Remembering Prime Minister Harold Holt 50 years on

Remembering Prime Minister Harold Holt 50 years on

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Deapartment of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Head and shoulders shot of elderly man with white hair wearing suit and tie. To the left are the words: The Honourable Harold Holt, Prime Minister of Australia 1966-1967, Photo courtesy of National Archives of Australia.

Harold Holt was Australia’s 17th Prime Minister. Born in Sydney in 1908, he entered the Federal Parliament in 1935 representing the seat of Fawkner in Victoria. Following a redistribution and enlargement of the House of Representatives, he moved to the seat of Higgins in 1949, which he held until his death in 1967.

At age 30, he became the youngest man to hold ministerial office in Federal parliament. He served in various portfolios including Labour and National Service, Immigration, and in 1958, he became Treasurer.

Deputy Liberal Party Leader since 1956, he was the party room’s unanimous choice to replace the retiring Robert Menzies as party leader in 1966. He was sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia on Australia Day, 26 January 1966.

Harold Holt served as Prime Minister for less than two years. However, his impact was significant. In a recent speech to the House of Representatives, his successor Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reminded the nation of part of that legacy.

‘As Prime Minister, he ushered in many of the reforms that we now consider so crucial, such watersheds, in our evolution to the modern nation we are today. He oversaw the dismantling of the White Australia policy, throwing open our doors to people from all corners of the world and sowing the seeds for the successful multicultural society Australia is today—the most successful multicultural society in the world.’

‘He drove the historic '67 referendum Yes vote, winning the overwhelming approval of the nation to empower the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and ensuring that our First Peoples were included in the national census. It was in his time as Prime Minister that Australians adopted the dollar over the pound and began navigating the shifting sands of a world with new economic rules and allegiances.

‘In the context of massive global geopolitical realignment he reintroduced Australia to our region and forged deeper ties in Asia. He was driven by his love of travel and curiosity about our region, as well as his charm and natural ability to get on with so many of its leaders, but, above all, by his understanding that our future lay here, where we live, in the Asia-Pacific.’

Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming at Cheviot Beach, Victoria on 17 December 1967. His body was never found. He was pronounced dead on 19 December.

Read more about the life of Harold Edward Holt on the National Museum of Australia’s website.