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Sir Phillip Reginald Lynch (1933–1984)

by Brian Buckley

This article was published:

Sir Phillip Reginald Lynch (1933-1984), politician, was born on 27 July 1933 at Carlton, Melbourne, eldest child of Victorian-born parents Reginald Thomas Lynch, fitter, and his wife Dorothy Louise, née Reilly.  Raised in a modest house at Kew, Phillip was taught by the Marist Brothers at Hawthorn and by the Jesuits at Xavier College, Melbourne, where he had a part scholarship.  In 1952 he entered the University of Melbourne (BA, 1955; Dip.Ed., 1964), and quickly made a reputation for himself in student politics.  Active in the Students’ Representative Council, the National Union of Australian University Students and the Newman Society, he campaigned strongly against the White Australia policy.  He thought about joining the Australian Labor Party, but felt alienated from the Victorian left.  The Liberal Party of Australia attracted him because of its social conservatism, and because it was becoming the natural home of small business.  He was to be a Catholic in a largely Protestant party.

At the 1955 Federal election Lynch unsuccessfully contested the safe Labor seat of Scullin as a Liberal.  In 1956-58 he was president of the Victorian division of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia.  At this time he met Andrew Peacock, with whom he would share friendly and not so friendly rivalry in the future.  In 1956-63 and 1972-82 Lynch was a member of the Victorian State executive of the Liberal Party.

After teaching for nearly a year, mostly at Collingwood Technical School, Lynch went into business as a management consultant, eventually becoming managing director of Manpower (Australia) Pty Ltd.  He was a member of the Institute of Directors in Australia and an associate of the Australian Institute of Management.  On 8 February 1958 at the Church of the Infant Jesus, Koroit, he married with Catholic rites Leah Brigid O’Toole, an occupational therapist.  He joined the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1959; he was Melbourne vice-president (1962) and president (1963), and national president (1966).

Winning preselection for the seat of Flinders, against a large and highly regarded field of candidates, Lynch entered Federal parliament in 1966.  He and his family settled in the electorate, first at Frankston and later at Mount Eliza.  Prime Minister (Sir) John Gorton appointed him minister for the army in February 1968.  Next month he embarrassed the government by first denying and then playing down allegations of a breach of the Geneva Convention in the interrogation of a female Viet Cong suspect—an affair that became known as the 'water torture' case.  He offered to resign but Gorton insisted that he retain the portfolio.  From November 1969 to March 1971 he was minister for immigration.  In (Sir) William McMahon’s cabinet, in 1971-72 he held the labour and national service portfolio.  Following the coalition’s defeat at the election in December 1972, he was an unexpected choice as deputy-leader of the party under Sir Billy Snedden.  He remained loyal to Snedden when A. A. (Tony) Staley and other Liberals precipitated a leadership challenge late in 1974, but in March 1975 he switched his support to Malcolm Fraser, who took over as leader of the Opposition.

As shadow treasurer, Lynch was something of a 'free marketeer', opposed to government regulation, bounties, subsidies, tariffs, statutory marketing boards and high personal taxation.  In 1972-74 he played a key role in revising the party platform, the first major reappraisal since the late 1940s.  He helped to forge a coherent alternative economic policy, despite continuing battles within the Liberal Party between the 'wets' and the 'dries' and the 'small "l" Liberals' and conservatives.

In 1975 Lynch’s office was largely responsible for uncovering the so-called 'loans affair', which involved secret negotiations by ministers in Gough Whitlam’s Labor government, which was attempting to raise huge overseas loans from unconventional sources.  Using local and international information, he and others in the Opposition alleged that the process of using intermediaries, such as Tirath Khemlani, was illegal and economically damaging, and exhibited financial incompetence.  Although he was not comfortable with his role as 'attack dog', preferring to debate policy, he was effective in destablising the Whitlam cabinet.  The scandal led to the downfall of two ministers, Rex Connor and Jim Cairns.  The governor-general, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975 and the coalition was returned to the front benches at the election in December.

Appointed treasurer in the new government, Lynch was regarded as the leading 'dry' in cabinet.  He set about trying to reduce the government debt and the impact of Federal government regulation on commercial life.  Prime Minister Fraser and leading National Country Party ministers were less enthusiastic; conflicts in the cabinet room ensued.  In 1976 Fraser divided treasury into two departments, treasury and finance, with Lynch taking responsibility for both.  In October 1977 Lynch’s campaign to reduce government spending was interrupted when the Opposition launched a bitter attack on him over his involvement in 1973 in a land development project in his electorate, at Stumpy Gully Road, Balnarring, Mornington Peninsula.  Two of his partners had been criticised in a Victorian inquiry into other land developments and Lynch was accused of profiting from speculation in relation to the Stumpy Gully deal.  A second controversy arose in 1977 over his purchase in July of a unit in the Golden Gate building at Surfers Paradise, Queensland.  In November, shortly after calling an early election for December, Fraser effectively forced him to stand aside from the ministry and installed John Howard as acting-treasurer.  During the campaign Lynch was ill in hospital with kidney stones.  Howard was confirmed in the post after the election, and Eric Robinson was given finance.  Although a legal and financial audit of Lynch’s affairs cleared him of any wrongdoing, the relationship between Fraser and Lynch remained strained.

Retaining the deputy-leadership, Lynch shifted to the portfolio of industry and commerce (which included tourism).  Never one to brood, he launched into his new job, developing a network of business advisers, including Sir Arvi Parbo, John Ralph and (Sir) Peter Derham.  He continued to influence policy through cabinet committees and the Review of Commonwealth Functions Committee—the so-called ministerial 'razor gang'—which had only limited success in reducing government expenditure and red tape.  Although he was opposed for the deputy-leadership by (Sir) James Killen after the 1977 election and by Peacock in 1980, he continued in the post until April 1982.  He was appointed privy councillor in 1977 and KCMG in 1980.  Known for his tenacity, relentless energy, capacity for hard work and ability to defuse crises, he often reconciled warring individuals and factions.

By October 1982 Lynch’s health was faltering; he resigned from parliament and set up a business consultancy in Melbourne; one of his clients was Henry Kissinger.  Becoming a director of several companies, including Bonds Coates Patons Ltd and NEC Australia Pty Ltd, he was also appointed to the Reserve Bank of Australia board.  He was dismayed that the Liberal Party machine could not make peace between the Howard and Peacock factions.  Sir Phillip died of cancer on 19 June 1984 at Frankston and was buried in Frankston cemetery after a state funeral.  His wife and their three sons survived him.  A group of old colleagues, who visited him at his home the day before he died, asked him about his best achievement.  He replied:  'keeping my friends'.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Buckley, Lynched, 1991
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), 21 August 1984, p 1
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 April 1982, p 13
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 1984, p 9
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1984, p 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June 1984, p 4
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 20 June 1984, p 11
  • Canberra Times, 20 June 1984, p 2
  • Lynch papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Liberal Party of Australia, Federal Secretariat records (National Library of Australia)
  • personal knowledge

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brian Buckley, 'Lynch, Sir Phillip Reginald (1933–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Phillip Lynch, 1971

Phillip Lynch, 1971

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3410757

Life Summary [details]


27 July, 1933
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


19 June, 1984 (aged 50)
Frankston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.