Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Earle Page

Sir Earle Page

Earle Christmas Grafton Page (August 8 1880 - December 20 1961), Australian politician, was the eleventh Prime Minister of Australia.

Born in Grafton, New South Wales, he was educated at state schools and the University of Sydney, where he graduated in medicine. He practised in Sydney and Grafton before joining the Australian Army as a medical officer in the First World War, serving in Egypt. After the war he went into farming and was elected Mayor of Grafton.

In 1919 Page was elected to the House of Representatives as a candidate of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, which in 1920 became the Country Party. He became the party's leader in 1921. Dislike of the Hughes government's rural policies was one of the reasons the Country Party was formed, and when the party won the balance of power in the House at the 1922 elections, Page demanded and got Hughes's resignation as the price for supporting the Nationalist government.

Page then became Treasurer (finance minister) in the Bruce government, a position he held until 1929. He was a strong believer in orthodox finance and conservative policies, except whe the welfare of farmers was concerned: then he was happy to see government money spent freely. He was also a "high protectionist": a supporter of high tariff barriers to protect Australian rural industries.

When the Bruce government was defeated by Labor in 1929, Page went into opposition. In 1931 Joseph Lyons was able to form a United Australia Party government without Country Party support. In 1934, however, the coalition was reformed, and Page became Minister for Commerce. He was knighted in 1938. The title of Deputy Prime Minister did not then exist, but when Lyons died suddenly in 1939, it was Page whom the Governor-General called on to become caretaker Prime Minister. He held the office for eleven days while the UAP elected a new leader.

Page had been very close to Lyons, and he disliked Robert Menzies, Lyons's deputy, on the grounds that Menzies had been disloyal to Lyons. When Menzies was elected UAP leader, Page refused to serve under him, and made an extraordinary personal attack on him in the House. His party soon rebelled, however, and Page was deposed as Country Party leader and replaced by Archie Cameron.

In 1940 Page and Menzies patched up their differences for the sake of the war effort, and Page returned to the Cabinet. In 1941, however, the government fell and Page spent the eight years of the Curtin and Chifley Labor governments on the opposition backbench. in 1949 Menzies returned to office and Page was made Minister for Health. He held this post until 1956, when he was 76, then retired to the backbench.

Page refused to consider retirement from Parliament, even at the 1961 election, when he was 81, suffering from lung cancer and too sick to campaign. In one of the great electoral upsets of Australian history, he lost his seat, which he had held for 42 years - indeed only Billy Hughes served longer as a member of the Australian Parliament. He died a few days later, without knowing he had been defeated.

Preceded by:
Joseph Lyons
Prime Ministers of Australia Followed by:
Robert Menzies

Preceded by:
(first leader)
Leaders of the
Country Party
Followed by:
Archie Cameron