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McNamara, Daniel Laurence (1876–1947)

by Peter Cook

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Daniel Laurence McNamara (1876-1947), by unknown photographer

Daniel Laurence McNamara (1876-1947), by unknown photographer

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, RWP/22068

Daniel Laurence McNamara (1876-1947), politician, was born on 28 March 1876 at Pomborneit, near Camperdown, Victoria, son of Michael McNamara, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Taff, both Irish born. The family moved to Kooweerup, some fifty miles (80 km) south-east of Melbourne, when Daniel was 6. After education at local state schools he became involved as a young man in local co-operative ventures and trade union work. Later he was elected to the Berwick Shire Council, and was president in 1906-07.

McNamara moved to Melbourne in 1906 and was almost immediately prominent in the labour movement. An organizer of the Victorian Rural Workers' Union, he was for a time its secretary before it was absorbed by the Australian Workers' Union in 1913. He also made many appearances for unions before arbitration authorities. On the more directly political side, he was a delegate to the Australian Labor Party's Victorian annual conference from 1906 and a member of the central executive from 1909 and of the office staff of the party from 1910. From that position he used his great talent as an administrator to become assistant secretary (1910-22), organizing secretary (1922-25) and then general secretary in Victoria in 1925-47.

Appointed secretary of the federal executive of the party in 1925, McNamara held the position until 1946. He was therefore at the centre in the stormy years when the federal executive was fighting to establish its authority over the State branches, especially in New South Wales in 1927 and 1931-36 against Jack Lang. As both federal and a State secretary McNamara was very fortunate that in his time Victoria was not in conflict with the federal organization. He was a staunch supporter of the Premiers' Plan at both State and federal levels.

McNamara had for long been much interested in Federal-State relations and this led to his appointment as a member of the royal commission on the Constitution in 1927-29. He was one of the three who presented dissenting reports and his views were later published in a booklet, Constitution of the Commonwealth: Proposals for Amendment (1938); his major themes were the replacement of State parliaments with a number of regional councils, and, generally, the concentration of power and responsibility in the national government. His report influenced the official party approach to the question for several decades.

McNamara stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly in 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1911. He was elected unopposed for Melbourne East Province in the Legislative Council in 1917 and held a seat in the council continuously until his death. He was a minister in three short-lived Labor governments: for mines and forests in 1924, honorary minister in 1931-32, and in 1943 commissioner of crown lands and minister of forests and water supply. In all he held ministerial office for less than sixteen months.

His parliamentary career was long but not distinguished. He was a conscientious member but he did not speak often and it seems that his salary, time and energy were consumed in his two party secretarial posts. In them he earned distinction by his efficient administration, quiet manner and his total, unremitting dedication to the Labor Party and gained his reputation as a quiet but effective wielder of influence in its internal affairs.

'Danny' McNamara married Florence Spinks at St Ignatius' Church, Richmond, on May Day 1915, with John Curtin as best man. He died of coronary vascular disease at his home at East St Kilda on 28 December 1947, survived by his wife, a daughter and two sons. After a state funeral and requiem Mass he was buried in the new Cheltenham cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1961-62, p 593
  • Labor Call, 20 Aug 1936, 20 Feb 1947
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Dec 1947
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Dec 1947.

Citation details

Peter Cook, 'McNamara, Daniel Laurence (1876–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/mcnamara-daniel-laurence-7428/text12929, accessed 25 September 2017.

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