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Hulme, Sir Alan Shallcross (1907–1989)

by Peter Coleman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Sir Alan Shallcross Hulme (1907-1989), politician, accountant and cattle breeder, was born on 14 February 1907 at Mosman, Sydney, second child of Thomas Shallcross Hulme, an English-born civil servant, and his wife Emily Clara, née Hynes, born in New South Wales. Alan left North Sydney Boys’ High School at the age of 15 ambitious to go on the land. This was beyond the family’s resources, and his first job was as a messenger-boy for Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd. He later trained as an accountant and joined the firm of Cullen-Ward (& Co.). In 1934 he moved to Queensland to open its Brisbane office. He was made a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia in 1938. On 3 May that year he married Jean Frances Archibald at the Methodist Church, West End. She shared his interest in both politics and the land.

In 1943 Hulme was a founding member of the Queensland People’s Party. He became its president (from 1946) and campaign manager, but backed its merger with the Liberal Party of Australia which, as a national party, he regarded as better suited to dismantling wartime controls and advancing liberalism. A believer in free enterprise, low taxation and small government, he stood for the Liberal Party in the Federal election in 1949 and was elected to the Brisbane seat of Petrie. Although a committed `Menzies man’, he was at first sometimes seen as a `burr in the saddlebag’ of the coalition government, which he believed made too many concessions to government regulation. He served on the House Committee (1950-58) and the Joint Committee of Public Accounts (1952-58), and chaired the Commonwealth Committee on Rates of Depreciation (1954-55) and the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council (1956-58). On 10 December 1958 he was appointed minister for supply.

Hulme lost his seat in the swing against the Menzies government in 1961. Becoming a business consultant, he was a director of Chandlers (Australia) Ltd and the J. B. Chandler Investment Co. Ltd. In 1963 he won Petrie back and on 18 December he was appointed postmaster-general. He was responsible for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in an increasingly turbulent period. Believing there to be bias, not balance, in ABC news and commentary, he was frequently in confrontation with some reporters (whom he saw as leftist propagandists) and commissioners (whom he considered ineffectual). Commenting on the ABC’s budget estimates for 1970-71, he proposed in a letter to the chairman of the commission that cuts be made to television current affairs programs (such as `Four Corners’ and `This Day Tonight’). ABC staff leaked the letter to the newspapers and, in the subsequent furore over the independence of the ABC, Hulme withdrew his suggestion but remained unrepentant.

As postmaster-general, Hulme announced the introduction of FM radio, colour television, international telephone calls using satellites, and the inclusion of health warnings on broadcast tobacco advertisements. The controversial communications tower on Black Mountain, Canberra, remains a monument to his record term as postmaster-general. He was also vice-president of the Executive Council from 1966 to 1972.

A courteous, conscientious, meticulous man, Hulme was respected as a political peacemaker. He loyally supported the five prime ministers under whom he served—(Sir) Robert Menzies, Harold Holt, (Sir) John McEwen, (Sir) John Gorton and (Sir) William McMahon. On Holt’s death, he had worked to make (Sir) Paul Hasluck the next prime minister but, when Gorton resigned as prime minister after failing to win a party-room vote of confidence, Hulme moved a vote of thanks by acclamation. Both in parliament and as president of the Queensland division of the Liberal Party (1946-49 and 1962-63), he was a federalist (with a respect for the rights of both the States and the Commonwealth) and a strong coalitionist (often called on to mediate in the inter-party disputes so frequent in Queensland). But he was also a tough negotiator: `Nothing is agreed’, he once declared, `until everything is agreed’.

Appointed KBE in 1971, Sir Alan did not contest the 1972 election, having won the seat of Petrie in eight elections. Some years earlier he had purchased land at Eudlo, near Nambour, Queensland, where he and his wife established a successful Droughtmaster stud. After leaving politics he was able to satisfy his youthful ambition to go on the land. His wife died in June 1983. Survived by his two sons and daughter, he died on 9 October 1989 at Nambour; he was accorded a state funeral and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • K. S. Inglis, This Is the ABC (1983)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Senate), 16 Oct 1989, p 1865
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), 24 Oct 1989, p 1659
  • Business Review, Feb 1971, p 2
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Coleman, 'Hulme, Sir Alan Shallcross (1907–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hulme-sir-alan-shallcross-12666/text22827, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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