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Sir Rupert James Hamer (29 July, 1916 - 23 March, 2004), generally known until he was knighted in 1982 as Dick Hamer, Australian politician, was Liberal Premier of the state of Victoria from 1972 to 1981.
Hamer was born in Melbourne and educated at private schools and the University of Melbourne, where he graduated in law. He joined the Australian Army in 1939 and served at Tobruk and El Alamein and in New Guinea and Normandy. After the war he became a partner in his family's law firm and was active in the Liberal Party. In 1944 he married April Mackintosh, with whom he had four children.
In 1958 he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council, where he served until 1971, when he transferred to the Legislative Assembly as MP for Kew . He was appointed to ministry of the long-serving Premier, Henry Bolte, in 1962, becoming Assistant Chief Secretary. He was Minister for Local Government 1964-1971 and Chief Secretary and Deputy Premier 1971-1972. Although he was loyal to Bolte, he had a reputation for being much more liberal than his rough-edged conservative leader.
Bolte retired in 1972 and Hamer succeeded him as Liberal leader and Premier, despite opposition from the conservative wing of the Party. Hamer represented such a sharp change from the Bolte era that he was able to campaign in the 1973 election as a new, reformist leader, despite the fact that the Liberals had been in power for 18 years. He won a convincing victory against the Labor opposition, and an ever bigger one in 1976.
Hamer, assisted by key allies such as Attorney-General Haddon Storey , moved to modernise and liberalise government in Victoria. Environmental protection laws were greatly strengthened, the death penalty was abolished, Aboriginal communities were given ownership of their lands, abortion and homosexuality were decriminalised and anti-discrimination laws were introduced. Restrictions on shop trading hours, and on public entertainment on Sundays, were eased. A major new centre for the performing arts was built in the centre of Melbourne. These measures won the support of middle-class voters, and the Melbourne daily The Age, which had frequently been critical of Bolte, strongly supported Hamer's government.
By 1979, however, the gloss was wearing off the Hamer image, as Victoria was beset by increasing economic difficulties, rising unemployment, industrial unrest and a decline in Victoria's traditional manufacturing industrial base. At the same time the Labor Party was mounting a more effective challenge to the Liberals in Victoria than it had done for many years. At the 1979 election the Liberals were returned to power with an overall majority of only one seat, although they could also count on the support of the conservative Country Party.
After this setback the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, which had always disliked Hamer's social liberalism, began to undermine his position. The leading conservative, Economic Development Minister Ian Smith , was sacked from Cabinet for disloyalty in March 1981. He was reinstated after pledging loyalty to Hamer, but resigned again in May. It was apparent by this stage that Hamer had lost the support of his party, and he resigned in June. The following month he resigned from Parliament, and was knighted, becoming Sir Rupert Hamer. At the election the following year the Liberals were defeated after 27 years in power.
Hamer remained active in public and community affairs after his retirement. He was chairman of the Victorian State Opera from 1982 to 1995 and president of the Victorian College of the Arts from 1982 to 1996. He died of heart failure in his sleep on 23 March, 2004, and his family accepted the offer of a state funeral from the Labor Premier, Steve Bracks. Hamer was praised by Victorians of all political views. The former Labor federal president, Barry Jones , called him "the finest flower in the Victorian Deakinite tradition."
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