Vote for Leigh Creek and Electricity Trust of South Australia in 1946 upsets the conservatives

A train hauling Leigh Creek coal to the Playford power stations that started operating at Port Augusta from 1960.

Tom Playford’s bill to take over Adelaide Electricity Supply Company and replace it with the government-owned Electricity Trust of South Australia passed the Legislative Council by a one-vote majority in 1946.

It hinged on months of campaigning to change the mind of one Liberal and Country League member, Jack Bice. He voted in favour with five other LCL members and the only four Labor members of the council. The other LCL members, fiercely for free enterprise over undue government intervention, had tried to water the bill down to allow government control of Adelaide Electricity for only a brief time.

The decision to nationalise Adelaide Electricity and develop Leigh Creek proved prescient. In early 1947, mines in New South Wales were again crippled by strikes with a worse one, in 1949, forcing prime minister Ben Chifley to send in the armed forces to extract coal. While the other states suffered industrial power rationing, reducing their manufacturing output with more unemployment, South Australia escaped as the miners at Leigh Creek worked around the clock. 

Within four years, Leigh Creek mine was operating at a surplus and the town was further rewarded with federal funding. From 1947, until the end of Playford's leadership in 1965, the mine’s output rose tenfold to almost two million tons a year. Transport infrastructure was improved, European immigrant workers were recruited and twin power plants at Port Augusta were completed in 1960 and named after the premier.

The new power plants exclusively used Leigh Creek coal and, by 1970, the whole state was self-sufficient for electricity. ETSA and the mine were generating enough revenue to maintain the town—“Uncle Tom's Baby”—and mine of Leigh Creek and making a profit.

From 1946-65, South Australians connected to electricity increased from 70% to 96%. The struggle for Leigh Creek was critical to Playford's premiership. The successful passage of the nationalisation bill enhanced his image and gave him enduring control over his party but it angered some staunch LCL conservatives in Legislative Council who refused to talk to him for a long time.

Other related ADELAIDEAZ articles

Premier Tom Playford damaged by handling of Rupert Max Stuart royal commission in 1959

The Rupert Max Stuart murder case contributed to the fall of the premier Tom Playford’s long-standing South Australian government in 1965. Stuart's execution was set for July 7, 1959. Of letters to The Advertiser, 75% of writers favoured the sentence being commuted and petitions with thousands of signatures backed this. On the morning before, the first petition supporting the execution arrived by telegram with 334 signatures from Ceduna, Thevenard and districts. Playford’s executive council considered the petitions for 20 minutes before issuing a statement that the execution would go ahead next day. But Playford’s failure to curb discredited statements about Stuart’s English-speaking ability by police association president Paul Turner, who was involved in the case, prompted the Law Society of South Australia’s appeal to the Privy Council, putting a stay on the execution. Playford’s next move was to appoint a royal commission. Including chief justice Mellis Napier and justice Geoffrey Reed, both involved in the trial and appeals, as commissioners sparked a worldwide uproar, including bias claims from the president of Indian Bar Council, UK Liberal Party leader Jo Grimond and former British prime minister Clement Atlee. A clash between Mellis Napier and Jack Wentworth QC, over questioning of a detective, added to the front-page headlines from the commission. Labor Party MP Don Dunstan’s questions in parliament played a major role in Playford's decision to commute Stuart's sentence to life imprisonment, two months before the commission's findings, upholding the death sentence.

Big American deal for Radium Hill uranium as pro-nuke Tom Playford cashes in on Cold War

An advocate for nuclear power, South Australian premier Tom Playford tried, in the 1950s, to have a nuclear reactor based in the state. But the Australian Atomic Energy Commission chose Lucas Heights, on Sydney’s outskirts, as the site. Playford pushed South Australian mining of uranium as enmeshing the state in the Cold War campaign that extended to having atomic bombs tested by the British in its far north and a defence industry input started with the weapons research establishment at Salisbury. Significant state government research money was directed to the uranium found at Radium Hill. When the Korean war started, Playford exploited the American government’s anxiety to get uranium for nuclear weapons. He secured “the easiest and most generous [deal] in the history of uranium negotiations”. The highest Cold War uranium buy by the Americans contributed £4 million toward infrastructure of Radium Hill mine. From 1954, almost a million tonnes of uranium, worth £16 million, was mined over seven years, with its product treated at the South Australian government-owned and -operated plant in Port Pirie. Playford funded the mines department’s wider exploration using sophisticated instruments and deep drills. Iron ore was found in the Middleback Range on Eyre Peninsula and Playford helped Santos find oil and natural gas. After Leigh Creek coal mining started in 1942, Playford dealt with complaints about its quality by recruiting engineers who modified industrial boilers and engine fireboxes, enabling the coal to be used on the railways and the new Port Augusta power stations.

Government controls and enterprises used by Tom Playford in his whole-of-state push

Tom Playford (South Australia premier 1938-65) died from a long heart condition in 1981. After his state funeral at Flinders Street Baptist Church, thousands watched the procession to Norton Summit cemetery where he was buried with his forebears in a grave inscribed: “A good man who did good things”. Playford who'd been knighted in 1957 via Liberal prime minister Robert Menzies, had, as long-time opponent Don Dunstan acknowledged, “worked tirelessly and effectively for the good of the state as he saw it.” The physical legacy of Playford’s timeis the infrastructure of government enterprises such as the South Australian Housing Trust and Electricity Trust of South Australia. Playford has no qualms about using government powers such as post-World War II price controls.  This was all part of his development drive – overdrive in instances such as preserving heritage. Playford was a zealous convert to a whole-of-state approach by South Australia to assert itself against bigger eastern states. Prime movers in this approach were public servants: auditor general J. W. Wainwright, guilding light of Playford’s industrialisation strategy, and housing trust general manager Alex Ramsay. They were involved in a peculiarly South Australian movement called Common Cause during World War II. It brought together unlikely bedfellows such as communist secretary of the Gasworkers Union, Tom Garland, and St Peter’s College headmaster, the Rev. Guy Pentreath, to urge a united “whole concentration” on “service to the nation”. Playford applied that to South Australia in its peacetime challenges.

Richard Butler follows his father as premier; a tough operator toppled by a moral crusade

1927-30  1933-38
Richard Layton Butler followed his father in becoming a premier with achievement such as starting the Housing Trust and enticing BHP to Whyalla. His tough approach to Canberra helped the state to lead the way in balancing its budgets. Butler boosted the electoral advantage of the Liberal Country League which he created. But the country members of that merger backed a moral crusade against Butler rejecting compulsory religion education and bans on drinking and gambling.

 

Dean Brown tangled in historic battle between Liberals' moderates and conservatives

1993-96
Dean Brown led the Liberal Party to a landslide win in 1993 but lost the premiership in a challenge from John Olsen that represented the historic clash of the moderate and conservative wings of  Liberal Party. Brown had struggled to rein in his party with its 14-seat majority—the largest in the state's history. Historic factional battles were still being played out. Prominent moderates Joan Hall and Graham Ingerson threw their support to Olsen who launched a successful party-room coup against Brown. 

 

Archibald Peake merges conservative, liberal anti-Labor forces as the Liberal Union party

Archibald Peake formed the Liberal Union, an alliance of conservatives and liberals that became the basis of anti-Labor politics in South Australia. When Labor won the 1910 state election in its own right, two independent conservative parties, the Australasian National League (formerly National Defence League) and the rural Farmers and Producers Political Union, joined with Peake’s Liberal and Democratic Union to form the Liberal Union.



 

Contact Us

We welcome positive constructive feedback