Diary of a Labour Man


1935 Leader of the Opposition

Tuesday 1 October Canberra



Attends ‘Special Meeting’ of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party at which J H Scullin tenders his resignation as leader of the Party, and a ballot for a new leader is conducted.

‘On a vote being taken the scrutineers announced the result as follows: Curtin 11 votes, Forde 10 votes.

The Chairman J H Scullin declared J Curtin duly elected Leader of the Party, and in doing so offered him his heartiest congratulations.

Mr J Curtin in taking the chair as Leader, thanked members for the honour they had conferred upon him and stated he would at all times do his utmost to retain the confidence which members had placed in him, and would endeavour to the best of his ability to follow in the footsteps of the late Leader.

F M Forde, Deputy Leader, took the opportunity of congratulating Mr J Curtin on his election to the Leadership and stated he would at all times give him the same loyal support as he had given to Mr J H Scullin.

The Leader, Mr J Curtin then took the opportunity on behalf of the Party to make a presentation of a Cabinet of Cutlery to the Acting Secretary and Whip, G Lawson, on the occasion of his marriage, and wished he and his wife good health and future happiness. G Lawson suitably replied.'

Curtin reacts to his appointment with humility, writing to Percy Trainer, State Secretary of the ALP in Western Australia, that:

‘I have no great sense of personal ambition, and I have never had any. It has been quite sufficient for me to be a member of the team and to do my best in the work given to me as a contribution to the success generally of the efforts all of us have made in our respective spheres. This spirit shall ever animate me.’

Mrs Curtin later recalled that ‘”This marked the beginning of a new era in our family life. … ‘Dad’ was busier than ever and didn’t have time for the bi-weekly letters he used to write before. He used the telephone instead, but still wrote when he had time.”’


House of Representatives

JCPML.  Records of the Curtin Family.  Leader of the Opposition, John Curtin. October 1935.  JCPML00376/135

James Scullin announces his resignation, and Curtin informs the House of Representatives that he has been appointed Leader of the Opposition.

Speaks in the debate on the second reading of the Financial Relief Bill 1935. Asks for an amendment to restore levels of invalid and old-age pensions reduced in the Principal Act. Argues that the bill was designed to cover the rates of pay of public servants and members of Parliament who were in a better financial position than more ‘indigent sections of the community’. 1

Wednesday 2 October Canberra

10.30 am – 12 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

  House of Representatives
  Responds to a motion by Mr Prowse on Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Comments on tariff protection given to BHP and suggests that the company owed a duty to Parliament, ‘...in bare gratitude, if nothing more, to require that the ships it needs shall be constructed in Australia’. 2
Wednesday 9 October Canberra

10.30 am – 12.35 pm
Chairs ‘Special Meeting’ of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

  House of Representatives
  In commenting on the Italo-Abyssian dispute, argues against the League of Nations' call for sanctions against Italy because of difficulties in enforcement. Asks for clarification of the government’s intentions. Refers to the Pact of Paris and the Kellogg Pact which impose obligations on Australia to use peaceful means to resolve disputes. 3
Thursday 10 October Canberra

Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 4

Wednesday 16 October Canberra
  10.30 am? – 12.30 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, which he called ‘to consider the States Grants Bills now before the House’.
  House of Representatives
  Calls for total reform of federal-state relations, particularly in finance, during a debate on the South Australian Grant Bill 1935. Maintains that a change to the Commonwealth Grants Commission is required to allow a more equitable distribution of income between the states. 5
Thursday 17 October House of Representatives
  Raises concerns in the Committee of Supply debate on the 1935/1936 Budget about the stress indirect taxation is placing on those with lower incomes, and on primary industry. Queries the reliability of Budget estimates. Calls for co-ordination of State and Commonwealth taxation, and for concerted action on unemployment. Proposes an amendment to the bill which he regards as a ‘...direction to the Government to effect an agreement with the States to ensure legislative collaboration in the establishment of a national employment council to deal with unemployment...’ 6
Friday 18 October House of Representatives

Suggests that money raised by the States' Grants Bill (No. 2), 1935, to reduce the budget deficits of five States ‘...would do more for the economic welfare of Australia if it were expended in providing employment’. Expresses concern that Loans Council meetings were held ‘in camera’.

Comments on a ministerial statement by Prime Minister Menzies on the Italo-Abyssian dispute, asking that the Government consult Parliament before any decision is made in the League of Nations.

Voices Labor Party policy that Australia should not support any action by the League of Nations on the basis that economic sanctions would lead to war. ‘If we do not intend to fight for sanctions we ought not undertake to enforce them’. 7
Tuesday 22 October Canberra

10.30 pm? – 12.50 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

‘…Leader J Curtin at this stage spoke on the valuable services rendered to the Labor Movement by the ex Leader, Mr J Scullin, and suggested that the Party should in some small way recognise Mr J Scullin’s services, and suggested that the Party should take this question into consideration.

The Leader further suggested that the recognition of Mr Scullin’s services should take the form of a suitable testimonial or a dinner.

The suggestion of the Leader was unanimously adopted. …’ 8
Wednesday 30 October Canberra

10.30 am? – 12.50 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

During the meeting it was:

Moved by F Forde, seconded E Green, ‘That the Party desires to encourage the State Executives of the Australian Labor Party to display a maximum of activity in organising opposition to the forces which threaten to embroil the nation in War, and appoints … representatives to the Anti-War Committees of the State Executives.’ The representative for Western Australia was J Curtin. 9
Friday 1 November House of Representatives
  During the Second Reading of the Sanctions Bill, 1935, raises the Labor Party's concerns about the Government's proposal to impose economic sanctions against Italy in response to its conflict with Abyssinia. Questions whether sanctions are part of Australia's obligations to the League of Nations arguing that sanctions could ‘embroil Australia in European disturbances and conflicts’. 10
Wednesday 6 November Canberra

10.30 am? – 12.25 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 11

Thursday 7 November House of Representatives
  Reaffirms objections to the imposition of sanctions against Italy during the Third Reading of the Sanctions Bill, 1935. Rejects Government claims that the Labor Party has ‘abandoned’ the League of Nations. 12
Wednesday 13 November Canberra

10.30 am? – 1.30 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 13

Tuesday 19 November Canberra

10.30 am? – 12.30 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 14

Thursday 21 November Canberra

12.30 am
Chairs ‘Special Emergency Meeting’ of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

‘The Leader [J Curtin] explained the reason for calling the meeting was to discuss the actions and attitude of the Chairman of Committees, Mr J Prowse, towards members of the Party, with the result the following resolution was unanimously carried: That having regard to the proceedings in the Committee this evening the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party expresses its indignation at the gross partiality displayed by the Chairman, Mr J H Prowse.’

[According to Weller, ‘immediately after the dinner break, J H Prowse (Country Party; MHR for Swan, WA) had refused to allow [F M J] Baker [MHR for Griffith, Qld] to complain that standing orders had been breached; just after 10 pm, he had refused to allow [G W] Mahoney [MHR for Denison, Tas] to speak and then had made [E J] Ward [MHR for East Sydney, NSW] resume his seat and had named [R] James[MHR for Hunter, NSW]. On the adjournment at 2 am, Curtin read the caucus resolution, but he was then ruled out of order by the speaker who said that he could only discuss Prowse’s behaviour if he moved a substantive motion.’] 15
Wednesday 27 November Canberra

11 am – 12.45 pm
Chairs meeting of the Parliamentary Labor Party.

  House of Representatives

Proposes a motion that the Chairman of Committees, Mr Prowse, be declared unfit to continue in that office because of displaying ‘gross partiality’, and gives examples of the manner in which Mr Prowse handles debates and arguments.

Comments on the defence budget in the Estimates committee suggesting that information concerning defence should have been circulated prior to the meeting to allow time for consideration. In discussing the allocation of the budget between the forces, queries the high cost of running the Royal Military College at Duntroon, and suggests that a greater proportion should have been allocated to the Air Force. 16
Friday 29 November House of Representatives
  During the Second Reading of the Repatriation Bill 1935, criticizes the Government for delaying its implementation. 17
Monday 2 December Canberra
  11 am? – 12.30 pm
Chairs meeting of the Parliamentary Labor Party.
  House of Representatives
  Proposes an amendment to the Repatriation Bill 1935 concerning a retrospective provision covering widows of servicemen who would qualify for a service pension under provisions of the new Act. 18
Friday 13 December Perth

Arrives in Perth by Great Western Express and is met by representatives of the Labor movement.

Attends civic reception in the Council Chambers in Murray Street, ‘tendered by the Lord Mayor (J J Poynton)’, which people attended ‘regardless of political beliefs and affiliations’.

‘Such a sight would be “practically impossible in any other State of the Commonwealth”, commented Curtin. Although he held out the prospect of Australia developing “a standard of civilisation greater than the world has yet known”, the thrust of his speech was not only about domestic policy. The heightened tensions across the world also prompted him to make one of his most explicit declarations of support for white Australia, proclaiming that Australians “desire not only to be one people but that we shall be kindred from a common stock; that we shall, in fact, be a white people predominantly of British origin.”’ 19
Monday 16 December Palace Hotel, Perth
  Attends AJA official welcome held in his honour. 20
Tuesday 17 December Unity Theatre, Perth

Attends function organised by the Metropolitan Council of the Australian Labor Party.

‘There was a fine attendance of Labor supporters … not only to see and hear Mr John Curtin MHR, but also to make manifest their pleasure at his occupancy of the position of Leader of the Opposition, and to give a visible token of their faith in his ability to discharge the duties entrusted to him. … The meeting was interspersed by musical items. … Mr Curtin who was visibly moved by the tumultuous applause when he rose to reply [to speeches], said he could not find words with which to express just what he felt, in speaking in that hall which had witnessed a large part of the activities of his matured manhood…’ 21
Wednesday 18 December Fremantle
  Attends meeting of the Fremantle District Council of the Australian Labor Party where he was ‘most enthusiastically welcomed’. 22
Thursday 19 December Fremantle
  Attends usual fortnightly meeting of Fremantle City Council at the invitation of Mayor F E Gibson and receives an enthusiastic welcome. 23
Monday 23 December Town Hall, Fremantle

Attends civic reception given by the Mayor of Fremantle where citizens of Fremantle were ‘given the opportunity of expressing their satisfaction at the elevation of their Federal representative to such a responsible position’.

‘… Prior to the meeting the members of the Fremantle City Band turned out in full strength … and rendered a musical programme outside the Town Hall in honour of the Federal Labor Leader.

The Town Hall rang with an enthusiastic welcome as Mr Curtin rose to speak and ‘The Federal Leader was in great form.… After the public meeting an adjournment was made to the Mayor’s Parlour, which was taxed to the limit when the toast to Mr Curtin was honoured’ 24
Wednesday 25 December Perth

‘Inspiring Christmas Message’.

‘The Labor Movement is a movement of goodwill and fraternity. It has its roots in the needs of mankind and its inspiration in the human beings whose lot is prejudiced by injustice and unbrotherliness. Therefore, above all else, Labor seeks to remove the causes which set man against man in a selfish competition to the detriment of the poor and lowly. Standing for the mass of our people, it tenders to them a message of goodwill and companionship, and the assurance of its determination to strive always for a better social order, so that the spirit of concord which marks the Christmas Season may in fact be possible in the day to day relations of everybody. Peace on earth; justice on earth; decent living standards in every home; access to culture and refinement; the uplift of the Spirit; the possibility of faith and hope in the time ahead – these are the thoughts which Labor expresses to the people in this Season. It states them because they are the watchwords of its policy and the purpose of its existence.’ 25