McBRIDE, Sir Philip Albert Martin (1892–1982)
Senator for South Australia, 1937–44 (United Australia Party)

Philip Albert Martin McBride, pastoralist and businessman, spent seven years as a senator and overall eighteen as a member of the House of Representatives. He was influential in both houses, but the highpoint of his career centred on his ministerial appointments during the Cold War.

McBride was born on 18 June 1892, at Kooringa, Burra, South Australia, the first child of Albert James McBride, pastoralist and businessman, and his wife Louisa, née Lane. Philip attended Burra Public School and later Prince Alfred College in Adelaide. After leaving school he worked alongside his father, gaining experience in all aspects of the pastoral industry. In 1915 he was taken into partnership by his father to assist in the management of a number of family-owned pastoral enterprises. Five years later, in 1920, the partnership was formed into a company, A. J. and P. A. McBride, with father and son as joint managing directors. The company ‘operated as a sheep grazing enterprise conducted essentially in the arid pastoral zone of South Australia’. Following the death of his father in 1928, McBride was appointed chairman of the company, a position he held for fifty years. By 1920 the company had become a member of the Stockowners’ Association of South Australia, an organisation that watched ‘all proposed legislation affecting Stockowners’. Active on several of the asociation’s committees, McBride served two terms as president (1929-31) and throughout the 1930s represented the association on the Australian Woolgrowers’ Council.

These interests led to his turning to politics, and in 1927 he contested the House of Assembly seat of Newcastle as a Liberal candidate. He campaigned with promises to bring an end to financial mismanagement of the state by the Labor Party and for ‘a fair deal in the transfer of pastoral and perpetual leases’, but he was not elected. When he contested the state seat of Burra Burra in 1930, the Burra Record commented: ‘His knowledge and sympathy with the man on the land combined with his business experience and acquaintance with public affairs equip him splendidly to represent a rural constituency’. Again he was unsuccessful. In 1931 McBride was invited by the newly formed United Australia Party to contest the federal seat of Grey for the House of Representatives. Standing under the auspices of the Emergency Committee, a coalition of non-Labor parties and groups (of which he was a member), McBride gained Grey as part of a landslide win for the UAP, and in 1934 he was re-elected as a Liberal and Country League candidate. As the league permitted its federal candidates to regard themselves as either UAP or Country Party, McBride was known federally as a member of the UAP.[1]

During his early years in Parliament, as the representative of one of the largest electorates in Australia and a primary producing constituency, McBride argued strongly for government assistance: ‘It is to our primary industries that we must look for the restoration of the prosperity which is so much desired’. With the Depression at its height, he saw assistance to farmers as a way of relieving unemployment. He welcomed the Government’s cuts in taxes, especially land tax, and the assistance to primary producers set out in the Financial Relief Bill of 1932. McBride’s greatest concern was for the ailing wheat industry, with the wool industry a close second. He supported a motion in 1933 (suggested by the Commonwealth Wool Inquiry Committee) for reducing interest rates on woolgrowers’ mortgages. Opposed to price-fixing, bounties and compulsory marketing pools, he was on the alert for export opportunities for primary industry, and in an effort to reduce production costs, advocated a downgrading of the tariff, and the implementation of the Ottawa Agreement. In 1936 he protested against the Lyons Government’s trade diversion policies.[2]

Immediately prior to the October 1937 general election, McBride arranged to swap places with Country Party senator, A. O. Badman. In a remarkable political bargain, Badman resigned his seat in the Senate on 30 September 1937 in order to contest Grey, while McBride was elected unopposed at a joint sitting of the two houses of the South Australian Parliament to fill the casual vacancy caused by Badman’s resignation. The episode illustrates, as Geoffrey Sawer has written, ‘the artificiality of distinctions between Country Party and UAP so far as some States and types of representative were concerned; Badman and McBride were both graziers’. Both were elected, McBride to the six-year term that followed the casual vacancy.

Moving the Address-in-Reply on 1 December 1937, McBride advised the Lyons Government ‘to show a greater disposition to take the advice of the Senate than it has shown in the past’. On defence policy, he argued that it was ‘essential that Australia should endeavour to make the fullest contribution within its capacity towards assisting the Old Country’. He welcomed the Government’s proposal ‘to introduce an insurance scheme concerning old-age and health’. (Later, he said he regarded this as ‘the greatest piece of social legislation ever placed upon the statute-book in Australia’.) He cited anomalies in recommendations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission and supported the decision to reconstitute the Inter-State Commission. He called for uniform regulation of air transport.[3]

Following the death of Lyons in April 1939, McBride became an Honorary Minister (assisting the Minister for Commerce) in the new Menzies Government of 26 April. He would also represent in the Senate, the Postmaster-General and the ministers for Health, Social Services, and Aviation. McBride, unlike his colleague A. J. McLachlan a few months previously, made a point of resigning from directorships of public companies—Elder Smith and Company, Elder’s Trustee and Executor Company, Adelaide Steamship Company and Wallaroo-Mount Lyell Fertilisers; no breath of conflict of interest would touch him. He was now much occupied with presenting government legislation to the Senate, and during 1939 introduced more than half of the Government’s bills.

Much of his time was spent participating in lengthy debate on the establishment of a department of supply and development, which would take over and extend some functions of the Department of Defence. He supported the controversial appointments of some industrialists on the advisory panels formed to investigate defence works, stressing that they would be acting in a strictly advisory capacity as experts in the field. In Menzies’ new ministry of March 1940 McBride, continuing as Honorary Minister, also represented in the Senate the portfolios of Treasurer, Minister for Commerce, Postmaster-General and Minister for Health. As defence expenditures mounted, the Government was forced to obtain finance through increases in customs duties and taxes. In May 1940 McBride presented to the Senate the financial statement, which outlined the Government’s taxation proposals, introducing the associated legislation adopted by the Government to finance the war. In December he became a member of the newly formed Economic Cabinet.

In August 1940, following the tragic deaths of three ministers (H. S. Gullett, G. A. Street and J. V. Fairbairn) in an air crash at Canberra, McBride was appointed Minister for the Army and Minister for Repatriation, while remaining Minister Assisting the Minister for Commerce. He also became a member of the War Cabinet. After the 1940 general election he was Minister for Munitions and Minister for Supply and Development. He was reappointed to the War Cabinet in 1941 and between August and October was a member of the Advisory War Council. Along with Senator McLeay, McBride was credited with attracting industry to South Australia in the early years of the war. He certainly participated in matters such as the establishment of the Morgan-Whyalla water scheme in South Australia and the stabilisation of the wheat industry.[4]

During 1940 and 1941 his main concerns related to those of a nation at war. These included the recruitment of munitions workers, the manufacture of explosives and essential machinery, the necessity to import items not produced in Australia, as well as the associated domestic issues of petrol rationing, gas producer units on vehicles, food and petrol storage, the production of power alcohol, and the assignment of the manufacture of munitions and other war industries to the states.

With the advent of the Curtin Government, McBride became Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. He criticised Labor for its inflationary economic policy, its ‘savage imposition of taxes on higher incomes’, and the impact of company tax upon businesses that had invested money in equipment for munitions manufacture. He claimed Labor did not appreciate the seriousness of the war and criticised the Government for being unable to control industrial stoppages in the coalmining industry and on the waterfront. With ideological differences between the parties becoming acute, McBride protested at the Government’s attempt to circumvent the arbitration system by using regulations to establish the Women’s Employment Board, which set the wages and conditions of women in industry.[5]

Suffering defeat at the general election of August 1943, McBride lost his position as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in September, although he held his place in the Senate until 30 June 1944. He left the Senate with ‘very real regret’, but did not make himself available to fill the casual vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Uppill in September 1944. Having backed Menzies during the leadership crisis of 1941 and the fragmentation of the United Australia Party in 1943, McBride now supported the organisation of the new Liberal Party and became a member of its provisional executive. Away from political life, he resumed his business activities, and was appointed chairman of Elder, Smith and Company in 1944 and director of Elder’s Trustee and Executor Company, and to the boards of Adelaide Steamship Company and Wallaroo-Mt Lyell Fertilisers in 1945.

In September 1946 he was elected to the House of Representatives seat of Wakefield. When the Menzies Government took office in December 1949 McBride was initially appointed Minister for the Interior, but by October 1950 was Minister for Defence (he had been acting in the portfolio since April). From May to July 1951 he served as Minister for the Navy and as Minister for Air. He again resigned from the various company boards. On 28 September 1954 McBride gave a significant speech in the House of Representatives, which, according to a later defence analyst, ‘spelt out in simplistic terms the government’s fears and beliefs which were the basis of Australian strategy for nearly 20 years thereafter’. Also in 1954 he was appointed KCMG. In September 1956 McBride was a candidate for the position of deputy leader of the federal Parliamentary Liberal Party, but the ballot was won by the Minister for Labour and National Service, Harold Holt.[6]

As Minister for Defence, McBride presided over efforts to expand the armed services, and the commitment of forces to Korea and Malaya. However, he was reluctant to extend Australian forces further, opposing Menzies’ commitment to Britain in the Suez Crisis of 1956. In 1958, reviewing the defence estimates, and his own tenure as minister, McBride stated: ‘The fundamental objective of Australian defence policy is to ensure the security of Australian territory and waters’. He did not think global war likely due to the nuclear stalemate between the Western powers and the communist bloc, but highlighted the threat of communist insurgencies, backed by Russia and China, in South-East Asia—hence the importance of ANZUS and SEATO. He outlined past and present defence positions, including an ongoing commitment to the British atomic tests at Maralinga, and placed Australia firmly within the Western alliance.[7]

During this period McBride established himself as one of Menzies’ ablest advisers in Cabinet. Nonetheless, his administration of the Department of Defence was fraught with difficulty. Australia’s defence structure, involving six departments, was unwieldy, and relations between the Department of Defence in Melbourne and the Department of External Affairs in Canberra were strained. Moreover, McBride was subject to Menzies’ demands on the one hand, and on the other to the influence of Sir Frederick Shedden, Secretary of the Department of Defence since 1937 and long regarded as ‘the unchallenged Czar of the Australian defence set-up’. McBride’s reaction to these competing interests was to play the role of coordinator rather than leader. In the mid-1950s the Department of Defence—and the Minister—came under increasing criticism, forcing the Government to appoint the Morshead Committee in November 1957, which recommended the reorganisation of the defence structure.[8]

In May 1958 McBride announced that he would not contest the next election ‘for private and personal reasons’. He was influenced by Menzies’ decision to appoint a younger man to the defence portfolio following the recommendations of the Morshead Committee for a drastic change in defence arrangements, and doubtless by the knowledge that Menzies no longer needed him, as Menzies’ biographer, A. W. Martin, makes clear. He ceased to be a member of the House of Representatives in November 1958, but retained the defence portfolio until the formation of the new ministry in December. In September he had been appointed one of the two vice-presidents of the Liberal Party, and would be president from 1960 to 1965. On the announcement of McBride’s retirement, Menzies commented that Sir Philip:

had a remarkable record of service to the Australian people to which he has brought great knowledge, good judgment, wide experience, and high personal and political integrity. It is perhaps true to say that only those who have sat in Cabinet with him for many years completely understand the great value of his mind and character.[9]

After leaving Parliament McBride rejoined the boards of the several public companies with which he had been associated previously, again becoming chairman of Elder, Smith and Company, and first chairman of Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort. He was also a director of the Bank of Adelaide. He was created Privy Councillor in 1959, and in 1978 retired as chairman of A. J. and P. A. McBride. McBride died on 14 July 1982, aged ninety, at McBride Hospital, Medindie, and was cremated privately at Centennial Park after a funeral service at the Malvern Uniting Church. He was survived by his wife Rita Irene (Rene), née Crewes, whom he had married at the Methodist Church, Kooringa, on 16 December 1914, and by two of his three sons, Philip Albert, and Peter. Keith Martin had died on active service with 450 Squadron, RAAF, in February 1942.

Throughout McBride’s political career, which spanned nearly twenty-five years, nine parliaments and numerous ministerial appointments, he remained the loyal friend and supporter of R. G. Menzies, and ‘a leading member of the inner circle of senior ministerial colleagues whom the Prime Minister consulted in framing major policy recommendations for submission to Cabinet’. In politics, he was versatile, meticulous and reliable. Though ‘never a flamboyant political figure’, McBride prompted one political reporter in Canberra to remark: ‘He has left national politics without having made an enemy’.[10]

Prudence McDonald and Zaiga Sudrabs


[1] Faraway and Beyond, A. J. & P. A. McBride Pty Ltd, [Adelaide], 1980, pp. 9-22, 25, 111; Stockowners’ Association of South Australia, annual reports, SLSA; Transcontinental (Port Augusta), 18 Mar. 1927, pp. 1, 2; Burra Record, 26 Mar. 1930, p. 4; A. Grenfell Price, ‘The Emergency Committee of South Australia and the Origin of the Premiers’ Plan, 1931-2’, South Australiana, Mar. 1978, p. 32, and photograph.

[2] CPD, 11 Mar. 1932, pp. 1032-3, 25 Nov. 1932, pp. 2896-8, 30 Nov. & 1 Dec. 1932, pp. 3243-5, 29 Sept. 1932, pp. 1012-13, 10 Mar. 1933, pp. 147-8; CPP, Report of the Commonwealth Wool Inquiry Committee, 1932; CPD, 15 Nov. 1932, pp. 2309-13, 25 Nov. 1936, pp. 2327-30; Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1929–1949, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1963, p. 88.

[3] Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1929–1949, p. 99; SAPP, Report of the Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament, 21 Oct. 1937; CPD, 1 Dec. 1937, pp. 20-5, 16 June 1939, p. 2045.

[4] CPD, 1 May 1939, p. 24; Faraway and Beyond, p. 20; Interview with Sir Philip McBride, 1974, TRC 290, NLA; CPD, 17 Apr. 1940, p. 11, 14 May 1940, pp. 739-41, 16 May 1940, pp. 906-10, 30 May 1940, pp. 1529-31, 31 May 1940, pp. 1790-9; Katharine West, Power in the Liberal Party: A Study in Australian Politics, F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1965, pp. 57, 63, 76, 236; CPD, 11 & 12 Dec. 1940, p. 920; Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939-1941, AWM, Canberra, 1952, pp. 572-5, 580.

[5] CPD, 6 Dec. 1940, pp. 509–10, 11 Dec. 1940, pp. 887–8, 13 Mar. 1941, p. 212, 12 Mar. 1941, p. 11, 8 Oct. 1941, p. 723, 12 Nov. 1941, pp. 239-44, 6 May 1942, pp. 853-7, 5 Mar. 1942, pp. 111-13, 23 Sept. 1942, pp. 792-5, 2 Oct. 1942, pp. 1368-70.

[6] CPD, 30 Mar. 1944, p. 2326; Advertiser (Adel.), 22 Sept. 1944, p. 7; A. W. Martin, Robert Menzies: A Life, vol. 1, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1993, p. 382; Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945, AWM, Canberra, 1970, p. 357; Percy Spender, Politics and a Man, Collins, Sydney, 1972, p. 201; Advertiser (Adel.), 18 Dec. 1944, p. 5, 8 Dec. 1944, p. 6, 1 Jan. 1945, p. 5, 6 Feb. 1945, p. 4, 30 May 1945, p. 8; A. W. Martin, Robert Menzies: A Life, vol. 2, MUP, Carlton South, Vic., 1999, p. 130; CPD, 21 Apr. 1950, p. 1773; Advertiser (Adel.), 12 Jan. 1950, p. 3, 17 Jan. 1950, p. 2; T. B. Millar, Australia in Peace and War: External Relations since 1788, 2nd edn, ANU Press, 1991, p. 200; CPD, 28 Sept. 1954 (R), pp. 1629–36; Herald (Melb.), 2 Jan. 1953, p. 4; SMH, 27 Sept. 1956, p. 3.

[7] Robert O’Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vol. 1, AWM and AGPS, Canberra, 1981, p. 75; CPD, 29 Nov. 1950, pp. 3321-6, 21 Feb. 1952, pp. 180-9, 16 May 1956 (R), pp. 2087-91, 11 Sept. 1956 (R), pp. 367-72, 22 Oct. 1957 (R), pp. 1592-600, 27 Mar. 1958 (R), pp. 775-9, 10 Sept. 1958 (R), pp. 1075-80.

[8] Herald (Melb.), 11 Aug. 1950, p. 4; Sir John McEwen, John McEwen: His Story, privately published, 1983, pp. 34, 42; Sir John Bunting, R. G. Menzies: A Portrait, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1988, p. 88; Paul Hasluck, The Chance of Politics, ed. Nicholas Hasluck, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1997, pp. 74-6; Letters between McBride and Sir John Latham, Latham Papers, MS 1009/1/ 5310, 7746, 7747, 7798, NLA; Eric Andrews, The Department of Defence, OUP, Melbourne, 2001, pp. 123-74, 304-6.

[9] Advertiser (Adel.), 10 May 1958, p. 1, 1 Oct. 1958, p. 2; Martin, Robert Menzies: A Life, vol. 2, p. 368; CT, 12 May 1958, p. 1.

[10] Faraway and Beyond, pp. 20, 25; Martin, Robert Menzies: A Life, vol. 2, p. 468; Graeme Starr, The Liberal Party of Australia: A Documentary History, Drummond Heinemann, Richmond, Vic., 1980, pp. 177-9, 209-10, 219-20; Advertiser (Adel.), 15 July 1982, p. 3; CT, 17 July 1982, p. 12; Ian Hancock, National and Permanent? The Federal Organisation of the Liberal Party of Australia, 1944-1965, MUP, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, p. 163; Robert Gordon Menzies, The Measure of the Years, Cassell Australia, North Melbourne, Vic., 1970, p. 35; Scott Prasser, J. R. Nethercote and John Warhurst (eds), The Menzies Era: A Reappraisal of Government, Politics and Policy, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1995, p. 131; CPD, 17 Aug. 1982, pp. 5-6, 17 Aug. 1982 (R), pp. 6-8; Advertiser (Adel.), 13 Nov. 1965, p. 2.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 288-293.

McBRIDE, Sir Philip Albert Martin (1892–1982)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, SA, 1937–44

Member of the House of Representatives for Grey, SA, 1931–37; Wakefield, SA, 1946–58

Minister Without Portfolio Assisting the Minister for Commerce, 1939–40

Minister for the Army, 1940

Minister for Repatriation, 1940

Minister for Supply and Development, 1940–41

Minister for Munitions, 1940–41

Minister for the Interior, 1949–50

Acting Minister for Defence, 1950

Minister for Defence, 1950–58

Minister for the Navy, 1951

Minister for Air, 1951

Senate Committee Service

Printing Committee, 1937–39