1st Viscount Bruce of Melbourne

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1st Viscount Bruce of Melbourne

Stanley Melbourne Bruce, 1st Viscount Bruce of Melbourne (1883-1967), was an Australian statesman, diplomat, and international administrator. He believed in close ties with the British Empire without diminishing Australia's self-government.

Stanley Bruce was born in Melbourne on April 15, 1883, the son of a successful merchant. He was educated in Melbourne and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated in law, and from 1906 practiced in London at Middle Temple. Bruce enlisted in 1914 and served in a British regiment; he was twice wounded before his discharge in 1917.

Returning to Melbourne to direct the family business, Bruce was elected as a Nationalist party candidate to the House of Representatives in 1918. He was on a private visit to Europe when asked to represent Australia at the League of Nations Assembly meeting in 1921. On his return to Australia he became treasurer under Premier William Morris Hughes.

Leader of the Government

After the general election of 1922 Bruce was chosen as Nationalist party leader, and in 1923 he became prime minister in a Nationalist-Country coalition of generally conservative complexion. Bruce called for economies in all phases of economic life and particularly for cost reduction, which he believed could be achieved through wage restraint.

By inclination and experience Bruce favored an "empire" approach dedicated to rebuilding Britain's diminished strength through "all pulling together" in the imperial cause. As part of an attack on economic problems at home and abroad, he promoted immigration from Britain to Australia, with emphasis on rural settlement. State governments were encouraged to maximize their role in such plans, but the Development and Migration Act of 1926 was an ambitious federal attempt to initiate resource surveys, promote investment, and coordinate labor requirements.

Lasting achievements of Bruce's government were the establishment of a national scientific research body and the federal-states compact of 1928, under which a loan council was set up with powers to regulate the borrowings of all government agencies. Administration of the government-owned Commonwealth Bank was revamped by placing the bank under an eight-man board drawn almost wholly from the private sector. To advise on fiscal policy, an independent tariff board was created, while grower-dominated boards were established to regulate the marketing of various agricultural products.

Returned in 1928 with a narrow majority, Bruce's administration faced a deteriorating economic situation. Commodity prices had fallen overseas, the country had to meet heavy overseas interest payments with shrunken export earnings, and unemployment was widespread. In 1929 there were numerous strikes and a serious lockout in the coal industry. Bruce intensified pressures on labor by strengthening coercive laws and demanding fines on striking unions.

There was sharp political disagreement concerning the proper role of federal and state authorities in handling labor disputes, and Bruce took the unprecedented step of proposing that the federal government virtually withdraw from industrial arbitration. Deserted by some of his shocked followers in September 1929, Bruce called a special election in which his administration was soundly defeated; he lost his own seat in the debacle.

International Statesman

Bruce was reelected in 1931 but remained in Parliament only a year before returning to London, where he represented Australia at the World Monetary and Economic Conference of 1933. Later that year he became Australian high commissioner, a post he retained until 1945.

From 1942 to 1945 Bruce was the representative of the Australian government in the United Kingdom War Cabinet and the Pacific War Council in London. Under instructions from the government of John Curtin he accented Australia's claims to full prior consultation on matters affecting basic strategy on the conduct of the war, and he pressed the case for a buildup of Allied forces in Australia as the major base for launching a counteroffensive against Japan.

In 1947 Bruce was made 1st Viscount Bruce of Melbourne—the second Australian raised to the peerage. Lord Bruce was chairman of the World Food Council of the Food and Agriculture Organization from 1947 to 1951, and in 1952 he became the first chancellor of the Australian National University, retaining that office until 1961. He died in London on Aug. 25, 1967.

Further Reading

A full biography, written by a newspaperman who knew Bruce throughout his public life, is Cecil Edwards, Bruce of Melbourne: Man of Two Worlds (1965). The legislative record is contained in A. N. Smith, Thirty Years: The Commonwealth of Australia, 1901-31 (1933). Political aspects are explored in Louise Overacker, The Australian Party System (1952), and Dagmar Carboch, The Fall of the Bruce-Page Government (1958).

The views of Bruce's coalition partner are given in U. R. Ellis, A History of the Australian Country Party (1963), and Earle Page, Truant Surgeon: The Inside Story of Forty Years of Australian Political Life (1963). Wider references are in J. G. Latham, Australia and the British Commonwealth (1929). Background material is in Brian Fitzpatrick, The British Empire in Australia: An Economic History, 1834-1939 (1941). The effect of the 1924 banking legislation is given in L. F. Giblin, The Growth of a Central Bank: The Development of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, 1924-45 (1951).

Additional Sources

Stirling, Alfred Thorpe, Lord Bruce, the London years, Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 1974. □

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