HANNAN, Joseph Francis (1873–1943)
Senator for Victoria, 1924–25 (Australian Labor Party)

Joseph Francis Hannan served in Parliament and the union movement at a time when such an association was electorally risky. Hannan was born probably in 1875, the son of James Hannan and Jane, née Hayes. The family arrived in Australia from the United Kingdom about 1888. After two years as a stable hand, Joseph took up his father’s trade of pipe moulder and steel worker.[1]

Over four decades, Hannan’s career was marked by the breadth of his involvement in grass roots unionism in Victorian manufacturing and maritime industries, and in union organisations. He held an extraordinarily wide range of elected positions within the labour movement. First elected a delegate to the Trades Hall Council (THC) in Melbourne in the 1890s, he was a member of the THC committee which helped to establish the Political Labor Council of Victoria. Hannan was elected vice-president of the THC (1912–13) and president (1913–1914). Between 1920 and 1924, he worked as the THC’s assistant secretary.

Hannan was a member of the Victorian Labor Party executive for many years and its president in 1911. He was Victorian representative to the Commonwealth Labor conferences in 1905, 1912,1915, 1921 and 1924, and conference chairman in 1927. He claimed to have been the first union secretary to take a case before Justice Higgins in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and worked for several months in New South Wales as an industrial negotiator during the seamen’s dispute of 1917.[2]

In 1913, Hannan won the House of Representatives seat of Fawkner, following an unsuccessful attempt in 1910. His adversary on both occasions was George Fairbairn. In the House, Hannan argued for protection, and legislation to control trusts and combines. He opposed ‘irresponsible’ immigration, and stringent rules for maternity allowances. He pronounced the Senate ‘perfectly within its rights’ in suggesting amendments to money bills’.

Hannan held Fawkner in 1914, but was defeated in 1917, probably because of his staunch opposition to conscription. In the next year, he successfully stood for the Victorian Legislative Assembly seat of Albert Park. He resigned in 1919 to contest his former seat of Fawkner, but failed to win it back. Hannan had publicly defended Prime Minister Billy Hughes in July 1916, but on 14 November seconded the Caucus motion which led to Hughes’ departure from the Labor Party.[3]

In July 1924, Hannan was chosen at a joint sitting of the Victorian Parliament to fill the casual vacancy caused by the death of Senator Stephen Barker. However, at the 1925 election, he failed to win a Senate seat despite achieving one-third of the primary vote. During his sixteen months in the Senate, Hannan maintained his close involvement with the broader labour movement. Following his resignation as assistant secretary of the Trades Hall in 1924, he was elected president of the ALP federal executive, a position he retained until 1927.[4]

His first speech in the Senate dealt with pacifism and made references to his support of the policies of the British Labor Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. He spoke of the worldwide labour movement ‘consistently advocating disarmament in the desire to bring about world peace’, and argued that ‘not until the parliaments of the world are under the control of the workers or their representatives are we likely to have peace’. He also spoke on national defence and freedom of union organisation.[5]

Hannan had entered the Senate under difficult circumstances. In 1924, the complement of Labor representatives in the Parliament was depleted and he had inherited a formal policy platform with which he was not entirely in agreement. At the ninth Commonwealth conference of the ALP in 1921, he had, on the instruction of his state party, supported the electorally divisive ‘socialisation’ objective, while expressing the reservation that it would ‘hang like a millstone around the neck of theMovement’. The conference ultimately agreed that socialism should abolish exploitation, not private ownership, or state capitalism, a distinction not easily explained to the electorate.[6]

Throughout the early 1920s, Government members, rehearsing the ground covered in the 1925 election campaign, persistently suggested an association between the Labor Party’s socialisation policy and communism. It was amidst such conflation that Hannan made his most significant contribution to debate. In response to the proposals for deportation of ‘alien’ union organisers contained in the Peace Officers Bill, and the Navigation Bill’s anti-strike measures (and the amended Immigration Act), he urged the Parliament to distinguish between union activities and party politics. While rejecting international communism, he drew on his wide knowledge of unionism to argue for free speech and tolerance, and he affirmed the right of communists to organise. He observed that lawbreaking by communists in Australia was insignificant.[7]

After 1925, Hannan was unsuccessful in several attempts to re-enter Parliament and worked as a commercial traveller until his death on 14 March 1943. He was buried at Coburg Cemetery. Hannan was remembered for his ‘genial nature andcharitable disposition’ and his prominent part in the industrial and political life of Australia. He particularly encouraged the ‘workers’ to advance labour interests by seeking election at all levels of government. In the Senate, he expressed his loyalty to the Labor Party as well as his abiding belief in socialism and pacifism.[8]

Two of his three daughters, Elsie and Kate, and his son, Hugh, survived him. His wife, Agnes Theresa, née Phelan, whom he had married at St Peter and Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, South Melbourne on 17 March 1903, predeceased him. In a simple but telling tribute, Labor Call referred to his ‘helpful career’.[9]


Paul Jones


[1] Peter Love, ‘Hannan, Joseph Francis’, ADB, vol. 9; The author acknowledges the assistance of members of the Hannan family.

[2] Age (Melbourne), 15 March 1943, p. 3; Herald (Melbourne), 15 March 1943, p. 2; Argus (Melbourne), 24 July 1924, p. 8; ALP, Official report of proceedings of the tenth Commonwealth conference . . . 1924,Melbourne, 1925; Victorian Trades Hall Council, Minutes, 5 February 1913, 1 July 1920, 2 June 1921, 1 June 1922, 7 June 1923, 5 June 1924, Victorian Trades Hall Council Collection, University of Melbourne Archives; Democratic Labor Party Papers, MS 10389, SLV.

[3] CPD, 28 August 1913, pp. 687–690, 30 April 1914, pp. 495, 500–501, 15 December 1916, p. 9983; Argus (Melbourne), 24 July 1916, p. 8; Age (Melbourne), 15 March 1943, p. 3; Patrick Weller (ed.), Caucus Minutes 1901–1949: Minutes of the Meetings of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, MUP, Carlton Vic., 1975, vol. 1. pp. 438–440, 484–489.

[4] Argus (Melbourne), 23 July 1924, p. 19.

[5] CPD, 13 August 1924, pp. 3061–3065, 9 September 1925, pp. 2278–2280.

[6] ALP, Official report of proceedings of the ninth Commonwealth conference . . . 1921, Melbourne, 1921.

[7] CPD, 15 July 1925, pp. 1040–1048, 16 July 1925, pp. 1296–1300, 29 August 1925, pp. 2020–2022, 31 August 1925, pp. 2050–2051.

[8] CPD, 16 March 1943, pp. 1736–1737, 17 March 1943, pp. 1796–1797; ALP, Official report of proceedings of the sixteenth Commonwealth conference . . . 1943, Carlton, n.d.; Labor Call (Melbourne), 17 October 1918, p. 7.

[9] Age (Melbourne), 15 March 1943, p 3; Herald (Melbourne), 15 March 1943, p. 2; Labor Call (Melbourne), 18 March 1943, p. 5.


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. 323-325.

HANNAN, Joseph Francis (1873–1943)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Vic., 1924–25

MHR, Fawkner, Vic., 1913–17

Victorian Parliament

Member of the Legislative Assembly, Albert Park, 1918–19