Document Study 7
Caucus minutes of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party outlining Curtin's Declaration Concerning the War, 1939

Background information

By 1940 the Labor Party was a strong, compact and vigorous opposition under Curtin’s leadership.

With the country now at war, some critics believed that Curtin was not being energetic enough in his attacks on the government. Some referred to him as ‘Jaded Jack’. What drove him though was the need to keep the Labor Party united once war began and to keep Australia together and sacrosanct from invasion.

Inaugural meeting of the Advisory War Council, 28 October 1940. JCPML00376/131

JCPML. Records of the Curtin Family. Inaugural meeting of the Advisory War Council, 28 October 1940. JCPML00376/131

The United Australia Party led by Menzies was dependent on the votes of two Independents to retain government. Menzies wanted Curtin to form a national government to cope with the war crisis but Curtin refused, offering instead the idea of an all party Advisory War Council to which Menzies agreed. The two leaders worked well together until the UAP lost government in October 1941.

Some historians think that Curtin believed Prime Minister Menzies was better suited to leadership in wartime and, to this end, he gave Menzies his utmost support. Other historians believe Curtin was fully focussed on gaining the prime ministership and seeing the ALP form government in its own right - see for example the 2001 public lecture by Dr John Edwards In search of John Curtin.

Document: Caucus minutes of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party outlining Curtin's Declaration Concerning the War, 1939

Source: Weller, P ed. (1975) Caucus Minutes 1901-1949: Minutes of the Meetings of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, Vol.3 1932-1949, Melbourne Uni Press

Excerpt:

The Leader [Mr. Curtin] read to the Party a declaration on the war situation which had been endorsed by the executive and now recommended for adoption by the Party...

DECLARATION CONCERNING THE WAR

... The Australian Labor Party affirms its traditional horror of war and of its belief that international disputes should be settled by arbitration.

... [F]acing the reality of war, the Labor Party stands for its platform. That platform is clear. We stand for the maintenance of Australia as an integral part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Therefore, the Party will do all that is possible to safeguard Australia...

As to the conduct of Australian affairs during this unhappy period, the Australian Labor Party will preserve its separate entity. It will give support to measures having for their object the welfare and safety of the Australian people and of the British Commonwealth of Nations...


Questions

a. What was the traditional position of the Labor Party with reference to disputes between nations?
b. What was the Labor Party’s platform with regard to the British Commonwealth?
c. What does Curtin mean by 'the Australian Labor Party will preserve its separate entity'?
e. Did Labor support the war effort?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

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