T .J. Ryan: A Political Biography, is a study of Thomas Joseph Ryan, premier of Queensland from 1915 to 1919, and at his death in August 1921 assistant leader of the federal parliamentary Labor party. The thesis concentrates on Ryan the politician and has little mention of his private life. The many important constitutional cases that he fought are treated from a political rather than a legal point of view.
Because Ryan was a Labor premier at a particularly crucial period in the history of the Labor party in Australia, the thesis is also concerned with the Labor party as a political organisation and with the problems of successfully leading such a party. Equally the thesis has to be concerned with such important political questions as the first world war, conscription and the division of the Labor party, the abolition of the Queensland Legislative Council and the breaking of the monopoly power of the CSR over the Queensland sugar industry.
The first chapter is concerned with Ryan’s attempted entry into politics as a Deakinite and his subsequent joining of the Labor party, making himself accepted in that party and finally being elected to the Queensland parliament as the Labor member for Barcoo in 1909. Chapters two and three trace his quick movement through the ranks of the parliamentary party to become leader of the opposition after only one term in parliament and premier after two.
Chapters four to sixteen, covering Ryan’s period as premier are the core of the thesis. In chapters four to eight Ryan successively establishes that he is not to be merely a lib-lab premier; he has his first triumphs as a barrister before the Privy Council in England and comes home to confront the pastoralists, and the CSR and to become the only premier to oppose conscription. Chapters nine to thirteen develop the private war that is fought in Queensland between the Labor government and an alliance of Brisbane newspapers, the anti-Labor Legislative Council, the pastoralists, private insurance companies, CSR, shipowners and finally the former Labor prime minister W.M. Hughes. Chapter thirteen, which deals with the second conscription referendum, is the climax of the war waged between Ryan and Hughes during 1917. In chapter fourteen and fifteen, Ryan is shown as an extremely competent politician and as a most successful Labor leader who is sought after by other state Labor parties as the outstanding political Labor figure in Australia. In chapter sixteen, Ryan fights and wins two further important Privy Council cases during his second visit to England at the beginning of 1918.
The last three chapters are concerned with Ryan's being invited to enter federal politics by the federal Conference of the Labor party, his attempts to make the federal parliamentary Labor party the force that the Queensland party had been and his early and untimely death.
Finally, in the postscript there is an evaluation of Ryan's place in Australian history and his role as a Labor leader.