Henry Bolte

Henry Bolte

honorific-prefix=The Honourable
name =Sir Henry Bolte
nationality =Australian

imagesize =150px
order =38th Premier of Victoria
term_start =June 7, 1955
term_end =August 23, 1972
deputy =
predecessor =John Cain (senior)
successor =Rupert Hamer
birth_date =May 20, 1908
birth_place =Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
death_date =death date and age|1990|1|4|1908|5|20|df=y
death_place =Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
constituency =Hampden
party =Liberal Party of Australia
spouse =Edith Elder
profession =
religion =Church of England

footnotes =|

Sir Henry Edward Bolte GCMG (20 May, 1908 - 4 January, 1990), Australian politician, was the 38th and longest serving Premier of Victoria. In his later years he became known as the last Australian politician to advocate, and use, capital punishment.

Early years

Henry Bolte was born in Ballarat, the son of a publican of German descent (the family name was pronounced "Bol"-tee). He was to spend the first 24 years of his life (apart from three years at boarding school) in the small western district town of Skipton. He was educated at Skipton primary school and Ballarat Grammar School: he was the last Victorian Premier not to attend a university. After working in various manual jobs he married Edith Elder in 1934 and bought a small farm at Bamganie near Meredith, where he lived for the rest of his life, running sheep and cattle.

In 1940 Bolte joined the Australian Army and served as a sergeant with a training regiment until 1945. After the war Bolte returned to farming and became active in the newly-formed Liberal Party. At the 1945 election he stood unsuccessfully for the seat of Hampden in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, but in 1947 he stood again and was elected.

Parliamentary career

Victorian politics was volatile at this time, with a succession of weak short-term governments. The electoral system was malapportioned in favour of rural areas, which gave the minority Country Party disproportionate power. As a rural Liberal, Bolte hated the Country Party nearly as much as he hated the Labor Party, even though the two conservative parties were often in coalition against Labor.

When Bolte was elected to Parliament the Liberal leader was Thomas Hollway, who also came from Ballarat but was a much more liberal politician than Bolte. In 1951 he tried to reform the electoral system, which caused a split in the Liberal Party and his replacement by Trevor Oldham, with Bolte as Deputy Leader. When Oldham was killed in an air crash en route to the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, Bolte was elected Leader.

The Labor Party under John Cain senior had come to power at the 1952 elections, but in 1955 the party suffered a split over the issue of communist influence in the trade unions, and Cain's government had fallen when a faction of anti-communist Catholics MPs voted against it in Parliament. Bolte won the 1955 elections with a huge majority, routing both Labor and the Country Party. He was able to form the first stable conservative government in Victoria for many years.

Bolte was a rough-hewn politician who liked to be seen as a simple farmer, but he had a shrewd political mind. He rapidly consolidated himself in power, helped by the expelled faction of the Labor Party, the Democratic Labor Party, which directed its second preferences to the Liberals at elections. His populist attacks on the trade unions, intellectuals, protesters and the press won him a large following.

Infrastructure building

Bolte was a supporter of Keynsian economics utilising state debt to provide a wide range of state infrastructure and he was very successful at winning overseas investment for the state. Some of his great projects were increased coal production and power generation in the Latrobe Valley, new offshore oil and gas fields in Gippsland, the West Gate Bridge over the lower Yarra River, a new international airport for Melbourne at Tullamarine and two new universities (Monash University and La Trobe University). Bolte was easily re-elected at the 1958, 1961 and 1964 state elections.

He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in the New Year's Day Honours of 1966. [ [http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/honours/honour_roll/search.cfm?aus_award_id=1082601&search_type=advanced&showInd=true It's an Honour: KCMG] ]

Capital punishment controversy

In 1967 Bolte became embroiled in a bitter controversy over capital punishment. In 1965 two prisoners, Ronald Ryan and Peter Walker, had escaped from Melbourne's Pentridge Prison, allegedly shooting dead a prison guard while doing so. They were recaptured, and Ryan was sentenced to death for murder, despite considerable doubt that he had fired the fatal shot. Bolte had the power to recommend clemency, but declined to exercise it, arguing that the death penalty was a necessary deterrent. Ryan was hanged in February 1967.

Bolte's insistence on having Ryan hanged earned him the opposition of the Melbourne press, particularly the influential daily "The Age", the churches, the universities and most of the legal profession. It also alienated sections of the Liberal Party and some members of his own Cabinet, including his eventual successor, Rupert Hamer. But Bolte had correctly interpreted the populist appeal of his law-and-order stand, and at the 1967 elections the Liberals gained six seats.

Later career

After 1968, when Bolte turned 60, his appeal to younger urban voters declined, and he showed little sympathy with new issues such as the environment and civil liberties. His standing was also reduced by a crisis in the state education system, with teacher shortages and overcrowded schools as the children of the baby boom passed through the education system. At the same time the Labor Party began to revive under a new leader, Clyde Holding.

At the 1970 state elections the Liberals seemed in serious danger of losing office, or at least being forced into a coalition with the Country Party, but Bolte was saved by Holding's left-wing enemies in the Labor Party, who sabotaged his campaign by publicly opposing government funding for non-government schools (which Holding and Gough Whitlam had made Labor policy). Nevertheless the Liberals lost six seats.

He was promoted to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (GCMG) in the New Year's Day Honours of 1972. [ [http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/honours/honour_roll/search.cfm?aus_award_id=1073805&search_type=advanced&showInd=true It's an Honour: GCMG] ]

Bolte was shrewd enough to see that the Liberals needed a new leader and a new image for the 1970s, and in August 1972 he resigned, apparently with no regrets, and arranged for Hamer, a Melbourne-based progressive Liberal, to succeed him. This proved a sound judgement, since Hamer went on to win three more elections for the Liberals. Bolte retired to his farm, where he lived quietly until his death in January 1990.

Further reading

*Tom Prior, "Bolte by Bolte" (Craftsman Publishing, 1990) ISBN 1-875428-00-3
*Peter Blazey, "Bolte: a Political Biography" (Mandarin Press, 1990)


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