The World at War

by Graham Donaldson


     Federal political parties in Australia revolve around two themes still present in politics today - protection versus free trade and Labor verses anti-Labor or cash spending for the community versus tightened taxation. The first government of the Commonwealth of Australia was formed by the Protectionists led by Edmund Barton. Neither the Protectionists nor the Free-Traders, which were more political groups than in the modern sense political parties, were unable to form a government in their own majority during the early years of the federation, relying on the support of the Labor Party. The bargaining power of the highly disciplined Labor organisers allowed the political party to grow and become bolder in their class demands.

     The Australia Labor Party is one of the oldest political parties in Australia with a continuous history dating back to 1890. The growth of the Labor Party came after the shearers and maritime strikes of the early 1890’s when unions wanted to add a political wing to the labour movement. Despite early success on a state level, the first full-time federal Labor government was not formed until just before the Great War under PM Andrew Fisher. As the Labor party gained strength, and tariffs became economically entrenched and faded as a major issue in a growing industrial and agricultural nation the Protectionists and Free-Traders amalgamated to form the Liberal Party in 1909. This fused Liberal Party was succeeded later by the Nationalist Party (1917-31), which in turn became the United Australia Party (1931-44). These renamed ‘anti-Labor’ parties were the pioneer political parties of the modern-day Liberal Party founded by Sir Robert Menzies after the Second World War.

     The modern-day National Party, nowadays in coalition with the Liberal Party, had its political origins dating back to 1910 when the state country parties and farmer’s union were formed because of rural dissatisfaction with the urban policies of Labor and the overall view of the Nationalist Party. In 1923 the first coalition was formed between the Stanley Bruce led Nationalist Party and the Country Party led Earle Page. The Bruce-Page duel ruled until swept from Office in 1929 by the Labor Party led by James Scullin. And in turn Scullin was defeated in 1931 by Labor defector Joseph Lyon with the United Australia Party, which stayed in Office until 1934 then another coalition was formed to defeat Labor. The UAP and the Nationalist Parties were formed largely through realignment of political alliances rather then the grass-roots movement such as the Labor or Communist parties. The history of the Labor Party has been marked by a number of schisms that cost it Office on several occasions. For example Billy Hughes split to form the National Labor Party, and later the National Party. These types of political splits were responsible for keeping Labor out of Office for about two decades in the post war years.

Australian Politicians of note:

Edmund Barton (1849-1920) born Glebe, NSW.
Protectionist     29 March 1901 - 24 September 1903

     On the 1 January 1901 was sworn in as Australia’s first Prime Minister (PM) had strongly supported the federation of the British colonies and was a member of the committee that drafted Australia’s constitution. He was leader of the Protectionist Party, made laws to put custom tariffs on imported goods to protect Australian industries and also introduced laws stopping all but English speaking peoples from immigrating to Australia. Although the Immigration Restriction Act was rather racist by today’s standard, it did stop the raiding of Pacific islands to kidnap the indigenous inhabitants, known as Kanaks, to be worked as slave labour on sugar cane farms and other crop plantations in northern Australia. Barton resigned in 1903 and was then appointed as a judge of the High Court of Australia.

Alfred Deakin (1856-1919) born Melbourne, Victoria
Protectionist     24 September 1903
5 July 1905
29 April 1909
- 27 April 1908
- 10 November 1908.
- 17 August 1910.

     He was Attorney General in the first Federal Government and when Barton resigned he became leader of the Protectionist Party, then won the 1903 elections with a reduced number of seats. The opposition Labor Party defeated Deakin’s arbitration legislation so he resigned and the Labor Party gained power with Watson as PM. For a second time Deakin became PM through the support of the Labor Party with protection given to local manufacturers and in 1908 support was withdrawn forcing him to resign again. In 1909 Deakin’s Protectionist Party joined the Free Trade Party to defeat Labor and this new ‘fusion’ government introduced immigration, conciliation and arbitration laws & the old age pension. By 1913 this dynamic PM dedicated to advancing Australia became very ill and resigned from Parliament.

John Christian Watson (1867-1941) born while parents were travelling the world.
Commonwealth Labor Party     27 April 1904 - 17 August 1904

     In Sydney during 1886 Watson became involved in the union movement and in 1894 was elected to the NSW Parliament then became president of the Commonwealth Labor party in 1901. He worked closely with the Protectionist leader Deakin until they formed a coalition with the Free Trade Party yet were unable to work together the Governor-General appointed the Labor Party to form a government and Watson became Australia’s third and youngest PM. His government set up a Royal Commission into navigation & shipping bringing about great changes to that commerce industry. Watson resigned rather quickly but remained in Parliament until 1910 and was expelled from the Labor Party in 1916 for supporting conscription during World War One.

George Houston Reid (1845-1918) born Scotland
Free-Trade     18 August 1904 - 5 July 1905

     He was Premier of NSW, 1894 till 1899 and criticised the move towards Federation but stood for election and won a seat in the House of Representatives where he led the Free Trade Party in opposition. In 1904 Reid became Prime Minister of a coalition government, Free Trade & Liberals, and was in Office for ten months and eventually in 1910 he became Australia’s High Commissioner in London. After doing this successfully for six years Reid then stood for election in the British Parliament and was elected a Member of the House of Commons. The only Australian to sit in the Colonial, Commonwealth and British Parliaments

Andrew Fisher (1862-1928) born in Scotland
Commonwealth Labor Party     10 November 1908
13 April 1910
5 September 1914
- 29 April 1909
- 24 June 1913
- 27 October 1915

     As an active member of the Labor Party, he supported the Federation of Australia and was elected to the first Commonwealth Parliament as the Member for Wide Bay, Queensland. Fisher first became PM after his party withdrew support from Deakin’s Protectionist Party. His policies for the government were on wages, prices & labour plus he wanted to impose land tax. This angered the Free Traders and Protectionist, so they joined into a "Fusion" political party and took Office in the June 1909 elections. Fisher united the Labor party and won the April 1910 elections, then he began work on a railway across the continent and the Commonwealth Bank was established. He lost Office in the next elections but became PM for a third time when the ‘Fusion Party suffered a double dissolution in Parliament. He rashly remarked that Australia would pledge the last man and shilling to support Great Britain in July 1914 and was not told of the Gallipoli landings till after it occurred. Fisher resigned in October 1915, as the pressure of PM began to affect his health, to accept the appointment of Australian High Commissioner in London, 1916-1921. He returned to Australia and after failing to re-enter parliament returned to England.

Joseph Cook (1860-1947) born in England
Liberals     24 June 1913 - 5 September 1914

     As a member of the Free Trade Party he was elected to the State of NSW Parliament in 1891. With Federation he became the member for parramatta, NSW, in the Federal Parliament. He was Minister for Defence under Deakin, introduced the Defence Act of 1909 legislating compulsory military training and the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy and Duntroon Military College. Cook became the ‘Fusion Party leader after Deakin retired in mid 1913 and won the elections by one seat. After the double-dissolution he lost the elections to the Labor party in September 1914. He joined his ‘Fusion Party with Hughes’ breakaway political sect to form the Nationalist party. After 30years in politics he resigned in 1921 to become Australian High Commissioner in London until 1927.

William (Billy) Morris Hughes (1862-1952 born in England
Australian Labor Party,
National Labor Party
27 October 1915 - 9 February 1923

     He migrated to Australia in 1884, worked in various labour jobs and as an active unionist held many representative positions. Hughes was elected to the State of NSW parliament in 1894 and although he opposed Federation entered federal government eventually became a wartime PM in October 1915. He supported Great Britain in the Great War - 1914-1919, using appeals of patriotism for the call to conscript men into the volunteer Australian army serving overseas. Many Labor Party members opposed his views on conscription and he defected to join Cook’s Liberal Party to for the National Party. He believed that Australia should be seen as an independent nation in world affairs, attended the Peace Conference of 1919, made sure that the other delegates remember that 60,000 Australian died in the war and ensured Australia as one of the founding members of the League of Nations. After 1919 elections he stayed in Office by forming a coalition with the new Country Party. In the 1922 elections the Country Party coalition increased their Seats and refused Hughes as PM deposing of him in early 1925. He was a member of the Australian Parliament for over fifty years.

Stanley Melbourne Bruce (1883-1967) born Australia, Melbourne
National Party     9 February 1923 - 12 October 1929

     He entered Parliament in 1918 as the Member for Flinders, Victoria, and became leader of the Nationalist Party and then PM with a coalition government formed with the Country Party. He initiated programs for growth, encouraged migrants and created schemes to assist people to become farmers plus set up a council for scientific and industrial research. Bruce was voted out of his electorate and out of government in 1929. In 1933 he was appointed Australian High Commissioner in London, was created Viscount Bruce of Melbourne in 1947 and became the first Australian to sit in the House of Lords. He died in England, August, and his ashes were brought to Canberra and sprinkled across Lake Burley Griffin.

James Henry Scullin (1876-1953) born Ballarat, Australia
Australian Labor Party     12 October 1929 - 19 December 1931

     He joined the labour movement, became a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and won the Federal Seat of Corangamite, Victoria in the election of 1910, yet lost it in 1913. He then went onto win the Federal Seat of Yarra, Victoria, in 1922 and retained it for 27years. Scullin became PM at the beginning of the Great Depression, had no ministerial experience and lost the peoples confidence. He remained in Parliament as a backbencher till 1949.

Joseph Aloysius Lyons (1879-1939) born Tasmania, Australia
United Australia Party     19 December 1931 - 7 April 1939

     He was an elected member of the Tasmanian State Parliament from 1909-1929, and in Office as Premier for about five years. He then entered Federal Parliament belonging to the Labor Party but in 1931 was expelled for disloyalty. He joined with Menzies and the National Party to form the UAP. In the next election Lyon became PM in early January 1932, lost a few seats in the elections of 1934 and joined the Country Party in a coalition government. He led Australia as economic conditions improved worldwide, began to re-equip and strengthen the Australian armed forces and opened the first Commonwealth Aircraft Factory in Melbourne. He was the first PM to die in Office, April 1939, and after his death his wife, Emild Lyons, stood for election and became the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives.

Earle Christmas Grafton Page (1880-1961) born Austral, NSW
Country Party     7 April 1939 - 26 April 1939

     He’d served in France & Egypt as an army doctor during the Great War and upon his return to Australia in 1919 as a Country Party member was elected to Federal Parliament as the Member of Cowley, NSW. His party supported the Nationalist Party in 1923 sweeping Hughes from Office and Page became Deputy Prime-Minister again, but this time Lyons died and he became ‘caretaker’ PM for 19days. He supported Menzies opposite in the UAP leadership struggle and lost his parties support for the coalition prime-ministership. Later he was Minister of Health and introduced Australia’s first National Health Scheme.

Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978) born Jeparit, Victoria
United Australia Party,
Liberal Party
26 April 1939
10 December 1949
- 28 August 1941
- 20 January 1966

     In 1928 he was elected to the Victorian State Parliament and rising to Deputy Premier. Menzies resigned his state seat in 1934 and was elected to Federal Parliament as the Member for Kooyong, Victoria, until 1966. He served as Attorney General then elected as leader of the UAP after Lyons died. Page the coalition leader held Office briefly until overthrown by Menzies leadership challenge. His first term as PM the Second World War broke out and after an overseas trip he had problems uniting the political party behind him and resigned to become a backbencher. Again he became leader of the UAP in 1943 and eventually organised the Liberal Party of Australia. He won the elections of December 1949 starting his second term in Office, and the longest of any PM, until January 1966.

Arthur William Fadden (1895-1973) born Ingham, Queensland
Country Party     28 August 1941 - 7 October 1941

     He entered Queensland State Parliament in 1932, then moved onto the federal elections and won the Seat of Darling Downs, Qld, in 1936. As a Country Party member he had supported Page, until the hostile attack on Menzies, then helped force Page’s dismissal as leader. Fadden was Minister for Air & Civil Authority and Deputy PM in Menzies first government. When Menzies was forced to resign in August 1941 Fadden was made PM for "forty days and forty nights" as he liked to remind everybody. He lacked parliamentary power and had trouble with the coalition party members, and then his ‘horror budget’ was rejected. He was forced to resign and the Governor-General appointed Curtin the next wartime PM. He became Treasurer in 1949 with the second Menzies Government, planning long-term financial policies and retired from politics in December 1958.

John Joseph Curtin (1885-1945) born
Australian Labor Party     7 October 1941 - 5 July 1945

     As a member of the ALP he built unity and stressed the importance of a strong defence force. A couple of months before Japan entered the Second World War, Australia needed a determined and decisive leader. Curtin introduced conscription, rationing of food, clothing and towards the end of the war he introduced the widows pension, maternity allowances, unemployment & sickness benefits. He asked the United States for assistance against the Japanese thrust into the South Pacific, that the British couldn’t supply, and accepted General MacArthur, as the help needed. Six weeks before the end of the war he suffered a fatal heart attack at The Lodge, Canberra, whilst still PM.

Francis Michael Forde (1890-1983) born
Australian Labor Party     5 July 1945 - 12 July 1945

     He’d joined the ALP and then won a seat in the Queensland State elections of 1917 as the Member of Rockhampton, holding this electorate for 24years from 1922. He held many ministerial appointments and in the war years was Minister for the Army then Deputy Prime-Minister. Forde became PM for eight days after Curtin’s death until Chifley defeated him in a leadership challenge. He remained Deputy PM until the 1946 elections losing his seat by one vote and was appointed Australian High Commissioner to Canada till 1953. He returned to the Queensland State Parliament in 1955 and again lost in the 1957 elections by one vote.

Joseph Benedict Chifley (1885-1951) born Bathurst, NSW
Australian Labor Party     12 July 1945 - 10 December 1949

     While a member of the Labor party he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1928, became Minister of Defence in Scullin’s Government and lost his Seat in 1931 only to regain it in 1940. Under Curtin’s Government he was appointed Treasurer, and after Curtin’s untimely death, he was elected the Labor Party Leader and became PM. He organised retraining for ex-service personnel, encouraged British migrants and many refugees from Europe to arrive and settle in Australia. Chifley instigated the Snowy Mountain Scheme to use inland rivers for electricity & irrigation, supported Australian manufacturing industries and kept strict controls on currency and imports cutting the national debt. But lost Office due to delays in discounting wartime rations to Menzies in 1949. He suffered a heartattack and died at his desk in Canberra.

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by Graham Donaldson

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