Sir William John Lyne KCMG (6 April 1844 – 3 August 1913) was an Australian politician who served as Premier of New South Wales from 1899 to 1901, and later as a federal cabinet minister under Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin. He is best known as the subject of the "Hopetoun Blunder", unexpectedly being asked to serve as the first Prime Minister of Australia but failing to form a government.
Lyne was born in Van Diemen's Land, the son of a pastoral farmer. When he was 20, he and cousin took up a sheep station in North West Queensland. However, he moved back home after a few years and found work in local government. Lyne moved to New South Wales in 1875, buying a station near Albury and becoming prominent in community affairs. He was elected to the colonial Legislative Assembly in 1880, and first entered cabinet in 1885 under George Dibbs. He was a member of the Protectionist Party, and a major opponent of free-traders Henry Parkes and George Reid.
Lyne was elected leader of the Protectionists in 1895, and became Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales. He stood aside in 1898, but returned as leader the following year and became premier at the head of a coalition with the Labor Party. Lyne led an energetic and progressive government, instituting a number of major social reforms. He supported federation in principle, serving as a delegate to multiple constitutional conventions. However, he considered the draft constitution to be too unfavourable to his home colony and supported the "no" vote at the 1898 and 1899 referendums.
In 1900, Lyne was asked by Lord Hopetoun (the incoming governor-general) to lead Australia's first national government. Hopetoun was relying on the precedent established at Canadian Confederation, where the premier of the largest colony became the prime minister of the new federation. However, Lyne had no support from leading federationists and was forced to relinquish the honour to Edmund Barton. Lyne became Minister for Home Affairs in Barton's government, and was later Minister for Trade and Customs and Treasurer under Alfred Deakin. Lyne opposed the formation of the new Commonwealth Liberal Party in 1909 and spent the rest of his career as a crossbencher, supporting Andrew Fisher's Labor government. He lost his seat at the 1913 election and died a few months later.
Lyne was born at Great Swanport, Van Diemen's Land (what is now Swansea, Tasmania). He was the eldest son of John Lyne, a pastoral farmer who would serve in the Tasmanian House of Assembly from 1880 to 1893. He was educated at Horton College, Ross, and subsequently by a private tutor. He left Tasmania at 20 to take up land in northern Queensland, but finding the climate did not suit him, he returned to Tasmania a year later. He became a clerk at Glamorgan Council. After 10 years, Lyne left for the mainland again in 1875 and took up land at Cumberoona near Albury, New South Wales.
Lyne was the member for Hume in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly from 1880. A Protectionist, he was Secretary for Public Works in 1885 and from 1886 to 1887 and Secretary for Lands in 1889. From 1891 to 1894, he became Secretary for Public Works again in the third ministry of George Dibbs. Lyne was a strong protectionist and fought hard for a high tariff. He also strongly supported railway expansion and pressed on with the building of the Culcairn to Corowa line in his own electorate.
The Free Trade Party was still very strong in New South Wales, and George Reid won the 1895 election and Lyne became Leader of the Opposition due to Dibbs losing his seat. Reid had entrusted John Cash Neild with a preparation of a report upon old age pensions, and he had promised the leader of the Labor Party that he would give Neild no payment for this without the sanction of Parliament. Finding that the work was much greater than he expected, Neild had asked for and obtained an advance in anticipation of a vote. Lyne, by a clever amendment of a vote of want of confidence, made it practically impossible for the Labor party to support Reid, thus aligning the Labor Party who held the balance of power against Reid. Lyne became Premier by agreeing to reforms proposed by the Labor Party. Lyne promised the Labor Party specific reforms and he passed 85 Acts between July and December 1900, including early closing of retail shops, coal mines regulation and miners' accident relief, old-age pensions and graduated death duties.