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Time for a re-build?

John Curtin is best remembered as a war-time Prime Minister. He is routinely described as Australia’s greatest prime minister. His policy work, alongside that of his Treasurer, Ben Chifley, was crucial in establishing a welfare state, on Australian lines, designed for Australian conditions.

Curtin was influenced by the economic theories of Keynes, and he had long wanted to transform life for Australians. He had seen the real and lasting damage caused by the Great Depression of the 1930s, and took the opportunity offered by wartime conditions to transform the nation.

In 1942 he imposed uniform taxation on the states, which changed the financial relationship between the two levels of government forever. It also allowed him to increase the revenue.

The removal of the states’ individual rights to levy their own income taxes was to be compensated, by the Commonwealth ‘picking up’ their liability for social programs. This was the ‘great bargain’ he made.

With a uniform income tax he was then in a position to expand his vision of a socially activist Commonwealth Government. The states, especially New South Wales and Victoria, had been adding elements of a social safety net since the beginning of the century.

He and Ben Chifley, the treasurer at the time, between them, completed it. Early examples were the Widow’s Pension Act, and the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act.

By the end of that same year (1942) he had set up a Department of Post-War Reconstruction, which laid the groundwork for establishing a Commonwealth Housing Commission, the post-war Rural Reconstruction Commission, the Secondary Industries Commission and the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. Many of these programs were designed to assist in re-building Australia, after the war ended.

In 1944 he set up the Department of Immigration which was to be responsible for organising post-war immigration to Australia. These changes were the basis for the enormous growth of the Australian economy in the post-war years.

John Curtin (Photo from Wikipedia)

John Curtin was a believer and a doer. He was lucky to be succeeded as prime minister by Chifley, who carried on their joint project after his death.

Their aim was nothing less than the dynamic re-construction of Australia, post-war. Curtin and Chifley both maintained that the key principle of a successful re-construction was full employment.

Robert Menzies was of a similar mind. He defeated Chifley in the election of 1949, and won seven elections in a row, on a platform which included full employment.

In 1961, he was lucky to be re-elected, because the unemployment rate had ‘blown out’ to 2.1%. He won that election by just one seat.

The welfare state in Australia is under constant threat, by both sides of parliament. This is counter to the wishes of a great proportion of the population, and it is driven by a political class who, especially in recent times, look after only themselves.

They rely on the apathy of the people, who do not inspect governments closely, and who are disengaged from the political process. Politics and society are of no interest to most voters – a sad fact of life.

The “teal wave” of the 2022 election has shown a new, invigorated voting bloc, and it will play merry hell with political orthodoxy. Educated women have decided that they are not “soccer mums” or “doctors’ wives” any longer, if they ever were. They have asserted their right to be heard, and I suspect politics will be changed forever.

The Liberal Party has been ‘infiltrated’ by many IPA-type neoliberals, whose political mantra can be simplified to a “survival of the fittest” trope. The Labor Party, although not yet as badly infested with IPA ideas, is slightly less crass, paying lip service to an egalitarian ethic, while rubber-stamping much neo-liberal legislation. It leaves voters stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Watch as Anthony Albanese moves, probably slowly, to incorporate many more woman-centric and family-friendly policies. Now is the time, when the blokes of the Liberal Party are bereft of numbers, and importantly, their macho over-confidence.

Where to from here?

In the Age of Coronavirus, food insecurity, the Ukraine War and the seemingly inevitable devastation even limited climate warming will cause, we need the utmost in inclusive government, and a government released from the ideological shackles of the neo-liberal movement.

Scott Morrison was a man tied to his party, by his own strange, anti-science ideologies, and his limitless ambition. He could have formed a National Government in order to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, but in his blinkered and political way he excluded the Opposition.

So we never had any sort of national anything. Instead we had premiers of states saving their people, while the Federal Liberals worked to pry the gates open. We had economics before people, and look at where that has landed us.

Instead of subsidising fossil fuel companies, and handing out money to billionaires, and private schools which don’t need it, try employing people. Try luring car manufacturers back to Australia, and electrify everything, including the cars we make.

Stop picking fights with China. Anyone with an elementary education is aware that China has had a short, but vexed relationship with the West.

The Opium Wars, invasions, the unequal treaties imposed by Western nations, the theft of Hong Kong; all these are like burrs under China’s saddle, and pesky states like Australia would do better than try to rile them, in pursuit of political gain. Morrison sucking up to Trump was the reason behind our current difficulties.

Stop throwing cash at multinational consultancies, and pay aged care staff and health care workers enough to live on. Stop our brightest and best scientists from leaving our barbarian land, and embrace the arts and the universities again. Build lots of housing. It is not clever to strangle supply, because all you do is drive up demand, and prices.

That is probably enough to begin with. But if you look around you, people look happier, and it has been less than a week since we delivered ourselves from Morrison’s rule.

Let us give Albanese the opportunity to be a real leader. He could really lean into the task of re-building the country, from the ground up, after the laying waste of the economy, and our society, caused by the pandemic, and the LNP vandals.

It just takes character, and a commitment to Australia’s real needs. That is why we call it the Commonwealth of Australia. Could this be his moment? We will see.


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  1. Phil Pryor

    The quality and quantity of legislation passed, its effects over time and the social benefits of this mark the reputation of parties, leaders and policies. Curtin is seen by many ( who research, study, investigate) as our greatest leader, with his following P M and colleague Chifley. The scale of problems faced and accommodated, the long lasting benefits, are clear and of national importance. Menzies, a P M for 23 years did little, certainly himself, and rode on the backs of Fadden, Spender, Hasluck, Casey, others of energy and talent, while Menzies remained the talking dummy in the conservative shop front window to entice buyers. Progressive ideas cost money, interfere with complacent profiteering, squat in the resentful minds of opponents. So, Whitlam, Hawke and Keating, Rudd and Gillard, received unnecessary, vicious, ignorant, misplaced and bilious attacks.
    If Australia is to keep up, improve, forget the draining horror of recent conservative ignoramuses in office (with more awaiting) we must use foresight, vision, planning, progressive policy and action to actually do something, get somewhere, be what we dreamed about, achieve a little of the promise and go for that illusion of a “fair go”.

  2. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Yes, this is the opportunity for Reformative Justice and brave forward thinking. It is also the Time for bringing back the great policies that Gough gave us, including Free Higher Education. Very importantly, the general population needs to be educated about Modern Monetary Theory and how it explains our Sovereign Currency allows Australia to fund every policy and program that will bring about the Common Good for the 99%. Labor must not continue to push the foul ideology of Neoliberalism.

  3. wam

    Lovely read, mark, The old train driver was a remarkable man in politics and well loved by my old man. He, with curtain, saved Australia from a pomloving pig-iron bob. They gave churchill the arse and offered the deserting macarthur refuge. There reform economic agenda alienated the business leaders who flocked back to menzies in 49. Ming then conned his way to spread fear of communists in labor and win. It may be untrue but he should have been defeated in 61 when, ironically, killen won on communist party preferences. Albo must be inclusive, openly revealing all negotiations with the independents. No more secret deals. My hope is the teals will give labor another attempt at reforming the process of government a la windsor and oakeschott.

  4. John Hanna

    I agree with every word, can’t bring myself to contemplate a Dutton/Ley government.

  5. Ken Robinson

    Great article, there is hope for the future at last, having been a youngster during the Curtin and Chif years remember them fondly when we had TRUE Leaders to get us through those troubled times, which look like being repeated.

  6. margcal

    Much has been made of the “teal women” and rightly so.
    But as one who proudly wore a teal tee-shirt in Kooyong, I’d like people to know and remember that a lot of men were wearing those tee-shirts too. They’re not going anywhere else either.

  7. Albos Elbow

    Months ago Angus Taylor signed off on higher subsidies for gas and coal fired power stations to combat higher coal, oil and petroleum gas prices and help them compete with renewable energy. Now Australian taxpayers will be expected to pay for it in your retail energy prices from July 1. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-26/benchmark-power-prices-electricity-bills-to-soar-australia/101098128

    “The decision comes just weeks after the body that runs the National Electricity Market said wholesale prices for coal, oil and gas produced energy have rocketed more than 140 per cent in the 12 months to March 31.
    ” That increase was driven by surging prices for coal, oil and gas, which are linked to international markets that have been trading at record highs amid the war in Ukraine and global instability.”

    Seriously, now is the time to buy wholesale renewable energy and bypass the fossil fuel energy retail price increases.
    Wholesale renewable energy is much cheaper, its produced from free and abundant Australian sunshine, wind and water and is not impacted by global crisis and international turmoil causing higher fossil fuel prices.

    Through local community based power suppliers like Localvolts, you can buy wholesale electricity direct from the suppliers, saving your family hundreds of dollars.

    For more information please visit the localvolts.com website or contact info@localvolts.com or joe@localvolts.com and get started on saving hundreds of dollars on your energy bills, helping your local community, reducing your carbon emissions and helping us move to net zero sooner.

    Feel free to help spread the news about the growing positive change in energy. You don’t need to have solar panels or a battery to join.

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