Billy Hughes Election Badge #2011-1877
Tin and celluloid pin-back badge depicting William Morris Hughes.
William Morris ‘Billy’ Hughes (1862-1952) was Australia’s seventh Prime Minister (27 October 1915 –9 February 1923). A key figure in the political labour movement before Federation, Hughes was born in London of Welsh parents and migrated to Australia in 1884, eventually settling in Balmain as a shopkeeper. In 1894 he was elected to the New South Wales parliament. In contrast to many Labor figures, Hughes was a strong supporter of Federation. He was elected to the first Commonwealth House of Representatives as member for West Sydney in 1901. He would remain in the parliament until the end of his life. Hughes served as External Affairs minister in the short lived Watson government in 1904 and later as Attorney General in the three governments of Andrew Fisher. In 1915 he succeeded Fisher when the latter resigned due to ill health.
The Hughes government has become strongly identified with the conscription debate. Convinced, partly due to the influence of military figures such as Sir William Birdwood, that conscription would be necessary to provide Australian forces with sufficient numbers during the First World War, Hughes committed to introducing a national draft. Most of the Labor Party opposed his plans. When a national plebiscite on the issue failed in 1916, Hughes was expelled from the party and formed his own, National Labor, merging with the opposition Liberals to form the Nationalist Party. With Hughes as leader, the Nationalists won an overwhelming victory in the 1917 election. After the war, Hughes represented Australia at the Versailles conference and signed the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of Australia. Hughes’s fiery assertion of Australian independence attracted the ire of, among others, US President Wilson and British Prime Minister Lloyd George.
Following his return to Australia, Hughes was re elected in 1919 but at the following election, in 1922, the Nationalists failed to win a majority in their own right. The party eventually formed a coalition with the new Country Party under Earle Page, but Page made it clear he would not serve under Hughes and, in early 1923, Hughes resigned in favour of Stanley Bruce.
Hughes remained a political maverick for much of the rest of his life. A backbencher throughout the Bruce government, he voted to bring it down in 1929 and was expelled from the Nationalist Party. He briefly formed his own party, the Australian Party, in 1930 before eventually joining Joe Lyons’ United Australia Party. He served in a number of portfolios under Lyons, notably External Affairs, a position he had to resign when his book Australia and the War Today was published in which he contradicted government policy. He eventually returned to Cabinet and served again as a minister under Lyons, Page, Menzies and Fadden. When the government lost office in 1941, Hughes was elected as UAP leader, despite being 79 years old and quite frail. Depsite Fadden continuing as Opposition Leader, he led the UAP during the 1943 election) to its only electoral defeat. When the new Liberal Party was formed in 1944, Hughes became a member.
On his death in 1952, Hughes had been a member of parliament for 58 years, including his colonial service, a record which still stands unsurpassed in Australia.