Norbert Keenan

Sir Norbert Michael Keenan QC (30 January 1864 – 24 April 1954) was an Australian lawyer and politician who was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia from 1905 to 1911 and again from 1930 to 1950. He was the leader of the Nationalist Party from 1933 to 1938, during the time when it was the junior partner in the coalition with the Country Party. Keenan had earlier served as a minister in the government of Newton Moore (as attorney-general) and the second government of Sir James Mitchell.

Sir Norbert Keenan

Norbert Keenan.png
Leader of the Nationalist Party
in Western Australia
In office
April 1933 – April 1938
Preceded bySir James Mitchell
Succeeded byRoss McDonald
Member of the Legislative Assembly
of Western Australia
In office
27 October 1905 – 3 October 1911
Preceded byWilliam Johnson
Succeeded byAlbert Green
In office
12 April 1930 – 25 March 1950
Preceded byNone (new creation)
Succeeded byDavid Grayden
Personal details
Born(1864-01-30)30 January 1864
Glasnevin, County Dublin, Ireland
Died24 April 1954(1954-04-24) (aged 90)
Subiaco, Western Australia
Political partyNationalist (1930–1945)
Liberal (after 1945)
Other political
Independent (1904)
Alma materUniversity of Dublin

Early lifeEdit

Keenan was born in Glasnevin, County Dublin, Ireland, to Elizabeth Agnes (née Quin) and Sir Patrick Joseph Keenan.[1] His father was an educationalist and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland.[2] Keenan was sent to Downside School (in Somerset, England) for his secondary schooling, and then studied law at Trinity College, Dublin. He was admitted to King's Inns in 1890, allowing him to practise as a barrister in Ireland, and was later also admitted to the Middle Temple, allowing him to practise as a barrister in England and Wales.[3] Keenan emigrated to Western Australia in April 1895, and settled in Kalgoorlie, where he represented the interests of British investors on the Eastern Goldfields.[4] In June 1901, he was elected Mayor of Kalgoorlie, replacing Staniforth Smith.[5][6] He served in the position until December 1905, resigning to concentrate on state politics.[7]

Political careerEdit

At the 1904 state election, Keenan unsuccessfully contested the seat of Kalgoorlie as an independent, losing to the sitting Labor member, William Dartnell Johnson. He reversed the result at the 1905 election, standing as a Ministerialist (a supporter of the government of Hector Rason).[8] When Newton Moore replaced Rason as premier in May 1906, he chose Keenan to be his attorney-general. While in office, he chaired a Legislative Assembly select committee into Western Australia's electoral system, which recommended that the state adopt preferential voting and make various other changes.[9] Credit for the resulting piece of legislation, the Electoral Act 1907, was largely given to Keenan,[4] and the act is still in force.[10] As a senior member of the government, Keenan also represented Western Australia at the 1907 Premiers' Conference. He resigned as attorney-general in May 1909, due to disagreements with the government's financial policies.[4]

Keenan did not contest the 1911 state election, with his seat being lost to Albert Green of the Labor Party.[8] He concentrated on his law practice, having been made King's Counsel (KC) in 1908, and also served on the senate of the University of Western Australia (UWA) from 1912 to 1918.[4] After a gap of over 18 years, Keenan re-entered parliament at the 1930 state election, winning the newly created seat of Nedlands for the Nationalist Party.[8] Just eleven days after being elected, he was included in the new ministry formed by Sir James Mitchell, taking the positions of Chief Secretary and Minister for Education.[3] While in charge of the Education Department, Keenan made the unpopular decision to close Claremont Teachers College indefinitely, to save money during the Great Depression. He resigned from cabinet in September 1931, due to a dispute over government policy.[4]

At the 1933 state election, the Mitchell government was defeated, with Mitchell and the two other Nationalist ministers (John Scaddan and Hubert Parker) losing their seats.[a] As he was the only remaining Nationalist in parliament with ministerial experience, a post-election party-room meeting elected Keenan as the new leader. The Nationalists had lost so many seats that they became the junior partners in the coalition with the Country Party, with the Country Party's leader, Charles Latham, serving as Leader of the Opposition. Keenan's party failed to make any improvement at the 1936 election, and he resigned as leader in April 1938 in favour of Ross McDonald.[4] His age (74) and health were factors in his resignation.[11][12]

Keenan was opposed by Dorothy Tangney, a future Labor senator, at the 1936 and 1939 elections, but retained his seat easily on both occasions. At the 1943 and 1947 elections, he did likewise, facing only independents as opponents.[8] He had affiliated with the new Liberal Party upon its creation in 1945.[3] Aged 86 at the time of the 1950 election, Keenan was opposed in Nedlands by three other candidates. He and one other candidate were endorsed by the Liberal Party, while the two others ran as unendorsed Liberals. Keenan polled only 23.3 percent of the first-preference vote, which was not enough to make the final two-candidate-preferred count, and the eventual victor was David Grayden, a 25-year-old leader of the party's youth wing.[8][13]

Personal lifeEdit

Keenan died in Perth in April 1954, aged 90. He had married Rose Elizabeth Parker in 1900, with whom he had two children.[3] Her father was Sir Stephen Henry Parker, who was Chief Justice of Western Australia from 1906 to 1914,[14] and her uncle was George Leake, who was Premier of Western Australia on two occasions.[15] One of Keenan's brothers-in-law was Thomas Percy Draper (attorney-general from 1919 to 1921), who married his wife's sister.[16]


  1. ^ At the time of the 1933 election, the Mitchell ministry had seven members, three from the Nationalist Party and four from the Country Party. All three Nationalist ministers lost their seats, as did John Lindsay of the Country Party. However, two of the Country Party ministers were members of the Legislative Council, and thus not up for re-election at that time.


  1. ^ The Irish Law Times and Solicitors' Journal. J. Falconer. 1884.
  2. ^ "MP Historical Data". Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Norbert Michael Keenan – Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of Western Australia. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Bolton, Geoffrey (1983). "Keenan, Sir Norbert Michael (1864–1954)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 9. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  5. ^ "MR. KEENAN'S MAYORALTY REVIEWED.", Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 26 September 1905.
  6. ^ Johns, Fred (1914). Fred Johns's Annual, Mainly a Biographical Record of Australasia's Prominent People: (incorporating Who is who in Australasia). Sir I. Pitman & sons, Limited.
  7. ^ "KALGOORLIE MUNICIPALITY.", Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 12 December 1905.
  8. ^ a b c d e Black, David; Prescott, Valerie (1997). Election statistics : Legislative Assembly of Western Australia, 1890-1996. Perth, [W.A.]: Western Australian Parliamentary History Project and Western Australian Electoral Commission. ISBN 0730984095.
  9. ^ Phillips, Harry (2012). Proportional Representation in Western Australia: Its Principles, History, Outcomes and Education. Perth, [W.A.]: Western Australian Electoral Commission. pp. 15–17.
  10. ^ Electoral Act 1907, Western Australian Legislation, State Law Publisher, Government of Western Australia. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  11. ^ "Mr. Keenan to Retire", The Sunday Times, 20 March 1938.
  12. ^ "Mr. Keenan Seeks a Change", The West Australian, 21 March 1938.
  14. ^ Stephen Henry Parker – Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of Western Australia. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  15. ^ George Leake – Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of Western Australia. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  16. ^ Thomas Percy Draper – Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of Western Australia. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
Parliament of Western Australia
Preceded by
William Johnson
Member for Kalgoorlie
Succeeded by
Albert Green
New seat Member for Nedlands
Succeeded by
David Grayden
Political offices
Preceded by
Hector Rason
Succeeded by
Newton Moore
Preceded by
John Drew
Chief Secretary
Succeeded by
Charles Baxter
Preceded by
John Drew
Minister for Education
Succeeded by
Thomas Davy