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Sir Eric John Harrison, KCMG, KCVO (7 September 1892 – 26 September 1974) was an Australian politician and diplomat. He was the inaugural deputy leader of the Liberal Party (1945–1956), and a government minister under four prime ministers. He was later High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1956 to 1964.


Sir Eric Harrison

Eric John Harrison.jpg
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
21 February 1945 – 26 September 1956
LeaderRobert Menzies
Preceded byParty established
Succeeded byHarold Holt
Leader of the House
In office
11 May 1951 – September 1956
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byHarold Holt
Deputy Leader of the United Australia Party
In office
14 April 1944 – 21 February 1945
LeaderRobert Menzies
Preceded byBilly Hughes
Succeeded byParty abolished
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Wentworth
In office
19 December 1931 – 17 October 1956
Preceded byWalter Marks
Succeeded byLes Bury
Personal details
Born(1892-09-07)7 September 1892
Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia
Died26 September 1974(1974-09-26) (aged 82)
Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia
Political partyUAP (1931–45)
Liberal (from 1945)
Spouse(s)
Mary McCall (m. 1920–1941)

Linda Yardley (m. 1944)
Children3, including Shirley Walters

Harrison was born in Sydney and left school at the age of 13. He served with the Australian Army during World War I, and after the war's end became the manager of a textile factory. Harrison was elected to the House of Representatives in 1931, representing the United Australia Party (UAP). He served briefly as Minister for Interior in 1934, under Joseph Lyons, and returned to the ministry in 1938. Over the next three years he held positions in the governments of Lyons, Earle Page, Robert Menzies, and Arthur Fadden.

In 1944, Harrison replaced Billy Hughes as deputy leader of the UAP. When the new Liberal Party was formed the following year, he was elected to the same position. In Menzies' second government, Harrison held various defence-related portfolios. He was also made the inaugural Leader of the House in 1951. Harrison left politics in 1956 to become High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He retired in 1964, and suffered from Parkinson's disease in later years. His daughter, Shirley Walters, followed him into politics, becoming the first woman to represent Tasmania in the Senate.

Contents

Early lifeEdit

Harrison was born in Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, to Elizabeth Jane (née Anderson) and Arthur Hoffman Harrison. His mother was born in Ireland, while his father – who worked as a painter and decorator – was born in England. Harrison attended the Crown Street Superior Public School until the age of thirteen, when he left school to work in the textile industry. He eventually became the manager of one of the factories owned by James Anderson Murdoch. In October 1916, Harrison joined the Australian Imperial Force and served on the Western Front from December 1917 in the 5th Field Artillery Brigade. He was promoted to sergeant in May 1918, and rowed in the Royal Henley Peace Regatta in 1919. After returning to Australia and taking his discharge, Harrison married Mary Cook McCall in 1920.[1]

Political careerEdit

1930sEdit

Although Harrison had not previously been politically active, in 1931 he established a branch of Joseph Lyons' All for Australia League in the Sydney suburb of Auburn, within Jack Lang's electorate, with police protection. In the December 1931 general elections he defeated Walter Marks for the House of Representatives seat of Wentworth, although both had been endorsed by the United Australia Party (UAP). He was appointed Minister for the Interior from 12 October 1934 in Lyons' second ministry, but lost the position on 9 November 1934 in Lyons' third Ministry, created to accommodate the Country Party. During this period he banned the entry of the Czechoslovakian anti-fascist campaigner, Egon Kisch into Australia.[1]

In November 1938, Harrison became Minister without portfolio administering External Territories, and in April 1939 was appointed Postmaster-General and Minister for Repatriation in Robert Menzies' first ministry, when the Country Party left the coalition.

World War IIEdit

When the Country Party returned to the Coalition in March 1940, Harrison was again left out of the ministry. He became Minister for Trade and Customs in Menzies third ministry in October 1940. He is notable for making available a newsprint ration for Ezra Norton's Daily Mirror in 1941, while tightening overall newsprint rationing.

Harrison was a strong supporter of Menzies, as he continued to be after World War II. He went into opposition with the defeat of the Fadden government in October 1941 and almost lost his seat to suffragette and Australian Labor Party candidate Jessie Street in December 1943.[1]

Harrison was commissioned as an officer in the Militia in 1940 and in 1942 and 1943 he was a full-time liaison officer with the United States military forces in Australia. On one occasion he wore a uniform in Canberra, causing Eddie Ward to denounce him as a fake soldier and to accuse him of having been a member of the New Guard.

His wife died in 1941 and in October 1944 he married Linda Ruth Yardley, née Fullerton, a widow and a businesswoman.

He became deputy leader of the UAP in April 1944. When the UAP was folded into the Liberal Party of Australia in late 1944, Harrison became its first deputy leader, holding the position until 1956. He was the longest serving Liberal Party Deputy Leader until his record was broken by Peter Costello in 2006.

He was a vocal critic of the Curtin and Chifley governments.[1]

Post-warEdit

Following the Liberal Party's win in the December 1949 election, Harrison became the third-ranking member of the government, behind Menzies and Country Party leader Arthur Fadden.

He served as Minister for Postwar Reconstruction (until March 1950) and Minister for Defence in the Menzies ministry. From April 1950 until March 1951 he was resident in London, and in October 1950 he moved from the Defence portfolio to become Minister for the Interior. In May 1951, he became Minister for Defence Production and Vice-President of the Executive Council in Menzies' fifth ministry and the inaugural Leader of the House. From November 1955 to February 1956, he was also Minister for the Army and Minister for the Navy.[1]

Harrison was acting prime minister for two weeks in June 1954, when Menzies was in New Zealand and Fadden was recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident.[2][3]

Later lifeEdit

Harrison resigned from parliament in 1956 and became Australian High Commissioner in London, where he was an outspoken advocate[clarification needed] of the "Old Commonwealth".[citation needed]

The Harrisons returned to Australia in September 1964 and moved to the Sydney suburb of Castle Cove. He died at Chatswood of Parkinson's disease and was survived by his wife and the three daughters of his first marriage.[1] One of his daughters was Shirley Walters, a Senator for Tasmania 1975–93.

HonoursEdit

Harrison was made a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO) in 1954 as a result of being minister in charge of the royal visit of Queen Elizabeth II. This was an honour within the Queen's personal gift. He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1961 for his service as High Commissioner to the UK.[1]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Macintyre, Stuart (1996). "Harrison, Sir Eric John". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 20 September 2007.
  2. ^ "Sir Eric Harrison PM for fortnight". The Courier-Mail. 7 June 1954.
  3. ^ "Sir Eric Harrison to be Acting Prime Minister". The Age. 7 June 1954.
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Walter Marks
Member for Wentworth
1931–1956
Succeeded by
Les Bury
Political offices
Preceded by
John Perkins
Minister for the Interior
1934
Succeeded by
Thomas Paterson
Minister without portfolio administering
External Territories

1938–1939
Succeeded by
John Perkins
Preceded by
Archie Cameron
Postmaster-General
1939–1940
Succeeded by
Harold Thorby
Preceded by
Harry Foll
Minister for Repatriation
1939–1940
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Street
Preceded by
George McLeay
Minister for Trade and Customs
1940–1941
Succeeded by
Richard Keane
Preceded by
John Dedman
Minister for Defence
1949–1950
Succeeded by
Philip McBride
Minister for Postwar Reconstruction
1949–1950
Succeeded by
Richard Casey
(National Development)
Preceded by
Philip McBride
Minister for the Interior
1950–1951
Succeeded by
Wilfrid Kent Hughes
New title Minister for Defence Production
1951–1956
Succeeded by
Howard Beale
Preceded by
Robert Menzies
Vice-President of the Executive Council
1951–1956
Succeeded by
Neil O'Sullivan
Preceded by
Josiah Francis
Minister for the Army
1955–1956
Succeeded by
John Cramer
Minister for the Navy
1955–1956
Succeeded by
Neil O'Sullivan
Party political offices
Preceded by
Billy Hughes
Deputy Leader of the UAP
1944–1945
Party dissolved
New office Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party
1945–1956
Succeeded by
Harold Holt
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Norman Mighell (Acting)
Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
1956–1964
Succeeded by
Alec Downer