Document Study 8
Sydney Morning Herald newspaper article 'Government control of economic life: Sweeping plan announced', 11 February 1942
• Oral history interview with John McNamara, family friend of the Curtins, about Curtin recalling Australian troops from the Middle East

Background information

After the collapse of the Menzies Government in August 1941, John Curtin became Prime Minister on 7 October 1941 when two Independents gave Labor a majority in the House of Representatives.

Curtin very quickly adapted to the position of prime minister, showing a great talent for organisation and leadership and the capacity to inspire a nation. He was a self possessed person who was an inspiring speaker and who showed genuine interest in what other people had to say. He could deal calmly with the big issues of the war but still felt a deep responsibility about his decisions as prime minister, especially where these concerned life or death issues such as the return of Australian troops without naval escorts in 1942.

John Curtin at garden party for Canberra Hospital Auxilliary, 29 November 1941. JCPML00376/133

JCPML. Records of the Curtin Family. John Curtin at garden party for Canberra Hospital Auxilliary, 29 November 1941. JCPML00376/133

Document: Sydney Morning Herald newspaper article 'Government control of economic life: Sweeping plan announced', 11 February 1942

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 11 February 1942, 'Government control of economic life: Sweeping plan announced'

Excerpt:

GOVERNMENT CONTROL OF ECONOMIC LIFE. SWEEPING PLAN ANNOUNCED
Prices, Profits, Investments and Wages

CANBERRA, Tuesday: - Fundamental changes in the Australian economic system involving, in effect, control by the Government of all prices, profits, investments, wages, manpower, and materials were decided upon by the War Cabinet today...

Some of the principal features of the plan are:-

Pegging of wages at their present level...
Pegging of profits, exclusive of taxes paid, at a maximum of 4 per cent of capital...
Control of interest rates...
Pegging of prices of all goods and services...
Prohibition of speculation in commodities...


Questions

a. What important changes to the economy did the Curtin Government introduce in February 1945?
b. Why did the government introduce these controls?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

Document: Oral history interview with John McNamara, family friend of the Curtins, about Curtin recalling Australian troops from the Middle East

Source: JCPML. Records of the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Interview of John McNamara, 1995. JCPML00125/1

You can Listen to the interview or read the short excerpt below.

Excerpt:

IM: How did you feel about John Curtin standing up to Winston Churchill?

MCNAMARA: I think he did it, and he did it very effectively and very decisively. He had to absolutely bully his way to get in what he wanted for Australia and Australia's troops and the use of them. He wanted them back in Australia to defend Australia and New Guinea; whereas Churchill wanted them to go to Burma... He had to be very strong to stand up to a very strong man like Churchill who usually got his way. But in this case Curtin got his way.

... [Curtin] agonized over every decision he had to make where troops had to be sent into action or a ship had to be sent somewhere or a squadron of aeroplanes had to be sent somewhere. And I know he spent many a sleepless night when any major troop movements were under way or troops were returning from the Middle East-and he was frightened of them being sunk at sea or something like that. He was a man of very deep compassion and deep emotion.


Questions

a. What evidence is there in this document that Churchill was a hard man to stand up to?
b. What was Curtin able to prevent Churchill from doing?
c. How does Mr MacNamara describe Curtin as a person?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

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