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Jim Forbes (Australian politician)

Alexander James de Burgh Forbes, CMG, MC (16 December 1923 – 10 August 2019), often known as A. J. Forbes, was an Australian politician. He served in the House of Representatives from 1956 to 1975 as a member of the Liberal Party, representing the Division of Barker in South Australia. He held ministerial office in the Coalition governments of the 1960s and 1970s, serving as Minister for the Navy (1963–1964), Army (1963–1966), Health (1966–1971), and Immigration (1971–1972).

Jim Forbes

Minister for Immigration
In office
22 March 1971 – 5 December 1972
Prime MinisterWilliam McMahon
Preceded byPhillip Lynch
Succeeded byLance Barnard
Minister for Health
In office
26 January 1966 – 22 March 1971
Prime MinisterHarold Holt
John McEwen
John Gorton
William McMahon
Preceded byReginald Swartz
Succeeded byIvor Greenwood
Minister for the Army
In office
18 December 1963 – 26 January 1966
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Preceded byJohn Cramer
Succeeded byMalcolm Fraser
Minister for the Navy
In office
18 December 1963 – 4 March 1964
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Preceded byJohn Gorton
Succeeded byFred Chaney
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Barker
In office
13 October 1956 – 11 November 1975
Preceded byArchie Cameron
Succeeded byJames Porter
Personal details
Alexander James de Burgh Forbes

(1923-12-16)16 December 1923
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Died10 August 2019(2019-08-10) (aged 95)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Political partyLiberal
Margaret Blackburn (m. 1952)
RelationsArthur Blackburn (father-in-law)
Alma materRoyal Military College, Duntroon
University of Adelaide
Magdalen College, Oxford
Military service
Branch/serviceAustralian Army
Years of service1940–1947
Unit2nd Australian Mountain Battery
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsMilitary Cross


Early life and military serviceEdit

Forbes was born on 16 December 1923 in Hobart, the son of Brigadier Alexander Moore Forbes. He was educated on the Australian mainland, at Knox Grammar School in Sydney and at St Peter's College in Adelaide.[1] Having graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in 1942, he was commissioned into the Australian Army. He was stationed in Darwin in 1943, then assigned to the 2nd Mountain Battery.[2] On 24 April 1945, Forbes was awarded the Military Cross (MC) in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in the South West Pacific.[3] There was a dynastic tradition of exceptional military courage: his father had also won the MC during the First World War, and his brother Patrick Forbes later won the award during the Korean War, "the only known instance of three members of an Australian family winning similar decorations for bravery in three consecutive wars".[4]

Following the end of the Second World War, Forbes was part of Australia's victory contingent in the London Victory Celebrations of 1946.[5] After his discharge from the army in 1947,[2] he studied at the University of Adelaide where he completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) degree in 1950.[1] He then undertook postgraduate studies in political science at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was awarded a Ph.D. in 1954. His thesis was titled The Attitude of the Dominions to Security and Welfare, 1939–45.[6] Upon his return to Australia he lectured in political science at the University of Adelaide.[1] He married Margaret Blackburn – the daughter of Victoria Cross recipient Brigadier Arthur Blackburn – in 1952 at St Peter-in-the-East, Oxford.[7] They had five children together.[1]


Early careerEdit

Forbes was president of the Mount Lofty branch of the Liberal and Country League from 1948 to 1951, as well as the founding president of the Adelaide University Liberal Union.[8] He first stood for parliament at the 1955 federal election, aged 31, losing to the incumbent Australian Labor Party (ALP) member Pat Galvin.[9] The following year, he won the 1956 Barker by-election, caused by the death of Speaker Archie Cameron.[10] He held the seat of Barker until his retirement in 1975.[11]

In parliament, Forbes became part of the "Oxbridge group", the name given by journalists to a set of "outspoken" Liberal backbenchers who had studied at Oxford and Cambridge. The other members were Les Bury, Harry Turner, and Bill Wentworth; Bury and Forbes were particularly close.[12]

Ministerial careerEdit

Forbes with Billy Snedden and Doug Anthony in 1963

After the 1963 election, Forbes was elevated to the ministry as Minister for the Army in the Menzies Government. He was also appointed Minister for the Navy on a temporary basis, in the expectation that Fred Chaney would take over once parliament approved an enlargement of the ministry; this occurred in March 1964. The Melbourne–Voyager collision occurred during his tenure, although he was not held responsible.[13] As army minister in the lead-up to the Vietnam War, Forbes successfully advocated for a selective national service scheme as a way of solving the army's manpower problems. This became the National Service Act 1964, and was a compromise between universal conscription and a military reliant upon volunteers. In 2014, he recalled "More than any other person, I had been responsible for persuading Cabinet that they should introduce this scheme. It was the right decision. [...] It was never terribly popular but it was a very fair system and I had to take the burden for that."[14]

After the retirement of Robert Menzies in January 1966, Forbes was appointed Minister for Health in the Holt Government. He made the controversial decision to close the government-owned Canberra Abattoir, the announcement of which in March 1969 prompted the resignation of the entire Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council. The abattoir was sold to private owners in June 1969.[15][16] Forbes also made the decision to ban the importation into Australia of cheese made from unpasteurised milk, based on advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council. This also proved controversial, and the ban was deferred twice.[17][18] Forbes retained the health ministry in the Gorton Government and was tasked with implementing the government's national health scheme, based on the recommendations of the Nimmo Inquiry. The scheme came into effect on 1 January 1970 and provided free health insurance for low-income earners, while maintaining a reliance on private insurance.[19]

In March 1971, William McMahon replaced Gorton as prime minister and Forbes was appointed Minister for Immigration, a title he held until the McMahon Government's defeat in the 1972 election. He resisted British pressure to admit ethnically-Asian refugees expelled from Uganda during Idi Amin's regime, stating "Applications by Asians in Uganda will continue to be considered on their individual merits in accordance with our non-European immigration policies. These policies reflect the firm and unshakeable determination of the Government to maintain a homogeneous society in Australia."[20] Forbes also ordered the deportation of musician Joe Cocker in 1972, after a small quantity of cannabis was found by police in his Adelaide hotel room and he was charged with assault following a brawl at a Melbourne pub.[21] In a 2014 interview Forbes stated that, while he accepted responsibility for the decision, he "didn't think it was necessary" and had been pressured by McMahon who believed it would be politically popular.[6]

Final years in parliamentEdit

During the November 1973 House of Representatives session, ALP Prime Minister Gough Whitlam accused Forbes of having abused the Government's hospitality by drinking too much at a reception for the visiting New Zealand prime minister Norman Kirk. Forbes demanded that the remark be withdrawn; and Opposition Leader Billy Snedden, for his part, told parliament that Whitlam should be ashamed of himself. Snedden described Whitlam as "gutless". Whitlam responded: "It is what [Forbes] put in his guts that rooted him." Eventually, Whitlam (at the insistence of Speaker James Francis Cope) withdrew the remark, but only after ensuring that it had been transcribed by Hansard's stenographers.

An enraged Forbes followed Whitlam out of the chamber, calling him a "filthy bastard". Whitlam retorted: "Look, he's still shaking." Forbes stated that any shaking was due to sciatica and not alcohol consumption.[22][23]

In early 1975 Snedden, having failed to defeat Whitlam at the previous year's election, was deposed as Opposition Leader by Malcolm Fraser. Forbes immediately resigned from the frontbench and chose to retire at the next election, having become disillusioned with the internal conflict within the Liberal Party.[6]

After politicsEdit

Forbes was chairman of Commonwealth Serum Laboratories from 1978 to 1984. He also served on the council of the National Library of Australia from 1979 to 1985, including as chairman from 1982 to 1985. He maintained an involvement with politics after leaving parliament, and in 1979 was elected South Australian state president of the Liberal Party.[1] In May 1982, Forbes was elected as the party's new federal president, defeating John Herron and Joy Mein to replace Sir John Atwill.[24] He resigned the position in July 1985,[25] delivering a "stern call for unity" in his final address to the party's federal council.[26]

Forbes was the last surviving Liberal minister who served in the ministries of Sir Robert Menzies, Harold Holt and John McEwen, as well as the First Gorton Ministry.[14] In 2011, 36 years after his retirement from parliament, it was reported that he had spent $16,000 on subsidised flights in the first six months of 2011, charging taxpayers for a total of 29 flights for himself and his family.[27]

Having lived for many years in the Adelaide eastern suburb of St Peters, he died at Calvary Wakefield Hospital, aged 95, on 10 August 2019.[28]

Awards and honoursEdit

In 1977, Forbes was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in recognition of service to the parliament.[29] He was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001, "for service to the Commonwealth Parliament and as Chairman, Commonwealth Serum Laboratories".[30]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Guide to the Papers of A. J. Forbes". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  2. ^ a b FORBES, ALEXANDER JAMES DEBURGH, WW2 Nominal Roll, Department of Veterans Affairs.
  3. ^ "No. 37138". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 June 1945. p. 3237.
  4. ^ "Keeping Up A Tradition". The Canberra Times. 4 May 1963.
  5. ^ Pratt, Mel: Jim Forbes interviewed by Mel Pratt for the Mel Pratt collection (sound recording), National Library of Australia, 14 March 1978.
  6. ^ a b c Naughton, Kevin (9 January 2014). "Forbes on Menzies, Keating and the deportation of Joe Cocker". InDaily. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  7. ^ "Oxford wedding for S.A. couple". The Adelaide Mail. 26 July 1952.
  8. ^ "Dr. A. J. Forbes To Contest Barker Seat". Northern Suburbs Weekly. 27 September 1956.
  9. ^ "Commonwealth of Australia legislative election of 10 December 1955 - Voting by constituency - South Australia". Australian Election Archive. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Close voting in Barker". The Canberra Times. 15 October 1956.
  11. ^ "Members of the House of Representatives since 1901". Parliamentary Handbook. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 17 November 2007. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  12. ^ Boadle, Donald (2007). "Bury, Leslie Harry Ernest (1913–1986)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 17.
  13. ^ Hancock, Ian (2002). John Gorton: He Did It His Way. Hodder. p. 94.
  14. ^ a b Naughton, Kevin (7 January 2014). "Conscription 50 years on: last Menzies' Lib stands his ground". InDaily. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  15. ^ "Chapter 5: Suburbs still searching for a city, 1957–72: Abattoir". Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Butchers accuse Forbes over statement". The Canberra Times. 9 April 1969.
  17. ^ "The Forbes luck". The Canberra Times. 23 September 1966.
  18. ^ "Cheese ban put off again". The Canberra Times. 18 March 1967.
  19. ^ Hancock 2002, p. 211–212, 256.
  20. ^ Neumann, Klaus (3 July 2004). "You're welcome, if we're interested". Project SafeCom Inc. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  21. ^ "Going Down Under". The Sydney Morning Herald. 3 July 2004. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  22. ^ Ramsey, Alan (10 December 2003). "Going Down Under". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  23. ^ "Liberal denies drink charge". The Age. 16 November 1973. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  24. ^ "Forbes news president of Liberals". The Canberra Times. 16 May 1982.
  25. ^ "Forbes to quit as Liberal president". The Canberra Times. 12 June 1985.
  26. ^ "Liberals warned on unity". The Canberra Times. 16 July 1985.
  27. ^ Hudson, Phillip (29 November 2011). "Free Travel – even 36 years later". The Advertiser. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  28. ^ "FORBES, Alexander James CMG, MC". The Advertiser. 13 August 2019. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  29. ^ "Dr Alexander James FORBES". It's An Honour. 31 December 1977. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  30. ^ "The Hon Dr Alexander James FORBES". It's An Honour. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
Political offices
Preceded by
John Cramer
Minister for the Army
Succeeded by
Malcolm Fraser
Preceded by
John Gorton
Minister for the Navy
Succeeded by
Fred Chaney
Preceded by
Reginald Swartz
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Ivor Greenwood
Preceded by
Phillip Lynch
Minister for Immigration
Succeeded by
Lance Barnard
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Archie Cameron
Member for Barker
Succeeded by
James Porter