Curtin Government

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Curtin Government
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
In office
7 October 1941 – 5 July 1945
Prime Minister John Curtin
Deputy Frank Forde
Party Labor
Status Minority (1941–1943)
Majority (1943–1945)
OriginPredecessor lost confidence motion
DemiseCurtin's death
Predecessor Fadden Government
Successor Forde Government

The Curtin Government was the federal executive government of Australia led by Prime Minister John Curtin. It was made up of members of the Australian Labor Party in the Australian Parliament from 1941 to 1945.

John Curtin Australian politician, 14th Prime Minister of Australia

John Joseph Ambrose Curtin was an Australian politician who served as the 14th Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1941 until his death in 1945. He led the country for the majority of World War II, including all but the last few weeks of the war in the Pacific. He was the leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1935 to 1945, and its longest serving leader until Gough Whitlam. Curtin's leadership skills and personal character were acclaimed by his political contemporaries. He is frequently cited as one of Australia's greatest prime ministers, and is the only prime minister to represent a constituency in Western Australia.

Australian Labor Party Political party in Australia

The Australian Labor Party is a major centre-left political party in Australia. The party has been in opposition at the federal level since the 2013 election. The party is a federal party with branches in each state and territory. Labor is in government in the states of Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, and in both the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. The party competes against the Liberal/National Coalition for political office at the federal and state levels. It is the oldest political party in Australia.



John Curtin was first elected leader of the Australian Labor Party and became leader of the opposition in 1935. Defence issues were becoming increasingly dominant in public affairs with the rise of Fascism in Europe and militant Japan in Asia. Curtin led Labor to the 1937 election against Joseph Lyons' United Australia Party which resulted in a comfortable victory to the UAP. Lyons died in office in April 1939 and the UAP selected Robert Menzies to succeed him as Prime Minister. [1]

Joseph Lyons 20th-century Australian politician, 10th Prime Minister of Australia

Joseph Aloysius Lyons was an Australian politician who served as the 10th Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1932 until his death in 1939. He began his career in the Labor Party, but became the founding leader of the United Australia Party (UAP) after the 1931 party split. He had earlier served as Premier of Tasmania from 1923 to 1928.

United Australia Party former Australian political party (1931-1945)

The United Australia Party (UAP) was an Australian political party that was founded in 1931 and dissolved in 1945. The party won four federal elections in that time, usually governing in coalition with the Country Party. It provided two Prime Ministers of Australia – Joseph Lyons (1932–1939) and Robert Menzies (1939–1941).

Robert Menzies Australian politician, 12th Prime Minister of Australia

Sir Robert Gordon Menzies,, was an Australian politician who twice served as Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1939 to 1941 and again from 1949 to 1966. He played a central role in the creation of the Liberal Party of Australia, defining its policies and its broad outreach. He is Australia's longest-serving prime minister, serving over 18 years in total.

On 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Menzies announced Australia's declaration of war on Nazi Germany. Australia had entered World War II, following the Nazi invasion of Poland. The Labor Party declined to enter a war cabinet led by Menzies, though Curtin offered co-operation – though not to the extent of supporting conscription for overseas service. [2] The Labor Party experienced a split along pro and anti Communist lines over policy towards the Soviet Union for its co-operation with Nazi Germany in the invasion of Poland and Labor narrowly lost the September 1940 Election. The Menzies Government relied upon the support of two Independents, Alex Wilson and Arthur Coles to continue in office. [2]

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Conscription Compulsory enlistment into national or military service

Conscription, sometimes called the draft, is the compulsory enlistment of people in a national service, most often a military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names. The modern system of near-universal national conscription for young men dates to the French Revolution in the 1790s, where it became the basis of a very large and powerful military. Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime, so that men at a certain age would serve 1–8 years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.

Curtin took a seat on the newly created Advisory War Council in October 1940 and agreed to a plan by Menzies to travel to Washington and London. [2] In January 1941, Menzies flew to Britain to discuss the weakness of Singapore's defences and sit with Winston Churchill's British War Cabinet. In Menzies's absence, Curtin co-operated with Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Fadden in preparing Australia for the expected Pacific War. Returning to Australia, with the threat of Japan imminent and with the Australian army suffering badly in the Greek and Crete campaigns, Menzies re-approached the Labor Party to form a War Cabinet. Menzies had planned a further trip to Britain to influence the conduct of the Allied campaign. Unable to secure Curtin's support, and with an unworkable parliamentary majority, Menzies resigned as Prime Minister. The UAP-Coalition held office for another month with Arthur Fadden of the Country Party as its leader, before the independents switched allegiance and John Curtin was sworn in as Prime Minister on 7 October 1941. [3] Eight weeks later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during most of World War II

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British statesman, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.

Arthur Fadden Australian politician, 13th Prime Minister of Australia

Sir Arthur William Fadden, was an Australian politician who served as Prime Minister of Australia from 29 August to 7 October 1941. He was the leader of the Country Party from 1940 to 1958.

Pacific War Theater of World War II fought in the Pacific and Asia

The Pacific War, sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in the Pacific and Asia. It was fought over a vast area that included the Pacific Ocean and islands, the South West Pacific, South-East Asia, and in China.

In Office

John Curtin (8 January 1885 – 5 July 1945) served as the 14th Prime Minister of Australia. [4] Labor under Curtin formed a minority government in 1941 after independents crossed the floor, bringing down the Coalition minority United Australia Party-Country Party Coalition government which resulted from the 1940 election. Curtin went on to lead federal Labor to its greatest win with two-thirds of seats in the lower house and over 58 percent of the two-party preferred vote at the 1943 election. Labor won 49 seats to 12 United Australia Party, 7 Country Party, 3 Country National Party (Queensland), 1 Queensland Country Party, 1 Liberal Country Party (Victoria) and 1 Independent in the Australian House of Representatives. The Labor Party also won all 19 of the seats contested for the Australian Senate. [5]

Prime Minister of Australia executive head of the Government of Australia

The Prime Minister of Australia is the head of government of Australia. The individual who holds the office is the most senior Minister of State, the leader of the Federal Cabinet. The Prime Minister also has the responsibility of administering the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and is the chair of the National Security Committee and the Council of Australian Governments. The office of Prime Minister is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia but exists through Westminster political convention. The individual who holds the office is commissioned by the Governor-General of Australia and at the Governor-General's pleasure subject to the Constitution of Australia and constitutional conventions.

A minority government, or minority cabinet or minority parliament, is a cabinet formed in a parliamentary system when a political party or coalition of parties does not have a majority of overall seats in the parliament. It is sworn into office, with or without the formal support of other parties, to enable a government to be formed. Under such a government, legislation can only be passed with the support of enough other members of the legislature to provide a majority, encouraging multi-partisanship. In bicameral parliaments, the term relates to the situation in chamber whose confidence is considered most crucial to the continuance in office of the government.

Crossing the floor political term

In politics, crossing the floor is when a politician changes their allegiance or votes against their party in a Westminster system parliament. Crossing the floor may mean voting against the approved party lines, or changing to another party after being elected while a member of a first party.

Curtin led Australia when the Australian mainland came under direct military threat during the Japanese advance in World War II. He is widely regarded as one of the country's greatest Prime Ministers. [6] General Douglas MacArthur said that Curtin was "one of the greatest of the wartime statesmen". [7]

Proposed Japanese invasion of Australia during World War II

In early 1942 elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) proposed an invasion of Australia. This proposal was opposed by the Imperial Japanese Army and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who regarded it as being unfeasible given Australia's geography and the strength of the Allied defences. Instead, the Japanese military adopted a strategy of isolating Australia from the United States by advancing through the South Pacific. This offensive was abandoned following the Battle of the Coral Sea and Battle of Midway in May and June 1942, and all subsequent Japanese operations in the vicinity of Australia were undertaken to slow the advance of Allied forces.

Douglas MacArthur U.S. Army general of the army, field marshal of the Army of the Philippines

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur was an American five-star general and Field Marshal of the Philippine Army. He was Chief of Staff of the United States Army during the 1930s and played a prominent role in the Pacific theater during World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippines Campaign, which made him and his father Arthur MacArthur Jr. the first father and son to be awarded the medal. He was one of only five to rise to the rank of General of the Army in the US Army, and the only one conferred the rank of field marshal in the Philippine Army.

With most of Australia's best forces committed to fight against Hitler in the Middle East, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US naval base in Hawaii, on 8 December 1941 (eastern Australia time). The British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse sent to defend Singapore were sunk soon afterwards. Australia was ill-prepared for an attack, lacking armaments, modern fighter aircraft, heavy bombers, and aircraft carriers. While demanding reinforcements from Churchill, on 27 December 1941 Curtin published an historic announcement: [8]

Netherlands and Australian PoWs of the Japanese at Tarsau, in Thailand in 1943. The Fall of Singapore followed soon after Curtin became Prime Minister of Australia. POWs Burma Thai RR.jpg
Netherlands and Australian PoWs of the Japanese at Tarsau, in Thailand in 1943. The Fall of Singapore followed soon after Curtin became Prime Minister of Australia.

British Malaya quickly collapsed, shocking the Australian nation. British, Indian and Australian troops made a disorganised last stand at Singapore, before surrendering on 15 February 1942. Around 15,000 Australian soldiers became prisoners of war. Curtin predicted that the "battle for Australia" would now follow. On 19 February, Darwin suffered a devastating air raid, the first time the Australian mainland had ever been attacked by enemy forces. Over the following 19 months, Australia was attacked from the air almost 100 times.

Two battle-hardened Australian divisions were already steaming from the Mid-East for Singapore. Churchill wanted them diverted to Burma, but Curtin refused, and anxiously awaited their return to Australia. US President Franklin Roosevelt ordered his commander in the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur, to formulate a Pacific defence plan with Australia in March 1942. Curtin agreed to place Australian forces under the command of General MacArthur, who became "Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific". Curtin had thus presided over a fundamental shift in Australia's foreign policy. MacArthur moved his headquarters to Melbourne in March 1942 and American troops began massing in Australia. In late May 1942, Japanese midget submarines sank an accommodation vessel in a daring raid on Sydney Harbour. On 8 June 1942, two Japanese submarines briefly shelled Sydney's eastern suburbs and the city of Newcastle. [10]

US General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of Allied forces in the Pacific, with Prime Minister Curtin Curtinmacarthur.jpg
US General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of Allied forces in the Pacific, with Prime Minister Curtin
Curtin, sitting right, at the 1944 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference CommonwealthPrimeMinisters1944.jpg
Curtin, sitting right, at the 1944 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference

In an effort to isolate Australia, the Japanese planned a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby, in the Australian Territory of New Guinea. In May 1942, the US Navy engaged the Japanese in the Battle of the Coral Sea and halted the attack. The Battle of Midway in June effectively defeated the Japanese navy and the Japanese army launched a land assault on Moresby from the north. [8] Between July and November 1942, Australian forces repulsed Japanese attempts on the city by way of the Kokoda Track, in the highlands of New Guinea. The Battle of Milne Bay in August 1942 was the first Allied defeat of Japanese land forces.

Concerned to maintain British commitment to the defence of Australia, Prime Minister Curtin announced in November 1943 that Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester was to be appointed Governor General of Australia. The brother of King George VI arrived in Australia to take up his post in January 1945. Curtin hoped this might influence the British to despatch men and equipment to the Pacific, and the appointment reaffirmed the important role of the Crown to the Australian nation at that time. [11]

The Battle of Buna-Gona, between November 1942 and January 1943, set the tone for the bitter final stages of the New Guinea campaign, which persisted into 1945. MacCarthur to a certain extent excluded Australian forces from the main push north into the Philippines and Japan. It was left to Australia to lead amphibious assaults against Japanese bases in Borneo.

As the end of the war approached, Curtin sought to firm up Australian influence in the South Pacific following the war but also sought to ensure a continuing role for the British Empire, calling Australia "the bastion of British institutions, the British way of life and the system of democratic government in the Southern World". In April 1944, Curtin held talks on postwar planning with United States President Franklin Roosevelt and with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and gained agreement for the Australian economy to begin transitioning from military to post-war economy. He returned to Australia and campaigned for an unsuccessful 1944 referendum to extend federal government power over employment, monopolies, Aboriginal people, health and railway gauges. [8]

In April 1945, Curtin despatched an Australian delegation which included attorney-general and minister for external affairs H V Evatt to discuss formation of the United Nations. Australia played a significant mediatory role in these early years of the United Nations, successfully lobbying for an increased role for smaller and middle-ranking nations and a stronger commitment to employment rights into the U.N. Charter. Evatt was elected president of the third session of the United Nations General Assembly (September 1948 to May 1949). [12]

Death of Curtin

Prime Minister Curtin suffered from ill health from the strains of office. He suffered a major heart attack in November 1944. Facing the newly formed Liberal Party of Australia opposition led by Robert Menzies, Curtin struggled with exhaustion and a heavy work load – excusing himself from Parliamentary question time and unable to concentrate on the large number of parliamentary bills being drafted dealing with the coming peace. Curtin returned to hospital in April with lung congestion. With Deputy Prime Minister Frank Forde in the United States and Ben Chifley serving as acting Prime Minister, it was Chifley who announced the end of the war in Europe on 9 May 1945. [8]

When Curtin died towards the end of the Second World War in July 1945, Frank Forde served as Prime Minister from 6–13 July, before the party elected Ben Chifley as Curtin's successor. [13] Following his 1945 election as leader of the Australian Labor Party, Chifley, a former railway engine driver, became Australia's 16th Prime Minister on 13 July 1945. [14] The Second World War ended with the defeat of Japan in the Pacific just four weeks later.

See also

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  2. 1 2 3
  6. "John Curtin". Australia's Prime Ministers. National Archives of Australia . Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  7. General Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences, Heinemann, London, 1967. Page 258.
  8. 1 2 3 4
  9. Cited in Frank Crowley (1973) Vol 2, p.51
  10. "Midget Submarines history at". Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  13. Francis Forde – Australia's PMs – Australia's Prime Ministers
  14. Chifley, Joseph Benedict (Ben) (1885–1951) Biographical Entry – Australian Dictionary of Biography Online