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Paul Hasluck

Sir Paul Hasluck

Sir Paul Meernaa Caedwalla Hasluck (1 April 1905 - 9 January 1993), Australian historian, public servant and politician, and 17th Governor-General of Australia, was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, into a family of Salvationists, whose values he retained thoughout his career. He was educated at the prestigious Perth Modern School (where Prime Minister Bob Hawke was also educated) and at the University of Western Australia, where he graduated with a Master of Arts.

In 1923 Hasluck joined the literary staff of The West Australian newspaper, and also began to publish works on Western Australian history. He tutored in history at the University, and in 1939 he joined its faculty as a lecturer in history. In 1932 he married Alexandra Darker, with whom he had two sons. As Dame Alexandra Hasluck (1908-93) she became a distinguished writer and historian in her own right.

In 1941 Hasluck was recruited to the staff of the federal Department of External Affairs, and served on Australian delegations to several international conferences, including the San Francisco Conference which founded the United Nations. Here he came into close contact with the Minister for External Affairs in the Labor government, Dr H V Evatt, of whom he formed a negative impression.

After the war Hasluck returned to the University of Western Australia as a Reader in History, and was commissioned to write the "civil" volumes of the Official History of Australia's role in World War II. These were published as The Government and the People 1939-1941 in 1951 and The Government and the People 1941-1945 in 1970. This work was interrupted by his decision to enter politics, a decision motivated partly by his disapproval of Evatt's foreign policy. At the 1949 election he was elected Liberal MP for a Perth electorate.

In 1951 the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies appointed Hasluck as Minister for Territories, a post he held for twelve years. This gave him responsibility for Australia's colonial possession, Papua New Guinea, and also the Northern Territory, home to Australia's largest population of Aborginal people. Although he shared the paternalistic views of the period about the treatment of the Papua-New Guineans, and followed an assimilationist policy for the Aboriginal people, he carried out significant reforms in the way both peoples were treated.

Hasluck was briefly Minister for Defence in 1963-64, and then became Minister for External Affairs. He held this office during the height of Australia's commitment to the Vietnam War, of which he was a passionate supporter. He worked to strengthen Australia's relationship with the United States and with anti-Communist governments in South-East Asia, and opposed Australian recognition of the People's Republic of China.

When Prime Minister Harold Holt died in December 1967, Hasluck was determined that the Treasurer (finance minister), William McMahon, of whom he had a very low opinion, should not become Prime Minister. Although he had no great ambition to be Prime Minister himself, he put his name forward mainly to provide an alternative to McMahon. But many Liberal MPs saw him as too old at 64 and too conservative to compete with the Labor leader, Gough Whitlam, and they chose the younger and more aggressive John Gorton.

Gorton was uncomfortable having a potential rival such as Hasluck remaining in the Cabinet, and in early 1969 he offered him the post of Governor-General. This may have cost Hasluck a second opportunity to become Prime Minister, since in 1971 Gorton lost the Liberal leadership, and the Liberals might well have turned to Hasluck instead of McMahon had he still been available.

At the 1972 elections Whitlam defeated McMahon and became Prime Minister. This created an awkward situation since Whitlam and Hasluck deeply disliked each other. In a celebrated incident in the House of Representatives in 1965, Whitlam threw a glass of water at Hasluck when Hasluck said: "You are one of the filthiest objects ever to come into this chamber." As Governor-General, however, Hasluck treated Whitlam with complete correctness, promptly granting him a double dissolution election in April 1974 when the Liberal Opposition threatened to block the Budget bills in the Senate.

When Hasluck's term expired in July 1974, Whitlam offered to re-appoint him, but Hasluck declined, citing his desire to return to private life. Historians of the period are certain that if Hasluck had still been Governor-General in 1975, the political crisis of that year would have ended differently. Hasluck retired to Perth where he remained active in cultural and political affairs until his death in 1993.

After Hasluck's death, his son Nicholas Hasluck published a selection of his father's private journals and notebooks, under the title The Chance of Politics. This book contained a number of highly critical comments, both political and personal, about many of Paul Hasluck's contemporaries. The publication of this material caused considerable offence.

Further reading

Preceded by:
Lord Casey
Governors-General of Australia Followed by:
Sir John Kerr