ARCHER, Brian Roper (1929–2013)
Senator for Tasmania, 1975–94 (Liberal Party of Australia)

Brian Roper Archer was born at Calder, North-West Tasmania on 21 August 1929, the youngest of four children of Clive Anton Archer and Ellen (Nellie) Archer, née Gilmour. Clive Archer, an artillery officer during WW1, had served at Gallipoli and in France and was awarded the Military Cross. Brian grew up at Calder on the family dairy farm, a sixteen hectare soldier settlement block developed by his father. In 1989 he recalled that ‘although it was a hard life we had food and loving care and attention’; the children also learnt ‘self-reliance’.

The family moved to Launceston in 1945. Archer’s first schooling was by correspondence, after which he was educated at Wynyard Primary School, Burnie High School and Launceston Church Grammar School. At the age of seventeen he started working for the Launceston real estate, insurance and stockbroking firm C. J. Weedon and Co., staying with the firm until 1954. Active in various sports, both as a competitor and administrator, in 1952 Archer was founding president of the Northern Tasmanian Table Tennis Association. On 15 October 1955 he married Dorothy Margaret Bird with whom he had a son and three daughters.

In January 1955 Archer began his own business, purchasing a real estate and valuing agency at Wynyard, Tasmania. He was said to be the first Australian estate agent to establish franchises—at one time he had eleven real estate offices spread over the North-West coast, a sports store and a building firm employing fifty people. He served as president of the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania in 1966 and 1971, and was a member of the Australian Real Estate Council (1961–76).

In 1974 Archer founded a stud beef and sheep farm at Boat Harbour, west of Wynyard, where he bred Prolific sheep and Limousin cattle. As a pioneer breeder in Australia, he was heavily involved in the Australian Limousin Breeders’ Association and was president of the association between 1983 and 1988. In 1987 his parliamentary duties eventually necessitated the sale of the farm and a move into Wynyard.[1]

Archer was involved with the Liberal Party from 1948, his interest in politics engaged by the Chifley Labor Government’s attempt to nationalise banking in 1947. He later recalled that he had worked on three election campaigns and was campaign manager on the last, all before he was old enough to vote. Archer held a number of posts in the Liberal Party, including as a member of the State Executive, the chairman of the state rural committee and a delegate to the federal rural committee. In the 1970s he was sufficiently involved with the Liberal Party to be approached with the task of searching out a suitable Senate candidate. As noted by Senator Eric Abetz (Lib., Tas.), ‘In the end, he had to draft himself’. He was placed third on the Liberal ticket at the double dissolution election of 13 December 1975. He was the sixth candidate elected as a senator for Tasmania and was re-elected in 1977, 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1993, heading the party ticket on the last three occasions.

In his first speech, on 25 February 1976, Archer stated his priorities: ‘I am a Tasmanian by birth, by inclination, and by conviction. I love Tasmania and in this place and outside it I will present Tasmania’s case and do what I can to ease its disabilities and relieve its increasing isolation’. He then discussed the problems of the state’s major industries—fruit and potato growing, dairying, fishing, paper production, tourism and copper mining. Archer believed that ‘after yet another reorganising period’, the ‘future of Tasmania’ would ‘come back to livestock, agriculture, mining and tourism’. The extent of Archer’s knowledge of ‘all Tasmanian resource industries’, and range of contacts, was later described as ‘remarkable’ by Dr Michael Wooldridge, then Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives.[2]

Archer was concerned not only with Tasmanian issues. He also spoke regularly on the national problem of affordable housing and the lack of government support for the Australian clothing industry, becoming the founding chairman of the Australian Clothing Export Council in 1978. Archer also frequently discussed the difficulties experienced by the dairy industry but, over the years, noted the gradual recovery and transformation of dairying, through improvements in research, modes of production and marketing. In December 1987 he was highly critical of the practice of ‘truncated debate’ on rural bills dealing with different issues, thrown together near the end of a parliamentary session. He claimed that this was only because the Hawke Government had ‘no interest in the debate or the industries involved’.[3]

Archer had ‘specialised knowledge’ of the Australian fishing industry, allowing him to make a ‘very active and informed contribution’ to debate on the issue. In August 1978, speaking in support of the Fisheries Amendment Bill, Archer emphasised the limits of the Australian fishing industry: ‘Australia is not a fish rich country … The whole history of Australian fishing regrettably is … a history of over-fishings and recoveries’. He argued that ‘there has never been a fishing industry but that there has been a collection of small fishing industries of all sorts’ and suggested that ‘We are getting close to facing the world-wide problem … of having too many boats chasing too few fish’. He warned that the Australian fish processing sector was ‘vastly overcapitalised’, needing ‘to be rationalised by the industry’. Archer also suggested that far more research and more funding from the industry and government were needed to develop a proper understanding of the sustainability of the industry and of the nation’s fishing resources.

In the early 1980s the Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce, chaired by Archer (1981–83), inquired into the development of the Australian fishing industry. The committee’s report, published early in 1983 and subsequently referred to as ‘the Archer report’, was described by the media as ‘the most thorough investigation and inspection program ever undertaken of the Australian fishing industry’. As noted by Archer, when tabling the committee’s report, the committee found inadequate communication between the government and the fishing industry. Archer declared that ‘No product is promoted less or worse in Australia than fish’. The committee recommended the establishment of a national statutory fisheries authority and the development of a national fisheries policy, and stressed the importance of ‘biological and economic stability’ in the management of fisheries.

Five years later, as deputy chairman of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Archer played a central part, behind the scenes, in the initiation of an ‘expeditious inquiry’ of the committee into proposed changes to delegated legislation associated with the Southern Bluefin Tuna Fishery Management Plan. The matter was referred to the committee after Liberal Senator Austin Lewis had lodged a notice of motion to disallow the delegated legislation. The inquiry, ‘a negotiated solution’, was an ‘example of the capacity of a standing committee to examine the substance of delegated legislation’ simultaneously with the Senate ‘protecting its rights by the use of disallowance procedures’.

Although Archer welcomed the fundamental changes to the fishing industry introduced by the Keating Labor Government in 1991, including the establishment of an Australian Fishing Management Authority, he reminded senators that it had been ten years since the committee report which recommended setting up such a body. He reiterated that ‘The question of sustainable yield is essential and must rise above all others’. He was scathing in his comments on the drafting of the 1991 fisheries legislation and the manner in which it was brought before Parliament, describing the legislation as ‘rubbish’ and the process as ‘the worst I have ever seen’. The major measures, the Fisheries Administration Bill 1991 and the Fisheries Management Bill 1991, together with five related bills were referred to the industry, science and technology committee, resulting in eighty government amendments to the legislation. The chairman of the committee, Labor Senator Bruce Childs, later paid tribute to his deputy chairman, stating that Archer’s ‘well-established close bond with the fishing industry, played a vital role in bringing the conflicting views together’. In 2011 a former Senate President, Alan Ferguson (Lib., SA), said that senators Childs and Archer ‘taught me how committees work: how you could work together cooperatively to get a result which is in the interests of Australia’.[4]

In 1981, as chairman of the trade and commerce committee, Archer tabled the committee’s report into Australia’s forestry and forest product industries. He highlighted some problems facing the industries associated with the inevitable movement away from reliance on old growth native hardwood forests towards softwood plantations and recommended better coordination between states to achieve the national goal of self-sufficiency. He continued to debate issues relating to forestry throughout his career.

From 1982 Archer made vigorous contributions to debate on proposals to introduce plant variety rights legislation to Australia. He admitted to the media that he ‘grew all sorts of interesting crops because [he] wanted to know how it was done’. After having ‘closely’ studied all the arguments for and against legislation to protect plant variety rights and having visited the Plant Varieties Office in Cambridge, United Kingdom, he concluded that ‘no one … with any sense who is interested in trying to feed people and make a better world could do anything other than go along with’ legislation protecting plant variety rights. Archer pointed out that ‘plant variety rights are a fact of life … They exist throughout the world and we cannot stop them’. Archer was convinced that targeted legislation would give Australian growers the opportunity to improve their stocks and that Tasmania’s isolation and climate made the state an ‘ideal site’ for ‘the production of new and increasingly better plant varieties of all descriptions’.[5]

Archer had great admiration for the work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), once proclaiming that the ‘reindustrialisation of Australia starts with the CSIRO’. He was also receptive to wider issues promoting advances in science and technology. In 1978 he questioned whether Australia could adopt the American practice of subsidies for solar heating, as an environmental measure. Ten years later his attention turned to greenhouse gas emissions, telling the Senate that: ‘No coordinating authority has yet been set up in Australia to discuss or lead in respect of the greenhouse effect … I believe it is time that the Government decided who is going to do it and to get it organised’.[6]

Under John Howard’s leadership, Archer served in the shadow ministry as special minister of state and spokesman on science from September 1985 to August 1987. The science policy prepared by Archer for the July 1987 election was seen as markedly similar to that of the Hawke Labor Government, with both Labor and the Coalition looking to promote the commercial applications of research and greater private funding for the CSIRO. One clear point of difference was Archer’s proposal that Australian scientists should be permitted to participate in American President Ronald Reagan’s proposed strategic defence initiative, known as ‘Star Wars’. Archer believed that Australia could benefit from the many potential industrial spin-offs, describing the government’s objections to the Star Wars project as ‘pious moralising’.

One month after the return of the Labor Government at the July 1987 election, Archer announced that he had asked John Howard ‘not to consider his inclusion in the next Shadow Ministry’. Archer said that, before entering the shadow ministry, he had ‘concentrated on Tasmanian issues, the Committees, and specialist areas’ and he wished to return to that work. Archer continued to speak on science matters over his last seven years in the Senate, repeatedly criticising the Labor Government funding cuts both to the CSIRO and to universities for the teaching and research of science.[7]

Over the period of his tenure Archer took on a number of roles in committees including as chairman of the Publications Committee (1979–83). He also chaired the Senate Select Committee on South West Tasmania (1981–82) which investigated the extremely contentious topic of the ‘future demand and supply of electricity for Tasmania’. After considering what the potential demand for electricity would be in the state, in 1982 the committee’s majority report concluded that the Gordon-below-Franklin hydro-electric scheme would ‘not have to be commenced for at least three years’. Archer issued a dissenting chair’s report, arguing that the majority report gave ‘insufficient regard’ to ‘Tasmania’s economic development or to the long-term damage to the Tasmanian economy’. The dissent concluded by supporting the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission’s conclusion that ‘the Gordon-below-Franklin Scheme [would be] the most economic power development for Tasmania’.

The Sex Discrimination Bill 1983 aimed to make discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status and pregnancy unlawful in specified circumstances. When speaking on the bill, Archer reflected the views of some of his local constituents stating that ‘Men, by nature, are more likely to be leaders, providers and protectors. We can legislate all we like, but we will not change that’. Although severely critical of the bill, describing it as ‘nonsense’ and ‘rotten legislation’, Archer concluded by saying that he supported the concept of anti-discrimination ‘if properly presented’. In a conscience vote Archer was one of twelve Coalition senators who voted against the third reading of the bill.

Tasmanian Liberal senators were not shy about crossing the floor, especially where the interests of the state were challenged; Archer did so on fourteen occasions. In February 1977 he was one of eleven Liberal senators who, together with Independent Senator Brian Harradine (Tas.), had unsuccessfully supported procedural amendments during debate on four constitutional amendment bills. Those same senators were also joined by Liberal Senator Harold Young in unsuccessfully supporting amendments to one of the four bills, the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill, which aimed to reduce the number of elections by linking senators’ terms with the electoral cycles of the House of Representatives. Archer stated: ‘I do not accept that it is sufficient reason to say that there are too many elections … [or] that elections are costly … [as] limiting elections by legislation is the first step on the road to having no elections at all’. Archer, Young and Senator Donald Jessop abandoned the ‘rebels’ to vote for the bill in the final vote, accepting that the matter would be further debated in the lead up to the referendum on the matter. The referendum ultimately saw the proposals narrowly defeated.[8]

Archer was described by his Senate colleague, Baden Teague as ‘the main representative in this parliament for building good relations with Taiwan’. Archer founded the Australia-Taiwan Parliamentary Association and Labor Senator Stephen Loosley acknowledged that political linkages between Australia and Taiwan had ‘grown and prospered’ through Archer’s ‘continual interest and energetic advocacy’.

Of his own volition, Archer resigned from the Senate on 31 January 1994, retiring to Launceston where he died nineteen years later, on 10 March 2013. He was survived by his wife, children and grandchildren. His funeral service was conducted four days later at the Launceston Church Grammar School Chapel.

Characterised as courteous and a ‘quiet dedicated worker’ and, by his own description, a ‘nuts-and-bolts’ man, Archer was never inclined to court personal publicity: he was known for telling journalists that he would not ‘say anything silly’ for a headline. When he left the Senate he did not linger for valedictories. However, those valedictories extended across party lines and were not confined to the Senate. Senators acknowledged his ‘assiduous’ work for North-West Tasmania, his ‘very practical approach’, ‘attention to detail’ and readiness to help other senators, regardless of party. Dr Michael Wooldridge noted Archer’s ‘patient and painstaking assistance’ to constituents. Wooldridge also referred to the ‘fundamental fairness, decency and straightness with which he treated all persons’. Archer was touched by a comment from Labor Senator Graham Richardson, who said of Archer, ‘in him, there was an absence of malice’. Archer explained, ‘That meant a lot to me because I tried to do a job and be apolitical in my electorate. Because I didn’t run to the press to try and score political points, I worked in well with [Labor] Ministers and their staff and was able to achieve a lot more for my electorate’.[9]

Paul Fenton

[1] Advocate (Burnie), 23 Aug. 1921, p. 5; Advertiser (Adel.), 14 Dec. 1917, p. 8; CPD, 2 June 1977, pp. 1938–9, 6 June 1986, pp. 3556–7; Examiner (Launc.), 12 Feb. 1994, p. 17; Sunday Tasmanian (Hob.), 17 Sept. 1989, p. 23; ‘Profile: Brian Archer’, House Magazine, 16 Oct. 1984, p. 3, 23 Feb. 1994, p. 3; Examiner (Launc.), 28 April 1950, p. 18. 17 Aug. 1951, p. 9, 23 Sept. 1951, p. 13; Advocate (Burnie), 24 Dec. 1954, p. 22; CPD, 1 Feb. 1994, pp. 5–6; Mercury (Hob.), 10 Sept. 1979, p. 3; Advocate (Burnie), 23 Feb. 1993, p. 5; CPD, 13 March 2013, pp. 1603–4.

[2] ‘Profile: Brian Archer’, House Magazine, 16 Oct. 1984, p. 3, 23 Feb. 1994, p. 3; Advocate (Burnie), 23 Feb. 1993, p. 5; Examiner (Launc.), 12 Feb. 1994, p. 17; Sunday Tasmanian (Hob.), 17 Sept. 1989, p. 23; CPD, 13 March 2013, pp. 1604–5, 25 Feb. 1976, pp. 222–5; CPD (R) 8 Feb. 1994, pp. 589–90.

[3] CPD, 30 March 1976, pp. 861–2, 30 Nov. 1976, pp. 2267–70, 17 Oct. 1984, pp. 1896–8, 9 May 1985, pp. 1619–21, 25 Feb. 1987, pp. 600, 602–5; Press Release, Senator Brian Archer, 26 Nov. 1978, 30 Sept. 1979; CPD, 1 March 1978, pp. 255–8, 25 Feb. 1976, pp. 222–5, 2 June 1977, pp. 1938–40, 10 March 1981, pp. 4302, 10 May 1985, pp. 1744–7, 9 Nov. 1992, pp. 2525–6, 20 May 1993, pp. 949–50, 16 Dec. 1987, pp. 3224–9, 17 Dec. 1987, pp. 3337–41.

[4] CPD, 1 Feb. 1994, p. 53, 17 Aug. 1978, pp. 175–7, 17 Dec. 1987, p. 3397, 23 March 1988, p. 1217; Mercury (Hob.), 12 Oct. 1984, p. 17; AFR (Syd.), 11 Jan. 1983, p. 10; Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce, Development of the Australian Fishing Industry, Canberra, 1983; CPD, 1 June 1983, pp. 1091–3, 9 Oct. 1991, pp. 1684–7; Senate Procedural Bulletin, No. 38, 21 Oct. 1988, p. 2; CPD, 23 Aug. 1988, p. 76, 24 Aug. 1988, p. 113, 25 Aug. 1988, p. 306, 14 Oct. 1988, pp. 1608–9, 9 Oct. 1991, pp. 1684–8; Senator Childs, ‘The truth about parliamentary committees’, Papers on Parliament, No. 18, Dec. 1992, p. 42; CPD, 21 June 2011, pp. 3424–30.

[5] Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce, Australia’s Forestry and Forest Products Industries, Canberra, 1981; CPD, 24 Nov. 1981, pp. 2448–50, 11 March 1991, pp. 1568–71, 26 May 1982, p. 2482; Sunday Tasmanian (Hob.), 17 Sept. 1989, p. 23; CPD, 24 Aug. 1982, pp. 419–26, 9 May 1984, pp. 1862–3, 20 Feb. 1987, pp. 349–51; Press Release, Senator Brian Archer, 27 June 1983.

[6] CPD, 28 Nov. 1986, pp. 3001–2, 2 March 1978, p. 269, 12 Oct. 1988, pp. 1260–1.

[7] CT, 10 Sept. 1985, p. 7; Australian (Syd.), 17 June 1987, p. 10, 30 Aug. 1986, p. 11; ‘Let CSIRO do SDI research’, Press Release, 29 Aug. 1986; Press Release, Senator Brian Archer, 14 Aug. 1987; CPD, 12 Oct. 1988, pp. 1260–1, 7 March 1989, p. 528, 15 Aug. 1991, pp. 484–8, 15 Dec. 1992, p. 4932.

[8] Senate Select Committee on South West Tasmania, Future Demand and Supply of Electricity for Tasmania and Other Matters, Canberra, Nov. 1982, pp. 219–20, 225–7; CPD, 12 Oct. 1983, p. 1413, 19 Oct. 1983, p. 1689, 8 Nov. 1983, pp. 2297–300, 16 Dec. 1983, p. 4011; SMH, 12 Aug. 2006, p. 33; CPD, 13 March 2013, pp. 1604–5; CT, 26 Feb. 1977, p. 20; CPD, 25 Feb. 1977, p. 483.

[9] CPD, 1 Feb. 1994, pp. 9–10, 36–7, 41, 446; ‘Profile: Brian Archer’, House Magazine, 23 Feb. 1994, p. 3; CPD, 13 March 2013, pp. 1603–5; Age (Melb.), 12 March 2013, p. 49, Sunday Tasmanian (Hob.), 17 Sept. 1989, p. 23; CPD, (R), 8 Feb. 1994, pp. 589–90; Examiner (Launc.), 12 Feb. 1994, p. 17.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, Vol. 4, 1983-2002, Department of the Senate, Canberra, 2017, pp. 329-333.

Auspic DPS

Auspic DPS

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Tas., 1975–94 (Lib)

Senate Committee Service

Estimates Committee C, 1976, 1987–88; B, 1976–78; D, 1978–80; E, 1980–81; H, 1981–83; F, 1990–91; A, 1993

Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, 1976–78

Publications Committee, 1976–94

Standing Committee on Trade and Commerce, 1976–83

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1981–83, 1985–87

Select Committee on South West Tasmania, 1981–82

Standing Committee on Industry and Trade, 1983–86

Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, 1984–85

Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, 1986–87

Joint Select Committee on Telecommunications Interception, 1986

Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, 1987–93

Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Zone, 1991–92

Committee of Privileges, 1993–94

Standing Committee on Industry, Science, Technology, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure, 1993–94