Sir Joseph Cook (1860-1947), Australian politician and sixth Prime Minister of Australia, was born on 7 December 1860 in Silverdale, a small mining town near Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, England. He had no formal education and worked in the coal mines from the age of nine. He married Mary Turner in 1885 and shortly after emigrated to New South Wales.
Cook settled in Lithgow and worked in the coal mines, becoming General-Secretary of the Western Miners Association in 1887. He was also active in the Single Tax League and was a founding member of the Labour Party in 1891. In that year he was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as MP for the coalfields seat of Hartley, in Labor's first big breakthrough in Australian politics.
In 1894, however, Cook refused to accept the Labor Party's decision to make all members sign a "pledge" to be bound by decisions of the Parliamentary Labor Party (Caucus}. He left the party and became a follower of George Reid's Free Trade Party. He was a minister in Reid's government 1894-99.
When the first federal Parliament was elected in 1901, Cook was elected MP for Parramatta, a seat which then included the Lithgow area. He became Reid's deputy, but did not hold office in Reid's 1904-05 ministry, mainly because Reid needed to offer portfolios to independent Protectionist members. When Reid retired from the party leadership in 1908, Cook agreed to merge the Free Traders with Alfred Deakin's Protectionists, and became deputy leader of the new Liberal Party.
Cook served as Defence Minister in Deakin's 1909-10 ministry, then succeded Deakin as Liberal leader when the government was defeated by Labor in the 1910 elections. He had by this time become completely philosophically opposed to socialism, and he was an effective critic of Andrew Fisher's Labor government. At the 1913 elections he won a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives, while Labor retained a majority in the Senate.
Unable to govern effectively without control of the Senate, Cook decided to bring about a double dissolution election under the terms of the Australian Constitution. He introduced a bill abolishing preferential employment for trade union members in the public service, a bill he knew the Senate would reject. He then sought and obtained a double dissolution of the Parliament from the Governor-General.
Unfortunately for Cook, World War I broke out in the middle of the election campaign for the September 1914 election. Fisher was able to remind the voters that it was Labor which had favoured an independent Australian defence force, which the conservatives had opposed. Cook was defeated and Fisher resumed office.
In 1916 the Labor government split when Fisher's successor, Billy Hughes, tried to introduce conscription. Cook agreed to become Hughes's deputy in the new Nationalist Party, and became Minister for the Navy in Hughes's government. The Nationalists had huge victories in the 1917 and 1919 elections. Cook was Treasurer (finance minister) 1920-21, and was knighted in 1920.
|Prime Ministers of Australia||Followed by:|