1937 Election: the election campaign and party policies

JCPML.  Records of Arthur Calwell.  To build and defend a happy and self-reliant Australia. ALP policy speech by John Curtin, 20 September 1937.  JCPML00649/1
JCPML. Records of Arthur Calwell. To build and defend a happy and self-reliant Australia. ALP policy speech by John Curtin, 20 September 1937.JCPML00649/1. (Original held by National Library of Australia MS 4738, Series 4, Box 15, Folder: ALP 1937-1939 Collected papers.).

Curtin returned to Perth from Canberra arriving on 11 September. Nine days later, on Monday 20 September, he formally commenced a five week campaign delivering Labor's policy speech in the Town Hall, and by broadcast to the rest of Australia, with Lyons following with his speech on 28 September. During his policy launch Curtin again emphasized that his defence policy was centred on the drive to ensure that 'every possible requirement to self defence' would be 'supplied within the Commonwealth' 7 and with the air force as the key element in local defence: in his words 'The strength of Australian defence must lie in aviation';. 8 He also vigorously contested Lyons'; assertions that Australia had 'returned to prosperity', notwithstanding the fact that unemployment had returned to 1928 levels, claiming that prosperity had only returned 'for the privileged few'. With this in mind he made specific proposals for the introduction of unemployment insurance, pensions for widows with dependent children and a forty hour working week as well as measures designed to reestablish government control of the Commonwealth Bank.

View the ALP policy speech by John Curtin, 20 September 1937.

Interestingly, in assessing Curtin's policy outlook at this time David Day refers to the much more moderate stance that Curtin was now adopting compared with the rhetoric of his younger days - a stance which reflected his overall position and not one specifically designed for the election campaign. Curtin's quest for social justice, Day considers, was clearly within a capitalist context compared with his radical views before the conscription crisis - with even Curtin himself describing Labor's differences from its opponents as being 'differences of method and not difference of purpose'. 9 Lyons, by contrast, was described by the Argus at the time as promising 'safe, sound government' with defence safeguarded within the British naval system while also balancing the army and air force. 10 A vote for Curtin, Lyons argued, was for 'isolation from the rest of the Empire'. 11 Lyons' most substantial specific promise was for the introduction of a wide ranging system of national insurance, one which in fact was legislated for subsequently but for a variety of reasons never came to fruition. In essence then the electors were required to choose between assurances that Australia was near the 'top of the hill' in its post depression return to prosperity and could still rely on the British navy and Empire cooperation for their security and, alternatively, Curtin's call for new measures to spread social justice and a reorientation of Australia's defence policy to a more insulated local approach to security.