Earle Page

Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page, GCMG, CH (8 August 1880 – 20 December 1961), Australian politician, was the eleventh Prime Minister of Australia, and is to date the second-longest serving federal parliamentarian in Australian history with 41 years, 361 days in Parliament.

Early life

Born in Grafton, New South Wales, Page was educated at Sydney Boys High School and the University of Sydney, where he graduated in medicine at the top of his year in 1901. He practised in Sydney and Grafton before joining the Australian Army as a medical officer in the First World War, serving in Egypt. After the war he went into farming and was elected Mayor of Grafton. What is interesting to note is that Page celebrated his 8th birthday on the 8th day of the 8th month (August) of 1888.

Political career

In 1919 Page was elected to the Australian House of Representatives as MP for Cowper as a candidate of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, which in 1920 merged with several other rural-based parties to form the Country Party. He became the party's leader in 1921, ousting William McWilliams. Dislike of the Hughes government's rural policies was one of the reasons the Country Party was formed, and when the party won the balance of power in the House at the 1922 election, Page demanded and got Hughes's resignation as the price for supporting the Nationalist government.

Page then became Treasurer (finance minister) under Stanley Bruce. Although the title "Deputy Prime Minister" did not exist, the coalition agreement specified that Page would rank second in the ministry.

Professionally Dr Earle Page continued medically and on 22 Oct 1924 had to "tell his best friend", Thomas Shorten Cole the news that his wife Mary Ann Crane had just died on the operating table from complications with intestinal or stomach cancer - reputed by their daughter Dorothy May Cole to be "the worst day of his life".

The "Bruce-Page" government remained in power until 1929. He was a strong believer in orthodox finance and conservative policies, except where the welfare of farmers was concerned: then he was happy to see government money spent freely. He was also a "high protectionist": a supporter of high tariff barriers to protect Australian rural industries.

Prime Minister

When the Bruce-Page government was defeated by Labor in 1929, Page went into opposition. In 1931 Joseph Lyons was able to form a UAP government without Country Party support. In 1934, however, the coalition was re-formed, and Page became Minister for Commerce. He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the New Year’s Day Honours of 1938. When Lyons died suddenly in 1939, it was Sir Earle whom the Governor-General Lord Gowrie called on to become caretaker Prime Minister. He held the office for three weeks until the UAP elected a new leader. While ten Australian Prime Ministers were knighted (and Bruce was elevated to the peerage), Page is the only one who was a knight at the time of becoming Prime Minister.

Page had been very close to Lyons, and he disliked Robert Menzies, Lyons's deputy, on the grounds that Menzies had been disloyal to Lyons. When Menzies was elected UAP leader, Page refused to serve under him, and made an extraordinary personal attack on him in the House, accusing him of cowardice for failing to enlist during World War I. His party soon rebelled, however, and Page was deposed as Country Party leader and replaced by Archie Cameron.

In 1940 Page and Menzies patched up their differences for the sake of the war effort, and Page returned to the Cabinet as Minister for Commerce. However, Page's charges were not forgotten and were occasionally raised in parliament by Menzies' opponents (notably Eddie Ward). In 1941, however, the government fell and Page spent the eight years of the Curtin and Chifley Labor governments on the opposition backbench. He was made a Companion of Honour (CH) in June 1942. In 1949 Menzies returned to office and Page was made Minister for Health. He held this post until 1956, when he was 76, then retired to the backbench.

Later Life and Death

Page was the first Chancellor of the University of New England, Australia, which was established in 1954. Earle Page College was formed in his honour as a residential college on campus, and is the venue for the Earle Page Annual Politics Dinner, which has had numerous prominent national and international guest lecturers.

Page refused to consider retirement from Parliament, even at the 1961 election, when he was 81, suffering from lung cancer and too sick to campaign. In one of the great electoral upsets of Australian history, he lost his seat, which he had held for 42 years. He had become comatose before the election, never regained consciousness, and died a few days later without ever knowing he had been defeated.

Page is the longest serving Australian federal parliamentarian who represented the same seat throughout his career. Only Billy Hughes served in Parliament longer, however Hughes represented four different electorates in New South Wales and Victoria.

The Canberra suburb of Page is named after him. His grandson Donald Page is currently a National MP in the NSW Parliament and served as Deputy Leader of the NSW Nationals from 2003 to 2007.


See also

External links

  • Earle Page - Australia's Prime Ministers / National Archives of Australia


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