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Sir Percy Spender KVCO, KBE

1897 – 1985

Sir Percy Spender KCVO KBE QC (1897-1985) was a politician, statesman, diplomat and judge. Spender grew up in Sydney, attending the selective Fort St School and gaining a brilliant arts/economics/law degree from the University of Sydney. After serving in the AIF he was admitted to the bar in 1923. Knighted in 1935, two years later he became the member for Warringah, a safe Liberal seat that he held until 1951. During World War 2 he was Chairman of the Australian Loan Council and the National Debt Commission; he was Minister for the Army and a member of the War Cabinet in 1940-41 and Opposition Member of the Advisory War Council from 1940 to 1945. In 1949, he became Minister for External Affairs, a post he held until 1951. That year, with Spender as front man, the Colombo Plan was signed, committing Australia to provide various forms of aid to a number of South-East Asian nations. Later in 1951 Spender negotiated the signing of the ANZUS Treaty, a formal alliance between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. From Australia’s point of view the ANZUS agreement guarded the nation against future Japanese expansion; the Americans saw it as a safeguard against the spread of communism. Spender was Chairman of the Australian Delegation to the United Nations in 1950 and 1952-1957; during this period, from 1951 to 1958, he was Australia’s ambassador to the USA. In 1958 he joined the International Court of Justice, the Hague; he was President of the International Court from 1964 to 1967. Spender’s books (as well as his ten honorary doctorates) indicate the breadth of his intelligence and experience. They include Company Law and Practice (1937); National Credit: What it means in plain English (1940); Australia’s Foreign Policy: The Next Phase (1944) and Exercises in Diplomacy: the ANZUS treaty and the Colombo Plan (1969). His autobiography, Politics and a Man, was published in 1972; his life is also described in Ambassador’s Wife by Lady Jean Spender (undated) and David Lowe’s Percy Spender and the American Century (2002).

Updated 2018