Ministerial Resignations and Dismissals Since 1901

This is a list of ministers who have resigned or were dismissed from Federal Governments under the conventions of collective or individual ministerial responsibility.

The list shows 81 resignations or dismissals from 1901 to the present, with a brief explanation of the circumstances.

It does not include ministers who resigned because of retirement or appointment to other offices, or ministers who were demoted or sacked in reshuffles, although I have adopted a flexible approach to interpreting a couple of reshuffles.

Note: It is not unusual to read inaccurate statements about the causes of ministerial departures. For example, it is often claimed that ministers used to resign for misleading parliament, but only three have done so since 1901. Many more resignations have taken place due to disputes with the prime minister, disagreements over policy matters, or personal behaviour and conflict of interest allegations.

The table below classifies the causes of ministerial departures but it is important to remember that categories sometimes overlap. For example, when Lyons and Fenton resigned in 1931, it could be represented as a dispute with the prime minister, but I have classified it more fundamentally as a dispute over policies for handling the Depression. There are other examples. I have attempted to group them logically but I’m open to suggestions.

Causes of Ministerial Resignations and Dismissals
Causes Number
(Total: 81)
Percentage Specific Cases (details on next table)
Disputes with Prime Minister
23
28.39%
9, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 38, 40, 48, 63-68, 69-74, 76
Policy Disagreements
20
24.69%
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 24, 34, 36, 44, 47
Assorted Ministerial Impropriety and Personal Behaviour
19
23.45%
8, 11, 30, 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 42, 43, 45, 50, 51, 52, 60, 75, 77, 78, 81
Conflict of Interest/Pecuniary Interest
8
9.87%
20, 23, 53, 54, 61, 62, 79
Abuse of Travel or other Expenses
5
6.17%
55, 57, 58, 59, 80
Misleading Parliament
3
3.70%
31, 32, 46
Ministry Failure
2
2.46%
10, 49
Token Resignation
1
1.23%
7

Ministerial Resignations & Dismissals Since 1901
No. Name Date Reason
Barton Ministry (Protectionist)
1.
Charles Kingston
(MHR, SA)
24 July 1903
Policy disagreement. Minister for Trade and Customs resigned over opposition to his proposal to apply conciliation and arbitration on foreign seamen engaged in Australian trade.
Deakin Ministry (Protectionist)
2.
John Forrest
(Swan, WA)
30 July 1907
Policy disagreement. Treasurer resigned after failing to convince Prime Minister Deakin to form and lead an anti-Labor coalition. Following the Fusion of 1909 and the formation of the Commonwealth Liberal Party, Forrest returned as Treasurer in the Third Deakin ministry.
Hughes Ministry (Labor)
3.
Frank Tudor
(Yarra, Vic)
14 Sept 1916
Disagreement over conscription. Minister for Trade and Customs resigned over opposition to Prime Minister Hughes’ conscription policy. Following the ALP split in November 1916, Tudor became Leader of the Opposition and died in office in 1922.
4.
William Higgs
(Capricornia, Qld)
27 Oct 1916
Disagreement over conscription. Treasurer resigned over opposition to Prime Minister Hughes’ conscription policy. In 1919, Higgs was expelled from the ALP because of his support for Hughes’ proposals for federal industry and commerce powers. He subsequently joined the Nationalists but lost his seat to Labor’s Frank Forde in 1922.
5.
Senator Albert Gardiner
(NSW)
27 Oct 1916
Disagreement over conscription. Vice-President of the Executive Council resigned over opposition to Prime Minister Hughes’ conscription policy. Gardiner later served as ALP leader in the Senate. Between 1920 and 1922, he was the sole ALP senator.
6.
Senator Edward Russell
(Vic)
27 Oct 1916
Disagreement over conscription. Assistant Minister resigned over opposition to Prime Minister Hughes’ conscription policy. Despite this, Russell left the ALP when it split the following month. Hughes returned Russell to the ministry where he served until 1921.
Hughes Ministry (Nationalist)
7.
William Morris Hughes
(Bendigo, Vic)
8 Jan 1918
Token resignation by Prime Minister was followed by his immediate recommissioning. Hughes fulfilled his commitment to resign if the second conscription plebiscite was not carried.
8.
Jens Jensen
(Bass, Tas)
13 Dec 1918
Minister for the Navy resigned following Royal Commission on Navy and Defence Administration. The Commission found that Jensen had incurred costly and unauthorised expenditures. Jensen, a former Labor member, left the Nationalists and was defeated as an independent at the 1919 election.
Bruce-Page Ministry (Nationalist-Country Party Coalition
9.
Percy Stewart
(Wimmera, Vic)
5 Aug 1924
Protest over electoral pact. Minister for Works and Railways objected to Prime Minister Bruce’s agreement with Earle Page to protect sitting members of the coalition from electoral competition. Subsequently instrumental in formation of the Victorian Country Progressive Party.
10.
Littleton Groom
(Darling Downs, Qld)
18 Dec 1925
Ministry failure. Attorney-General resigned over attempts to deport ‘foreign agitators’ and his conduct at the League of Nations. Subsequently served as Speaker of the House.
Scullin Ministry (Labor)
11.
Edward Theodore
(Dalley, Qld)
9 July 1930
Treasurer implicated by a Queensland Royal Commission into the business dealings of a copper mine at Mungana. A former premier of Queensland, Theodore was accused of corruptly profiting from authorising the government purchase of the mine, whilst having a financial interest in it. After nearly seven months on the backbench, it became clear that no charges would be laid against Theodore, so Prime Minister Scullin reinstated him as Treasurer. Theodore lost his seat (Dalley-NSW) at the 1931 election.
12.
Joseph Lyons
(Wilmot, Tas)
4 Feb 1931
Policy disagreement. Postmaster-General, Minister for Works and Railways and Acting Treasurer resigned in protest at Theodore’s reinstatement as Treasurer. Theodore favoured a Keynesian approach to the Depression, whilst Lyons supported more conventional deflationary policies. A month after resigning, Lyons defected to the United Australia Party and became opposition leader.
13.
James Fenton
(Maribyrnong, Vic)
4 Feb 1931
Policy disagreement. Minister for Trade and Customs supported Lyons in his protest against Theodore’s reinstatement as Treasurer. With Lyons and three others, Fenton defected to the United Australia Party and voted to bring down the Scullin government in November 1931. He narrowly retained his seat (Maribyrnong-Vic) at the 1931 election but was defeated in 1934.
14.
Edward Holloway
(Flinders, Vic)
12 June 1931
Policy disagreement. Assistant Minister for Industry, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and Assistant to the Treasurer, resigned in protest at the government’s support for the Premiers’ Plan. Holloway believed the deflationary policies supported by the cabinet were anti-working-class. Holloway had defeated Stanley Melbourne Bruce in Flinders (Vic) in 1929. In 1931, he transferred to Melbourne Ports (Vic), which he represented until 1951.
15.
Charles Culley
(Denison, Tas)
24 June 1931
Protest over Premiers’ Plan. Assistant Minister for Transport and War Service Homes resigned in protest at the cabinet’s suppport for the Premiers’ Plan. Culley served just over three months in the position. Elected in 1928, he lost his seat at the 1931 election and later returned to the Tasmanian state parliament, where he had previously served.
Lyons Ministry (United Australia Party)
16.
Charles Hawker
(Wakefield, SA)
23 Sep 1932
Policy disagreement. Resigned over government refusal to reduce parliamentary salaries.
17.
James Fenton
(Maribyrnong, Vic)
13 Oct 1932
Policy disagreement. Resigned after voting against a bill ratifying the Ottawa Agreement, establishing Imperial Preference.
Lyons Ministry (UAP-CP Coalition)
18.
William Morris Hughes
(North Sydney, UAP)
6 Nov 1935
Policy disagreement. Resigned after publication of his book, Australia and the War Today, which alleged a lack of war preparation. Hughes returned to the ministry on February 6, 1936.
19.
Henry Gullett
(Henty, Vic)
11 Mar 1937
Policy disagreement. Resigned over disagreement with trade policy.
20.
Senator Alexander McLachlan
(SA)
7 Nov 1938
Conflict of interest. Postmaster-General resigned over the letting of a contract by his department to the Hume Pipe Company. McLachlan remained on the backbench until he left parliament in 1944.
21.
Thomas White
(Balaclava, Vic)
8 Nov 1938
Dispute with Prime Minister. Minister for Trade and Customs resigned after learning that he had been excluded from an inner cabinet established by Prime Minister Lyons. After Lyons’ death six months later, White contested the United Australia Party leadership but was defeated by Robert Menzies. He served in various portfolios until he left parliament in 1951 to become High Commissioner in London.
22.
Robert Menzies
Kooyong, Vic
20 Mar 1939
Policy disagreement. Attorney-General resigned, citing the government’s decision to abandon the National Insurance Scheme in favour of a medical service plan. Menzies’ parliamentary secretary, John Lawson, also resigned. Prime Minister Lyons died a couple of weeks later and Menzies was elected leader of the United Australia Party, becoming prime minister on April 26, 1939.
Menzies Ministry (United Australia Party)
23.
John Lawson
(Macquarie, NSW)
23 Feb 1940
Conflict of interest. Minister for Trade and Customs resigned over his leasing of a racehorse, although Menzies had initially reprimanded him only. Lawson had defeated Ben Chifley in Macquarie in 1931 and was defeated by Chifley in 1940.
Menzies Ministry (Liberal-CP Coalition)
24.
Leslie Bury
(Wentworth, NSW)
27 July 1962
Policy disagreement. Bury was sacked for speaking in favour of the United Kingdom entering the European Economic Community, a position at odds with government trade policy. Bury was returned to the Cabinet in 1963.
Gorton Ministry (Liberal-CP Coalition)
25.
David Fairbairn
(Farrer, NSW)
12 Nov 1969
Dispute with Prime Minister. Fairbairn unsuccessfully challenged Prime Minister Gorton for the Liberal Party leadership following the 1969 election. He resigned from the ministry after the challenge but returned in 1971.
26.
Malcolm Fraser
(Wannon, Vic)
8 Mar 1971
Dispute with Prime Minister. Minister for Defence resigned, alleging disloyalty by Prime Minister Gorton. In a speech to the House of Representatives, Fraser said Gorton’s conduct was “intolerable and not to be endured”. Fraser’s resignation led to a leadership contest that saw Gorton replaced by William McMahon. Fraser returned to the Cabinet in August 1971.
McMahon Ministry (Liberal-CP Coalition)
27.
Leslie Bury
(Wentworth, NSW)
2 Aug 1971
Dispute with Prime Minister. Minister for Foreign Affairs was sacked by Prime Minister McMahon after just four months in that position. McMahon claimed Bury was retiring due to ill health but Bury said he had been sacked.
28.
John Gorton
(Higgins, Vic)
13 Aug 1971
Dispute with Prime Minister. Defence Minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party was sacked for disloyalty, following the publication of newspaper articles by Gorton, headlined “I Did It My Way”.
Whitlam Ministry (Labor)
29.
Clyde Cameron
(Hindmarsh, SA)
6 Jun 1975
Refused reshuffle offer.
30.
Dr. Jim Cairns
(Lalor, Vic)
6 Jun 1975
Ministerial irregularities relating to overseas loans. Treasurer Cairns authorised George Harris to seek overseas loans on behalf of the government. Prime Minister Whitlam argued that Cairns’ action was taken without his knowledge and without advice from the Treasury. Cairns accepted demotion to Minister for the Environment.
31.
Dr. Jim Cairns
(Lalor, Vic)
2 Jul 1975
Misleading parliament in relation to overseas loans. Cairns denied signing a letter agreeing to pay George Harris a 2.5% commission on overseas loans. He later claimed not to remember signing the letter. Cairns refused to tender his resignation, so Prime Minister Whitlam advised Governor-General Sir John Kerr to withdraw Cairns’ commission.
32.
Rex Connor
(Cunningham, NSW)
14 Oct 1975
Misleading parliament in relation to dealings with Tirath Khemlani in connection with overseas loans.
Fraser Ministry (Liberal-National Coalition)
33.
Victor Garland
(Curtin, WA)
6 Feb 1976
Electoral irregularities. Minister for Post and Telecommunications resigned after being accused of electoral offences. The ACT Magistrates Court dismissed the charges and Garland returned to the ministry in 1977.
34.
Robert Ellicott
(Wentworth, NSW)
6 Sep 1977
Cabinet decision protest. Attorney-General resigned over a Cabinet decision concerning the payment of costs in the Sankey v Whitlam case. Ellicott argued Sankey’s costs should have been paid. Ellicott returned to the ministry following the 1977 election.
35.
Philip Lynch
(Flinders, Vic)
19 Nov 1977
Alleged irregularity in relation to land deals.
36.
Senator Glen Sheil
(Qld)
21 Dec 1977
Sheil took the oath as an Executive Councillor on December 20, preparatory to his swearing-in as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. That same day, he gave an interview expressing support for South African apartheid. The following day, Prime Minister Fraser advised Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen to terminate Sheil’s Executive Council appointment. Sheil never became a minister.
37.
Senator Reg Withers
(WA)
7 Aug 1978
Dismissed after Royal Commission finding into electoral redistribution allegations.
38.
Eric Robinson
(McPherson, Qld)
23 Feb 1979
Dispute with Prime Minister. Minister for Finance resigned, stating that he could no longer give “unqualified support” to Prime Minister Fraser. Four days later, Robinson was reinstated as Minister for Finance. He was dropped from the ministry after the 1980 election.
39.
Ian Sinclair
(New England, NSW)
27 Sep 1979
Alleged criminal offences.
40.
Andrew Peacock
(Kooyong, Vic)
16 Apr 1981
Dispute with Prime Minister.
41.
Michael MacKellar
(Warringah, NSW)
20 Apr 1982
Ministerial impropriety in relation to importation of a colour television set.
42.
John Moore
(Ryan, Qld)
20 Apr 1982
Ministerial impropriety in relation to importation of a colour television set.
Hawke Ministry (Labor)
43.
Mick Young
(Port Adelaide, SA)
14 Jul 1983
Ministerial impropriety in relation to Ivanov affair. Young resigned as Special Minister of State over allegations he had leaked Cabinet discussions. He was cleared by the Hope Royal Commission and was reinstated as Special Minister of State in January 1984.
44.
Stewart West
(Cunningham, NSW)
04 Nov 1983
Disagreed with Cabinet decision on uranium mining. West was Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. He left the Cabinet but remained in the Ministry. He returned to the Cabinet on April 3, 1984
45.
Mick Young
(Port Adelaide, SA)
26 July 1984
Accused of making a false Customs Declaration regarding a Paddington Bear and $1093.00 of duty. Young stood aside but did not resign. He resumed his duties a few weeks later, following an investigation by Michael Black QC. Black said Young should have exercised greater care but had no intention to evade the duty.
46.
John Brown
(Parramatta, NSW)
18 Dec 1987
Misleading Parliament. Brown resigned over remarks he made over the tendering process for a theatre within the Australian Pavilion at Brisbane’s Expo ’88.
47.
Gary Punch
(Barton, NSW)
28 Mar 1989
Policy protest over Sydney Airport.
48.
Paul Keating
(Blaxland, NSW)
3 Jun 1991
Dispute with Prime Minister. Keating claimed Hawke had reneged on a deal to stand down from the leadership in order to allow Keating to assume the prime ministership. Keating announced he would challenge Hawke’s leadership.
49.
John Kerin
(Werriwa, NSW)
9 Dec 1991
Inability to explain policy.
Keating Ministry (Labor)
50.
Senator Graham Richardson
(NSW)
18 May 1992
Ministerial impropriety in relation to Marshall Islands affair.
51.
Alan Griffiths
(Maribyrnong, Vic)
22 Jan 1994
Ministerial impropriety in relation to Sandwich Shop affair. Griffith was accused of using party funds and electorate office resources to rescue a business partner from a failed sandwich shop business. Inquiries by the Department of Prime Minister and the Federal Police cleared Griffith of any wrongdoing but he retired from parliament at the 1996 election.
52.
Ros Kelly
(Canberra, ACT)
27 Feb 1994
Ministerial impropriety in relation to Sports Rorts affair.
Howard Ministry (Liberal-Nationals Coalition)
53.
Senator Jim Short
(Vic)
14 Oct 1996
Ministerial impropriety in relation to conflict of interest concerning bank licences.
54.
Senator Brian Gibson
(Tas)
15 Oct 1996
Ministerial impropriety in relation to conflict of interest concerning bank licences.
55.
Senator Bob Woods
(NSW)
3 Feb 1997
Alleged improprieties in relation to expenses claims.
56.
Geoff Prosser
(Forrest, WA)
11 Jul 1997
Ministerial impropriety in relation to conflict of interest.
57.
David Jull
(Fadden, Qld)
24 Sept 1997
Ministerial impropriety in relation to Travel Rorts affair.
58.
John Sharp
(Hume, NSW)
24 Sept 1997
Ministerial impropriety in relation to Travel Rorts affair.
59.
Peter McGauran
(Gippsland, Vic)
26 Sept 1997
Ministerial impropriety in relation to Travel Rorts affair.
60.
Sen. Ian Campbell
(WA)
3 Mar 2007
Ministerial impropriety in relation to dealings with Brian Burke.
61.
Sen. Santo Santoro
(Qld)
16 Mar 2007
Conflict of interest and ministerial impropriety in relation to private share dealings.
Rudd Ministry (Labor)
62.
Joel Fitzgibbon
(Hunter, NSW)
4 Jun 2009
Ministerial impropriety in relation to conflict of interest concerning brother’s company’s dealings with Defence Department.
Gillard Ministry (Labor)
63.
Kevin Rudd
(Griffith, Qld)
22 Feb 2012
Minister for Foreign Affairs resigned alleging prime minister did not repudiate attack on him by ministerial colleague.
64.
Simon Crean
(Hotham, Vic)
21 Mar 2013
Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, and Minister for the Arts dismissed after privately and publicly demanding prime minister call a leadership spill.
65.
Richard Marles
(Corio, Vic)
21 Mar 2013
Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs resigned after supporting prime minister’s opponent, Kevin Rudd, in leadership spill.
66.
Chris Bowen
(McMahon, NSW)
22 Mar 2013
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, and Minister for Small Business resigned after supporting prime minister’s opponent, Kevin Rudd, in leadership spill.
67.
Martin Ferguson
(Batman, Vic)
22 Mar 2013
Minister for Resources and Energy, and Minister for Tourism resigned after supporting prime minister’s opponent, Kevin Rudd, in leadership spill.
68.
Senator Kim Carr
(Vic)
22 Mar 2013
Minister for Human Services resigned after supporting prime minister’s opponent, Kevin Rudd, in leadership spill.
Rudd Ministry (Labor)
69.
Wayne Swan
(Lilley, Qld)
26 Jun 2013
Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister refused to serve in Rudd ministry following overthrow of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
70.
Greg Combet
(Charlton, NSW)
26 Jun 2013
Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation refused to serve in Rudd ministry following overthrow of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
71.
Craig Emerson
(Rankin, Qld)
26 Jun 2013
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, and Minister for Trade and Competitiveness refused to serve in Rudd ministry following overthrow of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
72.
Peter Garrett
(Kingsford Smith, NSW)
26 Jun 2013
Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth refused to serve in Rudd ministry following overthrow of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
73.
Senator Stephen Conroy
(Vic)
26 Jun 2013
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and Leader of the Government in the Senate refused to serve in Rudd ministry following overthrow of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
74.
Senator Joe Ludwig
(Qld)
26 Jun 2013
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry refused to serve in Rudd ministry following overthrow of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Abbott Ministry (Liberal-Nationals Coalition)
75.
Senator Arthur Sinodinos
(NSW)
19 Mar 2014
Assistant Treasurer stood aside pending investigations by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. Sinodinos returned to the ministry on September 21, 2015 as Cabinet Secretary under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
76.
Malcolm Turnbull
(Wentworth, NSW)
14 Sep 2015
Dispute with prime minister. Minister for Communications resigned and informed Prime Minister Tony Abbott that he was launching a challenge for the Liberal Party leadership. Turnbull was elected leader of the Liberal Party on the evening of September 14 and was sworn in as prime minister on September 15.
Turnbull Ministry (Liberal-Nationals Coalition)
77.
Jamie Briggs
(Mayo, SA)
29 Dec 2015
Minister for Cities and the Built Environment resigned over allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving a female public servant during an official visit to Hong Kong in November 2015. Briggs lost his seat to the Nick Xenophon Team at the 2016 election.
78.
Mal Brough
(Fisher, Qld)
29 Dec 2015
Special Minister of State and Minister for Defence Materiel and Science stood aside pending the outcome of a police investigation into allegations about his behaviour in relation to former Speaker Peter Slipper and James Ashby. Brough announced his retirement from parliament on February 13, 2016 and did not contest the 2016 election. In 2017, the Federal Police investigation was concluded without any charges being laid.
79.
Stuart Robert
(Fadden, Qld)
12 Feb 2016
Minister for Human Services, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC was forced to resign for being in breach of ministerial standards because of an indirect financial stake in a company he helped in Beijing.
80.
Sussan Ley
(Farrer, NSW)
13 Jan 2017
Minister for Health and Aged Care, and Minister for Sport, resigned, in the wake of departmental investigations into her travel expenses, particularly concerning visits to the Gold Coast. Ley purchased an investment property during one visit. Ley had stood aside on January 9 but political reaction continued to be adverse.
81.
Barnaby Joyce
(New England, NSW)
26 Feb 2018
Nationals leader, Deputy PM and Minister for Infrastructure resigned following allegations of sexual harassment, revelations about his affair with a staff member and an investigation into his travel expenses.

 

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