ID 0185

State Government of Victoria beginning 21 March 1918 - period in office of Premier Lawson, Harry Sutherland Wightman ending on 7 September 1923

Period in office of premier (see Glossary entry for 'period in office' and related terms)

Lawson, Harry Sutherland Wightman
Date of beginning of period in office
21 March 1918
Date of end of period in office
7 September 1923 
Reason for end of preceding period in office
Change of party leader 
Reason for end of this government
Change of partisan support for premier/PM
Number of days in office

Parliamentary support during period

Party affiliation of premier at start of period
National Party (Nationalists)
If coalition government
Coalition partner 1
Coalition partner 2
Coalition partner 3
Coalition partner 4
Party support in parliament at beginning of period
If change in parliamentary support during period
21 October 1920
Result of general election
If further change during period

Number of ministers at beginning of period (this may vary during the period)

Total number of ministers
Number from party of premier
Number from coalition party 1
Number from coalition party 2
Number from upper house
Number who are women

Assembly elections contested as premier or after which became premier (see Glossary entry for 'after election')

* to view table drag left or right.
Election Premier at election Premier's party Premier after election Premier's party
VIC 30 August 1921Harry Sutherland Wightman LawsonNational Party (Nationalists)Harry Sutherland Wightman LawsonNational Party (Nationalists)
VIC 21 October 1920Harry Sutherland Wightman LawsonNational Party (Nationalists)Harry Sutherland Wightman LawsonNational Party (Nationalists)

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Change of party leader (Bowser): Beginning of Lawson's first period in office; Bowser was commissioned as Premier on 29 November 1917 but divisions within the Nationalist Party continued and the government was defeated by the Labor Party and a group of dissident Nationalists led by Peacock, prompting Bowser's resignation. 'A hostile amendment to the ministry's Railway Department Estimates was carried on 13 March 1917 by 23 to 22.' Hughes and Graham p.117 (see 'References', below); Victoria Parliamentary Debates, 1917-18 Session, vol. 148, 12-13 March 1917, pp 866-876. '... Bowser advised the governor, Sir Arthur Stanley, to dissolve the Parliament. Sir Arthur, instead accepted Sir Alexander Peacock's advice that Lawson could unite the Nationalists, and commissioned [Lawson] as premier [on 21 March 1918].' Fitzherbert, p.164 (see 'References', below).

'A new government emerged headed by Harry Lawson from the Peacock faction of the old Liberal Party, but with Bowser as chief secretary and McPherson as treasurer. In fact, seven of the 12 Cabinet members came from the Economy [faction of the Nationalists] and, with McPherson as treasurer, there was no doubt its politics of financial prudence would dominate the government.' Allsop p.199 (see 'References', below).

Dissention within the Nationalist Party in June 1919 over the appropriate number of Economy faction members in the cabinet lead to Bowser's resignation [from cabinet] and the confirmation of Lawson as leader of the Nationalist Party; see Hughes and Graham, p.119 (see 'Sources', below).

Change in parliamentary support during period: At the general election for the Assembly in October 1920, the Nationalists lost their majority and had to rely on the support of the Country Party led by John Allan to continue as a minority government. '... [I]n July 1921 the Country Party withdrew its support of the government over [Premier] Lawson's decision to abolish the compulsory wheat pool. The government was defeated by the combined votes of the Labor and Country parties but the subsequent election of August 1921 did not change the balance of power. Lawson continued as premier, and obtained Country Party backing once again be introducing a "wheat pool which which ostensibly voluntary, was in practice compulsory".' Fitzherbert, pp 164-165 (see 'References', below). The defeat of the government which prompted the 1921 Assembly election followed a long debate on the on the address in reply; Victoria Parliamentary Debates, 1921 First Session, vol. 157, 13-27 July 1921, pp 111-350.

Change in parliamentary support for premier (Lawson): 'In August 1923 Lawson was faced with threats of attack from the Country Party and from a faction of rebellious Nationalists. The ministry defeated a hostile motion of 30 August only with the help of the Labor Party [Victoria Parliamentary Debates, 1923-24 Session, vol. 164, 30 August 1923, p.868]. On 4 September the ministry decided to leave office. Lawson submitted his resignation to the Governor on 5th and was asked to explore the possibilities of forming another government. In forming his new ministry, Lawson made places for five Country Party members and for Argyle, one of the leading figures amongst the dissident Nationalists.' Hughes and Graham, p.119 (see 'Sources' below). These changes to the partisan composition of the Lawson government marked the end of Lawson's first period in office.

References: For a study of Lawson's periods in office, see Margaret Fitzherbert, 'Harry Lawson, Sure and Steady', in Strangio and Costar (editors) ch. 12 (see 'Sources', below), and note Richard Allsop, 'William McPherson: "Threepenny" Premier and Philanthropist', in Strangio and Costar (editors) ch. 15 (see 'Sources', below). A review of Victorian parliamentary politics from 1901 to 1920 is covered in, Wright ch. 7 (in 'Sources', below). A survey of Lawson's career can be found in Donald S. Garden, 'Lawson, Sir Harry Sutherland Wightman (1875–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1986), on line here [accessed 14 April 2014].


Colin Hughes and B D Graham (editors), A Handbook of Australian Government and Politics 1890-1964, (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1968, SBN 708102700); Parliament of Victoria, One Hundred Years of Responsible Government 1856-1956, (Melbourne: Government Printer, 1957, Parliamentary Paper No. 40 of 1956-58); Paul Strangio and Brian Costar (editors), The Victorian Premiers 1856-2006, (Sydney: Federation Press, 2006, ISBN 9781862876019); Raymond Wright, A People's Counsel: A History of the Parliament of Victoria 1856-1990, (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0195533593). Victoria Hansard (Record of Parliamentary Debates) on line here .

In consulting these sources, note the difference between ministries and periods in office.