BONIWELL Martin Charles

Assistant Secretary and Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman / Parliamentary Draftsman
Years active
1932–1939 / 1946–1949
Martin Charles Boniwell (1883-1967), by unknown photographer. Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia, A1200:L78939


Martin Charles Boniwell was born at Surbiton, in Surrey, England on 25 February 1883, the son of builder Charles Boniwell and Martha, née Bewers. With his parents and older sister Martin Boniwell migrated as a young child to Hobart, Tasmania, where three younger brothers were born. After attending the Hutchins School, Hobart, on a scholarship, he joined the state Crown Solicitor's Office as a clerk in May 1899. Studying part-time at the University of Tasmania he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1911.

Notable for his achievements in rowing during this period, Boniwell was a member of the Tasmanian crew which competed with commendable success in the King's Cup (the Men's Interstate Eight-Oared Championship) between 1906 and 1910. He was an active member of and team selector for the Derwent Rowing Club and later a committee member of the Mercantile Club in Melbourne. Appointed as a Clerk in the Professional Division from 1 June 1912, he moved to Melbourne to join the Commonwealth Attorney‑General's Department. On 19 September that year Boniwell and Ruby Okines were married at All Saints' Anglican Church in Hobart.

Advancing through the ranks of the Department Boniwell served for almost two years as Secretary to Representatives of the Government in the Senate from July 1915, was promoted on 10 January 1918 to a role redesignated as 'Chief Clerk and Legal Assistant' in 1921, and then 'Chief Clerk and Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman' from 1 July 1924. On 6 April 1925 he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Tasmania and of the High Court of Australia.

In September 1926 Boniwell attended the seventh session of the League of Nations in Geneva as an adviser to the Australian delegation. He then assisted Attorney-General John Latham at the Imperial Conference in London. Agreement reached at this conference led to the Balfour Declaration that, instead of the previous hierarchical relationship between Britain and the colonies, the Crown symbolised 'the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations'. This principle was eventually enshrined in Australian legislation in the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942, some provisions of which were made retrospective to 'the Commencement of the War between His Majesty the King and Germany' in 1939.

With his wife and their four young daughters, Boniwell had moved to Canberra during the initial transfer of public servants in August 1927, later building a home in Mugga Way, Red Hill. Consolidating his reputation as a highly skilled lawyer and drafter, he was promoted to Assistant Secretary and Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman on 10 February 1932, when George Knowles succeeded Sir Robert Garran as Secretary to the Department, Solicitor-General and Parliamentary Draftsman. Boniwell acted in these three roles for some months in mid-1937 while Knowles travelled to London to attend the Imperial Conference. Boniwell contributed over 120 advices to the Opinion Book while in various roles in the Attorney-General's Department. Thirteen of his opinions on a range of issues, most from his time as acting Solicitor-General, were selected for publication in Volume 3.

Boniwell was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) on 23 June 1936. Following the crash of the airliner Kyeema which killed 18 people at Mount Dandenong, Victoria on 25 October 1938, he served as a member of the committee which reviewed civil aviation administration, and recommended the creation of the Department of Civil Aviation.

Appointed Public Service Arbitrator from 16 February 1939, Boniwell returned to Melbourne to work, and lived there throughout the Second World War. Given extra functions relating to references under the National Security (Industrial Peace) Regulations and women's employment matters during the war, the Arbitrator's powers were also somewhat circumscribed under the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations. Boniwell's appointment had been opposed by the staff associations whose frustration was accentuated by his continual insistence on his independence. Acting like a judge deciding a dispute between two parties, he refused to simply ratify agreements made by staff associations with the public service commissioner. Early in 1946 Boniwell was replaced as Arbitrator by another senior drafter, Gilbert Castieau.

Transferred back to Canberra, Boniwell was made acting Parliamentary Draftsman from 8 May 1946. The role was separated from those of Secretary and Solicitor‑General in the changeover from Sir George Knowles to Professor Kenneth Bailey at that time. Continuing to act during a subsequent major reorganisation of the Department, Boniwell was appointed Parliamentary Draftsman on 8 July 1948. Already past the official retiring age of 65, but able to stay on due to the terms under which he began his employment in Tasmania, he retired from the public service at age 66, on 7 March 1949. He remained in the service of the Commonwealth government for some time as a member of an interdepartmental committee established in December 1948 to review defence legislation, and supervising the preparation for publication of a six-volume consolidation of Commonwealth acts as at 31 December 1950.

Aged 83, Martin Boniwell died on 6 January 1967 at Caulfield, Melbourne. Cremation was at Springvale Crematorium on 9 January. He was survived by his wife and four daughters. In 1970 Boniwell Street, Higgins (in the Australian Capital Territory) was named in his honour.

  1. Biography written by Carmel Meiklejohn with reference to research for Carmel Meiklejohn, Fitting the Bill – A History of Commonwealth Parliamentary Drafting, Office of Parliamentary Counsel, Canberra, 2012.

Opinions by this author

Opinion Number Subject Opinion Date
Opinion Number. 1451

elections: disqualification as…

Opinion Number. 1452

elections: polling adjourned…

Opinion Number. 1538

Appropriations: proposal…

Opinion Number. 1609

Air Navigation
Power of commonwealth to…

Opinion Number. 1610

power of commonwealth to…

Opinion Number. 1611

Write-off of debts and stores
validity of…

Opinion Number. 1612


Opinion Number. 1613

Regulation of primary products

Opinion Number. 1614

whether member of NEW SOUTH…

Opinion Number. 1615

Regulation of primary products
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