On This Day……… 9th April 1867
John Christian Watson, 3rd Prime Minister of Australia was born on this day. He was the first prime minister from the Australian Labour Party, and the first prime minister from the labour movement in the world. He was of Chilean birth, with German and New Zealand ancestry.
Previously serving in state parliament for seven years, Watson was elected to federal parliament at the inaugural 1901 election, where the state Labour parties received a combined 15.8 percent of the first past the post primary vote against two more dominant parties. The Caucus chose Watson as the inaugural parliamentary leader of the Labour Party on the 8th of May 1901, just in time for the first meeting of parliament. Labour led by Watson increased their vote to 31 percent at the 1903 election and 36.6 percent at the 1906 election. From the first election, Labour held the balance of power, giving support to Protectionist Party legislation in exchange for concessions to enact the Labour Party policy platform. Watson’s term as Prime Minister was brief only four months, between the 27th of April and the 18th of August 1904. He resigned as Labour leader in 1907 and retired from Parliament in 1910. Labour, led by Andrew Fisher would go on to win the 1910 election with 50 percent of the primary vote, ushering in Australia’s first elected majority government, and also the first elected Senate majority. Watson with others were later expelled from the party he helped found over the issue of conscription for World War I.
According to Percival Serle, Watson “left a much greater impression on his time than this would suggest. He came at the right moment for his party, and nothing could have done it more good than the sincerity, courtesy and moderation which he always showed as a leader”. Alfred Deakin wrote of Watson: “The Labour section has much cause for gratitude to Mr Watson, the leader whose tact and judgement have enabled it to achieve many of its Parliamentary successes”.