The suggestion was made to go back and look at Fadden, Curtin and Chifley and was then modified to consider all three in the one episode. Why not, indeed?
Arthur Fadden took office as Prime Minister on 29 August 1941, and remained there until 7 October in the same year. He was a Country Party man from Queensland and had served a term in the Legislative Assembly there, before losing his seat. He subsequently stood in a by-election for the Federal seat of Darling Downs, and won it. Under Menzies, Fadden became Leader of the Country Party, meaning that he inherited the mantle of Deputy Prime Minister. It was written of Fadden that "he had no obvious ambitions and he suffered from no delusions of grandeur; he was amiable and gregarious".
Other contenders for the leadership had been John (Black Jack) McEwen, Earle Page (full name Earle Christmas Grafton Page!), and Archie Cameron. McEwen and Page went into the ministry, but Cameron did not. He hit the roof, and Fadden subsequently wrote; “ I attempted to get a word in edgeways and persuade him to discuss the issue on a reasonable basis. He cleared his throat, spat the whole length of the wall-to-wall carpet, pulled off one elastic-sided boot, then the other, and as he threw one into the furthest corner of the room he swore that he would not be found dead with the Country Party mob.” Cameron quit the party and joined the UAP (United Australia Party) under Menzies.
By now, the war was well under way, and Menzies and Opposition Leader John Curtin agreed to form a joint War Council with members from all parties. Fadden was acting PM while Menzies was abroad, and recalled the way he and Curtin cooperated. Beasley, a foundation member of the Council had been defeated in a ballot by Evatt, but Curtin wanted Beasley. He mentioned this to Fadden who suggested that Curtin should write to him saying that the gravity of the situation an increase of two on the Council. Curtin asked, “ Why two?” and Fadden replied that he wanted McEwen. The letter was written – problem solved.
Fast forward to October 1941, when Curtin formally opposed Fadden’s budget, and in conversation with Fadden, it was found that both believed that Fadden did not have the numbers. This was correct, the Fadden government lost the confidence motion, and Curtin formed a minority government after the Governor General, Lord Gowrie, who did not want an election with the parliament barely a year old. He had sought and received assurances from Wilson and Coles, two independents, that they would support Curtin for the remainder of the parliament and avoid any instability in government.
It was only a couple of months later that Pearl Harbour was attacked and war in the Pacific became a reality. This led to Curtin writing to President Roosevelt, making no bones about the fact that Australia wanted and needed American help. The war progressed badly for the Allies. Singapore fell in February 1942 and, in the same month, it hit home with a vengeance when the Japanese bombed Darwin. The raids on Darwin were far more serious than the public was told, and had the government deeply worried. Winston Churchill attempted to divert Australian troops to Burma which Curtin flatly refused, and the soldiers returned to Australia. It has been told often, that Curtin spent sleepless nights walking in the garden, worrying about the safety on those on the troopship until their safe arrival occurred.
Curtin formed a close working relationship with the Allied Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur. Curtin realised that Australia would be ignored unless it had a strong voice in Washington, D.C., and he wanted that voice to be MacArthur's. He directed Australian commanders to treat MacArthur's orders as if they came from the Australian Government. Biographer John Edwards wrote: “A lesser Australian leader might have grated against MacArthur's vanity, cavilled at his assumption of command, contradicted his grandiloquent claims, satirised his manner. Curtin did not. He seized the chance to share authority with MacArthur, refused to offend his vanity, drew him as close as he could. Of Curtin's military decisions, it was the cleverest, most fruitful, most abidingly successful.”
Curtin won the 1943 election with a swing of 17 seats but as time went by, his health was taking a turn for the worse. The stress of the war had already taken its toll and, in 1944, after travelling abroad for meetings, he suffered a heart attack. He died on 5 July 1945.
Joseph Benedict (Ben) Chifley had been Curtin’s treasurer since 1941. Despite the fact that Frank Forde was Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. After Curtin’s death, Forde acted as PM for eight days, until Chifley defeated him in a leadership ballot and became Prime Minister. His early working life would no doubt be approved by our readers. In September 1903, Chifley joined the New South Wales Government Railways as a "shop boy" at the Bathurst depot. He rose through the ranks to engine-cleaner and fireman, and passed for driving in March 1914. He had very good understanding of locomotives, and became an instructor at the Bathurst Railway Institute. He was based in Bathurst and worked on the Main Western line, except for a few months in 1914 when he drove on the Main Southern line and worked out of Harden.
The radical reforming nature of the Chifley Government was such that, between 1946–49, the Australian Parliament passed 299 Acts, a record up until then, and well beyond the previous record of the Labor Government of Andrew Fisher, which passed 113 Acts from 1910–13. Some of the more major achievements were The Snowy Mountains Scheme, the establishment of Australian citizenship (instead of the previous “British” category), beginning of ASIO, and a Pharmaceutical Benefits Plan.
One of Chifley’s pet wishes was to nationalise the Banks, and he attempted this in 1947. It met with massive and very well organised opposition which included a High Court challenge which found the proposed legislation to be unconstitutional. In those days, the Privy Council was the final court of appeal, and it upheld the High Court’s decision. This, and the fact that Chifley held on to the wartime rationing system were to be his ultimate downfall in the 1949 election. Menzies was back at the helm of the Opposition, and campaigned successfully on these issues and the ALP’s “softness on Communism”. The ALP retained a majority in the Senate but the House had swung to the Liberals and Country Party.
Chifley, also a heavy smoker, was in poor health, but carried on as opposition leader. Menzies called a double dissolution in April 1951, and achieved control of the House and the Senate.
In June of that year Chifley suffered a heart attack in his room at Kurrajong Hotel, and died on the way to hospital. A ball was in progress at Parliament House in celebration of 50 years of Federation, and the news inevitably reached the venue. To his credit, Menzies, who was very upset by the news, made an announcement: “It is my very sorrowful duty during this celebration tonight to tell you that Mr Chifley has died. I don't want to try to talk about him now because, although we were political opponents, he was a friend of mine and yours, and a fine Australian. You will all agree that in the circumstances the festivities should end. It doesn't matter about party politics on an occasion such as this. Oddly enough, in Parliament we get on very well. We sometimes find we have the warmest friendships among people whose politics are not ours. Mr Chifley served this country magnificently for years.”