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Eddie Ward

The Honourable
Eddie Ward
Member of the Australian Parliament
for East Sydney
In office
7 March 1931 – 19 December 1931
Preceded by John West
Succeeded by John Clasby
In office
6 February 1932 – 31 July 1963
Preceded by John Clasby
Succeeded by Len Devine
Personal details
Born (1899-03-07)7 March 1899
Darlington, New South Wales
Died 31 July 1963(1963-07-31) (aged 64)
Darlinghurst, New South Wales
Nationality Australian
Political party Lang Labor (1931–36)
Labor (1936–63)
Occupation Unionist

Edward John "Eddie" Ward (7 March 1899 – 31 July 1963), Australian politician, was an Australian Labor Party member of the Australian House of Representatives for 32 years from 1931 until his death.


  • Biography 1
  • Notes 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


Born and raised in Darlington, Sydney, Ward spent time variously as a labourer, boilermaker, tarpaulin maker, tramways worker and prize boxer before his political career. Ward was first elected to the House of Representatives at the 1931 East Sydney by-election in the midst of the Great Depression and the rise to prominence of Australian Labor Party New South Wales Premier Jack Lang, whose policies for dealing with the depression were considered radically left wing. Ward was a Lang supporter and gained notoriety soon after his election when Prime Minister and ALP leader James Scullin refused to allow Ward into the ALP caucus. In response, Lang and his supporters left the ALP to form the Lang Labor Party and voted with the opposition on a no-confidence motion to bring down the Scullin government.[1]

Ward lost his seat later that year to the UAP at the federal election as the Labor vote was split between Ward and the official ALP candidate. As luck would have it, the sudden death of the newly elected East Sydney MP John Clasby before he even took his seat in parliament led to the 1932 East Sydney by-election, which Ward, again standing as a Lang Labor candidate, won.

Ward remained in Lang Labor until 1936, when he returned to the ALP. Nevertheless, he would continue to have a prickly relationship with many of his Labor colleagues for the rest of his life.

One such issue that set Ward apart from his parliamentary colleagues was his opposition to any form of defence spending. During the 1936 budget debate, he argued that any funding earmarked for defence would be better spent on welfare and unemployment relief. In reference to a move to increase the size of the Royal Australian Navy, Ward said:

I wonder if such vessels are really needed for the defence of Australia, or whether they are not required for the purpose of helping other peoples defend rich possessions in other parts of the world.

Although in retrospect, Ward's opposition to defence spending appears foolhardy in view of what would occur in the following years, his stance did reflect the thinking of many Australians at the time.

Lang Labor MPs in 1935. Ward is standing third from left

While in opposition during the early years of World War II, Ward was leaked evidence of the 'Brisbane Line' plan, the Menzies government's decision that, in the event of enemy invasion, Australia would have been defended by the concentration of Australian military forces on a line drawn from Brisbane to Adelaide, meaning that large tracts of Australia would have been abandoned to the Japanese. In 1941, Ward entered the ministry of new Prime Minister John Curtin.

Ward served as Minister for Labour and National Service before being moved to Minister for Transport and Minister for External Territories in 1943, considered a demotion – Curtin pointed out that "the Army had the Transport and the Japs [Japanese] had the External Territories", leaving Ward with little to administer.[1]

Following the death of Curtin in 1945, Ward nominated for leadership of the Labor Party, which would have resulted in him becoming Prime Minister, but lost to Ben Chifley. Ward would continue to harbour leadership aspirations throughout the rest of his career. Rarely, if ever, did he have a friendly working relationship with any ALP leader.

After World War II, Ward remained in the spotlight. He vigorously opposed the Bretton Woods system and Australia joining the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction (later one of five institutions in the World Bank Group), because he believed international financiers were responsible for the Depression in Australia during the 1930s. Ward argued that signing Bretton Woods would "enthrone a World Dictatorship of private finance, more complete and terrible than any Hitlerite dream"; destroy Australian democracy; pervert and paganise Christian ideals; and endanger world peace. It was outbursts like these that would continue to stymie his leadership ambitions within the Labor Party.

He was famous for sardonically "welcoming" Menzies back to Australia after his many three-month absences in England at the beginning of each parliamentary year. Ward was the subject of a parliamentary outburst by Menzies (who had apparently drunk too much) during a discussion of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. Ward often criticised Menzies and in 1944, had called him "a posturing individual with the scowl of a Mussolini, the bombast of a Hitler and the physical proportions of a Göring".[2]

His highest contempt, however, was for those who he considered had betrayed the working class. He refused an invitation to a function celebrating Labor-turned-Nationalist Prime Minister Billy Hughes' 50 years in parliament, saying "I don't eat cheese", a reference to Labor tradition whereby any one leaving the ALP is considered a "rat".[1]

Following the 1946 election, Ward nominated for Deputy Leader of the Labor Party but was beaten by Herbert Vere Evatt. Setting a trend, he was again nominated for deputy leader in 1951, coming third behind Arthur Calwell and the comparatively little-known Percy Clarey; and in 1960, when he lost narrowly to future Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, despite getting the support of newly elected leader Arthur Calwell who had disliked Whitlam. In 1961, upon the defeat of Earle Page, Ward became the Father of the Australian House of Representatives. However, with the end of his leadership aspirations and the onset of advanced atherosclerosis, diabetes mellitus and heart disease, Ward was losing political importance although he was still seen as an elder statesman of the Labor Party.[1] The ALP had narrowly lost the 1961 election under the leadership of Arthur Calwell. Calwell would later write in his autobiography that he believed that the party could have won the 1961 election if Ward had been his deputy instead of Whitlam.[3] He was still serving as Member for East Sydney when he died at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst of a heart attack. Asked when he knew that his health was failing, he said it was when he "took a swing at Gough Whitlam, and missed." He was given a state funeral and buried with Catholic rites in Randwick Cemetery.[1]

Arthur Calwell eulogised Ward as an irrepressible fighter and unrelenting hater whilst John Curtin had dismissed him as a "bloody ratbag." The journalist Arthur Hoyle believed that many of Ward's generation believed that he was 'most authentic voice that the working class in Australia has had'.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f McMullin, Ross (2002). "Ward, Edward John (Eddie) (1899–1963)".  
  2. ^;query=Id%3A%22hansard80%2Fhansardr80%2F1944-02-24%2F0098%22
  3. ^ Calwell, Arthur A. (1978). Be just and fear not. Rigby.  


  • Eddie Ward: Firebrand of East Sydney, Elwyn Spratt, Rigby, 1965
  • Eddie Ward – The Truest Labor Man, Arthur Hoyle, SP, Canberra, 1994

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Harold Holt
Minister for Labour and National Service
Succeeded by
Jack Holloway
Preceded by
George Lawson
Minister for Transport
Succeeded by
Howard Beale
Preceded by
James Fraser
Minister for External Territories
Succeeded by
Percy Spender
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
John West
Member for East Sydney
Succeeded by
John Clasby
Preceded by
John Clasby
Member for East Sydney
Succeeded by
Len Devine
Preceded by
Earle Page
Father of the House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Robert Menzies/Joseph Clark/
Sir John McEwen
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