REID, Albert David (1886–1962)
Senator for New South Wales, 1950–62 (Australian Country Party)

Albert David Reid, a ‘long, lean, leathery’ Anzac, devoted virtually all of his adult life to public service. At municipal, state and federal government levels he was a dedicated member of the Australian Country Party. Committed to the needs of rural Australia, he made a significant contribution to the development of water conservation policy, and was a highly respected senator. He had a distinguished military career, serving in both world wars.

Reid was born on 25 July 1886 at Murrumburrah in south-western New South Wales to David Reid, blacksmith and coachbuilder, and Margaret, née Cowden, both born in the ‘Mother Colony’. Albert was educated at Murrumburrah Intermediate High School and later apprenticed as a coachbuilder. In 1911 he became a farmer and grazier at Crowther, near Young. Reid’s long career in public service commenced in 1908 as a councillor at Murrumburrah. He was twenty-one. Later he served as deputy president of Burrangong Shire Council (1924–27) and as a member of the local hospital board.

A member of the Commonwealth Military Forces (1908–14) he enlisted in the 1st AIF and was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Light Horse on 19 August 1914. He was in the first convoy to leave Australia and served at Gallipoli from 12 May 1915 to 7 August 1915. Having sustained gunshot wounds, he was admitted to the military hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, and consequently returned to Australia, ‘unfit for general service’. In January 1917 he rejoined his unit but was transferred to the 4th Light Horse Regiment on active service in the Palestine campaign and promoted to the rank of captain.

On 31 October 1917 Reid wrote himself into Australian and military history when he led the second squadron of the 4th Light Horse in the famous and dramatic cavalry charge at the Battle of Beersheba, south of Damascus. Under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire from the Turkish defences, the squadron breached the first and second line of trenches. The charge enabled the 12th and the 14th regiments to capture all the enemy entrenchments. For his gallantry and devotion to duty in the field Reid received the Military Cross and was promoted to major later that year. Later in the Palestine campaign Reid led his squadron of Light Horse in a charge against a German-held position. The Germans fled before the horsemen, ending the final enemy stand in the drive to Damascus, and Reid was mentioned in despatches. Demobilised back to Australia he returned to his farm in Crowther and on 1 October 1919 married, at the Presbyterian Church, Murrumburrah, Jessie May Gibson, the daughter of an auctioneer.[1]

Renewing an earlier association with the Farmers’ and Settlers’ Association, Reid would join a host of ex-servicemen who entered politics in the inter-war period, some of whom made the Country Party a formidable force in New South Wales politics in the 1920s. In October 1927 he launched his parliamentary career in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly when he won, by a narrow majority, the rural seat of Young. His photograph in the Daily Witness was captioned ‘Major A. D. Reid, who won the Young seat for the Country Party’. Losing his seat in 1930, Reid regained it in 1932 with the return of the UAP–Country Party Government and was re-elected in 1935 and 1938. In 1935 he was appointed Country Party Whip and combined his duties with those of party secretary and treasurer. In May 1938 he became Minister for Agriculture in the Stevens–Bruxner Government (1935–38). M. F. Bruxner, Deputy Premier and New South Wales Country Party leader, was a former Light Horse comrade, who had a great affinity with Reid. Reid continued to serve as Minister for Agriculture when the Mair–Bruxner Ministry took over in August 1939, remaining in office until May 1941 when both he and the Government were defeated by the ALP.

During Reid’s term of office numerous water storage dams and weirs were built and irrigation schemes planned in the interests of primary producers and rural residents. In 1941 Reid authorised a comprehensive ten-year water conservation program which formed the basis of all such projects implemented by succeeding governments, and included the construction of the Hume and Keepit dams. He chaired the New South Wales Water Conservation Commission and also developed plans for closer settlement in rural areas. His policies contributed to the gearing-up of the agricultural sector in New South Wales to meet wartime production.[2]

A few days after his defeat Reid enlisted in the second AIF, explaining that as he had been on the reserve list of officers he had offered his services to the army at the beginning of the war but had been advised to remain in his ministerial post. With the rank of lieutenant colonel he served for short periods as secretary to the state recruiting committee of the AIF and then as Deputy Director of Recruiting in New South Wales. Finally he occupied a staff position at Army Headquarters, Eastern Command. He retired from military service in September 1943.[3]

Reid first attempted to enter federal politics when he was preselected as the Country Party’s state candidate for the 1946 general election on a joint Liberal–Country Party Senate ticket, but he failed to win a seat. He was successful in the December 1949 election, which saw the size of the Senate increased and the introduction of proportional representation, and was elected third on a combined Liberal–Country Party team. He remained a senator until his death in 1962. Reid spoke seldom, but from his first speech on 1 March 1950 his main concern was to protect the interests of primary industry. Approving of the proposal to establish a ministry of national development, he stressed the need for the new department to establish national water conservation schemes, citing the plan he had instituted in New South Wales. He emphasised the importance of hydro-electric power to provide electricity to the outback and thereby stem the population flow to the cities. He endorsed immigration as an aid to defence and development. He advocated increased funding for rural roads and the direct allocation of the petrol tax towards road construction and maintenance. His other rural concerns were equally predictable—wheat marketing, closer rural settlement, a rural ambulance service and the welfare of ex-servicemen.

Reid was but one of the many democrats in the Parliament in the 1950s who justified aspects of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill that impinged on civil liberties in the belief that the threats posed by the Cold War demanded such a reaction. He rejected Opposition claims that the measure was designed to smash trade unionism: ‘If I thought that for one moment that that was the purpose of the bill, I should be one of the first to oppose it’. Unions, he said, should be prevented from being controlled by a communist minority, who planned first to overthrow the unions, then the whole community. In 1951 he endorsed the controversial National Service Bill, criticising the Opposition’s argument that it allowed for the use of national service personnel against trade unionists and the civilian population.[4]

Reid served as a temporary chairman of committees from 1951 to 1953, becoming a respected and impartial Chairman of Committees (1953–62) and succeeding another former Light Horseman, Senator George J. Rankin. He was quick to respond to ‘objectionable unparliamentary’ language and generally his rulings evoked little dissent. According to the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Nick McKenna, Reid was always willing to cooperate with members of the Opposition when they required time to debate a bill’s clauses.

He served also as vice-chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Works and as a member of the Senate’s Standing Orders Committee. He was a member of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in 1959. In his extra-parliamentary activities he had been vice-president and central executive member of the Australian Country Party and a council member of The Scots College, Sydney.

Senator Reid, who lived at 51 Lindfield Avenue in the Sydney suburb of Lindfield, died on 22 May 1962 at the Repatriation General Hospital at Concord in Sydney, less than six weeks before the end of his Senate term. He had not stood for the 1961 election. The funeral service, at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Macquarie Street, Sydney, was attended by members of both of federal and state parliaments representing all political parties. The funeral rites were conducted at Northern Suburbs Crematorium, Sydney. Reid’s wife, and two sons, Ian and Keith, survived him; a daughter, Marion, died earlier.

Senators spoke kindly of Reid’s ‘long and meritorious public service’. Senator McKellar stated that Reid was ‘the most unselfish man’ he had known, and acknowledged his deep religious convictions and commitment to the Presbyterian Church. In the House, Prime Minister R. G. Menzies paid tribute with his inimitable eloquence:

It is well to remember, when we speak about a man of this kind, that we use no ordinary form of words. We are commemorating services which have built themselves into the fabric of self-government in Australia, and when we speak of them all are their debtors.[5]

Clive Beauchamp 

[1] Australian Country Party Monthly Journal (Syd.), May 1935, p. 3; SMH, 23 May 1962, p. 4; CPD, 7 Aug. 1962, pp. 7–9; Reid, A. D.—War Service Record, B2455, NAA; H. S. Gullett, The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine 1914–1918, A & R, Sydney, 1944, pp. 396–8, 747–8.

[2] Daily Witness (Young), 14 Oct. 1927, p. 2; New South Wales Countryman (Syd.), June 1962, p. 4; SMH, 12 June 1935, p. 12; Australian Country Party Monthly Journal (Syd.), July 1935, p. 12, May 1938, pp. 2, 5, Oct. 1938, p. 8; Don Aitkin, The Colonel: A Political Biography of Sir Michael Bruxner, ANU Press, Canberra, 1969, pp. 172, 222, 282; Ulrich Ellis, The Country Party: A Political and Social History of the Party in New South Wales, F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1958, p. 172.

[3] SMH, 15 May 1941, p. 7, 29 July 1941, p. 4; New South Wales Countryman (Syd.), June 1962, p. 4, Apr.–May 1946, p. 2.

[4] SMH, 13 Apr. 1946, p. 3, 6 Jan. 1950, p. 4; CPD, 1 Mar. 1950, pp. 183–6, 7 June 1950, pp. 3797–8, 7 Mar. 1951, pp. 33–6.

[5] CPD, 9 May 1956, p. 623; SMH, 23 May 1962, p. 4; CT, 23 May 1962, p. 1; CPD, 7 Aug. 1962, pp. 7–9, 7 Aug. 1962 (R), pp. 6–7.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 457-460.

REID, Albert David (1886–1962)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, NSW, 1950–62

Chairman of Committees, 1953–62

New South Wales Parliament

Member of the Legislative Assembly, Young, 1927–30; 1932–41

Senate Committee Service

House Committee, 1950

Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, 1951–53

Standing Orders Committee, 1953–62