ROBINSON, Albert William (1877–1943)
Senator for South Australia, 1928 (Nationalist Party)
Albert William Robinson was an effective representative of the rural sector, both inside and outside Parliament, for over thirty years. Robinson was born at Lyndoch, South Australia, on 20 May 1877, the only son of George Septimus Robinson, a publican and grazier, and his wife Lucy, née Ridgway. He was educated at the Balaklava State School, the Clare Advanced School, of which he was dux, and the Roseworthy Agricultural College. Throughout his life, Robinson maintained extensive grazing and farming interests. He and his father purchased Werocata Station in 1907, and in the late 1930s, with his eldest son, Robinson was involved in the development of Kangaroo Island. He served as vice-president of the Farmers’ and Producers’ Political Union.
Robinson played a central role in establishing a model parliament in 1913, and became its first ‘Premier’. A Liberal, he entered the mainstream of South Australian politics two years later as a member of the House of Assembly for Wooroora. He held the seat from 1915 until his defeat in 1924, and again between 1934 and 1938, this time as an Independent, before transferring to Gouger, also as an Independent, from 1938 to 1943. In the South Australian Parliament, Robinson was an ardent advocate for primary producers; he also served as chairman of the railways standing committee for six years and was a member of the public works committee.
On 18 April 1928, Robinson was appointed by the Governor-in-Council to fill the casual vacancy, which had come about in December 1925 through the death of Labor’s J .V. O’Loghlin. Contrary to precedent, O’Loghlin’s vacancy had been filled by a Liberal, the former South Australian premier,Sir Henry Barwell.When Barwell resigned in March 1928, O’Loghlin’s vacancy needed to be filled for the second time. On 15 May, Robinson’s appointment was confirmed by a joint sitting of the South Australian Parliament, whereupon Labor’s Leader of the Opposition in South Australia described the filling of the casual vacancy as ‘a contemptible piece of political gluttony on the part of the opponents of the Labor Party’. Robinson had been sworn as a senator on 26 April 1928, but existing electoral legislation required that he stand at the next election if he were to continue as a senator until the end of O’Loghlin’s term (30 June 1929). In the event, the election was held in November 1928; Robinson stood and was defeated, thus serving for seven months.
Robinson made his most important contribution to the legislative process during debate on the Wine Export Bounty Bill in May 1928. He had considerable experience of the wine industry, acquired through the study of viticulture at Roseworthy, and because, as a former state parliamentarian, his electorate included extensive grape-growing areas and several major wineries in the Barossa region. Robinson therefore possessed first-hand knowledge of the probable effects of the Commonwealth Government’s proposal to drastically reduce bounty assistance to wine-growers. As ‘a moderate tariffist’, he argued instead for a gradual reduction in the bounty to allow the fledgling industry to establish a firmer production basis at home and a larger export presence abroad.
Concerned greatly about what he saw as serious shortcomings in Australia’s arbitration system, Robinson supported the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. He expressed sympathy for ‘the honest worker’ who deserved protection from ‘paid organizers’, asserting that workers were ‘in a position of hopelessness when their wages and conditions are fixed by judges in surroundings where wigs and gowns predominate’. Robinson’s experience in the 1920s as a member of the parliamentary select committee on law reform and of the South Australian royal commission on law reform had convinced him of the advantages of conciliation: ‘In the course of our inquiries we found many instances in which conciliation has proved just as effective as arbitration in the settlement of litigation, just as it has proved effective in the settlement of industrial troubles’. Robinson was in favour of providing wage and salary earners with stronger incentives and rewards for greater productivity, such as a financial interest in the organisations in which they worked.
Robinson’s strong interest in employee wages and working conditions was matched by deep-rooted social welfare concerns. He was at pains to ensure, for example, that the child endowment provisions in the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Bill were adequate, particularly in the event that the family breadwinner was incapacitated due to ill health. He was also vigilant in scrutinising legislation outside his main areas of interest, looking especially for provisions which he regarded as self-serving bureaucratic attempts to deny citizens due process. A clause in the Income Tax Assessment Bill 1928 which sought to prevent objections being lodged against determinations by the commissioners of taxation came in for withering criticism from Robinson. He was adamant that the lodgement of appeals against the commissioners’ decisions should remain an essential avenue open to all taxpayers. In debate on the Seat of Government (Administration) Bill, Robinson spoke in favour of a mixture of freehold and leasehold tenure in the developing Federal Capital Territory, on the grounds that such a combination would enhance the Territory’s growth prospects. He argued that a Senate division would ‘allow those who may in the future be curious on the subject to see that there were at least two or three in this chamber who appreciated the nature of the obstacle that was retarding the progress of Canberra . . . I am confident that freehold tenure will eventually obtain in this area’.
For most of his life, Robinson was closely involved with the activities of agricultural and literary societies. He was also a leading Freemason. Comfortably off and, as he said, ‘nurtured in Liberalism’, Robinson always retained a deep interest in the welfare of others, especially small and large landholders. Animated by a sense of noblesse oblige, his concern for the underprivileged was a hallmark of his speeches: ‘I . . . have always endeavoured to treat my employees in the way in which I should like them to treat me if our positions were reversed’. He appears to have set great store by diligence and thrift, not to mention procreation: ‘We do not want to be taught that it is infra dig to do hard work. When I see people living in the lap of luxury, when I see women with powdered faces nursing poodle dogs, when some of them ought to be nursing good Australian babies, it incenses me’. In character and outlook, Robinson exemplified the well-to-do countryman of his generation. In 1904, he had married Edith Louisa Laine; there were three sons and three daughters of the marriage. After a year of ill health, Robinson died in a Glenelg private hospital on 25 May 1943. He was buried at Balaklava. His widow, one of his sons and his three daughters survived him.
 Register (Adelaide), 29 March 1915, p. 10; Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 May 1943, p. 6, 16 May 1928, p. 16; Senate Elections Act 1903–1948 (Cwth).
 CPD, 17 May 1928, pp. 4966–4970, 4975–4983, 4985–4986; CPD, 18 May 1928, pp. 5032–5034, 5036–5045.
 CPD, 13 June 1928, pp. 5950–5954.
 CPD, 10 May 1928, p. 4709, 19 September 1928, pp. 6877–6878, 20 September 1928, pp. 6992–6993.
 CPD, 20 September 1928, p. 6992, 10 May 1928, p. 4709, 13 June 1928, p. 5954; Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 May 1943, p. 6; CPD, 23 June 1943, pp. 270–271.
This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 215 - 217.