Les Bury

Leslie Harry Ernest Bury CMG (25 February 1913 – 7 September 1986) was an Australian politician and economist. He was a member of the Liberal Party and served in the House of Representatives between 1956 and 1974, representing the Division of Wentworth. He held ministerial office in Coalition governments for nearly a decade, serving as Minister for Air (1961–1962), Housing (1963–1966), Labour and National Service (1966–1969), Treasurer (1969–1971) and Foreign Affairs (1971).

Les Bury
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
22 March 1971  2 August 1971
Prime MinisterWilliam McMahon
Preceded byWilliam McMahon
Succeeded byNigel Bowen
Treasurer of Australia
In office
12 November 1969  22 March 1971
Prime MinisterJohn Gorton
Preceded byWilliam McMahon
Succeeded byBilly Snedden
Minister for Labour and National Service
In office
26 January 1966  12 November 1969
Prime MinisterHarold Holt
John McEwen
John Gorton
Preceded byWilliam McMahon
Succeeded byBilly Snedden
Minister for Housing
In office
18 December 1963  26 January 1966
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Preceded byWilfrid Kent Hughes
Succeeded byAnnabelle Rankin
Minister for Air
In office
22 December 1961  27 July 1962
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Preceded byHarrie Wade
Succeeded byDavid Fairbairn
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Wentworth
In office
8 December 1956  11 April 1974
Preceded byEric Harrison
Succeeded byRobert Ellicott
Personal details
Born(1913-02-25)25 February 1913
Willesden, London, England
Died7 September 1986(1986-09-07) (aged 73)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Political partyLiberal
Ann Weigall
(m. 1940)
Alma materQueens' College, Cambridge

Early life

Bury was born in Willesden, London, England, the son of Doris Elma (née Walgrave) and Ernest Bury. His father was an Anglican clergyman. Bury attended Herne Bay College in Kent before matriculating at Queens' College, Cambridge. His education was financed by scholarships and financial assistance from an uncle. He graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1934 and was a member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association.[1] His lecturers at Cambridge included John Maynard Keynes and Joan Robinson, both of whom made a lasting impression.[2]

Bury moved to Sydney in December 1935 to work in the economic department of the Bank of New South Wales.[1] He assisted general manager Alfred Charles Davidson during the 1935 Banking Royal Commission.[2] He married Anne Weigall on 23 August 1940, with whom he had four sons. Bury enlisted in the army in 1942, serving with heavy artillery fixed defences and with the 12th Australian Radar Detachment.[1][3] He worked in the Department of the Treasury in the 1940s and later worked as Executive Director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Australian representative on the International Monetary Fund from 1951 to 1956.[4]

Political career

Bury in 1958.

Bury was elected to the House of Representatives at the 1956 Wentworth by-election, following the resignation of Eric Harrison to become High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.[5] According to Peter King, he "... would attend football matches with Labor leader Arthur Calwell in Melbourne and ... [shadow Treasurer] Frank Crean stayed at the Bury home in Sydney".[4]

Menzies Government

Bury was appointed Minister for Air and Minister assisting the Treasurer in Robert Menzies' ninth ministry in December 1961. On 27 July 1962 he was sacked for speaking in favour of the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Economic Community, saying that "European integration, of which the Common Market is an essential expression, is a keystone of the grand design for Western survival". This strongly conflicted with Deputy Prime Minister John McEwen's concerns over its impact on Australian exports to the United Kingdom.[6] In December 1963, he returned to cabinet as Minister for Housing. He introduced the First Home Owners Grant, which continues to be a feature of the Australian political landscape.[4]

Holt Government

In January 1966, Bury became Minister for Labour and National Service in Harold Holt's first ministry, during the Vietnam War, when he was responsible for implementing conscription.

After Holt's disappearance in December 1966, Bury was one of four candidates to contest the Liberal leadership ballot, along with John Gorton, Paul Hasluck, and Billy Snedden. He had some support within the party, including from Peter Howson, and was reportedly Menzies' second most preferred candidate after Hasluck. According to Graham Freudenberg much of his support was due to his status as the only candidate from New South Wales.[7] However, he was virtually unknown among the general public and was not seen as a strong television performer. Bury polled an estimated 16 votes (out of 81) on the first ballot, ahead of only Snedden. Both were eliminated and Gorton went on to defeat Hasluck in the final ballot.[8]

Gorton Government

Bury remained Minister for Labour and National Service in the first Gorton ministry. With Phillip Lynch as Minister for the Army, a slogan chanted at anti-war protests was "lynch Bury and bury Lynch". After the 1969 federal election, Bury was promoted to treasurer, his most desired portfolio. His promotion was probably due to his support for Gorton in the 1969 leadership spill, which saw then-treasurer William McMahon challenge for the prime ministership. McMahon was shifted to foreign affairs and Bury took his place as treasurer. Gorton also reputedly viewed Bury as someone who was likely to be compliant and not challenge his own economic agenda.[7]

Bury presented only a single budget as treasurer, for 1970–71. It was described as "very much a Treasury-inspired document", and also had significant input from Gorton.[9] He was one of the pioneers of the forward estimates system, in March 1971 asking ministers to provide estimates of expenditure for future activities.[10] He was an advocate of alternative measures of economic progress, stating "we must not fall too readily to exclusive worship at the altar of GNP [...] our prime concern should always be the social welfare of the community as a whole". He was also an early supporter of a broad-based national consumption tax, akin to the current GST.[11]

There were concerns about Bury's health during his period as treasurer, with one source describing him as "a worn-out and a tired man, suffering from ill-health and lacking concentration". He suffered from coronary arteriosclerosis and hypertension.[7] Bury's departmental secretary Dick Randall stated that, from Treasury's perspective, he "lost too many cabinet fights". He came into conflict with the more experienced figures of Gorton, McEwen, and McMahon who were not always in agreement with the departmental agenda.[9] He opposed the creation of the Australian Industry Development Corporation, preferring the use of foreign capital, but was overridden by McEwen and Gorton.[10]

McMahon Government

Bury in 1971.

When William McMahon became Prime Minister in March 1971, he initially retained Bury as Treasurer, but 12 days later moved him to the Foreign Affairs portfolio, and sacked him in August 1971. He retired from parliament at the 1974 federal election after losing Liberal preselection to Bob Ellicott.[1]

Bury was the only Liberal Treasurer who was not and did not subsequently become his party's deputy leader until Joe Hockey.

Later life

Bury retired from parliament in 1974 due to ill health.[12] In the Queen's Birthday Honours of June 1979, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), in recognition of his service to the Parliament of Australia.[13]

Bury died in Sydney in 1986 and was survived by his wife Anne and his four sons, Peter, Michael, John and Nicholas.[14]


  1. Boadle, Donald (2007). "Bury, Leslie Harry Ernest (1913–1986)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 17.
  2. Hawkins, John (2012). "Leslie Bury – from Treasury to Treasurer" (PDF). Economic Roundup. Department of the Treasury (3): 115.
  3. Hawke, Bob (16 September 1986). "Death of Hon. L.H.E.Bury, CMG". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
  4. King, Peter (28 May 2003). "Bury, Mr Les" (PDF). Hansard. Parliament of Australia. pp. 15279–80. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 October 2003. Retrieved 21 September 2007.
  5. "Members of the House of Representatives since 1901". Parliamentary Handbook. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 1 September 2007. Retrieved 21 September 2007.
  6. Coleman, Peter (16 September 1986). "Death of Hon. L.H.E.Bury, CMG". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
  7. Hawkins 2012, p. 118.
  8. Rhodes, Campbell (9 January 2018). "In the running: the Liberals' choice in 1968". Museum of Australian Democracy. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  9. Hawkins 2012, p. 119.
  10. Hawkins 2012, p. 120.
  11. Hawkins 2012, p. 121.
  12. Dobie, Don (16 September 1986). "Death of Hon. L.H.E.Bury, CMG". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
  13. "Bury, Leslie Harry Ernest". It's an Honour. Government of Australia. Retrieved 20 October 2007.
  14. Sinclair, Ian (16 September 1986). "Death of Hon. L.H.E.Bury, CMG". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Archived from the original on 24 May 2011. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
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