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Denison renamed Clark

August 20, 2019

As some of you may already be aware, the electorate of Denison has recently been renamed Clark. I believe this is something that should be celebrated by Labor people everywhere.

William Denison, after whom the electorate was originally named, was born in 1804 into an aristocratic British family. He was educated at Eton and subsequently commissioned into the Royal Engineers, serving in Canada, Bermuda and England. He was knighted in 1847 and appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land. He was not, in other words, your average left-of-centre voter.

Denison found himself on the wrong side of history through his opposition to ending the transportation of convicts to Van Diemen’s Land. The transportation issue was fundamentally tied in with the campaign for self-government, and for this reason Denison was ‘better hated’ than most other governors. He was eventually overruled by the Home Office in 1853, and the following year moved on to become Governor General of Australia and Governor of New South Wales. Later he became Governor of Madras (covering much of Southern India), and was briefly Acting Viceroy of India. He returned to England where he died in 1877.

Conversely, quite firmly on the right side of history was Andrew Inglis Clark. Born in Hobart in 1848—the year after Denison’s arrival in the colony—Clark attended Hobart High School. He initially worked in his family’s business, before training as a lawyer and being admitted to the bar in 1878. He later became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, and a Supreme Court Justice from 1901.

Clark also had a keen interest in literature, poetry, and political and legal philosophy, and in 1874 founded and edited Quadrilateral. Some of his contributions on proportional representation and federalism survive today.

In 1878 he was elected to the House of Assembly, where he served as Attorney-General from 1887-1892, and again from 1894-1897. He was a radical nationalist and democrat, an advocate for republicanism and Australian Federation, a fierce advocate of the separation of church and state, and a champion of the right for women to vote. In 1896 he persuaded Parliament to introduce what is now known as the Hare-Clark voting system for Hobart and Launceston, and this was extended to the entire state in 1907. It is widely considered one of the most democratic voting systems in the world.

Perhaps Clark’s most famous contribution, however, was his role in shaping the federation movement and the Australian constitution. He was a Tasmanian delegate to the Federation Conventions of 1890 and 1891, and at the latter he prepared the draft of what would be adopted in 1900 as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. Sir William Deane considers him the ‘primary architect’ of that document, and for good reason: 88 of his 96 clauses remain in the constitution today.

This is why I am honoured to now serve as your Labor Member for Clark.

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