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BERNHARD RINGROSE WISE [1858 – 1916]

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BERNHARD RINGROSE WISE [1858 – 1916]

 

 Bernhard Wise was a social reformer, though he encountered some controversy because he was accused by some as being a traitor to his class and he was not fully accepted by the Labor Movement.

Wise was barrister, politician and Federationist.

He was elected as a representative of New South Wales at the 1897 Federal Convention and was a member of the judiciary committee. He fought for Federation in the referendum campaign of 1898 and at the New South Wales election allied himself with Edmund Barton. In 1898, he was returned as the NSW Member for Ashfield but he left the Free Trade Party because he felt that free trade was being put before federalism, commenting that, "I preferred nationhood to local politics".

He became an energetic advocate of Federation, speaking, travelling and writing as an editorial committee-member of the Australian Federalist. He was a delegate to the Australasian Federal Convention of 1897-98 where his liberal instinct, constitutional training and persuasive advocacy made a valuable contribution.

He was a very strong supporter of equal State representation in the Senate, and suggested the double dissolution proposal for the breaking of deadlocks between the Houses. Alfred Deakin placed him in "the first rank of men of influence in the Convention".

Wise - who had been NSW Attorney General - was unsuccessful in his attempt to enter the first Federal Parliament when he failed in 1901 to win the country seat of Canobolas. There he encountered an antagonism to the "city" barrister and was labelled a protectionist due to his links with NSW Premier Lynne and Edmund Barton.

He was to comment later in life that, "My failure in Sydney has been so complete—my qualities those which Australia does not recognise, my defects those which Australians dislike most." However, when he died, William Holman said of Wise:

"There is hardly anything in our public life which we have to consider today that cannot be traced back to his brilliant mind and clear foresight … [Wise] held undisputed supremacy as the foremost debater, foremost thinker and foremost public man in the life of New South Wales".

Wise was NSW Attorney-General from September 1899 to June 1904, and from July 1901 was also Minister of Justice. He began to put through some of his ideas for social reform and succeeded in passing important legislation, including the Industrial Arbitration Act (1901), the Early Closing Act (1899), the Old-age Pensions Act (1900) and the Women's Franchise Act (1902). In October 1900, he moved to the NSW legislative Council to pilot the Arbitration Bill through. He was acting-Premier for part of 1903-04.

In 1906, he travelled to South America where he contracted malaria which affected his health for the remainder of his days. Most of his time was spent in England and in May 1915 he was appointed Agent-General for New South Wales.

Wise died suddenly in London in 1916.