Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Carter, Lionel Lewin (1890–1968)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Lionel Lewin Carter (1890-1968), industrial advocate and employer representative, was born on 6 October 1890 at Williamstown, Melbourne, sixth child of Thomas Frederick Carter, a grocer from Ireland, and his English-born wife Emily Jane, née Knight. In 1896 the family moved to Perth where Lionel was educated at the Newcastle Street State School and Perth Technical College. Peripatetic in his early career, he worked as a clerk, blacksmith, steam-hammer driver, optician and as a trainee chemist. He studied theology, joined the Methodist Home Mission and was successively posted to Dumbleyung, Lake Grace and Menzies.

On 7 August 1915 Carter enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and on 21 November married Amy Edith Norman in the Methodist Church, Albany. Commissioned in February 1916, he served on the Western Front with the 48th Battalion and was promoted captain in April 1917. He was the last man to withdraw when his company held ground in the face of an enemy advance near Zonnebeke, Belgium, on 12 October 1917; he was awarded the Military Cross. In April 1918 near Dernancourt, France, he was severely wounded and lost his right eye. After medical treatment in Britain, he returned to Australia, 'chock full of confidence' and ready for new challenges. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 3 March 1919.

In 1919 Carter stood unsuccessfully as a Nationalist against J. M. Fowler and John Curtin for the seat of Perth in the House of Representatives. Restless and 'unfit for indoor duty', he worked as a commercial traveller before joining a real-estate firm. He was returned to the Legislative Assembly in 1921 as the member for Leederville, but was defeated in 1924 when Labor ousted Sir James Mitchell's coalition government. Carter found the parliamentary system unwieldy, rued his lack of legislative training and was frustrated by the 'party wheel'. As a back-bencher, he felt that his voice 'cried in the wilderness' and he grew disillusioned, but he had been a member of the royal commission on repatriated soldiers of the A.I.F. (1923).

Already an industrial advocate, he was made executive secretary of the Western Australian Employers' Federation in 1929. With a dynamic personality, brilliant advocacy and a shoestring budget, Carter created a strong, umbrella organization that handled all local industries. Under pressure and in troubled times he regularly appeared in State and Commonwealth arbitration courts, tackling wage-fixing and awards, the 44-hour week, price pegging, negotiations with the Australian Workers' Union and other bodies, unemployment, industrial unrest and strikes.

Carter repeatedly clashed with (Sir) Walter Dwyer, the presiding judge of the Western Australian Arbitration Court, and was a powerful influence on the Australian Council of Employers' Federations. His most publicized and acrimonious wrangle occurred in May 1943 with E. J. Ward, Federal minister for labour and national service, whom Carter accused of habitually, mischievously and unethically attacking employers' integrity. He cited Ward's pronouncement that, by opposing price control, employers were 'sabotaging the war effort'. Ward retorted that Mr Carter 'was not a very important person'. Backed by his W.A.E.F. principals, Carter asserted that the minister was interfering with the proper working of the arbitration process. The debate was widely covered on radio and in the press. In July the federation lost its quota for paper for the Employers' Industrial Digest, which did not reappear until 1947.

He left the W.A.E.F. in 1949 to establish Carter's Motors at Bunbury. In 1958 a group of Perth businessmen invited him to direct the Western Australian Trade Bureau. Carter's task was to manage a political campaign in favour of free enterprise and against the Unfair Trading and Profit Control Act (1956). Highly conservative and an experienced confrontationist, he was in his element—preparing press releases, authorizing broadcasts and initiating political cartoons. The campaign contributed to the defeat of Albert Hawke's government in March 1959.

Almost six feet (183 cm) tall, Carter was well built and had a fair complexion. He was a gregarious man, an excellent speaker and had a wry wit. At Green Gables, his Mount Lawley home, he enjoyed tennis parties and musical evenings, and at the Charles Street Methodist Church he sang bass solo. Involved with Legacy, he also supported his wife's work for the Mofflyn Children's Home. During World War II he had been a volunteer at Western Command and sang at fund-raising concerts with Billy Edwards in a group called `The Specialists'. Carter always marched on Anzac Day; he belonged to the Returned Services League of Australia and the 5th Military Lodge. Survived by his wife and four sons, he died on 30 March 1968 at Claremont and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • F. K. Crowley, State Election (Perth, 1959)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Western Australia), 1923, 1 (3)
  • London Gazette, 14 Dec 1917
  • Employers' Industrial Digest (Perth), Apr-June 1943, Jan 1947
  • Albany Advertiser, 24 Nov 1915
  • West Australian, 14 Mar 1921, 1 Apr 1968
  • private information.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Carter, Lionel Lewin (1890–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/carter-lionel-lewin-9701/text17125, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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