Hugh Mahon

Hugh Mahon (6 January 1857 – 28 August 1931) was an Australian politician. He was a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and held ministerial office in the party's earliest governments. He served terms as Postmaster-General (1904), Minister for Home Affairs (1908–1909), and Minister for External Affairs (1914–1916). However, Mahon is chiefly known as the only person to be expelled from the Parliament of Australia, for making "seditious and disloyal utterances" about the British Empire. He failed to win his seat back at the by-election.

Hugh Mahon
Minister for External Affairs
In office
9 December 1914  14 November 1916
Prime MinisterAndrew Fisher
Billy Hughes
Preceded byJohn Arthur
Succeeded by(abolished)
Minister for Home Affairs
In office
13 November 1908  2 June 1909
Prime MinisterAndrew Fisher
Preceded byJohn Keating
Succeeded byGeorge Fuller
Postmaster-General of Australia
In office
27 April 1904  17 August 1904
Prime MinisterChris Watson
Preceded byPhilip Fysh
Succeeded bySydney Smith
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Kalgoorlie
In office
13 December 1919  12 November 1920
Preceded byEdward Heitmann
Succeeded byGeorge Foley
In office
22 December 1913  5 May 1917
Preceded byCharlie Frazer
Succeeded byEdward Heitmann
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Coolgardie
In office
29 March 1901  31 May 1913
Preceded byNew seat
Succeeded byDivision abolished
Personal details
Born(1857-01-06)6 January 1857
Killurin, County Wexford, Ireland
Died28 August 1931(1931-08-28) (aged 74)
Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Political partyLabor
Spouse(s)Mary Alice L'Estrange
OccupationNewspaper owner, politician, business man

Early life

Mahon was born at Killurin, near Tullamore, King's County, Ireland and migrated in 1869 with his family to Canada and the United States, where he learnt the printing trade. He returned to Ireland in about 1880 and worked as editor of the New Ross Standard, reporting on the infamous Shanbogh killing as well as helping to organise the defence of the two accused. He was actively involved in the boycotting campaign of the Irish National Land League and was jailed in 1881 along with other Irish National Land League leaders, including Charles Stewart Parnell, but was released due to ill-health. He emigrated to Australia in 1882 to avoid re-arrest and helped to organise the Australian tour of the Irish nationalist leaders John and William Redmond in 1883. He then worked for newspapers in Goulburn and Sydney, before acquiring a newspaper in Gosford. In 1888 he married Mary Alice L'Estrange of Melbourne. After failing to be elected to the seat of Wollombi at the 1891 NSW parliamentary elections, Mahon sold his newspaper and moved to Melbourne, where he worked for the Australian Mining Standard. In 1895, he moved to the Western Australian goldfields and started a newspaper, the Menzies Miner, at the mining town of Menzies.[1][2]

Political career

Colonial politics

In 1897 Mahon stood unsuccessfully for the state seat of North Coolgardie and the following year he was appointed editor of the Kalgoorlie Sun, a salacious newspaper similar to John Norton’s Truth, in which he regularly denounced the Forrest government for alleged corrupt practices. Mahon’s notoriety as a fighting editor helped him to win the new federal seat of Coolgardie at the 1901 election for Labour.[1]

Federal politics

Upon entry into federal parliament, Mahon gained a reputation for savage wit and bitter sarcasm. He advocated Aboriginal rights, calling for a royal commission into their treatment in WA and for an amendment to the Constitution to give the federal parliament power to pass laws relating to Aborigines in the states. It was not until 1967 that that amendment was approved at a referendum. In 1905 Mahon helped shepherd through both houses of parliament resolutions in support of Irish home rule. Thereafter he became increasingly identified as an advocate of Irish nationalism. In 1907 Cardinal Patrick Moran invited him to deliver the St Patrick’s Day address in Sydney. In 1909 he was a key player in the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Melbourne, addressed by the Governor General. In July 1910 he moved a resolution in the House of Representatives requesting the new king George V to omit from the coronation oath references offensive to Catholics.[4]

He was Postmaster-General in the Watson government in 1904 and Minister for Home Affairs in the Fisher government of 1908–09. In the latter role he directed the District Surveyor, Charles Scrivener, to examine the Yass-Canberra district to determine the most suitable place for the seat of government.

In 1913, the seat of Coolgardie was abolished and partly replaced by Dampier, for which he stood unsuccessfully. He re-entered Parliament in the seat of Kalgoorlie; following the death of the incumbent, Charlie Frazer, a by-election was called, but at the close of nominations on 22 December 1913 Mahon was the sole candidate and was declared elected unopposed.[5] He became Minister for External Affairs in December 1914 until the Labor Party split in 1916.[4][2]

Expulsion from parliament

Mahon lost his seat in 1917, but won it back in 1919. After the death in October 1920 of the Irish nationalist Terence McSwiney, who had been on hunger strike, Mahon attacked British policy in Ireland at an open-air meeting in Melbourne on 7 November, claiming that the sobs of MacSwiney’s widow would one day shake the foundations of ‘this bloody and accursed Empire’. On 11 November the Prime Minister Billy Hughes moved to expel him and early the following morning the House of Representatives passed a resolution that Mahon had made "seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting," and was "guilty of conduct unfitting him to remain a member of this House and inconsistent with the oath of allegiance which he has taken as a member of this House".[4][2] Mahon is, and is likely to remain, the only MP ever to be expelled from the Federal Parliament, since, under Section 8 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987,[6] neither house of the Parliament now has the power to expel a member.

According to Mahon's biographer Jeff Kildea, it is this singular event for which he is mostly remembered "despite his long and eventful career in journalism, business and politics both in Ireland and Australia".[1]

Mahon failed to win back his seat at the December 1920 Kalgoorlie by-election, suffering a 3.5 percent swing.[7]

In 2016, Labor MP Graham Perrett moved a private member's motion in Parliament to recognise that Mahon's expulsion was unjust and a misuse of power then invested by the House. The motion carried.[8][9]

Later life

After leaving parliament, Mahon continued to work as the managing director of the Catholic Church Property Insurance Co., the insurance company he had established in 1912 at the request of the Catholic bishops. In December 1921 he sailed to Europe for the Irish Race Convention in Paris. However, struck down by illness he missed the conference. After recovering he went to Rome and had an audience with Pope Pius XI before visiting Ireland. On returning to Australia in June 1922 he expected to be appointed Consul General for Ireland, but the Civil War put an end to that.[4]

In August 1931, while in Sydney for a meeting of the board of the Catholic Church Property Insurance Co, he fell ill and on his return to Melbourne succumbed to the lung disease that had plagued him all his life. He died on 28 August 1931 and is buried in Box Hill Cemetery. He was survived by his wife and four children.[4]


  1. Kildea, Jeff (2017). Hugh Mahon: Patriot, Pressman, Politician Vol 1. Melbourne: Anchor Books Australia. ISBN 9780992467180.
  2. Gibbney, H. J. "Mahon, Hugh (1857–1931)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 12 August 2007.
  3. The spelling of "Labor" in "Australian Labor Party" was not adopted by the party until 1912.
  4. Kildea, Jeff (2011). "Remembering Hugh Mahon" (PDF). Recorder. 271: 2–4.
  5. Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia (29th ed). Commonwealth of Australia. 2002. p. 436. ISSN 0813-541X.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 29 June 2006. Retrieved 13 February 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. Australian Electoral Office (1983). Commonwealth By-elections 1901–1982. Commonwealth of Australia. pp. 31, 182. ISBN 0-644-02369-4.
Political offices
Preceded by
Philip Fysh
Succeeded by
Sydney Smith
Preceded by
John Keating
Minister for Home Affairs
Succeeded by
George Fuller
Preceded by
John Arthur
Minister for External Affairs
Title abolished
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Coolgardie
Division abolished
Preceded by
Charlie Frazer
Member for Kalgoorlie
Succeeded by
Edward Heitmann
Preceded by
Edward Heitmann
Member for Kalgoorlie
Succeeded by
George Foley
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