Billy Hughes

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The Dominions could not exist if it were not for the British Navy. We must not forget this. We are a united Empire or we are nothing.

William Morris Hughes, CH, KC (25 September 1862 – 28 October 1952) was an Australian politician who served as the 7th Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1915 to 1923. He is best known for leading the country during World War I, but his influence on national politics spanned several decades. Hughes was a member of federal parliament from Federation in 1901 until his death, the only person to have served for more than 50 years. He represented six political parties during his career, leading five, outlasting four, and being expelled from three.


  • I emphasize that...nothing short of a decisive victory will avail. Germany's military power must be utterly crushed. (Cheers.) In no other way can the peace of the world be assured. Peace under any other conditions would be only a period of feverish preparation for another and even more fearful struggle.
    • Speech to the City Carlton Club (20 March 1916), quoted in The Times (21 March 1916), p. 9
  • [A]mongst the chief causes of this war [is] the desire of Germany to wrest from Britain her industrial and commercial supremacy. ... [I]f I have interpreted the temper of the people of the Empire aright, they have determined that the end of this war will see, not only the downfall of Prussian military power, but of that insidious and intolerable influence which had in veeeeeery many cases reached a point when Germany actually dominated the trade, not only of this Empire, but of that of our Allies.
    • Speech to the City Carlton Club (20 March 1916), quoted in The Times (21 March 1916), pp. 9–10
  • He thought an economic policy could be devised that would at once hasten victory and deal with the after-war problems, one that would develop our resources, increase our production of wealth, and provide employment for the people at fair and reasonable wages and conditions of labour. It must also ensure national safety and future commercial and industrial welfare. ... We should endeavour to create a self-contained Empire. (Cheers.) We should no longer be dependent for our raw materials upon an actual or potential enemy. (Renewed cheers.)
    • Speech in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester (26 May 1916), quoted in The Times (27 May 1916), p. 3
  • We are loyal to the Empire first and foremost because we are of the British race.
    • Speech during the 1917 federal election campaign (c. March 1917), quoted in Neville Kingsley Meaney, Australia and World Crisis, 1914-1923: Volume 2 (2009), p. 202
  • [W]e believe in the British Empire because it stands for liberty; because it has given us all that we have; because it has protected us all our lives; because it now protects us; because we know that without its protection in this war we should long ago have become a German colony; that our lot would have been that of Belgium. We are for the Empire because the Empire is at once our sword and our shield. It is the greatest guarantee of the world's peace, of true civilisation. We are for the Empire because we are true to Australia, to liberty, to ourselves.
  • It is our duty to help the Empire in this struggle. It is indeed imperative to do so, for only by helping the Empire can we save Australia. As I have said, there are many ways in which we can help the Empire—with men, with money, with our products. As to men, now that the people have decided against compulsion, the call of duty, of patriotism, of Australia, of Empire, must reach the ears of all our young men. Let them go forth and strike a blow for the land that has bred them. Let them draw the sword in defence of those liberties with which this country has so richly endowed them.
  • What was the economic policy of Britain going to be? It was not merely a question of a tariff; the great question, Were we going to take such steps as would ensure prosperity in Britain and throughout the Empire, or weakly by a policy of inaction allow the nation to drift on to the rocks? It was impossible for the workers of this or any other country in improve their working conditions unless sound economic conditions existed. And this could only be done by securing the home market and controlling the sources from which the raw materials came. Labour must, for its own protection, take up the question of after-the-war problems, of trade organisation, of securing raw materials. The Government should declare its policy, and the nation should see that no peace was made with the enemy by which these steps, so necessary for our salvation, were rendered impossible.
    • Speech in Cardiff (20 July 1918), quoted in The Times (22 July 1918), p. 3
  • Amongst those who are opposed to a sound economic policy are the pacifists. I am not surprised. A sound economic policy for Britain means material loss to Germany, and the pacifists seem to have a tender regard for her interests. “The Paris Economic Conference resolutions,” said Mr. Henderson, “must be strenuously opposed.” That is exactly what Germany said to Russia at the point of the sword. That was how Germany expressed the triumph of Prussianism. And Mr. Henderson says exactly the same thing. He goes on:—“British Labour desires to maintain the policy of the open door.” And Germany also desires us to maintain the policy of the open door. Emil Zimmerman says:—“The rise of Germany is due essentially to the British policy of the open door. Without that we should be at one stroke once more the Germany of 1870.” It is certainly curious, to say the least of it, that while England and Germany are locked in a life-and-death struggle an Englishman should agree with a German that the policy vital to the welfare of Germany should be maintained by Britain.
    • Speech in Cardiff (20 July 1918), quoted in The Times (22 July 1918), p. 3
  • He was sick of this canting humbug about internationalism. Nationalism, not internationalism, was the policy for Britain.
    • Speech in Cardiff (20 July 1918), quoted in The Times (22 July 1918), p. 3
  • The people of Britain are adjured by the pacifists to secure peace by negotiation. Do these gentlemen think the people of Britain and the Empire are fools? Peace by negotiation! What does it mean? In plain words it means industrial ruin, economic vassalage, national disaster. ... We are fighting a life-and-death struggle. We are fighting for our country, for our liberty, and for economic independence. ... Those who are not for us are against us. (Cheers.) The pacifist is at best the unwitting agent of our enemy.
    • Speech in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester (26 August 1918), quoted in The Times (27 August 1918), p. 8
  • Dr. Solf...talks about a League of Nations. ... A few weeks ago, before the Marne, we heard quite another story. Then, when it seemed that they would in a few days bury their talons in the vitals of Paris, the Germans spoke only of allotting the spoils. But the Marne had been fought. The Americans have arrived. The alluring visions of “Deutschland über Alles” fades in a bloody mist. Germany now licks her wounds and seeks to conquer us by words, by creating dissensions within to lure us on to a premature peace. ... What is this hypocritical whine about peace but a cunning attempt to escape the just punishment for the awful crimes Germany has committed?
    • Speech in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester (26 August 1918), quoted in The Times (27 August 1918), p. 8
  • Germany...deliberately appealed to the arbitrament of the sword. Now, when she is beginning to learn that the world is not a sheep to be butchered, but that it has both the means and the will to defend itself, she talks about a “League of Nations”. Had she achieved world power, would our fate have differed from that of Russia or Rumania? Would she then have talked about a League of Nations?
    • Speech in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester (26 August 1918), quoted in The Times (27 August 1918), p. 8
  • Mr. Hughes said that if we were not very careful, we should find ourselves dragged quite unnecessarily behind the wheels of President Wilson's chariot. He readily acknowledged the part which America had played in the war. But it was not such as to entitle President Wilson to be the god in the machine at the peace settlement, and to lay down the terms on which the world would have to live in the future. The United States had made no money sacrifice at all. They had not even exhausted the profits which they had made in the first two and a half years of the war. In men, their sacrifices were not even equal to those of Australia. Relatively their sacrifices had been nothing like as much as those of Australia.
    • Speech to the Imperial War Cabinet (30 December 1918), quoted in David Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties: Volume I (1938), pp. 194–95
  • He hoped that Great Britain and France, which had both sacrificed so much, would defend their own interests, and not let their future be decided for them by one who had no claim to speak even for his own country. ... They could give America the respect due to a great nation which had entered the war somewhat late, but had rendered great service. It was intolerable, however, for President Wilson to dictate to us how the world was to be governed. If the saving of civilisation had depended on the United States, it would have been in tears and chains to-day. ... President Wilson, however, had no practical scheme at all, and no proposals that would bear the test of experience. The League of Nations was to him what a toy was to a child—he would not be happy till he got it.
    • Speech to the Imperial War Cabinet (30 December 1918), quoted in David Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties: Volume I (1938), pp. 195–96
  • They all hoped the peace which was to be presented to Germany...would be based upon Germany's responsibility for the war, that it would indeed make her repair the frightful ravages she had made by land, sea, and air, that it would make her responsible for the cost of the war, and that it would insist upon such territorial, military, and other conditions as would make another war by Germany impossible for ever. (Cheers.) That is what the people of the world expected and demanded.
    • Speech to an Anzac Day celebration in Paris (20 April 1919), quoted in The Times (21 April 1919), p. 12
  • Looking back, as calmly as one might, on that which had come and gone, every thinking man must shudder when he realized how nearly we escaped defeat. We had won; on the field of battle we had triumphed over an enemy that for 40 years prepared for our destruction. The question now was, what shall the future be? Germany, crushed on the field of battle, was still to-day the best equipped for the commercial and industrial fight of every nation in the world. ... The industries of Australia are for Australians, and not for Germans. ... I see no evidence yet of a change of heart. On every side I see abundant proof that she is to-day what she was yesterday. ... As a race the Germans have not repented. They are a race of liars, of cheats. Their word is not to be relied on. (Cheers.) They will put their names to the Treaty [of Versailles], but as soon as we cease to have the power to compel them, that Treaty will be but another scrap of paper.
    • Speech to the Empire Parliamentary Association in the House of Commons (25 June 1919), quoted in The Times (26 June 1919), p. 10
  • They had now come out of the wilderness after a struggle which had torn the world to pieces. ... They had been opposed by the greatest instrument ever devised for the destruction of democracy—Prussian militarism. ... National safety for Australia was now in Australia's possession, and only their own folly could ever let that firm foundation on which they stood crumble beneath their feet. They had now the policy of a White Australia firmly established. (Cheers.) Australia was in the position of being able to say that Australia could be held now by the Australians. (Cheers.) He had had always appreciated the necessity for preparing for the defence of their great heritage. There had never been a day in the past when he had not seen quite clearly that the time would come when Germany or some other nation would endeavour to wrest it from them. The people of Australia were five millions, and they could never hold that country except by the means used by the Australian Imperial Force to achieve victory.
    • Speech to men of the Australian Imperial Force at the AIF and War Chest Club, London (4 July 1919), quoted in The Times (5 July 1919), p. 10
  • The White Australia is yours. You may do with it what you please; but, at any rate, the soldiers have achieved the victory, and my colleague and I have brought that great principle back to you from the Conference. Here it is, at least as safe as it was on the day when it was first adopted by this Parliament.
    • Speech to the federal parliament (10 September 1919)
  • I have said that increased production is essential to the very existence of Australia; and increased production cannot be assured without the hearty co-operation of labour and capital. Industrial peace is essential to increased production, and that in its turn cannot be assured unless labour is given its legitimate place as a full partner in production.
    • Speech during the 1919 federal election campaign (30 October 1919)
  • There is urgent need for population, but, of course, it must be of the right sort, and it must go to the right place. We do not want to make Australia a dumping ground for the world’s refuse populations, or to bring population to our already overcrowded cities, for such newcomers would not for the most part produce new wealth, but only share the wealth already there.
    • Speech during the 1919 federal election campaign (30 October 1919)
  • Many new industries have arisen under the stimulus of dire necessity, and the encouragement of the Government. We have learned to make many things ourselves that we formerly imported from oversea. The war has taught us many lessons. It has taught us, among other things, to believe in ourselves and in the greatness of the resources and destiny of Australia.
    • Speech during the 1919 federal election campaign (30 October 1919)
  • We believe in Australia. We believe there stretches before her a great future, that she is destined to become a mighty nation. We have come through dark days; danger and death have encompassed us about. But thanks to the valour of our soldiers and sailors, we have won through. Australia is safe and free. She is still staggering from the effects of the deadly struggle in which she has been engaged. But the dawn of a new day beckons and cheers her on. We must develop our resources, provide employment for our young men. We must follow in the footsteps of the great Republic of America, while avoiding her errors.
    • Speech during the 1919 federal election campaign (30 October 1919)
  • The burning blasts of war have shrivelled, blackened, and destroyed the world we once knew. Old landmarks have disappeared. The nations of the earth panting from the struggle, impoverished by the unprecedented destruction of wealth, are confronted with a new set of financial, national, and industrial circumstances. Humanity has indulged in a terrible orgy of destruction; it must pay the price. We must enter on a long period of reconstruction—wherein capital will be scarce, interest high, wages and materials costly.
    • Speech during the 1919 federal election campaign (30 October 1919)
  • On the welfare of Australia depends the welfare of every citizen, producer and consumer, employer and employee. Let our watchword be Australia, and as our splendid boys have fought for it and saved it let us all live and work for it. In this spirit the war was won; in this spirit and in this spirit only can we win the peace.
    • Speech during the 1919 federal election campaign (30 October 1919)
  • The most vital point of our policy is the one to which I have just alluded - a White Australia. ... I do not believe that there are any Australians who will not readily declare that, on this principle, there can be no concession whatever. I had the honour to place the position of the Commonwealth before the great Peace Conference, and whether the people of Australia agree with me or not politically, I think the overwhelming bulk of them will endorse my attitude on this subject. We must always be ready to defend this principle. We cannot hope to maintain it merely by pious or blatant declarations of our intentions. Behind all this there must be some force - the utmost resources of the nation. So much is obvious.
    • Speech to the federal parliament (9 September 1920)
  • Australia regards the unveiling of the National Memorial not only as a tribute to her 60,000 dead but as a lasting symbol of that brotherhood of arms and blood which binds the Empire together. They and their brothers in Britain and the other Dominions fought and died to preserve the Empire and safeguard civilisation. They died that we might live as free men. They left us the legacy of liberty and a united Empire. It is for us to treasure their memory not only in the memorial now to be unveiled but in the realisation of those ideals and the maintenance of the Empire for which they gave their lives.
    • Message for the unveiling of the The Unknown Warrior, quoted in The Times (11 November 1920), p. 20
  • The difference between the status of the dominions now and twenty-five years ago is very great. We were colonies, we became dominions. We have been accorded the status of nations. ... What greater advance is conceivable? What remains to us? We are like so many Alexanders. What other worlds have we to conquer?
    • Speech to the Imperial Conference of 1921, quoted in Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969), pp. 207–208
  • The Dominions could not exist if it were not for the British Navy. We must not forget this. We are a united Empire or we are nothing.
    • Speech to the Imperial Conference of 1921, quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (Eyre Methuen, 1972), p. 177
  • Look at the map and ask yourselves what would have happened to that great splash of red down from India through Australia down to New Zealand, but for the Anglo-Japanese Treaty. How much of these great rich territories and portions of our Empire would have escaped had Japan been neutral? How much if she had been our enemy? It is certain the naval power of the Empire could not have saved India and Australia and still been strong enough to hold Germany bottled up in the narrow seas. ... Had [Japan] elected to fight on the side of Germany we should most certainly have been defeated.
    • Speech to the Imperial Conference of 1921, quoted in Correlli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (Eyre Methuen, 1972), p. 252
  • Whatever we have achieved—and our achievements are many and great—has come because we have believed in Australia, in ourselves, in our race. It is this spirit which enabled us to fight—doggedly, if you like, but determinedly—Nature in her sternest moods, to endure and emerge triumphant from droughts, floods, and other evils that have beset us.
    • Speech during the 1922 federal election campaign (20 October 1922)
  • We have not the option of keeping out all would-be immigrants—some by our laws, others by passive resistance. One choice, and one only, is given to us. We can bring in without delay our kinsmen from Britain, and, if the numbers of these be insufficient, such other white races as will assimilate with our own. Or we can live for a short season in a paradise of fools, and then see the doors of our house forced, and streams of people from lands where there is hardly standing room, pour in and submerge us. That is the position which confronts us.
    • Speech during the 1922 federal election campaign (20 October 1922)
  • We can only hope to cheek the drift towards the great cities—manifested throughout the world—which here has gone much farther than is safe, if we make life on the land profitable and attractive. The wonderful discoveries of applied science, and their application to industry; the marvellous improvements that have been made in transport and communications by railways, motor transport, telegraph and telephone and wireless, have placed at our disposal means by which life, in the country can be made as attractive, as comfortable, and as profitable as in the great cities.
    • Speech during the 1922 federal election campaign (20 October 1922)
  • The right of the state to determine the conditions under which persons shall enter its territories cannot be impaired without reducing it to a vassal state. ... If it [the Permanent Court of International Justice] should decide that it is better for the world that Australia should open her doors to the East, it would be the end of Australia and the future of the civilized world would be profoundly changed. ... We have a certainty of security now as far as it can be assured. We are asked to exchange this for the uncertainty, at the best, of the action of an unknown Court. We must reject the Protocol.
    • Interview (11 October 1924), quoted in The Times (13 October 1924), p. 13
  • At the Peace Conference of 1919, Baron Makino insisted on the insertion of an amendment to the Covenant [of the League of Nations] recognizing the principle of racial equality. Baron Makino assured me that the amendment was not for use, but was merely an assertion of principle. When I offered to accept it provided that words were incorporated making it clear that it was not to be used for the purpose of immigration or of impairing our rights of self-government in any way, Baron Makino was unable to agree.
    • Interview (11 October 1924), quoted in The Times (13 October 1924), p. 13


  • Australia was born on the shores of Gallipoli.
    • Inscribed in the Australian War Memorial, quoted in Joan Beaumont, ‘'Unitedly we have fought': imperial loyalty and the Australian war effort’, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 90, No. 2, The Great War (March 2014), p. 399

Quotes about Hughes

  • I then went to meet Mr. Hughes, the Australian Prime Minister. I found him a great Imperialist, and first and last out to win the war. He was there to do all in his power to help the Australian Imperial Force, and insisted that I should retain the command of it. He was a man of strong character and great determination, and a fine, forceful speaker.
    • William Birdwood, Khaki and Gown: An Autobiogaphy (Ward, Lock & Co., 1941), pp. 302–303
  • This plaque commemorates a great Australian and a distinguished champion of the whole Commonwealth and Empire in war and in peace. In his long lifetime he helped to mould the Australia of to-day. His pugnacious and imposing character made him one of the best known and best loved public men.
    • Winston Churchill's tribute to Hughes read out by Lord Denman at the unveiling of a bronze portrait plaque in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral (15 October 1953), quoted in The Times (16 October 1953), p. 11
  • Hughes's achievements were magnificent. To him more than anyone the Australian Trade Union movement owes its strength. He more than anyone built up the Australian Labor Party. He helped to develop and consistently fought to preserve the Industrial Arbitration System. He was the man who transformed separatist and isolationist tendencies into a surge of Australian nationalism which insisted, not on the severance, but on the strengthening, of the Imperial connection. He was the foremost of those who created the Australian Navy, brought in universal military training, and insisted on preparedness for defence. He was an inspiring and effective War-time Prime Minister. He pushed himself and his country into the innermost councils of the Empire, became a leader with influence far beyond his own nation, and took a significant part in the Versailles Conference. From his time, and due to him, Australia began to have some slight importance in international affairs.
    • Norman Cowper, ‘W. M. Hughes’, The Australian Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 4 (December, 1952), p. 7
  • Hughes' personality would have made him notable in any company. Amongst his natural gifts were quickness of thought, caustic, pungent wit, sardonic humour, a wicked sense of comedy. He had furnished his mind by intensive reading with stores of material on which his memory and imagination could draw as he liked for metaphor and illustration. He had trained his voice and powers of expression so that they were formidable instruments of debate. But his greatest qualities were those of the will. He had unexampled power of decision, independence of judgment, faith in himself, and courage. Indeed his life was a saga of courage, carried on to the end. He triumphed over the most fearful weaknesses and turned them to strengths. He feared nothing in life, nor, I believe, in death. He was Greatheart, winning astonishing victories simply by virtue of his indomitable spirit. If he gets the historians and writers he deserves, then for all his faults his place in history as a great man is assured.
    • Norman Cowper, ‘W. M. Hughes’, The Australian Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 4 (December, 1952), p. 7
  • Mr. Hughes' speeches have in particular evoked intense approbation, and have been followed by such a quickening power of the national spirit as perhaps no other orator since Chatham ever aroused.
    • Thomas Farrow and William Walter Crotch, The Coming Trade War (1916), p. 3
  • Mr. Hughes told me that he felt bound to stand up for his dead, no matter what others might say or think. He made no pretense at being a diplomat; but, following his motions, it was quite easy to see how he has climbed to leadership of the husky young commonwealth of the Southern Pacific. He is a natural-born fighter, all grit and gunpowder.
    • Patrick Gallagher, America's Aims and Asia's Aspirations (1920), p. 88
  • [T]hey had come to do honour to one upon whose courage, insight, and inspiration the British Empire depended in its greatest hour of trial. Mr. Hughes was a man who talked about things and at the same time a man of action who could do things.
    • David Lloyd George, toast to Hughes at a banquet given by the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion at the Trocadero Restaurant, London (18 May 1916), quoted in The Times (19 May 1916), p. 5
  • The Cabinet were much impressed with the critical power of the Hughes speech. It was their first explanation of the reason why this man of frail physique, defective hearing and eccentric gesticulations had attained such a position of dominant influence in the Australian Commonwealth. It was a fine specimen of ruthless and pungent analysis of President Wilson's claim to dictate to the countries that had borne the brunt of the fighting. I wish there had been a verbatim report which would reproduce the stabbing sentences in the form in which they were delivered.
  • [Woodrow Wilson's] demeanour towards the Dominion Premiers was hectoring and occasionally in addressing Mr. Hughes he was inclined to be dictatorial and somewhat arrogant. Mr. Hughes was the last man I would have chosen to handle in that way. Mr. Hughes having stated his case against subjecting to a mandate the islands conquered by Australia, President Wilson pulled him up sharply and proceeded to address him personally in what I would describe as a heated allocution rather than an appeal. He dwelt on the seriousness of defying world opinion on this subject. Mr. Hughes, who listened intently, with his hand cupped around his ear so as not to miss a word, indicated at the end that he was still of the same opinion. Whereupon the President asked him slowly and solemnly: “Mr. Hughes, am I to understand that if the whole civilised world asks Australia to agree to a mandate in respect of these islands, Australia is prepared still to defy the appeal of the whole civilised world?” Mr. Hughes answered: “That's about the size of it, President Wilson.” Mr. Massey grunted his assent of this abrupt defiance.
  • When the Prime Minister of Australia left this country he would leave behind him the remembrance of great public service freely and splendidly rendered, and a personality which had endeared itself to all those with whom he had come in contact. Mr. Hughes had centred his thoughts and labours upon the great Imperial work to which he had devoted himself, and had been animated by a burning desire of love of Empire.
    • Walter Long, speech to the Empire Parliamentary Association in the House of Commons (25 June 1919), quoted in The Times (26 June 1919), p. 10
  • He was a great Empire man and his name will be recalled with honour by future generations.
    • Robert Menzies' tribute to Hughes read out by Thomas White at the unveiling of a bronze portrait plaque in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral (15 October 1953), quoted in The Times (16 October 1953), p. 11
  • Hughes struck me as an able man. He is very deaf but remarkably acute and direct in what he says; the ablest Colonial politician I have met.
    • Lord Riddell's diary entry (10 March 1916), quoted in J. M. McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries 1908-1923 (1986), p. 148
  • He is a very able little man, but very plain. Someone, referring to a portrait of him, said, “But it does not do you justice, Mr. Hughes.” Hughes promptly replied, “It is not justice I want; what I need is mercy!”
    • Frances Stevenson's diary entry (12 March 1916), quoted in A. J. P. Taylor (ed.), Lloyd George: A Diary (1971), p. 104
  • [Hughes] not only made Australia an earthly paradise for the working man but also ensured that it should last for ever as a white man's country.
    • Bishop of London William Wand's tribute to Hughes at the unveiling of a bronze portrait plaque in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral (15 October 1953), quoted in The Times (16 October 1953), p. 11
  • A pestiferous varmint.
    • Woodrow Wilson, quoted in Stephen Bonsal, Suitors and Suppliants: The Little Nations at Versailles (1946), p. 229 and Margaret Macmillan, Peacemakers: Six Months that Changed the World (2003), p. 56
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