NASH, Richard Harry (1890–1951)
Senator for Western Australia, 1943–51 (Australan Labor Party)

Richard Harry Nash was born on 2 July 1890 in Ascot Vale, Victoria, to Harry Avers Nash, a storeman, and Elizabeth Phoebe, née Stroud, who had emigrated from England. In 1897 Dick, as he was known, and his parents arrived in Kalgoorlie. After attending Lake View State School near Boulder, he trained as a junior mechanic, but in 1904 joined the staff of the Kalgoorlie Miner. In 1910 he again changed his occupation when he found employment on the Kalgoorlie tramways. Nash was a founding member of the Kalgoorlie Tramways Employees’ Union, and when, three years later, he moved to Perth, he joined the local tramways union. Soon he was serving as a delegate to the Metropolitan District Council of the Labor Party (Western Australian branch) holding between 1917 and 1943 the positions of trustee, treasurer, president and secretary. Sometime in 1921 or 1922 he became secretary of the Perth Tramways Employees’ Union. Nash also served as acting general secretary of the state ALP in 1939, and was vice-president of the Western Australian branch from 1941 until 1943. He was a member of the Subiaco Municipal Council (1929–32, 1935–44), and stood as the Labor candidate for the seat of Subiaco in the 1930 state election, but was unsuccessful. In addition to his involvement with the labour movement, Nash served on several public committees. These included the Advisory Committee of the Perth Hospital (1939–43), the state’s Manpower Appeal Board (1942–43) and the Advisory Committee for Army Education Services (1942–43).[1]

In the federal election of August 1943, Nash, an endorsed ALP candidate, was successful. Placed third on the poll, he was due to commence his term in the Senate on 1 July 1944. But on 4 July 1943 Senator Cunningham died and Nash was appointed to fill the ensuing casual vacancy. Thus he was sworn in the Senate in September 1943, alongside Senator Dorothy Tangney, who was filling a casual vacancy caused by the defeat of Senator Latham, who in turn had been filling the vacancy in place of Senator Johnston. All these appointments to casual vacancies were made under section 15 of the Australian Constitution, as then constituted, and the arcane electoral provisions contained in the Commonwealth Electoral Act between 1922 and 1948.

Nash made his first speech on 23 September 1943, when he paid tribute to Cunningham, who, he said, ‘politically and industrially . . . always rang true to the working class’. He also endorsed the speech of Dorothy Tangney (the first woman to enter the Senate) who had urged the Government to match its spending on war with its spending on peace. This was a theme to which Nash would return during his term in the Senate.[2]

Although a dedicated Labor man (he strongly supported the Scullin Labor Government’s performance during the Depression), he never failed to remember that a senator represented his state as well as his party. In October 1943 he expressed disappointment that the current Labor Government of his fellow Western Australian, John Curtin, had increased the Commonwealth grant to Western Australia by only £50 000 for the next financial year. He said that his state had not benefited from the Commonwealth’s war expenditure nearly as much as had the eastern states where most of the defence industries had been located. Yet Western Australians had rallied to the war effort. In opposition in 1950, Nash urged the Menzies Government to assist the ailing gold industry in Western Australia and to extend the Commonwealth-owned standard gauge railway line between Kalgoorlie and Perth. He regarded both steps as essential to improving the state’s economy.[3]

Nash’s concerns were evident in his support of social services legislation. In supporting the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Bill of 1944, he showed that the Labor Government and the non-Labor Opposition differed mainly on the extent of the proposed provisions and the means of funding them. The Opposition senators wanted limitations placed on a worker’s eligibility, along the lines of Britain’s Beveridge Plan, whereby an employee had to contribute for six months before becoming eligible for unemployment benefits. The Opposition also wanted benefits to be funded by a special tax. Nash’s memories of the Depression fuelled some of his most eloquent words in Parliament:

In Western Australia we had the spectacle of appeals being made to local government bodies to appoint unemployment committees so that people could go from . . . house to house asking those in employment to make available weekly 1s. or 2s. or [whatever] they could afford, to relieve the plight of the unemployed, because the Governments of Australia could not and would not do anything . . . Do we want to see repeated such an era of degradation and poverty as existed then . . . I submit that this legislation represents the preparatory stage of a plan which is being laid down to meet any crisis of a similar character that may arise.

Debunking the Opposition’s ‘scaremongering’ assertions that the bill, if enacted, could cost Australians £20 million annually, he asked what was that ‘compared with the happiness and prosperity of the people of the Commonwealth in times of peace’.[4]

In April 1945 Nash accompanied the official Australian delegation (comprised of F. M. Forde and H. V. Evatt) to the United Nations Conference on International Organization in San Francisco. Nash was one of a representative group, designated as assistant delegates or consultants, which included the Liberal Party’s Senator McLeay, chosen by, and at the instigation of, the Prime Minister. In San Francisco, Nash was appointed to one of the conference committees, as an ‘alternate’ with the academic, W. McMahon Ball. It appears from the writing of Alan Watt, then Councillor at the Australian Legation in Washington and also present at the conference, that some of the ‘alternates’ were not highly regarded by others in the delegation. Whether Nash was aware of the snobbery that clearly existed we do not know. We do know that he travelled in North America, an experience that confirmed his belief that Australia’s economy would become ‘the best in any country’, and that in Washington, he took a seat in the United States Senate. On his return, he continued to take an interest in international affairs and upheld the United Nations’ role as an educator for peace.[5]

During the debate on the 1947 Banking Bill (passed in Parliament but subsequently overruled by the High Court), Nash, who reiterated his conviction that monetary control should be through the Commonwealth Bank, accused his political opponents of acting not for the people but ‘in the interests of the financial institutions’. ‘Who’, he asked, ‘is to control the credit resources of this country—the government elected by the people, or the private trading banks?’ In October 1947, Nash and two of his Labor colleagues, Senators Clothier and Harris, were attacked by the Perth Daily News for their support of bank nationalisation. Nash was also criticised for stating that there were links between the boards of the private banks and the major daily newspapers. The Sydney Morning Herald refuted his allegation that J. H. Fairfax (a director of the Bank of New South Wales) and E. W. Fairfax (a director of the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney) were directors of its own board.[6]

In an attempt to avoid a simultaneous dissolution, the Labor Party did not oppose the passage of the National Service Bill 1950. Nash felt that the bill did not fulfil its aims of making Australia ready for war, and spoke feelingly of his son Claude, who, he said, had been ‘trained with a broomstick at Northam’ before being sent to Malaya and falling prisoner to the Japanese. Nash said that his son’s experience pointed to the need to train young men to defend themselves. While Nash would never support conscription for military service outside Australia, he had supported Curtin’s move in World War II to send conscripted troops to areas of the south-west Pacific. In 1951 he attacked the Defence Preparations Bill as placing Australia on ‘a war footing at a time of peace’. He was wary of the unlimited scope of the bill’s proposed regulations and questioned their legality on the basis of previous High Court rulings. He did not think the interruption to rubber production in Malaya constituted a state of war. It was, he said, ‘merely a part of a great, world-wide struggle that is about to begin between capital and labour’.[7]

Nash, who held the parliamentary position of a temporary chairman of committees from 1948, was also a member of several parliamentary committees, notably the Senate’s Regulations and Ordinances Committee (1943–51), on which he served as chairman from March 1947 to May 1950. Between June and November 1950 he served also on the Select Committee on the Constitution Alteration (Avoidance of Double Dissolution Deadlocks) Bill, which was made up entirely of Opposition senators, and was used by the Labor majority in the Senate to challenge and publicise the bill itself. For Nash’s part, he was anxious the committee travel to each state, taking evidence.[8]

Nash, unlike many of his Labor colleagues, was returned at the April 1951 election. It was fitting that what would be his last speech in the Senate was on a subject that had always been important to him—conciliation and arbitration. On 29 November 1951, he criticised statements by Senator Agnes Robertson to the effect that the Liberal Party should get busy opposing the ‘original sin’ of the 40‑hour working week. He pointed out that to put pressure on award conditions already granted by the Conciliation and Arbitration Court was likely to foment industrial unrest. He argued against fines of up to £500 for breaches of the bill’s provisions, and stated that union ballots did not need policing. He claimed that some of the provisions indicated interference with the domestic affairs of a trade union.[9]

Not long after this, Parliament adjourned for the Christmas break. On 12 December 1951 Nash died suddenly at his home at 18 Bedford Avenue in the Perth suburb of Subiaco. After a service at the Private Chapel, Subiaco, he was buried in the Anglican section of the Karrakatta Cemetery. In 1913 Nash had married Ruby Piper, at St Matthew’s Church of England, in Boulder, Western Australia. The couple had six children. His wife, and daughter Ruby, survived him, as did his sons, William, Leonard and Keith. His other sons, Claude and Arthur, had died on active service during World War II, Claude as a prisoner of war. Both non-Labor and Labor senators remembered Nash as a great friend, ‘cheery and kindly’, a man who bore the grief of losing two sons ‘without a trace of bitterness’ and ‘continued his work with unremitting devotion’. Dick Nash, one said, was not a man to make enemies. In the House of Representatives, H. V. Evatt referred to Nash’s keen interest in the founding of the United Nations.

When the Western Australian Parliament met to elect a senator to replace Nash, the Liberal–Country Party Government under Ross McLarty, with Prime Minister Menzies’ approval, decided to establish the convention that deceased senators should be replaced by a member of the same party. In 1977 the practice was provided for by the Australian Constitution.[10]

Bobbie Oliver

[1] West Australian (Perth), 13 Dec. 1951, p. 2; ALP (WA), State Executive Correspondence Files, 1719A/29 and 3504A/31 (1939), Battye Library, LISWA; Information provided by Di Jowett, City of Subiaco; CPD, 6 Feb. 1952, pp. 5–6, 26 Feb. 1952, p. 300.

[2] ALP (WA), State Executive Correspondence Files, 1719A/17/5, Battye Library, LISWA; West Australian (Perth), 31 July 1943, p. 6, 7 Aug. 1943, p. 4, 25 Aug. 1943, p. 3; Westralian Worker (Kalgoorlie), 27 Aug. 1943, p. 2; CPD, 23 Sept. 1943, pp. 13–14, 8 Aug. 1946, p. 3957, 24 Sept. 1943, pp. 30–9, 16 Feb. 1944, p. 203.

[3] CPD, 13 Oct. 1943, pp. 399–401, 9 Aug. 1946, pp. 4151–2, 9 Nov. 1950, pp. 2157–61.

[4] CPD, 19 July 1944, p. 617, 13 Oct. 1948, pp. 1485–6, 21 June 1951, p. 198, 16 Feb. 1944, pp. 200–4; Beveridge Report: Summary of Principles and Proposals, Labour Party (Britain), Victoria House Printing, London, 1943.

[5] CPP, Report by the Australian delegates of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, 1945; H. V. Evatt, Australia in World Affairs, A & R, London, 1946, pp. 38–55; T. B. Millar, Australia in Peace and War: External Relations 1788–1977, ANU Press, Canberra, 1978, pp. 155–8; Alan Watt, The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy 1938–1965, CUP, Cambridge, 1967, pp. 78–84; CPD, 1 Mar. 1945, p. 231, 12 Sept. 1945, pp. 5274–9, 2 Mar. 1949, p. 831, 10 Mar. 1949, pp. 1248–9.

[6] CPD, 20 Nov. 1947, pp. 2351–6; Bank of NSW v. Commonwealth (1948) 76 CLR 1; John Faulkner and Stuart Macintyre (eds), True Believers: The Story of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 2001, p. 88; C. L. Mobbs (comp.), Commonwealth Bank of Australia in the Second World War, John Sands, Sydney, 1947, pp. 12–26; Daily News (Perth), 14 Oct. 1947, p. 10, 22 Nov. 1947, p. 9; SMH, 27 Nov. 1947, p. 6; CPD, 11 May 1950, pp. 2422–7, 25 May 1950, p. 3156, 13 Mar. 1951, pp. 296–303, 10 July 1951, pp. 1153–8.

[7] CPD, 8 Mar. 1951, pp. 127–32, 13 July 1951, pp. 1701–3, 14 July 1951, pp. 1742–3.

[8] Senate, Journals, 2 Sept. 1948, 2 Mar. 1950, 20 June 1951; CPD, 30 Apr. 1947, p. 1689, 29 May 1947, pp. 3096–7; CPP, Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, reports, 1947, 1949, 1982, Select Committee on the Constitution Alteration (Avoidance of Double Dissolution Deadlocks) Bill, reports, 1950; J. R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, 2nd edn, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, 1959, pp. 17, 26–8; G. S. Reid and Martyn Forrest, Australia’s Commonwealth Parliament 1901–1988, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1989, pp. 78, 214–15; Senate, Journals, 21 June 1950; SMH, 6 Oct. 1950, p. 4; CPD, 28 Nov. 1950, p. 3096, 5 Oct. 1950, pp. 337–9.

[9] CPD, 29 Nov. 1951, pp. 3003–6, 11 July 1951, pp. 1309–12.

[10] West Australian (Perth), 13 Dec. 1951, pp. 2, 20; Commemorative Information—Claude Nash, Office of Australian War Graves, Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs; CPD, 26 Feb. 1952, pp. 299–301, 6 Feb. 1952, pp. 5–7.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 67-71.

NASH, Richard Harry (1890–1951)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, WA, 1943–51

Senate Committee Service

House Committee, 1943–48

Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, 1943–51

Joint Standing Committee on Broadcasting, 1944–46

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1946–47

Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, 1946–49

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

Printing Committee, 1950–51