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Hayes, John Blyth (1868–1956)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

John Blyth Hayes (1868-1956), by Jack Cato, 1930s

John Blyth Hayes (1868-1956), by Jack Cato, 1930s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23458404

John Blyth Hayes (1868-1956), farmer and premier, was born on 21 April 1868 at Bridgewater, Tasmania, son of Joshua John Hayes, schoolmaster, and his schoolteacher wife Elizabeth, née Blyth. His grandfather, John Hayes, was member of the House of Assembly for Brighton in 1882-86. Hayes was educated by his mother. At some time in the late 1880s or early 1890s he joined the mining rush to Western Australia. Details of his early career are lost, though it is known that he managed an ore-reduction and cyanide works at Wiluna. He returned to Tasmania about 1906 and purchased Burnside, Scottsdale, to which he took his bride Laura Linda, née Blyth, a cousin whom he married with Anglican rites on 22 January 1907 at St David's Cathedral, Hobart. For most of his life he was active in local farming affairs; in 1912-20 he was secretary of the Scottsdale Board of Agriculture and in 1911 president of the North-Eastern Agricultural and Pastoral Association.

Hayes entered politics at the January 1913 Tasmanian election on the Liberal ticket for Bass. During the campaign he made much of his farming background, speaking almost exclusively of rural matters as 'the farmers' candidate'. Helped by the largest vote in the Scottsdale subdivision, he was one of three Liberals returned for the electorate. Hayes was fortunate to win his seat during a time of political upheaval. During his first three years both the Solomon and Earle governments fell, and in (Sir) Walter Lee's first Nationalist government of April 1916 he became minister for lands and works and minister responsible for agriculture and for the Hydro-Electric Department; in 1919-22 he was minister for works. He was a competent administrator, winning plaudits from rural interests for his support, as well as for his work in soldier settlement. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1921.

The emergence of the Country Party, antagonistic to Lee, and led by Ernest Frederick Burns Blyth who, as a Liberal, had followed his cousin and brother-in-law Hayes into the House in June 1913, led to a bitter election battle in June 1922. The contest split the anti-Labor vote and gave the Country Party the balance of power. It was clear that any attempt to reconcile the conservative parties would fail while Lee remained premier and, although a vote of no confidence in August failed, Lee resigned, advising the governor to send for Blyth. Blyth arranged a meeting of both parties and a unanimous vote elected Hayes as premier of Tasmania's first coalition government; he also became minister for works, with Lee as treasurer and Blyth minister for lands and mines.

The Hayes ministry was never allowed to settle into the job, largely because of the 'financial bog' it inherited. Tasmania had borrowed heavily during and after the war and by 1922 was faced with a huge interest bill which swallowed over one-third of the annual revenue. The State also suffered from a particularly low return on its public services: in 1922-23 over £350,000 was lost in the politically sensitive areas of railways, soldier settlement and shipping. The report of a government-appointed Economy Board recommended heavy retrenchments in all sections of the bureaucracy. Little was done, other than to reduce teachers' salaries, and the call was taken up by the ministry's critics who also seized on a condemnatory Railways Commission report.

Demands for the premier's resignation began in mid-1923. In August Hayes used a meeting of dissident government politicians, convened to discuss the government's future, as sufficient reason to resign, and despite invitations to reconsider he stood aloof, refusing also to contemplate joining any new ministry. J. C. Newton was elected Nationalist leader but failed to gain adequate support, and Hayes performed a last service for his party by securing the re-election of Lee. He then moved promptly to nominate for a Senate vacancy in September 1923 and at a joint sitting of the Tasmanian parliament was narrowly elected.

As a Nationalist and United Australia Party senator Hayes usually spoke on rural affairs, especially as they related to Tasmania. Another matter of great concern to him was the effect of Federation on the Tasmanian economy, and he argued strongly for generous Commonwealth assistance. In 1927 he spoke at length in support of changes in the per capita arrangements, and next year he attacked the Navigation Act for its restriction of Tasmanian shipping. He was a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts in 1926-32 (chairman in 1932), and temporary chairman of committees in 1932-38. President of the Senate in 1938-41, and known to his friends as 'J.B.', he was described as 'a tall handsome man with quiet dignity' and was noted for his non-provocative attitude to the party battle; after his death he was praised by Labor premier (Sir) Robert Cosgrove for his Senate work for Tasmania.

Hayes retired from parliament in 1947. At the same time he left farming and moved to Launceston. A devout Anglican, he was a trustee and churchwarden at Scottsdale, was on the diocesan council, and served as chairman of committees of the Tasmanian Synod. He died at Launceston on 12 July 1956 and after a service at St Aidan's Church was buried in Carr Villa cemetery. He was survived by his wife; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • F. C. Green (ed), A Century of Responsible Government 1856-1956 (Hob, 1956)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Senate, Commonwealth), 1927, 115, p 661, 1928, 119, p 6373, 6588, 1956, 9, p 9
  • Examiner (Launceston), 18 Jan 1913, 6 Feb 1923, 13, 17 July 1956
  • North-Eastern Advertiser, 17 July 1956.

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Hayes, John Blyth (1868–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hayes-john-blyth-6613/text11385, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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