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Joseph Cook was 31 in 1891 when he became Labor member for Hartley in the New South Wales parliament. Three years later, he was a minister in George Reid’s Free Trade government. He joined the first federal parliament in 1901 as a Free Trade member and, despite being described as having ‘no glow’, held the federal seat of Parramatta for 20 years.
A man of great determination, he was quick to make the most of two major re-alignments of political parties in the parliament’s first two decades. In 1909 he became Defence Minister, after taking a key role in the fusion of non-Labor parties that year. In 1917, he led the Liberal Party in a merger to form the Nationalist Party and served as Navy Minister and as Treasurer in WM Hughes’ government.
Joseph Cook was Australia’s sixth Prime Minister, taking office in 1913 with a Liberal Party majority of only one seat in the House of Representatives. On leaving politics, Cook served as Australia’s third High Commissioner in London from 1921 to 1927.