Senator Alan Ferguson

The 22nd President of the Australian Senate; Former Senator for South Australia


The Hon. Alan Baird Ferguson was born on the 16th September 1943 in Maitland, South Australia. Growing up in this tiny rural community of population eight in the Yorke Peninsula, he attended the local rural school in nearby Weetulta, staffed by only one teacher. Afterwards he moved on to attend Scotch College, a religious boarding school in Adelaide, around two hours away from his hometown.

His father was a farmer and was active in the Liberal Country League, even holding a seat in the State Parliament between 1965 and 1970; it was only natural that he would follow his father’s path both in farming and in his political leaning. As he himself admits: "Politics has always been a part of my life: it was politics for breakfast, lunch and tea in my family." He therefore joined the Liberal Party in 1960, at age 17, and was - then as today - active in his local Uniting Church.

His first loyalty though went to his family and the family business: he worked on and then managed the family farm for over 20 years. Then, in 1985, came the first big change in his life and career, when adjustments within the industry forced him to abandon farming to become a self-employed insurance agent, specializing in retirement funds. This new, but rather unglamorous job was accompanied however by increased political activity, and he became a delegate of the Liberal Party Council of South Australia.

All his efforts were rewarded by his appointment first to Vice-President and then to President of the Liberal Party of South Australia in 1990. This influential position within the party was to be the springboard of his political career at the federal level. In 1992, one of the Senators for South Australia, John Olsen, decided to retire from national politics to return to state office; this enabled Ferguson to be nominated by his party colleagues as his replacement. He had already put himself forward for pre-selection twice before, and had been rejected both times; at 48, he now thought he might be judged too old as a candidate, but he decided to try it out one more time nonetheless. This time he was successful, and took up his senatorial seat on the 1st of July 1993.

Ferguson would go on to spend three full terms in the Australian Senate as a representative for South Australia. Although his job beckoned him to metropolitan Canberra, he remains very close to his rural roots: he still lives in Weetulta when he can, the only Senator to live in a farming community, legitimately claiming that he was the one best suited to connect with the rural world. In his first speech to the Senate, he made a compassionate speech to highlight inequality of educational opportunities in South Australia, quoting his past experiences while at school in Weetulta.

His main interests lied elsewhere, though: he would serve on a dozen of different Senatorial and joint committees. Senator Ferguson’s manners and working attitude won appreciation from many of his colleagues, who credit him with having wisdom, balance, fair-mindedness and, last but not least, a good sense of humour. In 1999, he was appointed to the prominent post of chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, deepening his understanding of these issues and making him an authority in the field of foreign affairs. He also took part in many diplomatic and humanitarian roles on behalf of the Australian Government and of the Commonwealth: he was an official international observer at the elections in Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Malawi and lead a number of delegations to the US, Europe and Asian countries. In addition, he became interested in cultural diplomacy initiatives, participating to the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange Film Festival in 2006.

In August 2007, after the resignation of former Senate President Paul Calvert, the Hon. Ferguson was elected as the next President of the Senate. In his new role he has called for a radical overhaul of how question time is carried out in the senate, and has taken other initiatives to improve the image of politicians and parliament in the eyes of ordinary Australians. In his institutional capacity he has also met with visiting world leaders, such as Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Senator Ferguson is married and has three adult daughters.

An interview with Senator Alan Ferguson, 22nd President of the Australian Senate

"International Relations and Cultural Diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific Region"
The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy
(Berlin, May 17th, 2013)