Prime Ministers of Australia 1901 – Present

Prime Ministers of Australia - Scott Morrison

A Timeline of Prime Ministers of Australia from 1901 to present day

In 1788 British ships arrived in Sydney, New South Wales and a penal colony was established. Over the next hundred years more colonies were established, each ruled by a Governor responsible to the British Parliament. Each colony had its own laws and travelling from one colony to another meant passing through border controls. At the end of the nineteenth century, after several years of campaigning, the six colonies decided to come together as the Federation of Australia. A constitution was drawn up and approved by the British Parliament and Queen Victoria. The Federation of Australia came into effect on 1st January 1901.

Sir Edmund Barton – 1st January 1901 – 24th September 1903
Protectionist
Barton had been a prime supporter of the Federation. Although his Protectionist party had won the election he did not have a majority in the new Parliament. They formed an alliance with the Labor Party. Barton’s government formed the Australian Defence Force and gave women the vote. His government also introduced measures to bar the immigration of non-Europeans, known as the White Australia policy. He resigned in 1903 to become a member of the newly founded High Court.
Alfred Deakin – 24th September 1903 – 27th April 1904
Protectionist
Deakin had served as Attorney-General under Barton. Soon after taking office he called a federal election hoping to increase his party’s share of the vote and gain a majority.
Chris Watson – 27th April 1904 – 18th August 1904
Labor
Watson became Prime Minister of a minority Labor government. Watson resigned after four months in office.
George Reid – 18th August 1904 – 5th July 1905
Free Trade
George Reid took over as Prime Minister of Australia after the resignation of Chris Watson. As head of a minority government he found it difficult to pass legislation and his government was brought down after less than a year in office.
Alfred Deakin – 5th July 1905 – 13th November 1908
Protectionist
Deakin became Prime Minister for the second time after Reid’s Free Trade government was brought down. An election was held in 1906 and despite losing seats, Deakin retained his position as Prime Minister of a minority government after securing support from the Labor Party. This term of office included legislation for the creation of an Australian currency, compulsory military service, Australian administration of Papua New Guinea and the creation of the Australian Navy. In November 1908 his government was brought down after Labor withdrew their support.
Andrew Fisher – 13th November 1908 – 2nd June 1909
Labor
Fisher became Prime Minister of a minority government after the Protectionist government of Deakin fell. He lasted seven months before he was brought down by Alfred Deakin at the head of the newly formed Commonwealth Liberal Party.
Alfred Deakin – 2nd June 1909 – 29th April 1910
Commonwealth Liberal
Deakin became Prime Minister for the third time at the head of a new party formed by a merger of the Protectionist Party and the Anti-Socialist Party. The merger gave him a majority in the House. He lost the April 1910 election.
Andrew Fisher – 29th April 1910 – 24th June 1913
Labor
Fisher returned for a second term as Prime Minister having won a majority in the election. His government introduced a number of social reforms including old age pensions and workers’ rights legislation. The Federal Capital Territory was founded within the state of New South Wales as the seat of government. Fisher narrowly lost the 1913 election.
Joseph Cook – 24th June 1913 – 17th September 1914
Commonwealth Liberal
Cook had replaced Deakin as leader of the Commonwealth Liberal party and became Prime Minister after winning the 1913 election by one seat. With such a small majority Cook achieved little and called a new election for 1914. Before leaving office he pledged Australian support for Britain in World War One.
Andrew Fisher – 17th September 1914 – 27th October 1915
Labor
Fisher returned for a third term as Prime Minister having won a majority in the election. In October 1915 he received a report on the disastrous Battle of Gallipoli which had begun in April and involved large numbers of Australian soldiers. Fisher, who did not support sending Australian conscripts to fight in Europe, resigned on 27th October 1915.
Billy Hughes – 27th October 1915 – 14th November 1916
Labor
Billy Hughes took over as Prime Minister after the resignation of Andrew Fisher. He supported sending Australians to fight in World War One. During this term of office the Labor party split over the issue of sending conscripted Australian soldiers to fight in Europe. Hughes managed to retain control of the government at the head of the new National Labor Party.
Billy Hughes – 14th November 1916 – 17th February 1917
National Labor
Billy Hughes continued as Prime Minister after the Labor party split over the issue of sending conscripted Australian soldiers to fight in Europe. After six months the National Labor Party merged with the Liberal Party to form the Nationalist Party.
Billy Hughes – 17th February 1917 – 9th February 1923
Nationalist
The newly formed Nationalist Party won a majority at the 1917 election and Billy Hughes continued as Prime Minister. He attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and negotiated for Australia to have control of German New Guinea. The 1919 election saw a new voting system introduced. Preferential voting replaced the first-past-the-post system. Hughes lost seats at the election but still had a majority in government. The 1922 election saw a further drop in seats and a loss of the Nationalist majority. A coalition with the Country Party was agreed on condition that Hughes resign as Prime Minister.
Stanley Bruce – February 1923 – 22nd October 1929
Nationalist Coalition
As head of a coalition government Bruce had to give concessions to the Country Party which annoyed some members of his party. The Coalition continued after the 1925 election. Bruce sought to develop Australia economically and encouraged immigration from Britain. He tried, but failed, to persuade the British government to introduce preferential trading for British Empire countries. By 1927 the economic growth had slowed and Australia had to borrow money. Nevertheless the Coalition government was re-elected in 1928. However, in the 1929 election the Nationalist/Country coalition lost 18 seats and were defeated.
James Scullin – 22nd October 1929 – 6th January 1932
Labor
Scullin became Prime Minister after Labor won a majority of seats in the 1929 election. His term was dominated by the effects of the Great Depression on the Australian economy. Disagreements in his party led to the collapse of the government and a new election.
Joseph Lyons – 6th January 1932 – 15th September 1934
United Australia
Lyons became Prime Minister after his new party won a resounding majority in the December 1931 election. United Australia had been formed after the Labor party split. In the 1934 election his party lost seats and he had to form a coalition government with the Country party
Joseph Lyons – 15th September 1934 – 7th April 1939
United Australia/ Country Coalition
After losing seats in the 1934 election Lyons had continued as Prime Minister after forming a coalition government with the Country party. The coalition continued after the 1937 election. Lyons sought economic recovery by making cuts to public services and devaluing the Australian pound. Lyons died following a heart attack on 7th April 1939.
Earle Page – 7th April 1939 – 26th April 1939
Country/ United Australia Coalition
Page, leader of the Country Party, took over as caretaker Prime Minister following the death of Joseph Lyons.
Robert Menzies – 26th April 1939 – 29th August 1941
United Australia/ Country Coalition
Robert Menzies was voted leader of United Australia following the death of Joseph Lyons and took over from caretaker Prime Minister Earle Page. He took Australia into the Second World War. Despite losing seats in the 1940 election he continued as Prime Minister. In 1941 he travelled to Britain to discuss war strategy with Winston Churchill. On his return to Australia he lost the support of his party and resigned.
Arthur Fadden – 29th August 1941 – 7th October 1941
Country/ United Australia Coalition
Arthur Fadden had been acting Prime Minister while Menzies was in England and took over the role after Menzies resigned. His government fell after the Labor Party tabled a vote of no confidence.
John Curtin – 7th October 1941 – 5th July 1945
Labor
After winning a vote of no confidence in Arthur Fadden’s coalition government, Curtin became Prime Minister. In December 1941 he declared war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In the 1943 election he increased his majority. He died of heart disease while still in office.
Frank Forde – 6th July 1945 – 13th July 1945
Labor
Forde took over as Prime Minister while the Labor Party held leadership elections following the death of John Curtin. Although he ran for leader he was beaten by Ben Chifley.
Ben Chifley – 13th July 1945 – 19th December 1945
Labor
Chifley became Prime Minister after being elected leader of the Labor Party. Although Labor lost seats in the 1946 election they still had a majority. Much of his time in office was concerned with post-war reconstruction and social reforms. Labor was defeated in the 1949 election.
Robert Menzies – 19th December 1949 – 26th January 1966
Liberal/ Country Coalition
Robert Menzies returned for a second term as Prime Minister at the head of a Liberal/Country coalition. Menzies had formed the Liberal Party as a successor to the United Australia party. As Prime Minister through the Cold War era he was alert to the dangers of Communism and strengthened ties with the United States. Australia became involved in the Vietnam War from 1962. Menzies also sought to improve the economy through increased immigration from Europe and the development of industry. Menzies continued as Prime Minister, winning six subsequent elections. He retired on 26th January 1966.
Harold Holt – 26th January 1966 – 19th December 1967
Liberal/ Country Coalition
Holt took over as Prime Minister after the resignation of Menzies. He led his party to success in the 1966 election. The Australian dollar replaced the Australian pound in February 1966. In December 1967 he disappeared while swimming in the sea and it was announced that he had died from drowning. His body was never found.
John McEwen – 19th December 1967 – 10th January 1968
Country/ Liberal Coalition
McEwen took over as a caretaker Prime Minister while the Liberal party elected a new leader following the death of Holt.
John Gorton – 10th January 1968 – 10th March 1971
Liberal/ Country Coalition
Gorton became Prime Minister after winning the election for the Liberal party leadership. He continued Australian involvement in Vietnam and sought to make Australia more independent from Britain. Despite losing seats in the 1969 election the coalition continued but his leadership was increasingly challenged by his own party. He resigned in March 1971.
William McMahon – 10th March 1971 – 5th December 1972
Liberal/ Country Coalition
McMahon took over as Prime Minister after the resignation of Gorton. Inflation and unemployment began to rise and he was defeated in the 1972 election.
Gough Whitlam – 5th December 1972 – 11th November 1975
Labor
Whitlam led the Labor party to victory in the 1972 election. His government introduced a number of new measures including ending conscription, introducing legal aid and making university education free. He won the 1974 election to serve a second term in office. However, the opposition controlled the Senate and wanting to force Whitlam to call an election, blocked government finance. Whitlam then sought a half-Senate election but was dismissed from office by Governor-General John Kerr.
Malcolm Fraser – 11th November 1975 – 11th March 1983
Liberal/ National Country Coalition
Governor General, John Kerr, having dismissed Gough Whitlam, appointed Fraser Prime Minister on condition he call a General Election. Fraser won the 1975, 1977 and 1980 elections. He was an advocate of multiculturalism and relaxed the immigration laws. He supported the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. By the early 1980s Australia was hit by recession. Party members were accused of tax-avoidance and popularity fell. Fraser lost the 1983 election.
Bob Hawke – 11th March 1983 – 20th December 1991
Labor
Bob Hawke’s Labor party won the 1983 election with a clear majority. He went on to win the 1984, 1987 and 1990 elections. He introduced social reforms including Medicare health insurance, pensions and child benefit. He also changed the national anthem to ‘Advance Australia Fair’. However, he faced increasing criticism from the left of his party over his willingness to cooperate with business leaders. Hawke resigned in favour of Paul Keating in December 1991.
Paul Keating – 20th December 1991 – 11th March 1996
Labor
Keating took over as Prime Minister after the resignation of Bob Hawke. He was a champion of Republicanism. He won the 1993 election to serve a second term but suffered a heavy defeat in 1996.
John Howard – 11th March 1996 – 3rd December 2007
Liberal/ National Coalition
Howard became Prime Minister after leading the Liberal/Country coalition to victory in the 1996 election. His government was re-elected in 1998. 2001 and 2004. He introduced new gun laws following a shooting at Port Arthur. He also reformed immigration and industrial laws. Howard approved the sending of Australian troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. In the 2007 election his party lost 22 seats including his own.
Kevin Rudd – 3rd December 2007 – 24th June 2010
Labor
Rudd became Prime Minister after leading his party to victory in the 2007 election. He signed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and also made a public apology to the Aboriginal people for the removal of mixed race and Aboriginal children in the past. His economic policies meant that Australia was largely unaffected by the recession caused by the banking crisis of 2008. Facing a leadership contest, he chose to resign office.
Julia Gillard – 24th June 2010 – 27th June 2013
Labor
Julia Gillard became Australia’s first (and only) female Prime Minister following the resignation of Kevin Rudd. The 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament but Gillard managed to form a minority government. She introduced a carbon tax and promised to reduce the budget deficit. However, by late 2012 the budget was still in deficit. She called a leadership spill (offering leadership of a party for open election) before the 2013 election and was replaced by Kevin Rudd.
Kevin Rudd – 27th June 2013 – 18th September 2013
Labor
Rudd became Prime Minister for the second time after replacing Julia Gillard as leader of the Labor party. His party was defeated in the 2013 election.
Tony Abbot – 18th September 2013 – 15th September 2015
Liberal/ National Coalition
Tony Abbot became Prime Minister after winning the 2013 election. His government concluded trade deals with China, Japan and South Korea and reversed some of the previous government’s higher taxation moves. In 2015 he lost a leadership contest to Malcolm Turnbull.
Malcolm Turnbull – 15th September 2015 – 24th August 2018
Liberal/ National Coalition
Turnbull became Prime Minister after winning a leadership contest. Turnbull won the 2016 election by just one seat. He faced challenges to his leadership and resigned in August 2018.
Scott Morrison – 24th August 2018 – Present
Liberal/ National Coalition
Morrison became Prime Minister after the resignation of Malcolm Turnbull. He led his party to victory in the 2019 election. Morrison faced strong criticism for being on holiday in Hawaii when Australia was facing its worst bush fires in history. In spring 2020 Australia faced the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Published May 16, 2020 @ 7:40 pm – Updated – May 16, 2020 @ 7:46 pm

Harvard Reference for this page:

Heather Y Wheeler. (2020). Prime Ministers of Australia 1901 – Present. Available: https://www.totallytimelines.com/prime-ministers-of-australia-1901-present. Last accessed [date]

 

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