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Eric Reece, ‘Electric Eric’, Former Premier of Tasmania, Dies, 90

Eric Reece, twice Labor Premier of Tasmania, has died, aged 90.

Reece, a strong proponent of hydro-electric power, who earned the soubriquet “Electric Eric”, was the second longest-serving Premier of Tasmania, completing two terms from 26 August 1958 until 26 May 1969, and again from 3 May 1972 until 31 March 1975.

Reece had recently come out in support of the “Yes” case for the Republican referendum.

Reece became Premier in 1958 following the retirement of long-time Labor leader, Robert Cosgrove. He faced an early test of strength in 1959 when he dismissed Dr. R.J.D. Turnbull as Treasurer. Turnbull had been charged with bribery over a lottery licence scandal, but a jury had been unable to agree on a verdict.

Reece held an early election in 1959, following the enlargement of the House of Assembly to 35 members. Under the Hare-Clark method of proportional representation, this meant that the lower house could no longer produce a tied result. Reece won the election with the support of an independent member. He went on to win another election in 1964, securing 19 seats to 16.

In 1969, Reece was toppled following an election that returned 17 Labor and 17 Liberal members. Kevin Lyons, a former leader of the Liberal Party, who had resigned from the party after a dispute over pre-selection, gave his support to the Liberal Party under Angus Bethune and Reece became Opposition leader.

Following a divisive debate over the damming of Lake Pedder in 1972, Reece led the ALP to its best election win since 1941, winning 21 seats and 55% of the vote. He retired in 1975, following an ALP decision to impose a mandatory retiring age of 65.

Current Tasmanian Premier, Jim Bacon, today described Reece as the greatest Premier Tasmania had ever had. A State Funeral will be held later this week.