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Watt, William Alexander (1871–1946)

from Age (Melbourne)

William Watt, with his wife Emily, by Fairfax Corporation, c.1930s

William Watt, with his wife Emily, by Fairfax Corporation, c.1930s

National Library of Australia, 51894030

The late Mr. W. A. Watt, whose death is reported on page 1, was born at Kyneton in November, 1871. He was one of the youngest men to enter Parliament. He was also one of the youngest to obtain Cabinet rank, when he became Postmaster-General in a pre-Federation State Ministry. He was a progressively minded Liberal. As a young member of the Australian Natives' Association he had shown an early aptitude for public debate.

As his political career developed he became acknowledged as one of the most capable of post-Federation Parliamentary speakers. His oration at Queen's Hall, Parliament House, Melbourne, on the occasion of the death of Alfred Deakin made an enduring impression on those who heard it.

A vigorous yet dignified and eloquent debater, he had the additional advantage of a resonant voice, a ready wit and a commanding presence. Possessing, as well, a complete grip of Parliamentary procedure, he is remembered as a distinguished Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Mr. Watt was only 26 when in 1897 he defeated the late Mr. Prendergast for North Melbourne seat in the Legislative Assembly, and 28 when he first became a Cabinet Minister. Defeated at the 1900 State elections, he was returned two years later, this time representing Melbourne East from 1902 to 1904 and Essendon from 1904 to 1914. In the latter year he transferred to Federal Parliament, winning the Balaclava seat, which he represented until his retirement from politics.

In the State sphere he was Treasurer 1909-12; Premier and Treasurer, 1912-14. His first portfolio in the Commonwealth Administration was that of Works and Railways (1917-18). He was Treasurer in 1918-20, and Minister for Trade and Customs in 1918-19. As Federal Treasurer he filled the vacancy caused by Baron Forrests retirement. During Mr. W. M. Hughes's absence abroad Mr. Watt was Acting Prime Minister.

But he himself was abroad in 1919 — as Australian representative at the Economic Financial Conference — when, owing to a difference of opinion with Mr. Hughes, Mr. Watt cabled his resignation as Federal Treasurer. He continued as a private member, representing Balaclava, and in 1923 was appointed Speaker, a post he held until the transfer of the National Parliament from Melbourne to Canberra three years later.

The late Mr. Watt was on the board of many public companies. His resignation from the board of Dunlop Australia Ltd, (of which he was chairman) was tendered last month on medical advice.

He was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1920, and created a Commander of the Legion of Honor. He was chairman of Melbourne Cricket Ground trustees.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Watt, William Alexander (1871–1946)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 August 2020.

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