. With a majority of seats, the CLP led by Alfred Deakin ousted Labour from office, with Fisher failing to persuade the Governor-General Lord Dudley to dissolve Parliament.

econd government 1910-13

At the 1910 election, Labour gained seventeen additional seats to hold a total of forty-three of the seventy-five House of Representative seats, and all eighteen Senate seats up for election to hold a total of twenty-two out of thirty-six seats. This gave Labour control of both Houses and enabled Fisher to form his Second Fisher Ministry, Australia's first federal majority government, Australia's first Senate majority, and the world's first Labour Party majority government. The 113 acts passed in the three years of the second Fisher government exceeded even the output of the second Deakin government over a similar period. The 1910-13 Fisher government represented the culmination of Labour's involvement in politics, it was a period of reform unmatched in the Commonwealth until the 1940s.

Fisher carried out many reforms in defence, constitutional matters, finance, transport and communications, and social security, achieving the vast majority of his aims in his first government, such as establishing old-age and disability pensions, a maternity allowance and workers compensation, issuing Australia's first paper currency, forming the Royal Australian Navy, the commencement of construction for the Trans-Australian Railway, expanding the bench of the High Court of Australia, founding Canberra and establishing the government-owned Commonwealth Bank.

Fisher wanted additional Commonwealth power in certain areas. The 1911 referendum asked two questions, on Legislative Powers and Monopolies. Both were defeated with around 61 per cent voting 'No'. An additional six questions were asked at the 1913 referendum, on Trade and Commerce, Corporations, Industrial Matters, Trusts, Monopolies, and Railway Disputes. All six were defeated with around 51 per cent voting 'No'. Renamed 'Labor' by King O'Malley in 1912, Fisher's party was defeated at the 1913 election by a single seat to the Commonwealth Liberal Party, led by Joseph Cook.

Third government 1914-15

Labor retained control of the Senate, however, and in 1914 Cook, frustrated by the Labor controlled Senate's blocking of his legislation, recommended to the new Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson that both houses of the parliament be dissolved and elections called. This was Australia's first double dissolution election, and the only one until the 1951 election. The First World War had broken out in the middle of the 1914 election campaign, with both sides committing Australia to the British empire. Fisher campaigned on Labor's record of support for an independent Australian defence force, and pledged that Australia would "stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to the last man and the last shilling." Labor won the election with another absolute majority in both houses and Fisher formed his Third Fisher Ministry.

Fisher and his party were immediately underway in organising urgent defence measures for planning and implementing Australia’s war effort. Fisher visited New Zealand during this time which saw Billy Hughes as acting Prime Minister for two months. Fisher and Labor continued to implement promised peacetime legislation, including the "River Murray Waters Act 1915", the "Freight Arrangements Act 1915", the "Sugar Purchase Act 1915", the "Estate Duty Assessment" and the "Estate Duty" acts in 1914. Wartime legislation in 1914 and 1915 included the "War Precautions" acts (giving the Governor-General power to make regulations for national security), a "Trading with the Enemy Act", "War Census" acts, a "Crimes Act", a "Belgium Grant Act", and an "Enemy Contracts Annulment Act".

In October 1915, the journalist Keith Murdoch reported on the situation in Gallipoli at Fisher's request, and advised him, "Your fears have been justified". He described the Dardanelles Expedition as being "a series of disastrous underestimations" and "one of the most terrible chapters in our history" concluding:

Fisher passed this report on to Hughes and to Defence Minister George Pearce, ultimately leading to the evacuation of the Australian troops in December 1915. The report was also used by the Dardanelles Commission on which Fisher served, while High Commissioner in London.

Fisher resigned from the Prime Ministership and Parliament on 27 October 1915 after being absent from parliament without explanation for three sitting days. Three days later Labor Caucus unanimously elected Billy Hughes leader of the Federal Parliamentary Party. [Australian Dictionary of Biography|last=Fitzhardinge |first=L. F. |year= 1983 |id=A090395b|title= Hughes, William Morris (Billy) (1862 - 1952) |accessdate= 2007-08-30]

High Commissioner

Fisher served as Australia's second High Commissioner in London from 1 January 1916 to 1 January 1921. Fisher opposed conscription which made his dealings with Billy Hughes difficult. Hughes asked Fisher for support by cable three weeks before the first referendum, but Fisher cabled back "Am unable to sign appeal. Position forbids." He subsequently refused to publicly comment on the issue. Hughes' 1916 and 1917 referendums on conscription both had a "No" majority of around one percent. Fisher visited Australian troops serving in Belgium and France in 1919, and later presented Pearce with an album of battlefield photos from 1917 and 1918, showing the horrendous conditions experienced by the troops.cite web
title =Andrew Fisher, after
work =Australia's Prime Ministers
publisher =National Archives of Australia
url =
accessdate = 2007-08-30

The Dardanelles Commission, including Fisher, interviewed witnesses in 1916 and 1917 and issued its final report issued in 1919. It concluded that the expedition was poorly planned and executed and that difficulties had been underestimated, problems which were exacerbated by supply shortages and by personality clashes and procrastination at high levels. Some 480,000 Allied troops had been dedicated to the failed campaign, with around half in casualties. The report's conclusions were regarded as insipid with no figures (political or military) heavily censured. The report of the Commission and information gathered by the inquiry remain a key source of documents on the campaign. [cite web
title =Battles: The Gallipoli Front - An Overview
work =
date =18 August 2002
url = First Word
accessdate = 2007-08-30
] [cite web
last =Fisher
first =Mackensie
authorlink =
coauthors =Cawley; Clyde; Gwynn; May; Nicholson, Lord; Pickford; Roch
title =First report (of the Dardanelles Commission) (Abstract)
work =
publisher =British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service
date =February 1917
url =
accessdate =2007-08-30

Fisher wanted to continue to serve as High Commissioner in London when his term expired in 1921, but Hughes did not permit it. Upon his return to Australia, there were attempts to secure Fisher a seat in parliament and lead the Labor Party once more, however he was not interested in doing so. In 1922 he returned to London and lived through retirement until his death in 1928 at South Hill Park, Hampstead. He is buried at Fortune Green Cemetery in West Hampstead.


Prime Minister, in Hampstead Cemetery in 1930. A memorial garden was also dedicated to Fisher at his birthplace in the late 1970s.

ee also

*First Fisher Ministry
*Second Fisher Ministry
*Third Fisher Ministry



* [ National Museum of Australia]
* [ Andrew Fisher - Scaramouche]

NAME = Fisher, Andrew
SHORT DESCRIPTION = Australian politician and fifth Prime Minister of Australia
DATE OF BIRTH = 29 August 1862
PLACE OF BIRTH = Crosshouse, East Ayrshire, Scotland
DATE OF DEATH = 22 October 1928
PLACE OF DEATH = South Hill Park, Hampstead, London, England

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