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Loughlin, Peter Ffrench (1882–1960)

by Bede Nairn

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Peter Ffrench Loughlin (1882-1960), politician and grazier, was born on 12 December 1882 at Mongarlowe, near Braidwood, New South Wales, son of John Loughlin, policeman, of Ireland, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Ffrench, of New South Wales. He was educated at Ginninderra Public School and in 1896-97 at St Patrick's College, Goulburn; he then worked in a store at Goulburn. In 1900 he became a teacher in the Department of Public Instruction, being sent next year to Erambie Aboriginal School at Cowra, where at St Raphael's Catholic Church on 16 April 1906 he married Louisa Davis. He taught at several country schools including Darby's Falls, Neila Creek and Blowering.

Loughlin's interest in public affairs and debating skills, honed in several societies, made him a valuable member of the Labor Party. He opposed conscription in World War I and defeated ex-Laborite G. A. Burgess for the State seat of Burrangong in 1917. By then he was an expert on rural problems and had helped to consolidate Labor's extensive country support. His social awareness was reinforced and sustained by his religion, and he joined moderate party members who won control from extremist 'industrialist' (trade union) groups headed by J. S. Garden and A. C. Willis in 1919.

Loughlin was of medium build, with pleasant features and a receding hairline. His warm personality matched his political talents, and after he had won a Cootamundra seat in 1920—after some conflict with J. J. G. McGirr—he became minister for lands and forests in J. Storey's government, retaining the portfolios in James Dooley's 1921-22 cabinets. An active and perceptive minister, he finally abolished the role of land agents who had long imposed on credulous land-seekers; he tightened the administration of the ailing soldier settlement scheme, but lacked time to realize his vision of closer settlement. Labor lost the 1922 general election; but Loughlin had developed as one of its most sagacious parliamentarians with a firmness now refining his natural courtesy and good temper.

Factionalism remained endemic in the labour movement, with country members wary of attempts of city industrialists to dominate the party. The complexity was compounded by novel pressures from 'communists', led by Garden but not clearly defined organizationally on the radical margin until 1923, by efforts of the Australian Workers' Union, with J. Bailey prominent, to maintain its influence, and by the renewed ambitions of Willis, secretary of the miners' federation. Loughlin assessed the position in August 1922 as, 'Self-confessed, the movement is full of corruption', and determined to preserve its pristine purity. Strangely sensing a kindred spirit in J. T. Lang, Loughlin combined with him to seek Federal party help to nullify the State executive's appointment of McGirr as leader in March 1923. The June conference justified their activity and Loughlin was mentioned as party leader, but in July he became deputy leader to Lang. Their manifesto denounced capitalism and sectarianism, and sought co-operation with the industrialists. In 1924 Loughlin responded to the tide of revulsion against communism by issuing a pamphlet, Ten Reasons Why Labor Should Exclude the Communist Party.

Labor won the 1925 election and Loughlin again became minister for lands and forests. His understanding with Lang crumbled as the premier's aggressiveness generated cabinet fissures, and his ambition and need to appease the industrialists forced him to appoint Willis to the Legislative Council and the ministry. Loughlin contributed to the government's social and industrial legislation, and as acting premier in May-June 1926 smoothed party dissension. But Lang's insecurity and extra-parliamentary links increased tensions. Loughlin resigned his portfolios and challenged him in September after he had refused to defend certain parliamentarians against attacks in the Labor Daily, and seemed about to accept the alleged plans of the industrialists to introduce new 'red' party rules to perpetuate his leadership and their control: a tied caucus vote, against a background of pressure from trade union secretaries, left Lang in charge.

Loughlin resumed the deputy leadership, and attended a large conference at Bathurst which he had organized as part of Labor's policy to regulate marketing of rural products. He resigned again on 19 November and left the party after a special conference had removed Lang from caucus control and foreshadowed the implementation of the 'red rules'; but with fellow country members V. W. E. Goodin and R. T. Gillies he unexpectedly refrained from voting in a censure motion and Lang survived, agreeing to an early election. But a pact with Goodin and Gillies helped to keep the government in office until October 1927, when Loughlin, as Independent Labor, lost his seat narrowly. A public testimonial of £3237 reflected not only much country but also city appreciation of his integrity: H. V. Evatt and T. D. Mutch were among its organizers.

Loughlin then became associated with the Goulburn Evening Penny Post and developed his criticism of party government, arguing that a 'Ministry should be representative of the main currents of political thought'. In 1930 he lost as an Independent at Young. But he held Goulburn for the United Australia Party in 1932-35, and was on that party's council in 1934-38, failing to win Goulburn and Wollondilly in 1938. He had settled on the land at Carcoar in 1934. He became discontented with the negativism of his new party, and in 1943 castigated its role in building up the Country Party and its 'present strivings for … mergers with other organisations'.

About 1957 Loughlin retired to Pennant Hills, Sydney. On 11 July 1960 he died in Hornsby hospital after a motor car accident. Buried in the Field of Mars cemetery, he was survived by his wife, their two sons and three of their five daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £19,788. Above all, Loughlin was a devoted and successful countryman; socially radical and politically idealistic, he sought reforms through the Labor Party and contributed much to its wide moral appeal. But, not unlike W. A. Holman, he came to resent the role of the extra-parliamentary component of the party. His dilemma was complicated by his loathing of communism and distrust of city trade unionists which led eventually to his rejection of Labor factionalism and the opportunism of Lang.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Radi and P. Spearritt (eds), Jack Lang (Syd, 1977)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Apr 1920, 8 June 1922, 1 Aug 1923, 16 Nov 1923, 24 Apr 1924, 11 Dec 1925, 16 Sept, 22 Nov 1926, 21 Nov 1927, 26 May 1931, 13 June 1932, 12 July 1960
  • Freeman's Journal, 15 Apr 1920, 18 June 1925
  • Fighting Line, 22 Apr 1920
  • Australian Worker, 27 May 1925
  • Bulletin, 22 May 1935
  • private information.

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Loughlin, Peter Ffrench (1882–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/loughlin-peter-ffrench-7239/text12537, accessed 22 November 2017.

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