Harold Edward Holt
was Australian Prime Minister
from 1966 to 1967. He was first elected to the federal parliament in 1935 as a member of the United Australia Party
, soon to be the Liberal Party of Australia
. In 1941 he gained his first major promotion, handling the Department of Labour
and National Service
under Sir Robert Menzies
. The Australian Labor Party
) won the election that year. Holt did not experience Government
again until 1949, when Menzies was returned to power.
During Menzies' 16 year reign, the longest to this day, Holt had several roles:
1949-1958*: Minister of Labour
1949-1956*: Minister of Immigration
1956-1966*: Deputy Liberal Leader
1958-1966*: Federal Treasurer
*In the Australian Political System, ministers can have mutiple numbers of 'portfolios' and can be deputy leader, while maintaining other responsibilities.
In 1960, the country experienced a recession that was blamed on Holt's strong, anti-inflationary policies. The economic downturn almost destroyed the Menzies Government, which won by just two seats: 62 to 60.
In 1966, Holt succeeded Menzies as Prime Minister. Probably the most significant policy of his Administration was to continue supporting the United States in Vietnam. Before the 1966 election, Holt ordered more troops be sent to South Vietnam. While this was unpopular with the electorate, he was returned with an increased majority in 1966: 82 seats to 42.
Toward the end of Holt's time as Prime Minister, he slackened the requirements for immigration into Australia by reducing the training and residency requirements. Many of the limitations imposed on Asian immigrants remained, however, due to the White Australia Policy.
On December 17, 1966, while holidaying in Victoria at his Portsea retreat, Holt was tragically drowned. Despite advice from his bodyguards, he chose to swim alone at Cheviot beach, an area with some of Australia's most dangerous currents. No trace of his body was ever found.
Several rumours still exist today that say Harold Holt was not drowned. One says that he was abducted by a Russian submarine; another says that he no longer wanted to be Prime Minister and so he disappeared from public life forever. Then there is the one that says he was attacked and killed by a shark. All are possible.