MATTNER, Edward William (1893–1977)
Senator for South Australia, 1944–46, 1950–68 (Liberal Party of Australia)

Edward William (Ted) Mattner was born on 16 September 1893 near Oakbank, South Australia, the third of four children of William Charles Mattner, gardener and later a farmer, and Emily Louisa, née Hocking. Educated at Oakbank School, from the age of fourteen he remained at the school as a trainee teacher before attending Adelaide High School (1910–12), where he was awarded the Rossiter Prize for outstanding sporting achievements. He then served as an assistant teacher at Uraidla, Parkside and Kadina, and enrolled at the Teachers’ Training College at the University of Adelaide in 1914.

On 7 September 1915 Mattner enlisted in the AIF. Embarking in November for the Western Front via Egypt, he served as a gunner with the 18th Battery, 6th Field Artillery Brigade. In 1917 he was awarded the Military Medal, then the Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’, and, finally, the Military Cross, by which time he was a 2nd lieutenant. While Mattner was being presented with the Military Cross by King George V in 1919, the King chatted at some length about his visit to Australia in 1901. When the Lord Chamberlain asked Mattner about the nature of his conversation with the King, he claimed that the King had confessed to being ‘sick of this turnout’ and had suggested that he and Mattner repair ‘to the corner pub and have a couple of beers’. Returning to Australia, Mattner disembarked in Melbourne in September 1919. His appointment to the AIF was terminated the following month.[1]

After his discharge Mattner purchased a farm, Wybaleena, at Balhannah in South Australia. On 6 October 1923 he married a nurse, Lorna May Prince, of Peterborough, South Australia, at the Pirie Street Methodist Church in Adelaide. The couple would have six children. From 1921 Mattner was a foundation member and later secretary and president of the Balhannah branch of the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, which awarded him life membership in 1942. With a strong sense of community participation, he was active on committees of the Balhannah and Oakbank schools. Keen on horse racing, Mattner was well known for his hospitality at the Onkaparinga Easter race meetings.[2]

Mattner joined the Australian Military Forces for the second time on 9 September 1940, and was appointed area officer for Balhannah on a full-time basis with the rank of lieutenant. In May 1941 he was seconded to the AIF with the temporary rank of major, and in July embarked at Fremantle for overseas service. He commanded reinforcements of the 2/43rd and 2/48th battalions on their voyage to the Middle East. In 1942 he was second in command of the 2/13th Field Regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery in Papua, and was discharged on medical grounds in June. He became secretary and president of the Onkaparinga Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia.[3]

Mattner was a prominent member of the Onkaparinga district committee of the Liberal and Country League (LCL) of South Australia, serving as its secretary and president and representing the district committee on the party’s state executive (1937–43 and 1947–50). While his bid for the Senate at the election of 21 August 1943 was unsuccessful, on 10 October of the following year he was chosen by the Parliament of South Australia to fill a casual vacancy occasioned by the resignation of United Australia Party senator, Oliver Uppill, holding the position until the election of September 1946, at which he was unsuccessful. His persistence was rewarded when, standing for the LCL, he was returned to the Senate when the coalition under R. G. Menzies was victorious on 10 December 1949. Sworn on 22 February 1950, he won a six-year term at the election following the simultaneous dissolution of April 1951.[4]

In his first speech Mattner raised issues in which he was to maintain an interest throughout his parliamentary career, namely the armed forces and primary production. He believed that both the AIF and the reserve should be under a single command, basing this opinion on his experience of accompanying 5000 militiamen to Papua in 1942. He was appalled by the publicity in the press about the suffering of Australian prisoners in Japanese hands and the anguish it would cause in Australia. He drew unfavourable comparisons between equipment allocated to the Australian forces under the command of the USA and that available to the American troops. At the end of the war Mattner took up the cause of Australian troops serving with the occupation force in Japan, who, he argued, were less well served than occupation troops in other parts of the world. He concerned himself with the return of land and property that had been requisitioned by the military during the war, and with proposals for increasing Australian primary production to alleviate food shortages in Britain. He noted critical manpower shortages in primary industries, especially in dairying.[5]

On 12 June 1951 Mattner was nominated for the presidency of the Senate. In the ensuing debate, Senator McKenna  referred to a matter that, he said, ‘appears gravely to affect the privileges of this chamber’—namely that Prime Minister Menzies had ‘offered’ the presidency first to Senator McLeay and, upon his rejection of the offer, to Senator O’Sullivan. McLeay emphatically denied that the Prime Minister had attempted to influence the choice of President of the Senate (jealously guarded by senators as a parliamentary appointment). O’Sullivan stated that the Prime Minister had asked him whether he was likely to be a candidate for the office of President, which he was not, and Mattner was elected unopposed on the motion of Senator O’Sullivan.[6]

One of his first ceremonial duties as President was as pall bearer at the state funeral of Labor Party leader, Ben Chifley, in Bathurst, on 17 June 1951. His activities included oversight of the work of the Senate’s ‘domestic’ committees. Between 1951 and 1953 he served as an ex officio member of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings and on the Library Committee, and as chairman of the Senate Standing Orders Committee and the House Committee. As President he ruled that during Question Time priority be given to the Leader of the Opposition over all other non-government senators and to any senators who had not previously asked questions. In debate, he maintained that the President had discretion to decide whether words were offensive and should be withdrawn. He found no objection to ‘insincere’, but drew the line at the description of senators as ‘stupid’, ‘dumb’, ‘a silly old fool’, ‘snooper’ or ‘political pimp’. Mattner’s most significant ruling upheld the Senate’s power to amend the Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill in September 1952. Labor’s Senator McKenna and the Liberal Attorney-General Senator Spicer, relying on a recent opinion of the Solicitor-General, argued that the bill was concerned with the ordinary annual services of the Government even though it authorised capital expenditure, and was therefore open to debate on the first reading but not to amendments. Mattner ruled that it was an amendable bill, and commented that the ‘Senate should exercise constant vigilance to safeguard its rights’. A dissent motion was withdrawn by McKenna, and, when the Senate discussed the matter further in November, a free vote in effect rejected the Solicitor-General’s opinion and upheld Mattner’s ruling. The issue recurred in 1964 when the Government amalgamated the Appropriation Bill and the Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill into a bill for ordinary annual services. In an impassioned speech in August 1964, Mattner deplored the decision to ignore the Senate 1952 resolution.[7]

At a joint meeting of the coalition parties at Parliament House on 8 September 1953 following the Senate election of 9 May that year, Mattner’s term as President came to an abrupt and apparently unexpected conclusion. A ballot for President saw Senator McMullin beat Mattner by two votes, amid rumours in Liberal ranks that Mattner had allowed himself to be unduly influenced by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, fellow South Australian Archie Cameron. There was some dissatisfaction with the pair’s ‘long-standing and strict control of Parliament House’.[8]

Mattner returned to his advocacy of improved conditions for service personnel, such as the provision of equipment, war service entitlements and repatriation services. He renewed his interest in wider defence policy, supporting the sending of Australian troops to Malaya, and applauding close defence cooperation with the United States, whose development of guided nuclear missiles gave Australians ‘a certain sense of security’. He also proposed reintroduction of national service training with an educational component. Mattner’s wartime experience gave him a deep and continuing concern for ex-servicemen and women, for whom he was an effective advocate. Having sustained a wound injury to his right leg—‘a legacy of war for which I receive nothing whatsoever’—he had acquired firsthand knowledge of how repatriation hospitals work. He later took credit for the provision of free hospitalisation for war service pensioners in the 1960 Repatriation Act. He was recognised as ‘a distinguished and gallant soldier’, one who ‘knew the needs of his fellow servicemen’.[9]

Mattner crossed the floor on over ten occasions, notably in relation to primary production issues. In 1954 he supported the unsuccessful motion of Senator Wright for a select committee to investigate the impact of sugar prices on the fruit industry, and in 1960 supported Wright’s successful amendment to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill, which extended the grant of sales tax exemption to dairy carriers as well as producers, manufacturers and distributors. He also crossed the floor to oppose attempts to break the ‘nexus’ provision in the Constitution between the two parliamentary chambers, arguing that an enlarged House of Representatives would render the Senate ‘impotent’. Mattner believed that the Senate should be ‘purely a debating house, a house of review’. In 1954 he argued that ministers should be appointed only from the House of Representatives, as the presence of ministers in the Senate, representing party positions and policy, limited the effectiveness of debate on issues of national importance—even though at the time only five senators had been appointed as ministers. He also believed that the practice of senators attending joint party meetings with their numerically superior House of Representatives colleagues reduced the effectiveness of the Senate as a house of review, as senators were bound by decisions made at joint party meetings and this influenced subsequent debate in the Senate.[10]

Mattner pursued an interest in foreign affairs through his participation on parliamentary committees and delegations. Critical that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs had not provided senators with facts and figures on problems relating to Australia’s region, he became a member of the committee from 1959 to 1962 and between 1965 and 1968. He considered that Labor’s boycott of the committee throughout most of this period prevented it from ‘render[ing] a great service to the Parliament in relation to defence matters’. Mattner participated in a parliamentary delegation to New Guinea in 1957 and was a member of Australian delegations to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences held in Nigeria in 1962 and in South East Asia in July 1964. While affirming his support for the American and Australian effort in Vietnam, Mattner promoted closer diplomatic and economic ties with Australia’s neighbours in India and South East Asia, advocating the teaching of Asian languages at Australian schools and universities.[11]

Mattner left the Senate in 1968 at the conclusion of his term. He continued to have an active life on his Balhannah farm before retiring to nearby Woodside. A ‘kindly’ and ‘jovial’ man, he retained a ‘keen interest in the activities of Canberra’ and returned at least once a year to renew his many associations. He died at the Repatriation General Hospital in Daw Park, Adelaide, on 21 December 1977, and was cremated at Centennial Park in Adelaide. He was survived by his six children. Lorna had died in 1970. It was appropriate that Mattner’s death notice referred to his military honours and the fact that he had belonged to both the First and the Second AIF.[12]

Gillian Gould

[1] Frank Bongiorno, ‘Mattner, Edward William’, ADB, vol. 15; Max Mattner, Donald Ross and Leona Coleman, The Mattners in Australia 1839–1980: A History of Pioneer Families and a Record of their Descendants, Mattner Family Reunion Committee, Adelaide, 1981, pp. 502–4; Carol Brockhoff, Oakbank, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1990, pp. 27, 70; The editor acknowledges the assistance of William Pearce, Archivist, Adelaide High School; Mattner, Edward William—Defence Service Record, B883, NAA; Bill Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War, ANU Press, Canberra, 1974, p. 230.

[2] Carol Brockhoff, Balhannah, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1989, pp. 79–80, 97; Caroline Guerin, One Hundred Years on the Land: The History of the Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, Advisory Board of Agriculture, Adelaide, 1988, pp. 8, 15, 228, 255; Agricultural Bureau of South Australia, Branch rolls, 1935–36, 1939–40, GRG 10/51, SLSA; Carol Brockhoff, Under the Gums: Oakbank Area School 1938–1988, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1987, p. 21; CPD, 22 Feb. 1978, pp. 11–13.

[3] John F. Williams, German Anzacs and the First World War, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003, pp. 78, 174–5, 289.

[4] Liberal Party, SA division, Records, SRG 168/1/36, 43–4, SLSA; CPD, 22 Nov. 1944, p. 1931.

[5] CPD, 30 Nov. 1944, pp. 2432–6, 28 Feb. 1945, pp. 131–2, 12 Sept. 1945, p. 5280, 19 June 1946, pp. 1544–5, 5 July 1946, pp. 2271–5.

[6] CPD, 12 June 1951, pp. 6–9.

[7] CT, 18 June 1951, p. 1; CPD, 26 Sept. 1951, p. 5, 24 Oct. 1951, p. 1035; Harry Evans (ed.), Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 12th edn, Department of the Senate, Canberra, 2008, pp. 207, 493–4; CPD, 10 Sept. 1952, pp. 1173–4, 21 Nov. 1951, p. 2375, 23 Nov. 1951, p. 2650, 4 Mar. 1952, p. 683, 23 Oct. 1952, pp. 3647–8; J. R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, 5th edn, AGPS, Canberra, 1976, pp. 381–5; Senate, Journals, 11 Sept. 1952, pp. 208–9; CPD, 11 Sept. 1952, pp. 1265–6, 21 Oct. 1952, p. 3365, 25 Aug. 1964, pp. 208–9.

[8] CPD, 8 Sept. 1953, pp. 4–5; SMH, 9 Sept. 1953, p. 3; Age (Melb.), 9 Sept. 1953, p. 3; CPD, 1 Nov. 1951, p. 1415; Argus (Melb.), 9 Sept. 1953, p. 7.

[9] CPD, 19 Oct. 1955, p. 583, 6 Mar. 1962, pp. 331–2, 16 Sept. 1959, pp. 592–5, 14 Oct. 1953, pp. 527–30, 5 May 1955, pp. 232–6, 8 Mar. 1961, pp. 33–4, 17 Mar. 1960, pp. 275–6, 10 Sept. 1963, pp. 387–8, 1 May 1968, pp. 726–8, 7 Sept. 1960, pp. 467–71, 22 Feb. 1978, p. 11.

[10] CPD, 15 Sept. 1954, pp. 322–3, 327, 16 Nov. 1960, pp. 1578, 1584, 2 Dec. 1965, pp. 2008–10, 7 Mar. 1967, pp. 313–14, 8 Mar. 1967, pp. 322–6, 29 Sept. 1954, pp. 581–2.

[11] CPD, 29 Sept. 1954, p. 581, 28 Feb. 1952, p. 517, 30 Oct. 1957 p. 989; Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Official report of the 8th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, 1962; CPD, 18 Aug. 1964, p. 82, 6 Apr. 1965, p. 301, 22 Feb. 1967, pp. 54–7, 28 Apr. 1959, pp. 1069, 1071.

[12] Advertiser (Adel.), 22 Dec. 1977, p. 12; CPD, 22 Feb. 1978, pp. 11–12, 13 June 1968, p. 1806.

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. 188-192.

MATTNER, Edward William (1893–1977)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for South Australia, 1944–46, 1950–68

President of the Senate, 1951–53

Senate Committee Service

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1945–46, 1965–68

Standing Orders Committee, 1950–53

House Committee, 1951–53

Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, 1951–53

Library Committee, 1951–53

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, 1959–62, 1965–68