Ian McCahon Sinclair (born 10 June 1929), Australian politician, was born in Sydney, New South Wales, the son of a suburban accountant. He was educated at private schools and at the University of Sydney, where he graduated in arts and law. He practised law in Sydney, but soon developed an interest in farming, and acquired a property near Tamworth in the New England region of northern New South Wales. In 1956 he married Margarat Tarrant, with whom he had three children. In 1970, he married again, to Rosemary Fenton.
In 1965 Sinclair was promoted to the ministry, becoming Minister for Social Services in the Liberal-Country Party coalition government of Robert Menzies. In 1968 he became Minister for Shipping and Transport]]. He and Doug Anthony were seen as the most likely successors to the veteran Country Party leader John McEwen, but when McEwen retired in 1971 it was Anthony who was elected party Leader, while Sinclair was elected Deputy Leader, becoming at the same time Minister for Primary Industry.
After spending the three years of the Whitlam Labor government in opposition, Sinclair again became Minister for Primary Industry in 1975, in the Fraser government. He held this position until 1979, when he was forced to resign from the ministry after being charged with forgery. The charges arose from a dispute over his father's will, on which he was accused of having forged his father's signature. He was acquitted of these charges in August 1980, and then returned to the ministry as Minister for Special Trade Negotiations. After the 1980 elections he became Minister for Communications. In May 1982 he became Minister for Defence, a post he held until the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983.
In January 1984 Anthony resigned the leadership of the National Country Party (as the Country Party had been renamed in 1975), and Sinclair succeeded him. Under his leadership the party was renamed the National Party of Australia (NPA), reflecting the need to broaden the party's base beyond its declining rural constituency. The party aggressively challenged the Liberals in urban seats, but had little success except in Queensland.
Sinclair also tried to position the NPA as the party of social conservatism. During the 1984 election he created a controversy by blaming the appearance of AIDS on the Hawke Labor government's policy of "condoning" homosexuality. Sinclair had a poor relationship with Liberal leader Andrew Peacock, and supported his more conseravtive rival, John Howard. When Howard became Liberal leader in 1985, the two formed a close partnership.
This alliance was disrupted by the determination of the extremely conservative Queensland branch of the NPA and its leader, Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, to seize the national political agenda. The Queensland NPA forced the federal party to break off the coalition with the Liberals, and launched a "Joh for Canberra" campaign with the aim of making the 76-year-old Bjelke-Petersen Prime Minister at the 1987 elections.
This campaign was a complete failure: the Hawke government was re-elected in July 1987, the NPA lost seats, particularly in Queensland, and Sinclair and Howard both found their leaderships under pressure. In May 1989 there were simultaneous, co-ordinated leadership coups in both parties, with Peacock displacing Howard as Liberal leader and Charles Blunt replacing Sinclair.
Sinclair was furious, and when Blunt lost his seat at the 1990 elections, he made a determined attempt to regain the NPA leadership, but was defeated by Tim Fischer, and retired to the back-benches. By this time he was the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives.
Aged nearly 70 and having had heart problems for some time, Sinclair announced his intention to retire at the 1998 elections. In February 1998 Howard appointed Sinclair as Chairman of the Constitutional Convention which debated the possibility of Australia becoming a republic, a role in which he won praise from all sides. So when the Speaker of the House, Robert Halverson, suddenly resigned in March, Sinclair was elected to replace him.
Sinclair made an excellent Speaker, and tried to persuade the NPA to allow him to stand again in New England, but they had already chosen another candidate and Sinclair had no choice but to retire, which he did at the October elections.
|Leaders of the|
National Party of Australia