Sir William McMahon

Sir William McMahon

Sir William McMahon

Sir William McMahon graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Law (1933) and a Bachelor of Economics (1949). He would go on to be the longest continuously serving government minister in Australian history, plus the longest serving Prime Minister never to have won an election.

McMahon’s studies at the University were split between the declaration of the Second World War, which prompted him to join the 2nd Australian Imperial Force. A hearing problem prevented him from being sent overseas to serve, so he served locally until the end of the War. In 1951, he appointed Minister for Air and Minister for the Navy by Prime Minister Robert Menzies.

From this point on, McMahon continued his steady rise in Australian politics. After the sudden drowning of Prime Minister Harold Holt in December 1967, McMahon was in line to be Holt’s automatic successor, but following resistance from his colleagues, lost the opportunity to Senator John Gorton. McMahon became Foreign Minister until 1971, when Gorton was denounced and resigned as a result, and McMahon took his place as Prime Minister.

McMahon’s Prime Ministership was riddled with challenges, including the Vietnam War, conscription and high inflation. The accelerated return of Australian troops from Vietnam and the appointment of the first Minister for Aboriginal Affairs were notable highlights of his time as Prime Minister.

In 1972, he was upstaged by Labour leader Gough Whitlam, whose wit and skill at oration saw him clinch the election that December. McMahon, the Prime Minister who had never won an election, resigned from the Liberal Leadership, ending his 21 years and six months as a government minister - a record in the Australian Parliament. He was awarded a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 1977.