University of Tasmania
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Robert Cosgrove : his first nine years as Premier, 1939-48

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posted on 2023-05-27, 17:47 authored by Roberts, SR
Robert Cosgrove was an example of the perceived image of the 'traditional' Labor party politician. He had a working class background, a government school education, and a link with the trade union movement. He was born in 1884, nineteen years before the Tasmanian branch of the ALP. His father was a fanner, and young Robert was educated at government run schools. Beginning at Campania, he later attended the Sorell, and Richmond State Schools, and the St Mary's Boys' School In Hobart. In November 1898, he was confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church, an organisation in which he was to remain for his life-time. His confirmation card noted him as being Bertie Cosgrove, thereby using a less formal name, illustrating at an early age, an element of his character which was evident continuously throughout his life. Cosgrove was a leader of the people, a fact he did not forget. His continual appearances at everyday events such as football matches lends itself to the image of a man not only elected by the people, but also one of them. As was the case with so many other members of the Labor movement, Cosgrove found it necessary to leave home to find work. In his case, this first entailed going to New Zealand in 1906, where he gained his first work with an organised union-the Wellington Trades Hall Council. He then went to Ballarat three years later, where he worked with the Singer Sewing Machine Company as a traveller. The date of his return to Tasmania is unknown, however he was back in the state by 1913, by which time he was employed by Robert Walker and company in Murray Street, Hobart. He was first elected to parliament in 1919, but this did not last very long. He failed to keep his seat at the 1922 election, but returned in 1925, this time for six years. He was one of the casualties of the anti-Labor backlash when he lost his seat at the 1931 election, but returned in 1934, the year A.G. Ogilvie led the party to victory. This time he stayed for twenty-four years. Under Ogilvie, he was Minister for Forestry, Agriculture, and the Agricultural bank. When Ogilvie died suddenly in June 1939, Cosgrove was still a junior member of the cabinet. The most senior minister was Edmund Dwyer-Gray, but he was 69 years old. The leadership battle was between Cosgrove and Tom D'Alton, who lost the caucus vote when someone changed their mind on the day of the election. The transition period of six months was a wise move. Dwyer-Gray was popular with the press, and a change over period would allow Cosgrove to prepare himself for his new duties. In December 1939, after serving as Treasurer, he replaced Dwyer-Gray as Premier, who returned to the Treasury. He was premier for almost nineteen years, with the exception of the period December 1947 to February 1948, when he stood aside over charges of corruption. Upon his retirement from parliament, Cosgrove was knighted, and made a life member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. After he retired, he kept a strong interest in politics. This included an unsuccessful attempt in 1959, to have his daughter elected as a member for Denison. He died in 1969. A requiem mass was celebrated at St Mary's Cathederal on 27 August 1969. Cosgrove's term as Premier of Tasmania can be remembered for four main reasons. First, he is the longest premier in the history of Tasmania, holding the position for almost nineteen years. Secondly, he was the premier for all but three months of the Second World War. It was during his premiership Tasmania was most likely to be invaded by the armed forces of another country. Thirdly, he was the first Tasmanian Premier to be tried before a judge and jury. He stood down as party leader in December 1947, on the understanding he would regain the position once the trial was over. He was not, however, the first party leader in Australia to be tried, but as with his Queensland counterpart of the 1920s, the charges were not proven. Finally, it was in Tasmania, in the latter part of his career, that the famous split occurred within the ALP. This brought about the creation of the Democratic Labor Party, and led to the Federal branch remaining on the Opposition benches until 1972. This last episode will not be investigated within this work, but being of such far reaching Importance, it is still worth noting.


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Copyright 1993 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Includes bibliographical references. Thesis (MHum)--University of Tasmania, 1993

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