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Harold Holt

Harold Edward Holt (August 5, 1908 - December 19, 1967) was the 17th Prime Minister of Australia and Robert Menzies' successor as Prime Minister of Australia, inheriting the position when Menzies retired in 1966.

Born in 1908 and elected for the federal electorate of Fawkner in 1935 for the United Australia Party on his third attempt, and a succession of failed attempts to enter state parliament. He briefly served as a junior Minister in the Menzies government of 1939, but lost his post when Menzies negotiated a coalition with Earle Page of the Country Party.

He signed up with the army for a short period in 1940, serving as a gunner and never leaving Australia and keeping his seat in Parliament, but returned to Canberra and Cabinet after three senior ministers died in a plane crash. He became Minister for Labour and National service from 1940 to 1941 - a role in which his job was to mobilise the labour force for the war effort.

When Labour's John Curtin gained power in 1941, Holt returned to the back bench. He became a foundation member of the Liberal Party in 1944.

Holt married widow Zara Fell in 1946, adopting her three small children.

With the election of the Liberal-Country party coalition in 1949, Holt resumed his frontbench portfolio of Labour and National Service but was also given responsibility for Immigration - a senior post, given Australia's massive post-war migration program.

In 1958, he became Treasurer after the retirement of Country Party leader Arthur Fadden, a position he was to hold for the next 8 years. A time of relative financial stability and steady growth (though with occasional shocks such as 1960 when a supplementary budget was introduced), Holt presided over the budget with substantial conservatism.

After Menzies retired in 1966, Holt was elected to the leadership of the Liberal Party, and thus became Prime Minister. His deputy was William McMahon, later to become Prime Minister, who defeated Paul Hasluck[?] in the party ballot.

Early in his time as Prime Minister, he dismantled some of the remaining vestiges of the White Australia policy which had excluded non-British and later non-European immigrants since Federation. The referendum of 1967, in which Aboriginal people were counted in the census and gave the Commonwealth government power to legislate for indigenous people, also occurred under Holt's stewardship. However, Holt's personal investment in these policies was not particularly strong.

However, Holt's time in office was perhaps most notable for increased engagement with Asia. This, however, included supporting the United States in what became the Vietnam War, and most particularly the policy of conscription in which randomly-chosen young Australian men were sent to Vietnam to fight. Conscription was popular with a majority of Australians at the time. Though anti-war and anti-conscription protests had already begun, Holt was out of office before they had their maximum impact.

In 1967, Holt disappeared when swimming off Cheviot Beach on Point Nepean near the town of Portsea[?], a seaside resort near Melbourne. His body was never recovered despite extensive searches. While police reports found no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, it attracted many conspiracy theories including stories of supposed Soviet involvement in his disappearance, though no evidence has ever been found to support such speculation.

Holt's accidental death resulted in a notable memorial being constructed - a swimming pool in suburban Melbourne named the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre.

Previous Australian Prime Minister: Robert Menzies
Next Australian Prime Minister: John McEwen



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