Alfred Deakin as Prime Minister


Alfred Deakin portrait photo (nla.pic-an23302212)
Portrait of Alfred Deakin

Deakin's first term as Prime Minister was characterised by him as being like 'three elevens trying to play in the same cricket match'. Parliament was dominated by protectionists, anti-protectionists and Labour and Deakin felt strongly that such a situation was incompatible with representative government. His first government passed no legislation - Deakin proposed to go 'straight on', which meant defeat unless the other parties changed their attitudes towards his Arbitration Bill. Ultimately, it was to be his refusal to bring State employees under Federal control in this Bill that brought down his government in 1904.


The three years of Deakin's second term of office were amongst the most important for the new Commonwealth. Deakin formed a government with Labour support and proceeded to deal with issues such as welfare, the High Court and the ultimate location of the seat of government. It was during this term that vital aspects of Commonwealth administration were put into place. The Copyright Act of 1905 established the basis for a national, uniform system for copyright and the Quarantine Act of 1908 did similarly for a national quarantine system. The Bureau of Census and Statistics and the Meteorology Bureau were also established during this time, as was the Commonwealth Literary Fund and old-age pensions.

Photo of Alfred Deakin at his desk (nla.pic-an23309662)
Alfred Deakin at his desk
Photo from the Brookes family album of the 'Great White Fleet' in Victorian waters, 1908. Deakin University Library
Photo from the Brookes family album of the 'Great White Fleet' in Victorian waters, 1908

Deakin also took a more independent line than previously with regard to defence and foreign policy - rather than pay for protection from the Royal Navy, he argued strongly for the establishment of an Australian Navy. He also solicited a visit by the US fleet (the 'Great White Fleet'), again flying in the face of British government policy. In his own portfolio of External Affairs, the Papua Act of 1905 established Australian administration and protection for New Guinea.

His government was defeated on 13 November 1908 when Labour withdrew their support over a protection bill.


Caricature of Alfred Deakin, c.1910 (nla.pic-an6054413)
Caricature of Alfred Deakin, c.1910

Despite his reluctance to resume responsibilities as head of government, Deakin was forced to take office for the third time because an alliance between the three parties meant that he was the only acceptable candidate to fill the role of Prime Minister! Deakin led a 'Fusion' government, which included Labour, the Protectionists and the Free Traders. Parliamentary debate during this time was characterised by aggression, vituperation and obstruction, although some useful legislation continued to be passed. This government of opposites was doomed to fail and indeed was defeated resoundingly at the general election on 13 April 1910.


See also: Alfred Deakin: Biography | Alfred Deakin's Family | Alfred Deakin and Federation

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