ARNOLD, James Jarvist (1902–1967)
Senator for New South Wales, 1941–65 (Australian Labor Party)

James Jarvist Arnold was born at Wallaroo Mines, South Australia, on 12 April 1902, the son of Robert George Arnold, a roper, and Julia Mary, née Broderick. He was educated at Christian Brothers College, Adelaide. After working on the railways, Arnold joined the fire brigade in South Australia. It was as a fireman that he found employment when he subsequently moved to Newcastle in New South Wales, becoming president of the Fire Brigades Association in Newcastle. Studying part-time, Arnold qualified as an accountant in 1937. He did well at his new profession, becoming a Fellow of the Australian Society of Accountants and an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries. Interested in books and ideas, he was secretary of the Newcastle Workers’ Educational Association (c. 1934–41), once lecturing to the group. It was said he hoped to work with fellow WEA member Lloyd Ross on a history of the labour movement. On 6 August 1935 Arnold married Ida Isabelle Brent, a bookbinder, at St John’s Church of England, Newcastle.

First associated with the ALP in South Australia, Arnold was influential in the party in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, serving as secretary of the Newcastle district assembly and president of the Newcastle state assembly. By 1940, he was secretary of the ALP’s Newcastle branch, and a delegate to Labor’s annual conferences. Arnold was preselected for the ALP Senate ticket for the federal election of 21 September 1940, owing his selection to a demand from the Hunter for a local man on the New South Wales ticket. Labor won each of the three Senate seats, with Arnold elected in second position. He was sworn in the Senate on 1 July 1941, and never forgot his promise to ‘give expression to the needs of Newcastle and the coalfields’, and to the sheep and wheat farmers of the Hunter.[1]

In the Senate, Arnold asked questions on the inadequacies of Newcastle airport and its air services, telephone services, and the condition of the Newcastle floating dock. During his early years as a senator, he was seen as something of a ‘coming man’ and narrowly missed out on election to the ministry before Labor lost office in 1949. From November 1941 to March 1951, he held the parliamentary position of temporary chairman of committees, and his extensive committee service included membership of the Joint Committee on Social Security from 1941 to 1943. In 1944, when the United Kingdom Government’s plans to implement the Beveridge report on social security were released, Arnold briefed the Australian press, comparing the British proposals unfavourably with the more equitable Australian system of a graduated tax on income.[2]

Arnold lost all his committee positions after Labor failed to retain its Senate majority at the April 1951 double dissolution election. Henceforth, he was appointed only to the somewhat inconsequential House Committee. Increasingly disillusioned by the power of the party system over the Senate’s role as a house of review, Arnold advocated a strengthening of its standing committee system:

Ministers bring bills to this chamber to be passed, and their supporters have to line up behind them on a party basis to pass the measures. I suggest that close consideration should be given to the appointment of committees, and that both sides of the chamber should be equally represented. The committees should be given more power, and the Ministers should be prepared to refer more work to them.[3]

Not a prominent contributor to debate, when Arnold did speak, his remarks were brief, plain and unadorned, and usually on the economy, finance and taxation, or matters concerning the Hunter region, such as coal mining, shipbuilding and trade. That the Rayon Yarn Bounty bills engaged his attention was due to the industry being established near Newcastle. He led the Opposition’s response to the Income Tax and Social Services Contribution Assessment bills in 1952, and to Australian Coastal Shipping Commission bills in 1956 and 1962. In 1944 an adjournment speech by Arnold calling for tighter controls on patent medicines received some press publicity, as did a 1952 attack on the Joint Coal Board for allegedly allowing valuable coal mining equipment to lie idle. He had been deputy chairman of the Australian Shipbuilding Board (established in March 1941), until his appointment was terminated by the Menzies Government in April 1952. A member of the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness, he once suggested that the physical training of youth was something Australia could learn from Nazi Germany.[4]

Arnold, at some time, had been president of the Newcastle group of the Australia–China Society, and, in June and July 1957, he was a member of the first ALP delegation to China, the members of which were selected by a Caucus ballot. At the invitation of the Chinese Government, Arnold attended a conference in Peking and toured China inspecting hydroelectric and farm projects, and cooperative societies. Arnold claimed that shortly before his departure for China, he was approached by a United States Embassy official in King’s Hall, in the Old Parliament House, who urged him not to go, offering him instead a ‘round-the-world trip’, and a holiday in America with all expenses paid. When the delegation returned on 24 July, it expressed much enthusiasm about China’s trade potential.[5]

During the ALP Split of 1955 Arnold, though not an extreme opponent of the anti-communist Industrial Groups, took the side of Evatt, who was strongly opposed to them. In 1955, when the Groupers were plotting a move against the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Nick McKenna, as revenge for his failure to break with Evatt, Arnold was approached about running for McKenna’s job, but refused.[6]

In November 1957, when Arnold was in hospital in Newcastle recovering from a serious operation, the Menzies Government’s banking bills were due to come before the Senate. Labor was opposed to the legislation, and the Government’s refusal to offer the Opposition a pair for Arnold’s vote made his presence essential if the bills were to be blocked. J. R. Odgers has given a vivid account of what happened:

Senator Arnold had been brought to Canberra on Monday, 25 November, by charter aircraft ... The Senator spent the nights of Monday, 25 November, and Tuesday, 26 November, in the Canberra Community Hospital, and was taken by ambulance during the day to Parliament House. He was carried on a stretcher to the room of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, where he was placed in a wheelchair. The division bells rang on Wednesday night, 27 November, when a Senate Attendant brought the Senator into the Chamber in the wheelchair [still in his pyjamas and dressing gown]. With Senator Arnold’s vote the numbers for the Ayes and for the Noes were even, and the Government’s banking legislation was defeated.

The Government’s behaviour at this time caused the Labor Opposition to refuse the granting of pairs for at least eighteen months.[7]

Elected to the Caucus executive in 1951 and 1954, Arnold came gradually to be regarded as a reliable foot soldier, rather than a pacesetter. In July 1964 he was defeated for preselection for the Senate by left-winger and former MHR Leslie Haylen, who in the event was not elected. Arnold left the Senate in June 1965, and died on 29 October 1967 at the Royal Newcastle Hospital. His wife, Ida, and their four children survived him. He was cremated at Beresfield.[8]

Arnold was a decent, abstemious man with a reserved manner. He was well regarded on all sides of politics, and noted for giving generously of his time to assist and advise new parliamentarians. When Gough Whitlam was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1952 as the member for Werriwa, he had no office accommodation in the crowded conditions of the Old Parliament House. Arnold had met Whitlam in Newcastle and been impressed by him. He gave Whitlam the use of his office, presenting him with a copy of Robert Tressell’s classic novel of working-class deprivation and struggle, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Although in the final analysis, Arnold was one of those senators who spent much of their career as part of the supporting cast rather than in a starring role, the qualities of sincerity and fair play he exhibited made a contribution to political life that should not be undervalued.[9]

David Clune


[1] Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 14 Sept. 1940, p. 8, 21 Oct. 1940, p. 6, 30 Dec. 1949, p. 2; Workers’ Educational Association of NSW, Annual report, 1938.

[2] CPD, 1 Sept. 1959, p. 376, 26 Oct. 1960, p. 1282, 24 Mar. 1944, p. 1983, 27 Oct. 1959, p. 1186; Don Whitington, Ring the Bells: A Dictionary of Australian Federal Politics, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1956, p. 6; SMH, 28 Sept. 1944, p. 4.

[3] CPD, 29 Sept. 1954, p. 570.

[4] CPD, 7 Aug. 1946, pp. 3831–8, 27 Oct. 1959, pp. 1174–6, 16 May 1962, pp. 1394–6, 4 June 1952, pp. 1313–15, 6 June 1956, pp. 1277–82, 4 Dec. 1962, pp. 1702–6, 17 Mar. 1944, p. 1552; SMH, 18 Mar. 1944, p. 13; Sunday Herald (Syd.), 27 July 1952, p. 3; SMH, 30 Apr. 1952, p. 4; CPD, 27 Nov. 1946, p. 612.

[5] Henry S. Albinski, Australian Policies and Attitudes Toward China, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1965, pp. 358, 380–1; SMH, 16 May 1957, p. 3, 9 May 1957, p. 5, 18 June 1957, p. 6, 25 July 1957, p. 4.

[6] Whitington, Ring the Bells, p. 6.

[7] SMH, 28 Nov. 1957, p. 1; J. R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, 5th edn, AGPS, Canberra, 1976, p. 282.

[8] ALP, Federal Parliamentary Labor Party minutes, 20 June 1951, box 1, 3 Aug. 1954, folio 1, MS 6852, NLA; Sun-Herald (Syd.), 26 July 1964, p. 3; Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 31 Oct. 1967, pp. 4, 11; Newcastle Sun, 31 Oct. 1967, p. 3.

[9] The author acknowledges the assistance of Doug McClelland, Les Johnson and Gough Whitlam.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 383-386.

ARNOLD, James Jarvist (1902–1967)

National Library of Australia
nla.pic-an22593702

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for New south Wales, 1941–65

Senate Committee Service

Joint Committee on Social Security, 1941–43

Printing Committee, 1941–47

House Committee, 1946–47, 1962–65

Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, 1946–49, 1951–65

Library Committee, 1946–65

Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, 1946–65

Select Committee on the Constitution Alteration (Avoidance of Double Dissolution Deadlocks) Bill, 1950

Select Committee on National Service in the Defence Force, 1950–51

Select Committee on the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 (No. 2), 1951