Labour History

Vice-Regal Intervention in Australian Domestic Politics: Ronald Munro Ferguson and the ALP Split of 1916

Labour History (2018), 114, (1), 1–16.

Abstract

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) split over conscription has usually been interpreted as arising from the actions of William Morris (Billy) Hughes on the one side, in conflict with various forces within the labour movement on the other. However, this bipolar view ignores the role of the Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson who had been proactive in Australian domestic politics from 1914 in order to maximise the war effort on Britain’s behalf and to enhance his own office. His firm belief that conscription was necessary and Hughes was the only man capable of being Prime Minister led him to work behind the scenes to secure those objectives. He was also suspicious of the ALP and its ties with the Catholic community that he saw as linked to Irish disloyalty and so supported counter-intelligence measures against them. This article examines how this largely overlooked vice-regal involvement contributed to the political upheaval in this period.

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Footnotes

2.The split is often part of the literature on the referendum, but those who have more directly dealt with it includeIan Turner, Industrial Labour and Politics: The Labour Movement in Eastern Australia(:Australian National University Press, 1965);L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger 1914–1952: William Morris Hughes: A Political Biography(:Angus and Robertson, 1979);Nick Dyrenfurth, Heroes and Villains: The Rise and Fall of the Early Australian Labor Party(:Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2011);Robert Boland, In the Shadow of Gallipoli: The Hidden History of Australia in World War I(:NewSouth, 2013). Google Scholar

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4.Christopher Cunneen, Kings’ Men: Australian Governor Generals from Hopetoun to Isaacs(:George Allen and Unwin, 1983), ch. 4;J. R. Poynter, “Munro Ferguson, Sir Ronald Craufurd (1860–1934)”inAustralian Dictionary of Biography, vol.10(:Melbourne University Press, 1986), 615–18is slightly more critical. Google Scholar

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6.Boland, In the Shadow of Gallipolidoesn’t mention Munro Ferguson anywhere whileRobin Archer-Joy Damousi,Murray Goot andSean Scalmer, eds, The Conscription Conflict and the Great War(:Monash University Publishing, 2016) andJohn Connor,Peter Stanley andPeter Yule, The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, Volume 4: The War at Home(:Oxford University Press, 2015), do not deal with Munro Ferguson’s actions in1916.Dyrenfurth, Heroes and Villains, 216, has a brief reference claiming that, “Hughes somehow convinced the Governor-General to allow him to govern with his minority grouping.” Google Scholar

7.Cunneen, Kings’ Men, 107–10. Google Scholar

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Details

Author details

Bastian, Peter