Document Study 5
Speech in Parliament by Curtin as a backbencher opposing the Premiers' Plan in the midst of the Depression, 1931

Background information

Curtin won election to parliament in 1928. He came to Canberra with a great sense of optimism that Labor could change things. When the Scullin Government took office they had a good majority and a mandate for social progress and reform. They did not, however, control the Senate and with the onset of the Depression found it hard to pass legislation. Increasing financial constraints meant that the government had to reduce wages and pensions rather than put its own social program into operation.

Scullin Government 1929-1932. JCPML00376/150.

JCPML. Records of the Curtin Family. Scullin Government 1929-1932. JCPML00376/150

Curtin stood virtually alone against the economic dogma of the time which called for cuts in government spending of all types. He wanted to nationalise the banks and bring the financial system under the control of the Federal government to free up credit and increase employment opportunities. The Australian Labor Party was in confusion and Curtin became morose, lonely and almost cynical. The ALP lost office in 1931, in an election that saw Curtin lose his seat of Fremantle.

Document: Speech in Parliament by Curtin as a backbencher opposing the Premiers' Plan in the midst of the Depression, 1931

Source: Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), vol 130, 24 June 1931 pp. 2949-2951

Excerpt from speech:

... I consider the [Premiers'] plan to be entirely at variance with what the Commonwealth Government has hitherto declared to be the proper means of coping with the national crisis... This plan is, in its essence, the plan of the party opposite ... [and] irrespective of its origin, and regardles of its sponsors, discloses the fact that it has been submitted in order to avoid any possibility of failure to meet our obligations to our overseas bond holders...

I am opposed to the plan in its entirety, because the variations of interest rates are contingent upon my acquiescence in the reduction of payments to old age, invalid, and war pensioners, and because implicit in the plan is an abondonment of the Labour movement in regard to the reconstruction of society... I think I am entitled to remind the House that some three or four months ago... I suggested to the Government and to the party to which I belong, that it had to face up to the issue; that it had either to find ways and means of putting its own programme into operation, or else permit its opponents to give effect to their programme... I declared that either this Government should go to the country and put its fortunes to the test, or permit the Opposition to form a government and put its policy into operation if it could do so...


Questions

a. What does Curtin mean when he says 'this plan is, in essence, the plan of the party opposite'?
b. Why is Curtin against the Premiers' Plan?
c. What does Curtin mean when he says 'that it [the government] had either to find ways and means of putting its own programme into operation, or else permit its opponents to give effect to their programme'?
d. What does Curtin’s speech tell you about the effectiveness of the Scullin Government?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

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