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Fisher, Andrew

Son of Robert Fisher, was born at Crosshouse, Ayrshire, Scotland, on 29 August 1862. He was educated at the local school, and as a young man worked as a coal-miner. Emigrating to Australia he arrived in Queensland in 1885, worked as a miner for some years, read largely in economics and social science, and became a union leader. In 1893 he was elected to the legislative assembly for Gympie, an even-tempered tall young Scotchman, full of hopes for social reforms, and fully recognizing the power of the forces opposed to him. He was secretary for railways and public works in the Dawson (q.v.) ministry which lasted only a few days in December 1899, and in the following year brought in a workers' compensation bill which, however, did not become law.

At the first federal election held early in 1901 Fisher was elected to the house of representatives for Wide Bay, Queensland, and held the seat until his retirement 15 years later. When Watson (q.v.) formed the first labour ministry in April 1904, Fisher became minister for trade and customs, but Watson was defeated less than four months later and in 1907 resigned his leadership of the party on account of failing health. There were men of greater ability than Fisher in the ranks of labour, but none so safe and dependable, and he was elected leader. In November 1908 he withdrew his support from Deakin (q.v.) and became prime minister and treasurer. He brought in a defence act on similar lines to Deakin's, but found, in the then state of parties, that it was almost impossible to do really useful work. He was displaced by the so-called fusion government in June 1909, but at the general election held in April 1910 labour for the first time secured a majority of the house, and Fisher became prime minister and treasurer again. During his rather more than three years in office much important legislation was passed. The Commonwealth bank was inaugurated, compulsory military training was introduced, the transcontinental railway was begun, maternity allowances were brought in, and the Commonwealth took over the responsibility of the Northern Territory from South Australia. These were some of the more important of over 100 acts passed and few parliaments have had a more prolific record. In 1911 Fisher represented Australia at the Imperial conference and was made a privy councillor. He visited his birthplace, a remarkable homecoming for the man who had left as a young miner with no apparent prospects 26 years before, and returned the honoured prime minister of a great dominion. In the June 1913 general election labour lost some seats and Fisher resigned, but after the wartime election held in September 1914 he came back with a working majority. It was during this campaign that he made his famous declaration that Australia was prepared to spend her "last man and her last shilling". The labour cabinet was not entirely a happy family, Fisher began to feel the strain, and handed over the leadership to W. M. Hughes in October 1915. He became high commissioner in London in January 1916 and held the position until 1921. After a visit to Australia he returned to London and lived quietly until his death on 22 October 1928. He was survived by five sons and one daughter.

Fisher had no great gifts as an orator. He could speak clearly and vigorously, he was modest, sincere, hardworking and courageous, and he believed that the ideals of his party were for the good of humanity. At Australia House he was a little out of his element, for one thing his special gifts did not lie in the direction of after-dinner speaking, though he did good work in looking after the interests of the Australian soldiers. His greatest value to Australia was the sanity and moderation of his leadership from 1910 to 1913. Flushed with success at the polls his party might easily have gone to extremes in legislation under a less stable leader.

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