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McGovern, Sir Patrick Silvesta (1895–1975)

by Ian Carnell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Sir Patrick Silvesta McGovern (1895-1975), public servant, was born on 4 April 1895 at Korong Vale, Victoria, sixth of seven children of John McGovern, a farmer from Ireland, and his Victorian-born wife Elizabeth, née Carlon. Educated at state primary schools and at Beechworth College, Patrick began work in 1911 as a telegraph messenger in the Commonwealth Public Service. Following country and suburban postings, he transferred to the taxation branch of the Treasury in 1919. At St Peter's Anglican Church, Melbourne, on 22 July 1922 he married Henrietta Rose Laurissen. When a Commonwealth sales tax was hurriedly introduced in 1930, McGovern worked so unstintingly to implement it in Victoria that the strain made him seriously ill in 1932-33. As the State's chief investigating officer, sales tax, he responded to the government's increasingly complex legislation.

In 1939 McGovern was appointed deputy-commissioner, sales tax, Canberra. He later played a key role in the introduction of payroll tax (1941) and changes to entertainment tax (1942). While he was not the senior deputy-commissioner, he was 'the outstanding one'. By 1942 he had become second commissioner of taxation. The commissioner L. S. Jackson concentrated on the many alterations made to income tax during World War II. McGovern oversaw other taxes, handled tax-evasion cases and performed much of the day-to-day administration. Between 1939-40 and 1944-45 the department's staff grew from 1073 to 5462, and Federal tax collections rose from £35 million to £270.5 million.

After an exhausted Jackson declined reappointment, McGovern succeeded him as commissioner in May 1946. His early efforts centred on establishing a coherent and effective management structure, and successfully reducing wartime arrears. All the while the workload continued to increase. In the early 1950s the number of staff in the taxation office was capped at 7000 and McGovern focused on ways to maximize efficiency. (Sir) Arthur Fadden appreciated the commissioner's stout defence of his wool sales deduction proposal (1950). McGovern began a second term as commissioner in 1953 and was appointed C.B.E. in 1954.

Some of his staff found him aloof, with no light touch; others thought him vain; yet everyone respected him. McGovern raised the status of the tax office significantly. He also facilitated acceptance of pay-as-you-earn and provisional-tax arrangements. Politicians who made inquiries on behalf of their constituents received 'very firm, but very just and very courteous treatment'. Socially, McGovern was more genial, but always retained his presence. Golf on Sunday mornings, gardening, powerful motorcars and woodwork were his enthusiasms. He was president (1946-47) of the Rotary Club of Canberra and a foundation member (1954) of the Commonwealth Club.

McGovern was knighted in 1959. Reluctant to retire, he was appointed commissioner for an additional year under special legislation. In April 1961 he left an office with almost 8000 staff collecting £1 billion annually. He served as honorary treasurer of the National Heart Foundation of Australia (1959-69) and of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (Australia) (1961-71), and as chairman of Model Dairy Industries Ltd and Canberra Crematorium Ltd. Survived by his wife and two daughters, Sir Patrick died on 18 March 1975 in his home at Forrest, Canberra, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Fadden, They Called Me Artie (Brisb, 1969)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 30 Mar 1960, p 345
  • Canberra Times, 20 Mar 1975
  • A463/61 item 59/3737, A6899/1 item P. S. McGovern (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Ian Carnell, 'McGovern, Sir Patrick Silvesta (1895–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcgovern-sir-patrick-silvesta-10958/text19475, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 11 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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