THE IRISH PREMIER
‘Peace, prosperity progress’
Bryan O’Loghlen’s career demonstrated the promise that Australia offered to Irish immigrants and the contribution they made to Australia’s democratic institutions. His father Michael, who served on the Irish bench in 1836, was the first Catholic to be raised to a judicial office in England or Ireland in 248 years. In contrast Bryan became crown prosecutor a year after his arrival in Melbourne in 1862. Eighteen years later in 1881 he won the trifecta of Premier, Attorney General and Treasurer! He refused a judgeship to remain in politics. He was a loyal Catholic, a staunch supporter of the Irish cause and a supporter of workers and the unemployed.
He was typical of many conservative supporters of Federation of the 1890s in that he combined strong support for a democratic federal constitution with an equally strong support of state rights including control of local tariffs. Our Australian constitution reflects the tension between the ‘states-righters’ such as O’Loghlen and the ‘big-staters’ or centralists such as Alfred Deakin.
Firstly the ‘states-righters’ wanted the Senate to represent the States equally and to have equal power with the House of Representatives. ‘Big-staters’ wanted a democratic senate whose membership was proportionate to population.
Secondly the ‘states-righters’ wanted guarantees of enough revenue going to the states given that the new federal government would take over their customs duties. The ‘big-staters’ agreed but N.S.W, which was free trade, did not want such revenue to be so high as to require federal tariffs.
Thirdly the ‘states-righters’ wanted amendment of the constitution to be difficult and to involve State parliaments or conventions. The ‘big-staters’ and liberals wanted easier reform and popular referenda. The effect of this divide is that the constitution has a lot to say about state rights but not a lot about individual rights. This is why Deakin said of Federation that ‘its actual accomplishment must always appear to have been secured by a series of miracles.’
O’Loghlen may have been the only person to simultaneously hold a seat in the British House of Commons and in an Australian parliament. This came about after successful nomination by friends in 1876 to succeed his brother as member for Clare in the House of Commons despite his absence 10,000 miles away!
As attorney-general O’Loghlen was involved in sensational events during the 1893 financial crash. He astonished the public when he withdrew the government’s prosecution of Mercantile Bank directors including Sir Matthew Davies, the brother of John Davies (Munro) and a former St Kilda MP. The government solicitor general, Isaac Isaacs, (later Australian governor-general) was furious. He defied O’Loghlen and the cabinet and proceeded with the case. O’Loghlen ordered the law officers to not assist Isaacs. Isaacs resigned from the cabinet, threatened to undertake the prosecution privately, and easily won the ensuing by-election. Sir Archibald Michie Q.C., twice attorney-general, applauded Isaacs ‘noble stand’ (Michie). In the confusion Matthew Davies and his wife secretly left Melbourne by boat and the premier was forced to issue a warrant for his arrest. The press had a field day. The government was swept from office the following year.
A popular and respected leader O’Loghlen died at his home in Barkly Street, St Kilda in 1905, survived by his wife Ella and their eleven children.