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Thomas Andrew (Tom) Foley (1886–1973)

by Tim Moroney

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Thomas Andrew (Tom) Foley (1886-1973), politician, general labourer and contractor, was born on 26 April 1886 at Charters Towers, Queensland, son of Andrew Foley, labourer, and his wife Margaret, née McKeegan, both from Ireland. Educated at the local state school until the age of 14, Tom later studied at night-school. His various occupations, in North Queensland and New South Wales, included labouring on wharfs, in canefields, timber camps, metalliferous mines, and in railway and building construction. He subsequently worked as a contractor, supplying sleepers to the railways. In these diverse activities Foley honed his union and political experience. By 1919 he was an organizer for the Australian Workers' Union and a member of the Blair Athol (near Clermont) Workers' Political Organisation. At St Joseph's Catholic Church, Capella, on 23 March 1920 he married Christina Madeline Pianta.

In a by-election on 20 December 1919 Foley had won the Legislative Assembly seat of Leichhardt for the Australian Labor Party. As a result of redistributions, the seat was changed three times—to Normanby (1931), Belyando (1949) and Barcoo (1958)—while Foley held it. He was a passionate proponent of his electorate's coal and gemstone mining, and its closer settlement schemes linked with farming and grazing. An advocate of the conservation of fodder to create a reserve against drought, he was equally aware of the need for forestry conservation, but accepted a continuation of the koala and possum fur-trade—regulated by licences. Foley was always a strong supporter of socialism which, for him, embraced state enterprises, co-operative farming ventures, leasing land in preference to granting freehold, nationalized banking, industrial democracy and a union-based council to control industry. His speeches incorporated wide-ranging research and he often used comparative material to illustrate his arguments.

After Labor returned to power under William Forgan Smith, Foley served as government whip (1932-36). On 17 December 1936 he was appointed secretary for mines; he upgraded the education of mine inspectors and managers, and improved ventilation and safety measures. While secretary for labour (1939-44), he established co-ordinating mechanisms for postwar employment. As secretary for health and home affairs (1944-47), he introduced E. M. Hanlon's free hospital scheme. Under Foley's auspices the Queensland Health Education Council and the Queensland Radium Institute were established. Slim in build and of middle height, Foley had a generous nature; he was regarded as deliberate and reliable in his parliamentary duties, but became enmeshed in controversy.

In December 1946 a charge against Foley, concerning illicit tobacco discovered in his garage, was dismissed by a magistrate. Two men, one of them Foley's brother-in-law, were found guilty of possession of the contraband. When Foley was acquitted, the government promptly abandoned its undertaking to establish a royal commission into the affair, but one lasting inheritance was his euphonious nickname 'Fine Cut' Foley. As secretary for public lands (1947-56), he introduced legislation for closer-land and war-service settlement. Allegations of maladministration and corruption within the Lands Department appeared in the Worker in 1955 and were aired in the Senate next year. The Gair ministry established a royal commission to investigate the matters and Foley surrendered his portfolio on 6 April 1956. Having received an interim report, the government decided to prosecute Foley before a magistrate in the police court. Once again he was found not guilty. On 14 June, however, he resigned from cabinet when the commission found him guilty of corrupt conduct. The chairman of the Land Administration Board, V. R. Creighton, who had given evidence against Foley, was summoned before the bar of the parliament to explain his behaviour and later dismissed by cabinet. Foley was expelled from the A.L.P. in October. Following the 1957 split, he was accepted as a member of the newly formed Queensland Labor Party, for which he successfully held Belyando. Although he continued to address a plethora of subjects in parliament, he faced the dilemma of having to defend his former policies. At the time of his defeat at the elections in May 1960, Foley had sat in parliament for a continuous term of forty years.

He retired to Coochiemudlo Island in Moreton Bay where he farmed pawpaws. Survived by his daughter and two sons, Foley died on 5 February 1973 in South Brisbane and was buried in Nudgee cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lack (compiler), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Labor in Power (Brisb, 1980)
  • R. Patrick, A History of Health and Medicine in Queensland 1824-1960 (Brisb, 1987)
  • ALP (Queensland Branch), Caucus Minutes, 1919-57
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth, Senate), 15 Feb-17 May 1956
  • Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1956-57, 2, pp 733, 877
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 8 Nov, 6 Dec 1946, 2 May 1956, 6-7 Feb 1973
  • Worker (Brisbane), 25 July, 1, 8, 15, 22 Aug, 19 Sept, 3, 31 Oct, 14 Nov 1955, 20 Feb, 12, 19 Mar, 18 June 1956
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tim Moroney, 'Foley, Thomas Andrew (Tom) (1886–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


26 April, 1886
Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia


5 February, 1973 (aged 86)
South Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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