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John McEwen

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Rt Hon John McEwen
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Rt Hon John McEwen

Sir John McEwen (March 29 1900 - November 20 1980), Australian politician and 18th Prime Minister of Australia, was born at Chiltern, Victoria, where his father was a pharmacist. He was educated at state schools and at 16 became a junior public service clerk. He enlisted in the Army immediately upon turning 18 but the First World War ended while he was still in training. He commenced dairy farming at Stanhope, near Shepparton.

McEwen was active in farmer organisations and in the Country Party. In 1934 he was elected to the House of Representatives for the electorate of Echuca, switching to Indi in 1937 and Murray in 1949. Between 1937 and 1941 he was successively Minister for the Interior, External Affairs and Commerce and Agriculture. In 1940 when Archie Cameron resigned as Country Party leader he contested the leadership ballot against Sir Earle Page: the ballot was tied and Arthur Fadden was chosen as a compromise.

When the conservatives returned to office in 1949 under Robert Menzies after eight years in opposition, McEwen became Minister for Commerce and Agriculture again, then Minister for Trade and Industry. He pursued what became known as "McEwenism" - a policy of high tariff protection for the manufacturing industry, so that industry would not challenge the continuing high tariffs on imported raw materials, which benefitted farmers but pushed up industry's costs. In 1958 Fadden retired and McEwen succeeded him as Country Party leader.

When Menzies retired in 1966, McEwen became the longest-serving figure in the government, and he had a right of veto over government policy. When Menzies's successor, Harold Holt, died in 1967, the Governor-General sent for McEwen and he was sworn in as caretaker Prime Minister while the Liberals elected a new leader.

There was some support (including among some Liberals) for McEwen taking the job permanently, but within days of his appointment he sparked a leadership crisis when he announced that he and his Country Party colleagues would refuse to serve in a government led by Holt's presumed successor, Treasurer (finance minister), William McMahon.

McEwen is reported to have despised McMahon personally, and it is possible that he disliked McMahon because of his alleged bisexuality, which has been the subject of persistent rumours in Australia. But more importantly, McEwen was bitterly opposed to McMahon on political grounds, because McMahon was allied with free trade advocates in the conservative parties and favoured sweeping tariff reforms: a position that was vehemently opposed by McEwen, his Country Party colleagues and their rural constituents.

Another key factor in McEwen's antipathy towards McMahon was hinted at soon after the crisis by the veteran political journalist Alan Reid. According to Reid, McEwen was aware that McMahon was habitually breaching Cabinet confidentiality and regularly leaking information to favoured journalists and lobbyists, including Maxwell Newton, who had been hired as a "consultant" by Japanese trade interests. This version of events was confirmed years later by former Canberra lobbyist Richard Farmer, following the release of sealed Cabinet papers from the period.

McEwen's implacable opposition forced McMahon to withdraw from the leadership ballot and opened the way for the successful campaign to promote the Education Minister, Senator John Gorton, to the Prime Ministership with the support of a group led by Defence Minster Malcolm Fraser. In the Gorton government McEwen was given the formal title Deputy Prime Minister, confirming his status in the government. His stern demeanour also earned him the nickname "Black Jack" (Sir Robert Menzies called him "Le Noir").

McEwen retired in early 1971, finally freeing the Liberals to replace the controversial Gorton with McMahon, which they did within two months. McEwen died in 1980, by which time the Fraser government was abandoning McEwenite trade policies.

See also

External links

  • John McEwen (http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=18) - Australia's Prime Ministers / National Archives of Australia


Template:Succession box two to one
Preceded by:
Harold Holt
Prime Minister of Australia
1967–1968
Succeeded by:
John Gorton
Preceded by:
Eddie Ward/Robert Menzies/Joseph Clark
Longest serving member of the Australian House of Representatives
1969–1971
Succeeded by:
Arthur Calwell

Template:End box

Template:AustraliaPM

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