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James Allan Guy (1890–1979)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

James Allan Guy (1890-1979), by Vandyck Studios, 1930s

James Allan Guy (1890-1979), by Vandyck Studios, 1930s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23419427

James Allan Guy (1890-1979), politician, trade union official and butcher, was born on 30 November 1890 at Launceston, Tasmania, son of James Guy, a native-born blacksmith, member (1909-13) of the House of Assembly and senator (1914-20), and his wife Margaret, née McElwee, whose brother G. J. McElwee was a member (1940-46) of the Legislative Council. Educated at Invermay State School, young James worked as a butcher. On 7 June 1916 he married Amy Louisa Adams (d.1951) with Methodist forms at Invermay.

Active in union affairs, Guy was State secretary (1911-16) of the Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union, treasurer of the Launceston Trades Hall Council, and secretary of the Launceston branches of the Federated Storemen and Packers' and of the Federated Carters' and Drivers' Industrial unions; he was also secretary of the Baking Trade Employees' and the Waterside Workers' federations of Australia. He was, as well, a member of the Butchers' Wages Board (from 1911) and of the Launceston City Council (1928-31), and was appointed an inspector (1940) under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act (1904-34). In 1916 he had been elected to the House of Assembly as an Australian Labor Party candidate for Bass; five years later he became general secretary of the Tasmanian branch of the party.

In J. A. Lyons's cabinet, Guy served as chief secretary (1923-28), minister for mines (1923-24) and minister for railways (1924-28). Acting-premier from July to December 1926 and deputy-premier until June 1928, he was deputy-leader of the Opposition in 1928-29. Although he was an unspectacular parliamentary performer, his ministerial career was safe and steady. In recognition of his standing in Bass, James Scullin recruited him to contest the seat in the 1929 Federal elections. On 12 October Guy and Lyons entered the House of Representatives.

In parliament Guy sided with Lyons in his gradual falling out with the Labor caucus, especially on the question of overseas loan repayments. On 13 March 1931, with three other Labor members, they supported a motion of no confidence in the Scullin government. Lyons and his 'little band' left the party to join the Nationalists in forming the United Australia Party which came to office in December with Lyons as prime minister.

Guy spoke rarely in the House and his most significant work was done away from the floor of parliament, though when he addressed the Chamber he often had something interesting to say. As a Labor member he had expressed strong support for a formal conciliation and arbitration process. He thought that an arbitration system and the protection of Australian industries were inextricably linked, and would improve the lot of the ordinary worker: 'We should endeavour to legislate so that every worker shall receive a fair wage for the work he performs, and that the conditions under which he operates shall, in every sense, be fair and reasonable'.

While representing Labor, he had sternly criticized (Sir) Earle Page for his inadequate knowledge of industrial matters and attacked Nationalist opponents for seeking to protect proprietors who employed sweated labour. In constitutional matters Guy supported the Scullin government's plan to give parliament power to amend the Constitution, asserting that those who saw it as sacred and unalterable impeded the country's progress. He claimed that section 51 of the Constitution posed a major problem for national advancement and suggested adopting the Canadian model which detailed provincial powers and left Federal powers 'untrammelled'.

With his change of party, Guy ceased to talk of such matters and confined his speeches largely to parochial Tasmanian issues, such as the production of potatoes and paper pulp, and the impact of trade upon the island's economy. In 1932 Lyons rewarded him for his loyalty by appointing him assistant-minister for trade and customs. One of Guy's responsibilities was to defend film-censorship provisions which he described as 'both necessary and admirable', for, without them, 'all sorts of puerile and undesirable films could be displayed, to the detriment, not only of our civilization, but of the Christian religion'. He dismissed the campaign by the Friends of the Soviet Union against the banning of the film, The Five Year Plan, on the grounds that the film was 'not considered desirable in the public interests'.

At the 1934 elections Guy lost his seat. Eager to return to Federal parliament, he contested Bass in 1937 and Wilmot in 1939, before winning the latter in 1940. He was party whip from 1941 until his defeat at the 1946 polls. In 1949 he was elected to the Senate for the Liberal Party.

Guy's comparatively few utterances in the Senate generally dealt with foreign relations and his perception of a communist threat to democracies like Australia. He saw Josef Stalin's 'ultimate goal' as 'the control of the entire human race'. Fearing 'the southward march of the Communists', he described the sending of Australian troops to Korea and Malaya as crucial if the threat were to be averted. Guy pushed continually for a larger defence vote and supported the introduction of compulsory military training. He was in favour of secret ballots in trade union elections to weaken the power of 'Communist bosses'. Reviled by former Labor friends for his part in bringing down the Scullin government, he responded by chiding them in 1955 for neglecting true Australian ways and being prepared 'to play the game on the Communist side'.

Defeated in the elections that year, Guy left the Senate in June 1956. At the Presbyterian Church, Punchbowl, Sydney, on 12 July 1952 he had married Madge Kernohan, a 61-year-old show-card writer. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1968. In later life he lived at Sylvania Waters and was associated with Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation (Australia) Pty Ltd and the Motion Pictures Distributors Association of Australia. Survived by the son of his first marriage, he died on 16 December 1979 at Bexley and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Lyons, So We Take Comfort (Lond, 1965)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 10 Apr 1930, p 1073, 26 June 1930, p 3336, 27 Oct 1932, p 1673, 6 Dec 1950, p 3751, 26 June 1951, p 368, 12 May 1955, p 352
  • Australian Worker, 18 Apr 1928, 18 Dec 1929
  • Mercury (Hobart), 28 Dec 1979.

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'Guy, James Allan (1890–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

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