Sir Eric Archibald Willis KBE, CMG (15 January 1922 – 10 May 1999) was an Australian politician, Cabinet Minister and the 34th Premier of New South Wales, serving from 23 January 1976 to 14 May 1976. Born in Murwillumbah in 1922, Willis was educated at Murwillumbah High School and the University of Sydney, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts with double honours. Enlisting during the Second World War, Willis served on the homefront and later served in New Guinea and the Philippines. He continued to serve the Citizen Military Forces until 1958.
After serving a period as a geographer, Willis was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly as the Liberal member for Earlwood in 1950. He rose to become a long-serving Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party from 1959 to 1975 under Robert Askin. When the Coalition won the 1965 election, Willis was made a Minister of the Crown as Chief Secretary, Minister for Labour and Industry, Tourism and Sport but rose to prominence in his role as Minister for Education from 1972 to 1976. When Askin retired in 1975, Willis failed in his attempts to succeed him.
Following the ousting of Askin's successor, Tom Lewis, by the party, Willis was elected as the Parliamentary Leader of the Liberal Party and subsequently became Premier. However, after only four months in office, his Liberal/National Country Party Coalition was defeated at the 1976 election by the Labor Party under Neville Wran. Continuing as Leader of the Opposition, Willis resigned in 1977 and retired from politics a year later. Thereafter he served in various organisations and directorships until his death in May 1999.
Sir Eric Willis
|34th Premier of New South Wales|
23 January 1976 – 14 May 1976
|Governor||Sir Roden Cutler|
|Preceded by||Tom Lewis|
|Succeeded by||Neville Wran|
|Minister for Education|
19 June 1972 – 23 January 1976
|Preceded by||Sir Charles Cutler|
|Succeeded by||Neil Pickard|
|24th Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales|
14 May 1976 – 16 December 1977
|Preceded by||Neville Wran|
|Succeeded by||Peter Coleman|
|Member of the New South Wales Parliament|
17 June 1950 – 16 June 1978
|Preceded by||New district|
|Succeeded by||Ken Gabb|
|Born||15 January 1922|
Murwillumbah, New South Wales
|Died||10 May 1999 (aged 77)|
Sydney, New South Wales
|Political party||Liberal Party|
|Awards||Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire|
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
|Years of service||1941–1958|
Citizen Military Forces
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
Willis was born in January 1922 in Murwillumbah, New South Wales, the first son of Archibald Clarence Willis (1893–1975), a butter factory hand and First World War veteran, and his wife, Vida Mabel Buttenshaw (1894–1984). His younger brother was NSW Legislative Council Member and President, Max Willis. He was educated at Tyalgum Public School and then at Murwillumbah High School, at which he was Dux of his year and won a scholarship to study Arts at the University of Sydney.
He received a Bachelor of Arts with double honours in Modern History and Geography (BA (Hons)) from Sydney University in 1942. He served in the Second Australian Imperial Force from 1941 to 1946 in Army Intelligence in New Guinea and Philippines during the Second World War ending the war with the rank of Sergeant. He remained in the military after demobilisation, being discharged from the regular military on 3 June 1946. He continued to serve in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) from 1946, achieving the rank of major in 1948, until retiring in 1958. He married Norma Dorothy Thompson on 11 May 1951 and they had a daughter and two sons. Willis was employed as a senior geographer and investigation officer for Cumberland County Council
Willis joined the newly formed Liberal Party of Australia in 1945, after hearing a speech by Sir Robert Menzies. He sought preselection for the federal seat of Evans in the 1949 federal election but was defeated in favour of Frederick Osborne. Instead, he gained preselection for and contested the Labor seat of Lang and gained 45.3 per cent of the vote but was defeated by the sitting member, Dan Mulcahy.
At the June 1950 state election, at the age of 28, Willis was elected to the newly created Legislative Assembly seat of Earlwood, in the inner southwestern suburbs of Sydney, becoming the youngest Member of Parliament. He gained the seat with 55.53% against a single Labor candidate. He soon gained a reputation as rebel in the House, always attacking the Labor Speakers, and consequently being expelled from the house more than any other member. At the February 1953 election, Willis narrowly retained his seat with 50.33%, but at the following 1956 election, he increased his margin to 58.04%.
During his time as member for Earlwood, Willis catered to the changing demographics of his electorate by creating the first-ever Greek branch of the Liberal Party and formed the first Young Liberals branch in Australia, which counted among its recruits future Prime Minister John Howard (1996–2007). Following the 1959 election, at which Willis retained his seat with 58.43%, the Liberal leadership was vacated by Pat Morton. Willis declined to run for the leadership and Deputy Leader Robert Askin was made Leader. Willis then ran unopposed and subsequently became Deputy Leader. At the March 1962 election, despite losing the election, Willis went on to retain his seat for a fifth time with 57.26%.
In 1965, the May general election ended 24 years of Labor government and began Willis's ministerial career, which spanned the entire length of the Coalition Government. After retaining his seat again with 59.95%, he was appointed to the post of Chief Secretary and Minister for Tourism by Premier Askin in May 1965 to June 1972. Willis was appointed Minister for Labour and Industry from 1965 to March 1971 and during that same time he was also Minister for Sport. From June 1972 to January 1976 he was Minister for Education, where he presided over a huge expansion of schools, teachers and ancillary staff. Willis served as a Fellow of University of Sydney Senate in 1972. Willis was regarded as the outstanding minister of the Askin Government and is considered one of the state's greatest Education Ministers. For his service as Minister, Willis was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) on 15 June 1974.
Upon Askin's retirement in January 1975, Willis was seen as the favourite to take the premiership. However, despite Askin's initial support, Willis refused his help, preferring to gain the leadership on his own merits. Askin then put his support behind the Minister for Lands, Tom Lewis. Willis, sure he had support, refused to campaign, and the party put its support behind Lewis, leading to his election to Premier. Willis was then replaced as Deputy by John Maddison. For his service as Deputy Leader he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on 14 June 1975. Lewis was Premier for only one year and looked increasingly likely to lead the state Liberals to defeat. At the party room meeting on 20 January 1976, parliamentary backbencher Neil Pickard called a spill motion. This was carried 22 votes to 11 and Willis was made Leader and Premier unopposed. Willis and his Cabinet were then duly sworn in on 23 January by the Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales, Sir Laurence Street.
In his brief time as Premier he extensively reshuffled the cabinet, dropping five ministers in an attempt to distance himself from the past, including Steve Mauger and John Mason, and appointed new cabinet faces such as Pickard and David Arblaster. His most significant decision was to set up in April 1976 the long-demanded inquiry into the prison system in the form of a Royal Commission under Justice Nagle. Willis also introduced Daylight Saving time, to be decided upon in a referendum, scrapped the unpopular petrol tax and announced a masterplan for Sydney's transport system.
When former Minister Steve Mauger resigned on 27 January 1976, sparking a by-election in his seat of Monaro in May, and early polls had indicated a large swing to Labor, Willis announced an early election on 1 May, thereby cancelling the by-election in the hope of preventing a larger move of voters against the government. In the May 1976 election, Willis's government lost power to the Labor Party under Neville Wran. The election was notable for being very close run; with the seats of Gosford and Hurstville being lost by only 74 and 44 votes respectively. Had Willis retained those seats he would have remained in government. At that same election Daylight Saving time for New South Wales was passed by 68.4 per cent for and 31.6 per cent against and whenever Willis was asked what his greatest achievement as Premier was, he would always say "Daylight Saving".
After the election he retained the Liberal leadership but proved to be less than suited for opposition. On 19 January 1977, the Granville rail disaster claimed the lives of 83 people—the worst rail disaster in Australian history at the time. In response to this, Willis declared that there had never been as many deaths on the railways during the Liberal Government. The insensitive remark led several Liberal MLAs to introduce a no-confidence motion in Willis' leadership. While Willis survived the motion, speculation about a leadership challenge continued for the rest of his term. On 15 December four party MPs declared that they would oppose him in a leadership ballot the next day. On 15 December 1977, Willis called a press conference to announce his intention to resign as leader:
"In 27 years in parliamentary life I have won many times and I have lost many times. I have experienced the pleasures of success and the frustrations of failures on a number of occasions...I leave the position of Leader of the Oppostition with no bitterness but naturally with a great amount of sadness"— Sir Eric Willis, 16 December 1977
On 16 December, he formally resigned as leader at the party meeting and was replaced by Peter Coleman. Willis resigned as Member for Earlwood on 16 June 1978, at the age of 56. At the resulting by-election, Earlwood fell to the Labor candidate, Ken Gabb.
On his retirement, he was permitted by Queen Elizabeth II, on the Governor's recommendation, to continue to use the title "The Honourable" for life. After retiring from politics Willis held positions with the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists and the Arthritis Foundation, of which he was Executive Director from 1984 to 1991. Willis also spent time as Vice-President of the Red Cross (NSW Branch) and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of St George, a Member of the Australian Institute of Political Science and the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Willis left his residence in Bardwell Park and moved to Neutral Bay, where his marriage collapsed.
He divorced his first wife, Norma, and remarried to Lynn. He died in Sydney on 10 May 1999.
|Parliament of New South Wales|
|New district|| Member for Earlwood
|Party political offices|
Sir Robert Askin
| Deputy Leader of the New South Wales Liberal Party
| Leader of the New South Wales Liberal Party
James Joseph Maloney
| Minister for Labour and Industry
| Chief Secretary of New South Wales
| Minister for Tourist Activities
as Minister for Tourism
as Minister for Tourist Activities
| Minister for Tourism
as Minister for Tourism and Sport
as Minister for Tourism
| Minister for Tourism and Sport
as Minister for Tourism
as Minister for Culture, Sport and Recreation
Sir Charles Cutler
| Minister for Education
| Premier of New South Wales
| Treasurer of New South Wales
| Leader of the Opposition of New South Wales
A general election for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly was held in the state of New South Wales, Australia, on Saturday 1 May 1976. The result was a narrow win for the Labor Party under Neville Wran—the party's first in the state in more than a decade.Allan Viney
Arthur Edward Allanby "Allan" Viney OAM (29 July 1919 – 13 June 2008) was an Australian politician and Liberal Party member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Viney represented the electorate of Wakehurst (1971–1978).Born in Sydney, Viney was educated at Mortlake Primary School and Fort Street Boys High School. From 1938 to 1940 he served with the Australian military forces. In 1940 and 1941 he served with the Second Australian Imperial Force. In 1941-43 he served in the Anti-tank Artillery Regiment.Allan joined the Liberal Party and was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 13 February 1971 to 12 September 1978. In addition to serving as parliamentary backbencher Viney served as the Shadow Minister for Transport from 1976 to 1978 and was the Shadow Minister for Corrective Services in 1978 under the leadership of Sir Eric Willis (1976–1977) and Peter Coleman (1977–1978) until his retirement from politics.Viney belonged to many community organisations on the Northern Beaches including the Rural Fire Service for 35 years, for which he was awarded the National Medal in 1988 with Two clasps. On 26 January 2007 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for "Service through rural fire and service organisations and to the New South Wales Parliament".On 13 June 2008 Allan Viney died at Mona Vale Hospital.Bruce Cowan
David Bruce Cowan AM (15 January 1926 – 7 April 2011) was an Australian politician and Minister of the Crown in the cabinets of Tom Lewis and Sir Eric Willis. He was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for 14 years from 6 November 1965 until his resignation on 29 August 1980 and then for 13 years in the Australian House of Representatives for Lyne for the Country Party of Australia and its successors, the National Country and then National Parties.David Arblaster
David Amos Arblaster, (16 November 1929 – 10 August 2006) was a New South Wales politician, Minister for Culture, Sport and Recreation and Minister for Tourism in the cabinet of Sir Eric Willis until the Liberal party lost the 1976 election. Arblaster was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for the Electoral district of Mosman in 1972 and served until his retirement in 1984.Dick Healey
Richard (Dick) Owen Healey (7 December 1923 – 10 December 2000) was a New South Wales politician, ABC sports broadcaster, and minister of the crown in the cabinets of Sir Robert Askin, Tom Lewis and Sir Eric Willis. From 1973 to 1975 he was Minister for Youth and Community Services, when he was made Minister for Health, which he held until the Coalition lost office in May 1976. He was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for 19 years from 3 March 1962 until his retirement on 28 August 1981 for the Liberal Party.Ian Griffith
Ian Ross Griffith (25 September 1925 – 8 November 1992) was an Australian politician and a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1956 until 1978. He was a member of the Liberal Party and held ministerial positions in the governments of Sir Robert Askin and Eric Willis.John Maddison
John Clarkson Maddison, (4 September 1921 – 29 August 1982) was a New South Wales politician, Attorney General, Minister for Justice and Deputy Leader for the Liberal Party of New South Wales in the cabinets of Robert Askin, Tom Lewis and Sir Eric Willis until the Liberal party lost the 1976 election. Maddison was first elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for the Electoral district of Hornsby in 1962 until 1973 and thereon as member for Ku-ring-gai until his retirement in 1980.Ken Gabb
Kenneth George "Ken" Gabb (born 4 December 1949) is a former Australian politician. He was the Labor member for Earlwood in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1978 to 1988, and a state minister from 1986 to 1988.
Gabb was born in Earlwood, New South Wales, to Loyal Leslie Gabb and Joyce Edna McCartney. He attended Canterbury Boys High School (1962–67) before studying for a Bachelor of Law at Sydney University (1968–72). He underwent further study at the University of New South Wales from 1973 to 1977, and was called to the bar in 1980. On 6 December 1985 he married Elisabeth Faith Williams in Sydney.Gabb had joined the Labor Party in 1971, and in 1978 former Liberal Premier Eric Willis resigned from parliament, creating a by-election for his seat of Earlwood. Gabb was selected as the Labor candidate, and had an easy victory over Liberal candidate Alan Jones. In 1986 he became Minister for Mineral Resources, and later in the year was also made Aboriginal Affairs Minister. Gabb was defeated by the Liberal Party in the 1988 state election.After leaving politics, Gabb worked for Barclays Bank (1989–1991) before moving to the Crown Solicitor's Office (1991–95), the New South Wales Department of Attorney-General and Justice (1995–96) and back to the Crown Solicitor (1996–99). On 26 January 1999, Gabb's wife Elisabeth died. He married Dyana Corak on 25 March 2001.Leon Punch
Leon Ashton Punch (21 April 1928 – 28 December 1991) was a New South Wales politician, Deputy Premier, and Minister of the Crown in the cabinets of Sir Robert Askin, Tom Lewis and Sir Eric Willis. From 1975 to 1976 he was the Deputy Premier of New South Wales. He was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for 26 years from 21 March 1959 until his retirement on 2 July 1985 for the Country Party, renamed the National Party during his time.Lewis–Cutler ministry
The Lewis–Cutler ministry or First Lewis ministry was the 68th ministry of the New South Wales Government, and was led by the 33rd Premier, the Honourable Tom Lewis , of the Liberal Party in coalition with the Country Party, led by the Honourable Sir Charles Cutler . It was the first of two occasions when Lewis was Premier; and the seventh and final occasion when Cutler served as Deputy Premier.Lewis–Punch ministry
The Lewis–Punch ministry or Second Lewis ministry was the 69th ministry of the New South Wales Government, and was led by the 33rd Premier, the Honourable Tom Lewis , of the Liberal Party in coalition with the Country Party, led by the Honourable Leon Punch . It was the first of two occasions when Lewis was Premier; and the first of two occasions when Punch served as Deputy Premier.Liberal Party of Australia (New South Wales Division)
The Liberal Party of Australia (New South Wales Division), commonly known as the New South Wales Liberals, is the state division of the Liberal Party of Australia in New South Wales. The party currently governs in New South Wales in coalition with the National Party of Australia (NSW). The party is part of the federal Liberal Party which governs nationally in Coalition with the National Party of Australia.
The party traces its roots to August 1944, when the Democratic Party and Liberal Democratic Party, which had both emerged from the remains of the NSW branch of the United Australia Party, merged as the United Democratic Party. A year later, with the formation of the federal Liberal Party, the UDP became the NSW branch of the new party.
In the 66 years since its foundation the party has won seven state elections to the Labor Party's 13, and has spent 20 years in office (1965 to 1976, 1988 to 1995 and 2011 to the present) to Labor's 46. Seven leaders have become Premier of New South Wales; of those, four, Sir Robert Askin, Nick Greiner, Barry O'Farrell and Mike Baird, have won at least one state election.Max Ruddock
Maxwell (Max) Stanley Ruddock (2 January 1914 – 31 May 1976) was a New South Wales politician, Assistant Treasurer and Minister of the Crown in the cabinets of Tom Lewis and Sir Eric Willis. Representing the Liberal Party he was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for 14 years from 3 March 1962 until his resignation on 25 May 1976.Members of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, 1976–1978
This is a list of members of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1976 to 1978, as elected at the 1976 state election.
1 The Hills Liberal MLA Max Ruddock resigned on 25 May 1976. Liberal candidate Fred Caterson won the resulting by-election on 9 October.
2 Willoughby MLA Laurie McGinty was elected as a Liberal member, but resigned from the party in September 1977 after losing party preselection to recontest his seat at the 1978 state election. He served out his term as an independent.
3 Earlwood Liberal MLA Eric Willis resigned on 16 June 1978. Labor candidate Ken Gabb won the resulting by-election on 15 July.
4 Pittwater Liberal MLA Bruce Webster resigned on 21 July 1978. No by-election was held due to the proximity of the 1978 state election.
5 Wollondilly Liberal MLA Tom Lewis resigned on 7 September 1978. No by-election was held due to the proximity of the 1978 state election.
6 Cessnock Labor MLA George Neilly resigned on 8 September 1978. No by-election was held due to the proximity of the 1978 state election.Neil Pickard
Neil Edward William Pickard (13 February 1929 – 13 April 2007) was a New South Wales politician and Minister of the Crown in the cabinets of Sir Eric Willis and Nick Greiner. He was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for 26 years from 17 November 1973 to 3 May 1991 for the Liberal Party until his retirement from politics upon the abolition of his seat at the election. He was appointed NSW Agent-General in London, but was recalled soon after due to expenses abuse.Neville Wran
Neville Kenneth Wran, (11 October 1926 – 20 April 2014) was an Australian politician who was the Premier of New South Wales from 1976 to 1986. He was the national president of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1980 to 1986 and chairman of both the Lionel Murphy Foundation and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) from 1986 to 1991.Tim Bruxner
James Caird "Tim" Bruxner (18 May 1923 – 22 August 2017) was an Australian politician who was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 3 March 1962 to 28 August 1981 and the Deputy Leader of the Country Party and its successors in New South Wales from 1975 to 1981.
Bruxner held positions as a Minister of the Crown for Housing, Cooperative Societies, Decentralisation and Development and Tourism in the cabinets of Sir Robert Askin and Tom Lewis. Under Sir Eric Willis, Bruxner was promoted as Minister for Transport and Minister for Highways. Upon losing government in 1976, Bruxner continued as Deputy Leader and Shadow Minister until his retirement from politics in 1981.Tom Lewis (Australian politician)
Thomas Lancelot Lewis (23 January 1922 – 25 April 2016) was a New South Wales politician, Premier of New South Wales and minister in the cabinets of Sir Robert Askin and Sir Eric Willis. He became Premier following Askin's retirement from politics and held the position until he was replaced by Willis in a party vote. Lewis was first elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for the Electoral district of Wollondilly for the Liberal Party in 1957, and served until his resignation in 1978.Willis–Punch ministry
The Willis–Punch ministry or Willis ministry was the 70th ministry of the New South Wales Government, and was led by the 34th Premier of New South Wales, the Honourable Sir Eric Willis, in a Liberal Party coalition with the Country Party of Australia, that was led by the Honourable Leon Punch, MLA.