PAUL, Hon. John Thomas, C.B.E.
Journalist, Labour Party official, and union organiser.
A new biography of Paul, John Thomas appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
John Thomas Paul was born on 16 August 1874 at Salisbury West, Victoria, Australia, where he was educated. In 1899 he came to New Zealand as a linotype operator on the Otago Daily Times, Dunedin. From the printing side of newspaper production he transferred some 20 years later to the literary section and served on the staffs of the Dunedin Evening Star, Otago Daily Times, and Otago Witness, which last he edited from 1924 until 1932 when it ceased publication. In the meantime he had taken an extremely active part in the trade union movement. In 1903 he became president of the Otago Trades and Labour Council and was also in the early years of this century president of the Otago Soft Goods, Electrical Workers', and Tailoresses' Unions, holding office in the latter for 35 years. He was also president of the Clothing Trades Federation.
J. T. Paul played a prominent part in the formation of the Parliamentary Labour Party. As early as 1904, at the Trades Councils Conference, he moved that “… an Independent Labour Party should be formed immediately …”. This resolution, which was carried by 16 votes to three, marked the end of the uneasy Labour-Liberal alliance. Paul's faith in the party's political future was justified. By 1917, when he was elected president (1917 to 1920) of the Labour Party, it had eight members in the House of Representatives and was already a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, Paul himself was making a significant contribution to Parliament as a member of the Legislative Council, to which he had been appointed by the Liberal Government in January 1907. In 1919, however, he resigned his seat in order to contest the Dunedin South electorate for the House of Representatives, but was defeated. It was not until September 1946 that Paul again entered Parliament when he was reappointed to the Legislative Council by the Labour Government. He held his seat until the abolition of the Council in 1950.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, with the Labour Government in power, Paul accepted the difficult post of Director of Publicity. Although the scope of his powers was not precisely defined, it was understood that he could prohibit the publication of news that might, or would, be detrimental to the war effort. The task of censorship does not make for popularity, and inevitably there were complaints about Paul's rulings. Nevertheless, his relations with the press were good and it is difficult to imagine any other person doing better. Paul was guided by his experience both as journalist and as politician, and he sought always to persuade rather than dictate.
During the early and mid-period of his political life, Paul was the author of a number of publications including Things that Matter (1909), Labour and the Future (1911), Labour's First Plank (1920), Labour Landmarks (1938), and Humanism in Politics (1946). At the same time he was active in other spheres. He held office in the National Defence League and the Otago Harbour Board Vigilance Committee (1906) and served on Patriotic Fund administrative bodies from 1916 onwards. In 1947, when the functions of the Great War Funds Board were transferred to the National Patriotic Fund Board, he was appointed to represent the old board on the new, a position he held until his death. In his later years Paul was a strong advocate of the value of the bicameral system of parliamentary government, following the abolition of the Legislative Council by the National Government in 1950. He worked hard for its restoration and gave evidence before several parliamentary committees – the Constitutional Reform Committee, 1952, which recommended the establishment of a Second Chamber; the Public Relations Committee (M-Z), 1961; and the Constitutional Reform Committee, 1964. In 1958 Paul was awarded the C.B.E. for valuable service in the fields of journalism and government.
Paul was a man of warm personality, with the gift of making many friends. As a speaker he was persuasive and authoritative, the result of wide reading combined with a thorough knowledge of the subject. He was a devoted party man though never a leader, for he preferred caution and a middle course. Yet it was as a moderate with a balanced viewpoint that Paul served his party best, especially in those formative years when a noisy and militant minority suggested that iconoclastic radicalism was Labour's goal. It was due to the calming influence of men such as Paul that the Labour cause became “respectable”.
J. T. Paul died at Raumati South on 25 July 1964 and was buried at Wellington where his home was. He was predeceased by his wife Ethel, née Blake (died 29 September 1961), whom he had married at Bendigo, Victoria, and by his daughter Dorothy. He was survived by two sons, Lionel, and Raymond.
by Alexander Hare McLintock, C.B.E., M.A., DIP.ED.(N.Z.), PH.D.(LOND.), Parliamentary Historian, Wellington.