Commonwealth of Australia Coat of Arms
For Peace, Order and Good Government: The first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
Early proposals
Six colonies
Drafting a constitution
Declaration of the Commonwealth
Conducting the first Federal election
Who could vote?
The election campaign
9 May 1901
The royal visit
The first federal parliamentarians
Ministry of May, 1901
Edmund Barton
Political parties
Legislative program
Relationship between the houses

Members of the First Parliament

Robert Harper

Robert Harper (1842-1919)

Member for Mernda (Victoria) 1901-1913

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Robert Harper migrated with his family to Melbourne, Victoria in 1856. Harper worked for a roasting and milling company and by 1865 had established his own company which flourished and opened branches in a number of colonies. Harper became one of Melbourne’s leading merchants, and was a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly intermittently between 1878 and 1897.

At the first federal election in 1901, Harper was elected to the House of Representatives as the member for Mernda, Victoria. Harper believed that men were not equal and that enterprise and industry should be rewarded with special privileges and that “natural economic laws” should be allowed to operate without restriction. Nevertheless, he supported a protectionist trade policy in the first Parliament.

In 1909-10, Harper successfully defended himself in a bitter lawsuit brought by Rev. James Ronald, who claimed Harper had used improper language in Parliament. Harper retired from federal politics in 1913. A staunch conservative and an elder of the Presbyterian Church, Harper was renowned for his business acumen and integrity.

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