Jack Lang (Australian politician)

Jack Lang (Australian politician)

Infobox_President | name =Jack Lang
nationality =Australian

order =23rd Premier of New South Wales
term_start =17 June 1925
term_end =18 October 1927
term_start2 =4 November 1930
term_end2 =13 May 1932
deputy =
predecessor =George Fuller
successor =Thomas Bavin
predecessor2 =Thomas Bavin
successor2 =Bertram Stevens
birth_date =birth date|1876|12|21
birth_place =Sydney, New South Wales
death_date =death date and age|1975|9|27|1876|12|21
death_place =Auburn, New South Wales, Australia
constituency =Parramatta
constituency2 =Auburn
party =Australian Labor Party
spouse =
profession =

footnotes =|

John Thomas Lang (21 December 1876 - 27 September 1975), Australian politician, usually referred to as J.T. Lang during his career, familiarly known as "Jack" and nicknamed "The Big Fella," was Premier of New South Wales for two terms (1925-27, 1930-32). He is the only Premier of an Australian state to have been dismissed by the state Governor.

Lang was born into an impoverished family in the slums of Sydney. He was born in George Street, Sydney. His father, James Henry Lang, a watchmaker and jeweller, was chronically ill and often unable to work. His mother was Mary Whelan. While still of primary school age at St. Francis Marist Brothers' School, Brickfield Hill, he sold newspapers on the streets of downtown Sydney to help support his family, and received a minimal education.

Early career

During the banking crash of the 1890s which devastated Australia, Lang became interested in politics, frequenting radical bookshops and helping print newspapers and publications for the infant Labor Party, which contested its first election in New South Wales in 1891. He then did odd jobs in the agricultural districts near Parramatta, driving a horse bus and hiring out on poultry farms. He soon moved back to Sydney with his parents, where at the age of 19 he married Hilda Bredt, the 17-year-old daughter of prominent feminist and socialist Bertha Bredt. Hilda's sister, also named Bertha, was married to the author and poet Henry Lawson.

Lang then became a junior office assistant for an accounting practice, where his shrewdness and intelligence saw his career advance. Around 1900 he became the manager of a real estate firm in the then semi-rural suburb of Auburn. He was so successful in this job that he soon set up his own real estate business in an area very much in demand by working-class families looking to escape the squalor and overcrowding of the inner-city slums.

Lang continued in his political pursuits, soon becoming an Alderman on Auburn Municipal Council and eventually mayor. He was elected as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1913 for the electorate of Granville, serving as a backbencher in the Labor Party government led by William Holman. His financial skills led him to become Treasurer in Premier Storey's Labor Government from 1920 to 1922. Due to the post-World War I financial recession the state's accounts were in a persistent deficit, and Lang managed to cut this deficit significantly. From 1920 to 1927, he was a member for the multi-member seat of Parramatta.

After the Australian Labor Party (ALP) lost government in 1922, Lang was elected as Opposition Leader in 1923 by his fellow Labor Party MPs. He led the ALP to victory in the 1925 NSW general election and became Premier.

Lang's first term

During his first term as Premier, Lang carried out many reforms and social programmes, including state pensions for widowed mothers with dependent children under fourteen, a universal and mandatory system of workers' compensation for death, illness and injury incurred on the job, funded by compulsory premiums levied on employers, the abolition of student fees in state-run high schools and improvements to various welfare schemes such as child endowment. His government also carried out improvements to major roads, including the paving of much of the Hume Highway and the Great Western Highway.

Lang also restored the seniority and conditions to New South Wales Government Railways and New South Wales Government Tramways workers who had been sacked or demoted after the General Strike of 1917, including Ben Chifley a future Prime Minster of Australia.

In the area of political reform, Lang established universal suffrage in local government elections - previously only those who owned real estate in a city, municipality or shire could vote in that area's local council elections. But his attempts to abolish the appointive upper house of the NSW Parliament, the Legislative Council, were unsuccessful.

After Labor's defeat at the 1927 election, Lang was Opposition Leader again from 1927 to October 1930. He was a member for Auburn from 1927 to 1946. In this period the Great Depression had begun in earnest with devastating effects on the welfare and security of Australia.

Lang's second term

In 1930, more than one in five adult males in New South Wales was without a job. Australian governments responded to the Depression with measures that, Lang claimed, made circumstances even worse - cuts to government spending, civil service salaries and public works cancellations. Lang vigorously opposed these measures and was elected in a landslide in October 1930.

As Premier, Lang refused to cut government salaries and spending, a stand which was popular with his constituents, but which made the state's fiscal position even more parlous. He passed laws restricting the rights of landlords to evict defaulting tenants, and insisted on paying the legal minimum wage to all workers on relief projects.

In 1931 at an economic crisis conference in Canberra, Jack Lang issued his own programme for economic recovery. The "Lang Plan" advocated the repudiation of interest payments to overseas creditors until domestic conditions improved, the abolition of the Gold Standard to be replaced by a "Goods Standard" where the amount of money in circulation was linked to the amount of goods produced, and the immediate injection of £18 million of new money into the economy in the form of Commonwealth Bank of Australia credit. The Prime Minister and all other state Premiers refused.

On 12 April 1931, he said to an audience in Ballaratcite book
title=A History of Australia - The old dead tree and the young tree green
publisher=Melbourne University Press
] :

I am just a plain, blunt man with a simple, straightforward story to tell of what seems to me to be the position in Australia to-day ... I bring a message of hope to the people of Australia

and his wife spoke of him to the audience:

... one day, he said to me: ‘Look, my girl, we have no money, and I suppose we never will have any, but we have our children. We have nine of them, you know, and they are going to live in Australia when you and I are no longer here, and, by heaven, I am not going to allow anyone to ruin Australia if I can lift a finger to prevent it’

Lang was a powerful orator, and during the crisis years of the Depression he addressed huge crowds in Sydney and other centres, promoting his populist program and denouncing his opponents and the wealthy in extravagant terms. His followers promoted the slogans "Lang is Right" and "Lang is Greater than Lenin." But Lang was not a revolutionary or even a socialist, and he loathed the Communist Party, which in turn denounced him as a fascist.

On 19 March 1932 Lang opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Lang caused some controversy when he insisted on officially opening the bridge himself, rather than allowing the Governor, the King's representative in NSW, to do so. Just as Lang was about to cut the ribbon to open the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Captain Francis de Groot, a member of the extreme right wing New Guard movement, galloped up to the ribbon and slashed it with a sabre. The New Guard also planned to kidnap Lang, and plotted a coup against him during the crisis that brought Lang's premiership to an end.

The crisis of 1931-32

Early in 1931 Jack Lang released his own plan to combat the Depression; this became known as "the Lang Plan". This was in contrast to the "Melbourne Agreement" which all other State Governments and the Federal Government had agreed to in 1930. Key points of the Lang Plan included the reduction of interest owed by Australian Governments on debts within Australia to 3%, the cancellation of interest payments to overseas bondholders and financiers on government borrowings, the injection of more funds into the nation's money supply as central bank credit for the revitalisation of industry and commerce, and the abolition of the Gold Standard, to be replaced by a "Goods Standard," whereby the amount of currency in circulation would be fixed to the amount of goods produced within the Australian economy. The banks had indicated that if he paid the interest they would advance him an additional amount which was greater than the interest, thus giving him a positive cash flow.

Lang was violently opposed to the Premiers' Plan agreed to by the federal Labor government of James Scullin and all the other premiers, which called for even more stringent cuts to government spending to balance the budget. In October 1931 Lang's followers in the federal House of Representatives crossed the floor to vote with the conservative United Australia Party and bring down the Scullin government. This action split the NSW Labor Party in two - Lang's followers became known as Lang Labor, while Scullin's supporters, led by Chifley, became known in NSW as Federal Labor. Most of the party's branches and affiliated trade unions supported Lang.

Since the Commonwealth Government had become responsible for state debts in 1928 under an amendment to the Constitution, the new UAP government of Joseph Lyons paid the interest to the overseas bondholders, and then set about extracting the money from NSW by passing the "Financial Enforcement Act", which the High Court held to be valid.

In response, Lang withdrew all the state's funds from government bank accounts and held them at Trades Hall in cash, so the federal government could not gain access to the money. The Governor, Sir Philip Game, a retired Royal Air Force officer, advised Lang that in his view this action was illegal, and that if Lang did not reverse it he would dismiss the government. Lang stood firm, and on 13 May 1932 the Governor withdrew Lang's commission and appointed the UAP leader, Bertram Stevens, as premier. Stevens immediately called an election, at which Labor was heavily defeated. Gerald Stone, in his book "1932", states that there is evidence that Lang considered arresting the Governor to prevent the Governor from dismissing him. The possibility of this was sufficiently high that the armed forces of the Commonwealth, who would have come to the assistance of the Governor, were put on alert.

Later career

Lang continued to lead the Labor Opposition, although the NSW Branch of the ALP remained in secession from the rest of the party. The UAP won the elections of 1935 and 1938. After this third defeat the Federal Labor forces began to gain ground in NSW, as many union officials became convinced that Labor would never win with Lang as leader. Lang was ousted as NSW Opposition Leader in 1939 and was replaced by William McKell, who became Premier in 1941.

Lang was expelled from the ALP in 1942, and started his own parallel Labor Party, called the ALP (Non-Communist), but this time with only minority support in the NSW party and unions. He remained a member of the Legislative Assembly until 1946, when he was unexpectedly elected as the Member for Reid in the Australian House of Representatives. (He was given Liberal Party preferences and was elected on a minority vote.) In 1949 he was defeated and never held office again, despite a bid to be elected to the Senate in 1951.

Lang spent his long retirement editing his newspaper "The Century", and wrote several books about his political life, including "The Great Bust", "I Remember" and "The Turbulent Years". He grew increasingly conservative as he grew older, supporting the White Australia Policy after the rest of the labour movement had abandoned it. To the end of his life, he proudly proclaimed that "Lang was Right." Lang also spent time visiting Sydney schools recounting recollections of his time in office to his young audience. Lang gave a number of lectures at Sydney University circa 1972-1973, at which he discussed his time in office and other topics such as economic reform, although tapes of these lectures do not exist. He was re-admitted to the Labor Party in 1971, aided by his young protege Paul Keating.

Lang died in Auburn in September 1975, aged 98, and was commemorated with a packed house and overflowing crowds outside Sydney's St. Mary's Cathedral at his Requiem Mass and memorial service. His funeral was attended by prominent Labor leaders including then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.


Lang's family contributed greatly to the Auburn community. For some years, his granddaughters worked at the local Catholic schools including the St. John of God Girls' High School in Auburn (now part of Trinity Catholic College, Auburn).

Jack Lang was the brother-in-law of Australian author and poet Henry Lawson, by virtue of the fact that each of them married a daughter of Labor activists and booksellers Bertha Bredt and W.H.T. McNamara (who was their stepfather); Lang married Hilda Amelia Bredt on 14 March 1896, and Lawson married Hilda's elder sister Bertha Bredt junior on 15 April of the same year. Both of these marriages eventually broke down.


*Henry Simpson Lunn (1927) 'Round the World with a Dictaphone - A Record of Men and Movement in 1926', London: Benn
*Australian Protestant Truth Centre (1931) 'Australians Beware! Scullin - The Scapegoat, Lyons - the Jesuits' new hope, Lang - The 'General' of the Unemployed Army' Melbourne: APTC
*M. H. Ellis (1931) ‘The red road : the story of the capture of the Lang Party by Communists instructed from Moscow’ Sydney: The Sydney and Melbourne Publishing Company
*Alfred Cornwallis Paddison (1931) 'The Lang Plan: The Case for Australia', Sydney: Labor Daily Printers
*Mary Cannon (1932) 'The Dismissal of J.T. Lang' Melbourne: State Library of Victoria
*John H. C. Sleeman (1932) ’The life of J.T. Lang’, Ultimo, NSW: Sleeman
*R. Dixon (1935) ‘The story of J.T. Lang’ Sydney: Mastercraft Printing & Publishing Co.
*Will Donald (1938) 'The ABC of Jack Lang' Sydney: ALP NSW Branch
*Arthur A Calwell (1943) ‘Lang was never right’, Melbourne: Fraser & Jenkinson Pty Ltd
*Fred Saidy (1943) 'Labor and Justice' Sydney: ALP
*Jack Lang (1949) ‘I remember: autobiography’, Sydney: Invincible Press
*Bethia Foott, Philip Game and Jack Lang (1956, 1980) ‘Dismissal of a Premier: the Philip Game papers’, Sydney: Morgan
*Jack Lang (1962) 'The Great Bust - The Depression of the Thirties' Sydney: Angus & Robertson
*Jack Lang (1968) ‘The turbulent years’, Alpha Books
*Robert J Cooksey (1970) ‘Lang and socialism: a study in the great depression’, Canberra: Australian National University Press
*Miriam Dixson (1971) ‘Greater than Lenin? : Lang and Labor, 1916-1932’
*Heather Radi and Peter Spearitt (eds) (1977) 'ALP, Lang, Jackpolitics and Government', Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger
*Harry Mayfield (1984) 'Jack Lang: The Big Fella!' Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press
*John Meredith (1984) 'Learn to talk old Jack Lang: A Handbook of Australian Rhyming Slang', Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press
*Bede Nairn (1986) ‘The Big Fella : Jack Lang and the Australian Labor Party 1891-1949’, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press
*Revised 1986 Guide to the papers of Sir Philip Game and the Game Family in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
*Mark Latham (1988) ‘Forgotten Lang’
*Geoffrey Robinson (1992) ‘How Labor governed : social structures and the formation of public policy during the New South Wales Lang government of November 1930 to May 1932’
*Frank Cain (2005) 'Jack Lang and the Great Depression', Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Press
*Gerald Stone (2005) '1932: A Hell of a Year', Sydney: Pan Macmillian Australia


External links

* [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A090666b.htm Australian Dictionary of Biography Online entry for Jack Lang]
* [http://www.whitlam.org/collection/1975/1975_J_Lang/1975_J_Lang_int.jpgGough Whitlam at Lang's Funeral - Whitlam Institute]
* [http://www.naa.gov.au/about-us/publications/fact-sheets/fs96.aspx National Archives of Australia Fact Sheet on Jack Lang]
* [http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/members.nsf/0/1bc554071d7a4c2bca256cb7001732d0?OpenDocument NSW Parliament on the Hon. John Thomas Lang]

NAME=Lang, Jack
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Australian politician and Premier of New South Wales
DATE OF BIRTH= 21 December 1876
PLACE OF BIRTH= Surry Hills, New South Wales
DATE OF DEATH= 27 September 1975
PLACE OF DEATH= Auburn, New South Wales

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