VINCENT, Victor Seddon (1906–1964)
Senator for Western Australia, 1950–64 (Liberal Party of Australia)
Victor Seddon Vincent, known as Seddon, was a Kalgoorlie-based lawyer, widely known and highly regarded throughout the eastern goldfields of Western Australia. He was an excellent speaker and incisive debater, with broad cultural interests. Vincent was born in the goldfields town of Leonora on 1 June 1906, and retained close ties to the goldfields for the rest of his life. His father, Victor Franklin Vincent, was an accountant and an agent for an insurance and trading company. His mother Ethel, née Williams, died before Vincent was five years old. This may explain his lifelong attachment to an older sister, Hazel, affectionately known as Nita.
Vincent received his primary education at Leonora and was then enrolled as a day boy at Scotch College, Perth, in 1920. During his four years there, he distinguished himself as a sportsman. The Scotch College Reporter noted his ‘fine, long kick’, marking, ground work and strength that enabled him ‘to break through the crushes’, qualities that made him attractive to the Claremont/Cottesloe Football Club, for whom he later played thirty-two games of Australian rules football between 1926 and 1928. A photograph of the 1926 team shows him physically dominating the third row in both height and weight.
Vincent gained a surf lifesaving bronze medallion with the Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club, was a member of its rescue and resuscitation team, which won the 1926 to 1927 state title, and he was Cottesloe’s standard bearer in the grand parade team that won the 1928 state title. He played rugby union at state level, was a very good golfer and hockey player, and played cricket and tennis until he was in his forties. Sport was not his only recreation. On a school football tour to the Northam district in 1923, Vincent’s talent for classical piano was ‘a startling revelation’ for his team-mates.
After passing the Leaving examination in 1923, Vincent entered the Faculty of Arts at the University of Western Australia, studying part-time while working as an articled clerk with Leonard Goold of Weld Chambers, Perth. When the new law faculty opened at UWA in 1928, he transferred to the LLB course, although he did not finish the degree. He was admitted to the Bar in September 1930.
As a member of J. J. Simons’ Young Australia League, an organisation dedicated to ‘education through travel’, Vincent was one of 132 Australian boys, a third of them from Western Australia, who participated in a league tour of France, Italy, Switzerland and Britain from December 1924 until July 1925. Vincent possessed prodigious energy. During the 1920s he combined work, study and multiple sporting activities with membership of the Citizen Military Forces, in which he had reached the rank of lieutenant by the time of his resignation in 1929.
On 4 April 1931Vincent married Freda May Harriet Treadgold in St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Perth. The couple went to Kellerberrin in the Western Australian wheat belt where Vincent practised law and Freda taught speech and drama. In 1937 they moved to Kalgoorlie. During 1937 and 1938 Vincent assisted Paul Hasluck in initiating and promoting the Western Australian Drama Festival. Vincent established a practice in the AMP building in Maritana Street. In September 1940 he joined the RAAF's administrative and special duties branch, serving in Australia and then briefly in New Guinea. In 1942 he became Director of Staff Duties at RAAF Headquarters in Melbourne and in October 1943 was promoted to acting wing commander. In September 1944 Vincent was one of four members of a committee of armed service representatives organised by Paul Hasluck, then an officer with the Department of External Affairs, to discuss postwar world organisation in the light of the recommendations of the Dumbarton Oaks conference held the previous month. Other committee members included Alf Conlon and John Kerr. Vincent was discharged in October 1945 with the rank of Squadron Leader and resumed his law practice in Kalgoorlie. He and Freda had been influential in shaping the young Goldfields Repertory Club and assisted in its resurrection after a wartime recess. Freda’s production of Ladies in Retirement was highly commended at the 1951 Commonwealth jubilee amateur theatrical competition in Hobart and their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was well received at the 1960 Festival of Perth.
Vincent had been an active campaigner for the Western Australian secession movement in the early 1930s. A member of the Kalgoorlie town council from 1946 until 1950, he was vice-president of the Federated Chambers of Commerce of Western Australia from 1949 to 1950. As President of the Kalgoorlie Chamber of Commerce from 1947 to 1949, Vincent made submissions to the Chamber of Mines of Western Australia on assistance to the goldmining industry, and to the 1948 Royal Commission on Betting.
Vincent contested the House of Representatives seat of Kalgoorlie as a Liberal Party candidate in 1946. He had little chance in a blue-ribbon Labor electorate, but campaigned vigorously, and made ‘an excellent impression’, focusing on issues of tax reduction, abolition of the means test for aged pensions, and improved pensions and land settlement provisions for ex-servicemen. By the time he stood for the Senate, he was respected for his professional and community service and his interest in the welfare of others. Having served from 1947 as president of the Kalgoorlie branch of the Liberal Party and as a member of the state executive, he was an ideal candidate to contest the 1949 federal election for the Liberal and Country League (LCL). It was at this election that proportional representation replaced the preferential electoral system as the method of electing senators, and at which the number of senators from each state was increased from six to ten. In the 1943 and 1946 elections, all senators elected from Western Australia were affiliated with the Labor Party. In 1949 the LCL–Country Party coalition, with Vincent third on the ticket, broke the ALP’s hold, securing four of the seven available seats.
Vincent was sworn in the Senate on 6 July 1950, almost seven months after the election of the Menzies Government. He was re-elected after the double dissolution of 1951, and at the general elections of 1955 and 1961. His first speech was a robust defence of the Communist Party Dissolution (No. 2) Bill. He took particular issue with Opposition claims that the legislation reversed the onus of proof by requiring individuals to prove that they were not communists, arguing that it was not ‘an inflexible rule of British justice in criminal cases that the onus of proof shall rest on the Crown’. He concluded by stating, ‘Any man … who comes into this chamber and opposes this bill must be regarded as a potential traitor to this country’, an assertion he, reluctantly, had to withdraw. Government intervention in business and industry, and especially banking, was anathema to him. He viewed socialised enterprise as little different from communism, and incompatible with individual freedom. In an election speech in 1949, he said, ‘Labour cannot socialise the means of production without socialising men and women, and you cannot have a controlled economy along Russian lines … without controlling human beings’, and ten years later, he expatiated in the chamber on the need to protect ‘not only the private trading banks but also all private industry, from destruction by the socialist monster’.
Uncompromising anti-communism was a keystone of Vincent’s regular contributions to debates on foreign affairs. Speaking in support of the establishment of SEATO, he approved of the treaty’s provisions allowing for intervention in the affairs of a country facing what he described as ‘internal subversion by international communism’. He also saw the significance of the treaty as one of the first collective security measures enacted by Australia with Asian nations. In 1957 he declared that he ‘whole-heartedly’ supported Britain and France in their abortive Suez Canal invasion of the previous year, and was critical of the role of the United Nations. He argued that the actions of the United States during the Suez crisis demonstrated that Australia could no longer assume that ‘in all circumstances the great American nation will turn out and fight for us’, and that ‘we must be prepared at times to stand alone’, or else rely on closer defence ties with other members of the Commonwealth. In a debate on the Middle East in August 1958, Vincent showed no sympathy for arguments that nations in the region had some right to the oil produced from their land: ‘I utterly reject the suggestion that any one has a right to that oil except those who are entitled to it by international law—that is, the British, American and Dutch oil interests’. He believed that the Western powers should be prepared to use force ‘to keep the Middle East clear of Communists’, concluding that ‘the only solution to the preservation of peace in the Middle East is a good bayonet with a rifle on the end of it’. When Senator O’Byrne called him a ‘sabre-rattler’, Vincent accused O’Byrne, an amiable old-style socialist, of preaching ‘the Communist doctrine in this Senate at every possible opportunity’. If passionate, he was also prescient. At a public meeting in the early 1960s he forecast the defeat of the USSR in the Cold War, arguing that the stronger American economy would prevail in the long run.
On domestic issues, Vincent’s contributions were often temperate, carefully considered and highly constructive. This was especially evident during debate on divorce and marriage legislation. Drawing on twenty-seven years as a divorce lawyer, Vincent was anxious that marriage and divorce provisions be applied fairly and equitably to all. His perceptive and balanced second reading speech on the 1959 Matrimonial Causes Bill emphasised the difficulty of apportioning blame for the breakdown of a marriage, and helped secure the passage of a clause allowing five years separation to be claimed as grounds for divorce. In the committee discussion of the bill, Vincent forcefully rebutted arguments for an amendment proposed by Senator Hannan that sought to increase the period of desertion from two to three years. The amendment was defeated. During the debate on the 1961 Marriage Bill he promoted provisions ensuring that deaf, mute and non-English speakers would not be disadvantaged, and that children of parents whose overseas marriages were not recognised in Australia would be legitimised.
According to Senator Paltridge, Vincent’s colleague and sometime rival, Vincent possessed a ‘profound’ knowledge of the goldmining industry, and ‘was an unchallenged authority on the subject’. In 1962, supporting the continuation of the goldmining subsidy, he lamented the failure to ensure the maintenance of ore reserves. He urged that future subsidisation policy should seek both the continuation of existing production levels and the provision of ‘proper stimuli’ for exploration and fresh development.
Vincent defended the rights of Parliament against the encroachments of the Executive. In 1954 he was one of several government senators who crossed the floor in opposition to legislation giving the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture the right to give directions to members of the Australian Wheat Board. Vincent argued that the ‘absolute control’ given to the minister would permit irresponsible actions. Three years later, he was one of a minority of government senators who voted against a clause in the Commonwealth Grants Commission Bill on the grounds that it took away Parliament’s right to scrutinise the payment of the commission’s officers.
A keen committee man, between 1954 and 1955 he was a member of the Senate Select Committee on the Development of Canberra. He was concerned that the ‘garden’ ambience of the city should be maintained, and submitted a dissenting report on the committee’s proposal to erect multi-storied residential apartments in Canberra. In October 1962 Vincent served as chairman of the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Minister for the Interior, Gordon Freeth, that the committee should be able to initiate its own investigations instead of relying on references from the minister. From at least 1961 until 1963, he was a member of the Liberal Party’s Joint Standing Committee on Federal Policy.
Vincent’s principal legacy is the report he wrote as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television. The committee’s report, released on 29 October 1963, was broad in scope and far-reaching in its effect on the future of the performing arts in Australia. Vincent played a crucial role in guiding the committee’s work. Although unwell throughout the inquiry, he presided over the committee with ‘diplomacy, integrity and devotion to the subject’. The report saw television and film as interrelated but dependent on live theatre, ‘the real home of the actor and the producer’. It recommended that Australian theatre productions should be shown on television; that actors’ pay and conditions should be improved; that young actors and producers of high promise and ability be given scholarships for overseas training (on condition that they return to Australia); and that a comprehensive policy be adopted on assistance to reputable and competent theatrical groups. The committee’s labours received little public acknowledgment. The report ‘was presented in the dying hours of the last Parliament and … in the midst of election fever’. No Cabinet ministers spoke during the debate on the report, and the Government was reluctant to spend any money on implementing the report’s recommendations. The major newspaper groups, who were also owners of commercial television channels likely to be affected by demands to show more local productions, greeted the report ‘with a thunderous silence’. Although the Vincent Report had no initial impact, its long-term influence on national arts policy was seminal. The report arguably influenced those calling for a direct government role in policymaking, especially Vincent’s Liberal Senate colleague and close friend John Gorton who, on becoming Prime Minister in 1968, began the process of establishing the Australian Film and Television School, and made the Australian Council of the Arts operational.
Vincent died at St John of God Hospital, Belmont, on 9 November 1964, his term not due to expire until June 1968. An Anglican funeral service was held at Karrakatta Crematorium Chapel, and a memorial established in the Karrakatta Crematorium Rose Gardens. Freda survived him.
Away from the rigours of Parliament, Vincent grew native wildflowers, on which he was a recognised authority. Although he loved producing plays and sharing a bottle of wine with close friends after rehearsal, music was his first love and he continued to play the piano whenever he could. In 1971 the Seddon Vincent Memorial Theatre for Australian Playwrights was opened at the Parkerville Amphitheatre, near Perth.
 CPD, 10 Nov. 1964, pp. 1557–9, 10 Nov. 1964 (R), pp. 2691–2; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Helen Brown, Scotch College; Jenny Gregory, Building a Tradition: A History of Scotch College, Perth, 1897–1996, UWA Press, Nedlands, WA, 1996, p. 553; Scotch College Reporter, 24 Aug. 1922, p. 32; Kevin Casey, The Tigers’ Tale: The Origins and History of the Claremont Football Club, Claremont Football Club, Claremont, WA, 1995, pp. 19, 231; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Cheryl Mellor, Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club; Scotch College Reporter, 12 Dec. 1923, p. 28; Victor Seddon Vincent, Student file, M10099799, UWA Archives; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Mary-Anne Paton, Legal Practice Board, WA; Lyall Hunt, ‘Simons, John Joseph’, ADB, vol. 11; Boomerang (Perth), 23 July 1924, pp. 2–3; Vincent, Victor Seddon—Defence Service Record, A9300, 291815, NAA.
 Philip Parsons with Victoria Chance, Companion to Theatre in Australia, Currency Press, Sydney, in association with CUP, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 246–7; Floy Matthew, ‘Stages’: 50 Years of Goldfields Repertory History, F. Matthew, Kalgoorlie, WA, 1990, pp. 4–5; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Geoffrey Bolton; Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 'Report of Discussions Between Service Officers and Hasluck', 20 Sept. 1944, Historical documents database, vol. 7, document 293, viewed 28 May 2009, <http://www.info.dfat.gov.au/info/historical>; WA (Perth), 3 Feb. 1960, p. 9; CPD, 10 Nov. 1964, p. 1557; Kalgoorlie Miner, 12 Nov. 1964, p. 2; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Ian Whitaker, Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia; Pat Leighton, 100 Years of the Chamber of Commerce in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Kalgoorlie Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kalgoorlie, WA, 2003, pp. 74, 220, 281; Kalgoorlie Miner, 26 Sept. 1946, p. 4, 27 Sept. 1946, p. 4, 23 Sept. 1946, p.1; Liberal Party of Australia, Kalgoorlie branch, Minutes, 6 Aug. 1948, ACC 1737A, SLWA; Liberal News (Perth), Oct. 1947, p. 5.
 CPD, 17 Oct. 1950, pp. 820–4; Kalgoorlie Miner, 10 Dec. 1949, p. 4; CPD, 8 Apr. 1959, pp. 630–1, 10 Nov. 1954, pp. 1311–12, 4 Apr. 1957, pp. 357–62, 19 Aug. 1958, pp. 61–7; Personal communication from John Oldfield to author, 25 Mar. 2006.
 CPD, 25 Nov. 1959, pp. 1809–14; Henry Finlay, To Have But Not To Hold: A History of Attitudes to Marriage and Divorce in Australia 1858–1975, Federation Press, Sydney, 2005, pp. 336–8, 345–6; CPD, 27 Nov. 1959, pp. 1964–5, 1991, 26 Nov. 1959, pp. 1932–3, 1937, 18 Apr. 1961, pp. 529–31, 19 Apr. 1961, pp. 589, 592–4; Paul Hasluck, The Chance Of Politics, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1997, p. 101; CPD, 10 Nov. 1964, p. 1557, 17 May 1962, pp. 1460–2, 4 Nov. 1954, pp. 1219–21, 1230–1, 1 Oct. 1957, pp. 271–2, 283; CPP, S2/1955; Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, Minutes of proceedings, 23 Oct. 1962, Correspondence between Vincent and Gordon Freeth, 20 Dec. 1962, 23 Apr. 1963, 7 June 1963, Victor Seddon Vincent Papers, AA1980/216, box 4, NAA; CPD, 10 Nov. 1964 (R), p. 2692; Liberal Party, Minutes of meetings of the Joint Standing Committee on Federal Policy, 16–17 Apr. 1962, 3–4 July 1962, 6 June 1963, Vincent Papers, AA1980/216, box 4, NAA.
 CPP, 304/1963, 304A/1963; Ina Bertrand and Diane Collins, Government and Film in Australia, Currency Press, Woollahra, NSW, and the Australian Film Institute, Carlton South, Vic., 1981, pp. 141–2; Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Australian Cinema: The First Eighty Years, A & R and Currency Press, Sydney, 1983, p. 213; CPD, 7 Apr. 1964, p. 458; Letters from Vincent to J. Dwyer, 7 Apr. 1964 and to W.S. Warnock, 4 June 1964, Vincent Papers, AA1980/216, box 5, NAA; Nation (Syd.), 30 May 1964, p. 15, 16 May 1964, p. 18; CPD, 7 Apr. 1964, pp. 474–5; Parsons with Chance, A Companion to Theatre in Australia, p. 250; Barry Jones, A Thinking Reed, Allen and Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 2006, p. 191; Ian Hancock, John Gorton: He Did it His Way, Hodder, Sydney, 2002, pp. 357–61.
 WA (Perth), 10 Nov. 1964, p.1; CPD, 10 Nov. 1964 (R), p. 2692.
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. 468-473.