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Andrew William Lacey (1887–1946)

by Donald J. Hopgood

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Andrew William Lacey (1887-1946), trade unionist and politician, was born on 19 October 1887 at Terowie, South Australia, son of George Lacey, labourer, and his wife Mary Ellen, née McLean. He attended the Terowie Public School. As an adult he worked in the smelters at Port Pirie and became an active trade unionist. In 1916-22 he was the Australian Workers' Union organizer at the works and in 1920-22 and 1932-35 a member of the Port Pirie Municipal Council. Port Pirie was the major population centre for the Federal electorate of Grey and had been held since Federation by A. Poynton who left the United Labor Party in 1916 over his support for conscription. Lacey, who opposed conscription, defeated him in 1922. He held the seat for Labor until 1931 and the end of the Scullin Labor government. Lacey was a member of a select committee on the operation of the Navigation Act in 1924. He was also a member of the Public Works Committee in 1925-28 and its chairman in 1929-31.

In 1933 Lacey won the State seat of Port Pirie. In this parliament Labor was split into 'Official', 'Premiers' Plan' and 'Lang' factions. The official group was the largest and as its head Lacey, who had voted against the Premiers' Plan in the Federal parliament, became leader of the Opposition. A year later the three factions reunited. He remained leader until 1938 and was deputy leader till his death.

Lacey was representative of the generation of Labor men who replaced those who had left the party with Hughes, Holman and the South Australian wartime leader Crawford Vaughan. Like his contemporaries John Gunn and L. L. Hill, he was identified with the industrial wing of the party. His union, the A.W.U., was through the 1920s almost as influential in the South Australian branch of the party as it was in Queensland. Though not a Catholic, he was of Irish stock and was attracted to the Australian nationalism which inspired the anti-conscription movement in World War I and so changed the course of Labor history. During the Depression he advocated nationalization of the banks. It was his misfortune to achieve prominence at a time when the Labor Party was deeply divided over the best means to counter the Depression. He exercised a moderating and healing influence within the party in the years of rehabilitation after 1933. An affable 'people's man', Lacey was never acrimonious in dispute.

He was prominent in the Justices' Association and was a trotting enthusiast, the owner of several horses. When young, he had been a keen sprinter. On 13 October 1908 he had married Helene Clara Welke. She and two sons and a daughter survived him when he died of heart disease on 24 August 1946. He was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Aug 1934, 4 Apr 1938
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 Aug 1946, 11 Oct 1948
  • PRG 455 (State Records of South Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Donald J. Hopgood, 'Lacey, Andrew William (1887–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 June 2024.

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