Herbert Vere Evatt

Background

As the Second World War draws to a close world leaders gather at San Francisco to discuss the establishment of the United Nations. The UN replaces the League of Nations, which was set up after the First World War to foster international cooperation.

Mini biography

Born on 30 April 1894 in East Maitland, New South Wales, Australia.

1918 - Evatt is admitted to the Sydney bar.

1925 - He joins the Australian Labor Party, entering the NSW State Parliament as the member of the Legislative Assembly for the seat of Balmain.

1929 - He is appointed a Kings Counsel.

1930 - Evatt leaves state politics and is appointed a justice of the High Court of Australia, at 36 the youngest person ever to be appointed to the position.

1940 - He resigns from the High Court and enters federal politics, winning the Sydney seat of Barton as a Labor Party candidate.

1941 - Labor wins the election. Prime Minister John Curtin appoints Evatt as attorney-general and minister for external affairs.

1945 - He is a member of the San Francisco Conference which draws up the Charter of the United Nations.

During the Charter negotiations he fights for the rights of smaller powers and advocates that the UN should have the power to effect social and economic reform and protect human rights. Article 56, which calls on member states to work toward "higher standards of living, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress and development," becomes known as 'the Australian pledge'.

The Charter is signed on 26 June by the representatives of the 50 countries attending the conference. The United Nations officially comes into existence on 24 October, when the charter is ratified by the majority of its 50 signatories.

1946-49 - Evatt serves as deputy prime minister to Ben Chifley.

1946 - He leads the Australian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference and the Australian delegations to the UN in 1946, 1947 and 1948.

1948 - He is elected president of the UN General Assembly at its third session. He remains the only Australian to have held this post. Evatt presides over the UN's adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December, followed by the Geneva and Genocide Conventions.

1949 - Labor loses the federal election. The remainder of Evatt's parliamentary life is spent in opposition.

1950 - Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies introduces the Communist Party Dissolution Bill which allows the government to declare any citizen a communist and to bar them from holding office in a range of public organisations, including trade unions. Evatt successfully contests the Act in the High Court, where it is declared unconstitutional.

1951 - Following the death of opposition leader Ben Chifley in June, Evatt is elected the new leader of the Labor Party. He campaigns tirelessly for the no vote in the referendum seeking to ban the Communist Party of Australia, insisting that the banning of any political ideology was "a definite step towards the police state." The referendum is defeated.

1960 - He leaves politics and takes up the position of chief justice of NSW, retiring in 1962 due to ill health.

1965 - Evatt dies in Canberra on 2 November.

Comment

Considered from a purely local perspective, Australia has had many better politicians than Evatt - his contemporaries John Curtin and Ben Chiefly for example. But it is on the world stage that Evatt left his greatest legacy. His input into the formation of the UN was pivotal, ensuring that all members had a role in the General Assembly and that the organisation became involved in the management of economic, social and humanitarian issues. He argued that cooperation on economic and social issues should be specifically mentioned in the Charter. The UN is a flawed institution but it is one of our only true hopes for the creation of world prosperity and peace. Without Evatt's legacy the pursuit of these elusive goals would be that much harder.