Eric Reece

Eric Elliott Reece, AC (6 July 1909  23 October 1999) was Premier of Tasmania on two occasions: from 26 August 1958 to 26 May 1969, and from 3 May 1972 to 31 March 1975. His 13 years as premier remains the second longest in Tasmania's history, Only Robert Cosgrove has served for a longer period as premier. He was the first Premier of Tasmania to have been born in the 20th century.

Eric Reece

32nd Premier of Tasmania
In office
26 August 1958  26 May 1969
Preceded byRobert Cosgrove
Succeeded byAngus Bethune
In office
3 May 1972  31 March 1975
Preceded byAngus Bethune
Succeeded byBill Neilson
Personal details
Born(1909-07-06)6 July 1909
Mathinna, Tasmania, Australia
Died23 October 1999(1999-10-23) (aged 90)
Hobart, Tasmania
Nationality Australian
Political partyLabor Party
Spouse(s)Alice "Lal" Hanigan


Born in the small Tasmanian town of Mathinna, Reece joined the Australian Workers' Union in 1934, having that year obtained a job at a copper mine after four years' unemployment. From 1935 to 1946 he was in charge of the AWU's West Coast District organisation.

Reece attempted to enter the House of Representatives for the Division of Darwin at the federal elections of 1940 and 1943, but failed both times. In 1943, his successful opponent was Dame Enid Lyons.

On 23 November 1946, Reece was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly, representing the state seat of Darwin. He would represent this seat, renamed Braddon in 1955, until his retirement in 1975. Straight away he was appointed to the cabinet led by Sir Robert Cosgrove, and over the next 12 years he held various portfolios, including the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Housing, and the Ministry of Lands and Works. These roles he combined with the federal presidency of the Labor Party between 1952 and 1955. He became leader of the state Labor Party, and hence Premier, in 1958 after Cosgrove's resignation.

Unexpectedly, Reece lost the premiership in 1969, when the ALP was narrowly defeated by the Liberal Party led by Angus Bethune. This ended 35 years of uninterrupted Labor government in Tasmania. The Liberals had gained a one-seat majority in the House of Assembly by forming a coalition with former Speaker Kevin Lyons, who had founded his own Centre Party. Nevertheless, the period of non-Labor rule ended when Lyons quit the coalition, forcing Bethune back to the polls in 1972.[1] Reece and the Labor Party regained control in a landslide win. This was as much a personal victory as a political one, since Reece himself topped the poll in Braddon with 35.4%, still a record for an individual candidate in that electorate. As of 2016 he remains the last person to make a comeback as Premier of any Australian state after losing the position.

Well known for his staunch support of Tasmania's Hydro Electric Commission and its power development schemes on the Gordon River, Reece acquired as a result the nickname 'Electric Eric'.[2] In 1972, he controversially approved the flooding of Lake Pedder in Tasmania's south west, which proceeded despite a determined protest movement and a blank cheque offer from Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to preserve the Lake Pedder area. Reece refused Whitlam's offer, stating that he would 'not have the Federal Government interfering with the sovereign rights of Tasmania.'[3]

Reece was quoted as saying:

There was a National Park out there, but I can't remember exactly where it was ... at least, it wasn't of substantial significance in the scheme of things. The thing that was significant was that we had to double the output of power in this state in 10 years in order [to] supply the demands of industry and the community. And this was the scheme that looked as though it could do a greater part of [the] job for us.[4]

For a while during the 1970s, Reece combined his duties as Premier with a return to the ALP's federal presidency. On 31 March 1975 he resigned as premier and retired from politics; by this stage, the party had introduced a mandatory retirement age of 65. To this day Reece remains one of the few Australian state politicians who never spent a day on the backbench. He spent his entire 28-plus years in the House of Assembly as minister (1946–1958), premier (1958–1969 and 1972–1975) or opposition leader (1969–1972).

Despite being no longer involved with day-to-day state politics after 1975, Reece continued to make occasional public appearances. The most famous of these was when he took part in the December 1982 rally at Queenstown in support of the Organisation for Tasmanian Development. On this occasion he marched with the incumbent Liberal Premier Robin Gray (a great and self-confessed admirer of his, despite the two men's political differences) in support of the Gordon-below-Franklin dam [5] He died on 23 October 1999 at the age of 90.


  1. Bethune Memorial Archived 4 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Stateline (Tasmanian edition) (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 27 August 2004.
  2. Millwood, Scott. Whatever Happened to Brenda Hean? Crows Nest, NSW ISBN 978-1-74175-611-1 offers some details of his autocratic style of dealing with opposition
  3. Lake Pedder 30th Anniversary, Dimensions in Time (ABC TV), 10 June 2002.
  4. TimeFrame: Lake Pedder, ABC TV.
  5. Pink, Kerry (2001). Through Hells Gates: A History of Strahan and Macquarie Harbour. Fifth edition. ISBN 0-646-36665-3. pp. 72 for photo, p. 73 for text.

Further reading

Green, Roger (1981) Battle for the Franklin Sydney: Australian Conservation Foundation and Fontana Books ISBN 0-00-636715-1 – specifically pp 26–38 for an extended interview as to his views of the Lake Pedder issue.

Koshin, Jillian (2009) 'Electric Eric. The Life and Times of Eric Reece an Australian State Premier' Bokprint and Maribyrnong Press ISBN 978-0-9806157-3-9 (Paperback), 978-0-980157-4-6 (Hardback)

Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Cosgrove
Premier of Tasmania
Succeeded by
Angus Bethune
Preceded by
Angus Bethune
Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania
Succeeded by
Max Bingham
Preceded by
Angus Bethune
Premier of Tasmania
Succeeded by
Bill Neilson
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