ARKINS, James Guy Dalley (1887–1980)
Senator for New South Wales, 1935–37 (United Australia Party)

James Guy Dalley Arkins was born at Millthorpe, New South Wales, on 14 October 1887, the son of William James Arkins, storekeeper, and Isabella Alice Grant, née Webb. He was educated at Millthorpe Public School, then worked as a flour miller, builder, clerk and country journalist. As a young man Guy, as he was known, became an active supporter of the Labor Party in his own district, standing as a Labor candidate for the New South Wales seat of Lyndhurst at the 1913 general election, when he was narrrowly defeated.

In January 1915, following the death of the sitting member (J. L. Treflé, Secretary for Lands in the Holman Government), he stood for preselection for the state seat of Castlereagh, in the north-west of New South Wales. Although a stranger in the district Arkins campaigned strongly, defeating a dozen other candidates.  He went on to win the seat convincingly against a Farmers’ and Settlers’ Association candidate. He became, at that time, the youngest member of the New South Wales Parliament and one of the youngest ever.[1]

Arkins, a man of pacifist sympathies, believed it the ‘bounden duty’ of the state government to deal with the state’s domestic affairs, leaving to the Commonwealth government the conduct of the war. However, the fact that he had not enlisted made him the target of scurrilous rumours in the non-Labor press. On at least two occasions from mid-1915 he was accused of making unpatriotic speeches at recruitment meetings, though, under threat of lawsuits, the Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph published official apologies. (Arkins was, in fact, an early advocate of conscription.)[2]

In June 1916 an attempt was made to unseat Arkins, despite his having enlisted in the AIF in March. One of Arkins’ rivals for preselection in the previous year had been J. A. Clark (prominent in Coonamble and in the Australian Workers’ Union). Despite a Labor conference decision that sitting members in the services should not be challenged, the Castlereagh electorate council of the Political Labor League (PLL) succeeded in demanding a preselection ballot. False reports began to circulate that a local Anglican minister would oppose Arkins ‘as a protest against that gentleman degrading the King’s uniform by sheltering himself behind it’. This was a cheap shot at Arkins’ non-combatant status in the AIF. However, Arkins won preselection for the second time. But all was not yet over. Even this second victory became the subject of an appeal. The matter was finally ‘resolved’ when Arkins was expelled from the Labor Party over his pro-conscription stance.

Recalling this episode several years later Arkins claimed: ‘When I went to Coonamble, the chief centre of my electorate, I found that where formerly there were only seventy-five or eighty-five members in the league, it had been packed to such an extent that its membership was 370 . . . What took place in Coonamble took place all over the Castlereagh electorate’.[3]

Regardless of all this the Member for Castlereagh continued his military service. Arriving in England in January 1917, he served there with the Australian Army Service Corps before being transferred to the 1st Australian Mechanical Transport Company in France in April 1918. In 1919 he returned to Australia (via America, at his own expense), departing Europe in February and arriving home in September. He was discharged in October. But even while overseas on war service Arkins was once again the subject of political controversy, this time during the 1917 election when he stood as a Nationalist. The ubiquitous Clark had taken advantage of Arkins’ expulsion to gain endorsement as the Labor candidate for Castlereagh. However, Premier Holman, who took a special interest in Arkins’ re-election, having supported him in the 1915 fracas, insisted that Clark’s candidature was contrary to the understanding that members on active service would not be opposed. Labor leader John Storey publicly disowned Clark’s action.[4]

Following his return from the war Arkins faced regular attacks from his former Labor colleagues. He was called ‘a renegade from the Labour movement’, and accused of betraying his principles. The canard about volunteering for war service ‘to save his seat’ was revisited. He was also accused of having won preselection in Castlereagh on ‘a faked ballot’. Perhaps the most damaging insinuation related to Arkins’ war service. The Assembly was reminded of his non-combatant status (‘You never went anywhere near the firing-line to risk your skin!’) and his failure to gain promotion. To one such attack he replied: ‘All I ask for is respect because of the fact that I did go to the war, and I went as a private. All the time I was at the war I remained a private, and never asked for promotion . . . I was a private in the army, and I am proud of it. I shall always fight for the rights of the soldier, whether he votes for me or not’.[5]

During the postwar period Arkins (an Anglican) became associated with the extreme Protestant element that was powerful in the Nationalist Party, particularly after the notoriously sectarian 1922 election. He advocated prohibition and censorship, and spoke out against the evils of gambling (for which one opponent labelled him a ‘wowser’). He also opposed the abolition of capital punishment, describing the death penalty as ‘the blood of sacrifice and atonement’. He denounced the revolutionary socialism of both the Industrial Workers of the World and Bolshevik Russia, while not denying that at one time he had been a socialist, and was still in some matters ‘a constructive socialist’, admitting that he had once believed in the socialisation of industry. He attacked corruption in the Labor Party, ‘this junta, this Tammany gang’ that had taken control of the Political Labor League. ‘The Labour party’, he said, ‘was born in righteousness, but it is dying in corruption’. He made special mention of one individual: ‘a man with vast power but no intellectuality who fought me every inch of the way through A.W.U. members. I speak of Mr. J. Clark’. Such comments would have done little to improve relations with erstwhile Labor colleagues. On one occasion, Labor Premier J. T. Lang, nettled by Arkins’ repeated interjections, described him as having been ‘inoculated with a gramophone needle’. In the heated exchanges that followed, another Labor member called Arkins a ‘mongrel’.[6]

For the 1920 election that saw the introduction of proportional representation within multi-member electorates, Arkins transferred to the Sydney suburban constituency of St George. With the return to single member seats at the 1927 election, Arkins contested and won Rockdale. From 1927 to 1930 he served as Government Whip. In December 1929 Premier T. R. Bavin presented Arkins with a silver tea and coffee service ‘in recognition of his strenuous duties during the present Parliament, and also of his personal popularity’. When Rockdale was eliminated by redistribution, Arkins unsuccessfully contested Waverley at the 1930 election. Subsequently he worked as a freelance journalist and as a publicity and research officer for the state parliamentary UAP. Active in UAP affairs, he was a member of the committee that negotiated the amalgamation of the Nationalist Party and the All for Australia League to form the UAP, a member of the UAP Council (1931-40) and vice-president of the UAP (1940-42). He had previously been a Nationalist councillor (1929-30).[7]

In 1934 Arkins was selected as a UAP Senate candidate but subsequently stood down in favour of the Country Party nominee, Macartney Abbott. However, in September 1935 he was elected at a joint sitting of both houses of the New South Wales Parliament to fill the casual vacancy caused by the death of Senator Courtenay. At a UAP dinner held to compliment Arkins on his appointment he said: ‘I cannot recall ever having got anything without fighting for it—and fighting hard, too. Nothing was ever brought to me as a gift on a golden tray. (Laughter.) I have fought nothing under 30 ballots, and am glad to say that always I had the rank and file behind me. They are the people who really count’.[8]

During his brief Senate career (he was defeated at the 1937 general election) Arkins spoke on issues reflecting his interests and experience. He believed Australia should have a powerful defence system and urged generous treatment for returned soldiers. He supported rural industry and the principle, though not always the method, of granting assistance to farmers. An advocate of immigration and closer settlement he believed that ‘our objective should be to attract to Australia the highest type of youths—young men of Nordic descent’.[9]

A music lover, Arkins took a close interest in broadcasting and the Australian Broadcasting Commission in particular. He questioned the demotion of W. J. Grieves, former leader of the ABC’s Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and later attacked the administration of the ABC, suggesting the appointment of a royal commission ‘to investigate every branch of wireless broadcasting’. ‘We sometimes hear of friction in public bodies’, Arkins noted, adding that the ‘Australian Broadcasting Commission runs on friction; and if its members are not careful, it will die because of friction’. An early advocate of television, he urged the Government to invest in the development of the new medium.[10]

Arkins was a strong defender of the role of Parliament and favoured greater use of parliamentary committees. He advocated re-establishing the Commonwealth public works and public accounts committees, and the establishment of a joint committee on defence. He was opposed to ‘government by regulation instead of legislation’, objecting particularly to regulations retrospective in their effect. ‘To replace legislation by regulations is to prevent this chamber from discharging its proper functions as a house of review’. He believed that the ‘members of this chamber have a duty not only to the States they represent, but also to the federation of the States’.[11]

The 1938 New South Wales elections saw Arkins return to the Legislative Assembly as the Member for Dulwich Hill. However, he failed to hold his seat in the big swing to Labor at the 1941 election. Arkins also failed in a bid to return to the Senate in 1943. For the next two years he was involved in recruiting and raising war loans. Arkins’ political career had a long twilight. He died on 2 August 1980, the occupation on his death certificate given as ‘Senator’. On 30 March 1921, Arkins had married Marguerite Glen Edwards, a concert pianist, who, with the only child of the marriage, Errol, survived him.[12]

David Clune 

[1] Australian Worker (Syd.), 14 Jan. 1915, p. 6, 4 Feb. 1915, p. 20, 18 Feb. 1915, p. 8; SMH, 3 Feb. 1915, p. 14, 28 Mar. 1938, p. 8; NSWPD, 5 Apr. 1916, p. 6142.

[2] NSWPD, 5 Apr. 1916, p. 6142, 1 July 1915, pp. 406-9; SMH, 10 Aug. 1915, p. 9, 12 Aug. 1915, p. 8, 26 Aug. 1915, p. 7; DT (Syd.), 19 Oct. 1915, p. 6, 23 Oct. 1915, p. 14, 20 Nov. 1915, p. 14.

[3] DT (Syd.), 3 June 1916, p. 8, 24 Feb. 1917, p. 10; Australian Worker (Syd.), 8 June 1916, p. 15; SMH, 16 June 1916, p. 6, 22 June 1916, p. 8, 26 June 1916, p. 8, 4 July 1916, p. 10; Australian Worker (Syd.), 20 July 1916, p. 15, 9 Nov. 1916, p. 5; NSWPD, 1 Sept. 1920, p. 601.

[4] Arkins, J. G. D.—War Service Record, B2455, NAA; Australian Worker (Syd.), 23 Nov. 1916, p. 6; DT (Syd.), 24 Feb. 1917, p. 10, 1 Mar. 1917, pp. 5-6; SMH, 1 Mar. 1917, p. 6, 5 Mar. 1917, p. 6, 6 Mar. 1917, p. 6, 7 Mar. 1917, p. 12, 10 Mar. 1917, p. 14, 12 Mar. 1917, p. 8, 13 Mar. 1917, p. 8, 14 Mar. 1917, p. 12.

[5] NSWPD, 31 Aug. 1920, p. 530, 1 Sept. 1920, p. 603, 2 Sept. 1920, pp. 616, 621-2, 12 July 1922, p. 287, 13 Nov. 1919, pp. 2703, 2706-7.

[6] Bede Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’: Jack Lang and the Australian Labor Party 18911949, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1986, pp. 44-5, 75-6; NSWPD, 1 Sept. 1920, pp. 598-608, 12 July 1922, pp. 279-91, 8 Sept. 1925, pp. 612-22, 1 Oct. 1925, p. 1199.

[7] SMH, 14 Dec. 1929, p. 18, 27 Sept. 1935, p. 11, 28 Mar. 1938, p. 8.

[8] SMH, 12 July 1934, p. 9, 17 July 1934, p. 10, 27 Sept. 1935, p. 15, 14 Oct. 1935, p. 10.

[9] CPD, 22 May 1936, pp. 2147-8, 27 Nov. 1936, pp. 2466-8, 5 & 6 Dec. 1935, pp. 2644-6, 19 Nov. 1936, p. 2075 , 8 Sept. 1937, pp. 702-3.

[10] CPD, 31 Oct. 1935, p. 1174, 14 Nov. 1935, p. 1589, 27 Nov. 1935, p. 1892, 4 Dec. 1935, pp. 2421-7, 22 May 1936, p. 2150, 8 Oct. 1936, pp. 843, 872-83, 8 Sept. 1937, pp. 703-5, 29 June 1937, p. 662, 9 Sept. 1937, p. 830.

[11] CPD, 23 Sept. 1936, p. 355, 8 Sept. 1937, p. 703, 17 Sept. 1936, pp. 207-8, 22 Oct. 1935, p. 883, 2 Dec. 1936, p. 2606.

[12] SMH, 6 July 1943, p. 4, 16 Sept. 1943, p. 7, 4 Aug. 1980, p. 23.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929–62, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 426-429.

ARKINS, James Guy Dalley (1887-1980)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, NSW, 1935–37

New South Wales Parliament

Member of the Legislative Assembly, Castlereagh, 1915–20; St George, 1920–27; Rockdale, 1927–30; Dulwich Hill, 1938–41