After eight years in opposition during 1941–1949, the new Menzies government of 1949 named Holt minister for labor and national service. He held this post until 1958. He also served as minister of immigration during 1949–1956. He became deputy leader of the Liberal Party in 1956 and was appointed finance minister (treasurer) in 1958, a post he held until he succeeded Menzies as prime minister in 1966.
The major issue that confronted the Holt government was the Vietnam War. Consistent with the conservative Liberal Party's policies, Holt held fast to the U.S.-Australian alliance and increased troop deployments to Vietnam, which was very controversial. By tapping into the traditional American affinity among the Australian populace, the Holt government continued to maintain its popularity.
On 17 December 1967, Holt drowned while swimming at a resort in Portsea, Victoria. His remains were never found, and he was officially presumed dead on 19 December.
Holt, Zara. My Life and Harry: An Autobiography. Melbourne: The Herald, 1968.; Welsh, Frank. Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia. London: Allen Lane, 2004.