James Killen

Sir Denis James "Jim" Killen, AC, KCMG (23 November 1925 – 12 January 2007) was an Australian politician and a Liberal Party member of the Australian House of Representatives from December 1955 to August 1983, representing the Division of Moreton in Queensland. He served as Vice-President of the Executive Council, Minister for Defence and Minister for the Navy during his parliamentary career.

Sir James Killen

Father of the House of Representatives
In office
5 January 1982  15 August 1983
Preceded bySir William McMahon
Succeeded byDoug Anthony
Vice-President of the Executive Council
In office
7 May 1982  11 March 1983
Prime MinisterMalcolm Fraser
Preceded bySir John Carrick
Succeeded byMick Young
Minister for Defence
In office
12 November 1975  7 May 1982
Prime MinisterMalcolm Fraser
Preceded byBill Morrison
Succeeded byIan Sinclair
Minister for the Navy
In office
12 November 1969  22 March 1971
Prime MinisterJohn Gorton
William McMahon
Preceded byBert Kelly
Succeeded byMalcolm Mackay
Member of the Australian Parliament for Moreton
In office
10 December 1955  15 August 1983
Preceded byJosiah Francis
Succeeded byDon Cameron
Personal details
Born(1925-11-23)23 November 1925
Dalby, Queensland
Died12 January 2007(2007-01-12) (aged 81)
Brisbane, Queensland
Political partyLiberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s)Joy Buley
Benise Killen
OccupationBarrister, soldier

Education and early career

Killen was born in Dalby, Queensland and educated at Brisbane Grammar School and the University of Queensland, where he graduated in law. He enlisted for service in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II; he was discharged in 1945 with the rank of flight sergeant. After the war he worked on the land before returning to Brisbane. In 1949 he joined the new Liberal Party of Australia and became the founding president of the Queensland Young Liberals.[1]

Political career

In the 1955 election, Killen was elected to the House of Representatives for the Brisbane seat of Moreton, holding the seat until 1983.[2] He quickly became known as a talented orator but his outspokenness and commitment to causes, which Menzies regarded as contrary to Liberal Party principles, limited his chances of promotion.

His critics alleged he was associated with the extremist Australian League of Rights, whose director, Eric Dudley Butler, was a notorious anti-Semite, although Killen himself was never accused of anti-Semitism. He was an enthusiastic defender of Ian Smith's regime in Rhodesia.

In the 1961 election, Killen narrowly retained his seat, and since Robert Menzies' Liberal government was re-elected with a majority of only two, and with Killen's seat the last to be declared, it was claimed by some that Killen had 'saved' Menzies and his government. Killen claimed that Menzies had phoned him, saying "Killen, you are magnificent!", and that story was widely repeated for many years, but he later confessed he had made it up for the Courier-Mail to overcome his disappointment at not, in fact, receiving such a call from Menzies.[3]

By the late 1960s Killen had somewhat moderated his views, and in the government of John Gorton he served as Minister for the Navy from 1969 to 1971. When William McMahon became Prime Minister, Killen was dropped from the Ministry. After the Liberals lost office to Labor under Gough Whitlam, he served in the Shadow Cabinet under Billy Snedden and Malcolm Fraser from 1972 to 1975, acting as the party spokesman on Education and later Defence. He served as Minister for Defence in the Fraser Government from 1975 to 1982.[2]

During this time he oversaw a major review of the Australian Defence Force and also the military build-up which followed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He oversaw the largest single piece of Defence expenditure in Australian history, the purchase of 75 F/A-18 Hornets.

Killen was moved out of Defence in a 1982 reshuffle. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George,[4] becoming "Sir James Killen KCMG", and appointed Vice-President of the Executive Council, a position he held until the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983 election by Labor under Bob Hawke. He became Father of the House of Representatives in April 1983, and resigned his seat of Moreton in August 1983 (the first Queensland Member of the House of Representatives to resign), and returned to his legal practice. He was a prominent figure at the Brisbane bar through the 1980s and 1990s.

Killen was a prominent monarchist and was elected to the Constitutional Convention in 1998 as an opponent of an Australian republic.[5] In 2004, he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).[6]

Killen had a reputation as a great parliamentary wit who developed close friendships with many people on both sides of politics, among them Gough Whitlam, Fred Daly and Barry Cohen. He wrote the preface to Daly's collection of political anecdotes, The Politician Who Laughed (1982).

Private life

Killen was married twice; first, in 1949, to Joy (née Buley) with whom he had three daughters (one of whom predeceased him); Joy Killen died in 2000. He died in Brisbane in 2007; Gough Whitlam delivered the eulogy at his funeral in the city's Anglican cathedral[7] and was survived by his second wife, Benise; two daughters; and two granddaughters.


  1. John Farquharson (13 January 2007). "Killen, Sir Denis James (1925–2007)". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  2. "Sir James Killen honoured in Brisbane". The Age. 19 January 2007. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  3. Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, p. 449
  4. London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49009, page 33, 11 June 1982
  5. Vizard, Steve, Two Weeks in Lilliput: Bear Baiting and Backbiting At the Constitutional Convention (Penguin, 1998, ISBN 0-14-027983-0)
  6. "Companion of the Order of Australia". It's an Honour. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
Political offices
Preceded by
Bert Kelly
Minister for the Navy
Succeeded by
Malcolm Mackay
Preceded by
Bill Morrison
Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
Ian Sinclair
Preceded by
Sir John Carrick
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Succeeded by
Mick Young
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Josiah Francis
Member for Moreton
Succeeded by
Don Cameron
Preceded by
Sir William McMahon
Father of the House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Doug Anthony
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