From Revolutionary to Federal Politician
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While John Curtin had belonged to the Australian Labor Party (ALP) since 1905 or 1906, he did not give up his faith in the revolution until the end of World War I or a little later. Slowly, as he recovered from a bout of depression and was given a new chance in Perth as the Editor of the Westralian Worker, John Curtin became more and more interested in pursuing his political aims through Federal Parliament. He stood for the Federal Parliament as a Labor candidate in 1914 and 1919 but failed to be elected. He succeeded in 1928 in Fremantle.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the Curtin family, Federal Labor Party 1936, JCPML 367/152.
John Curtin is in the second row, seated fourth from the left.

As a member of the ALP, John Curtin represented Australia at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference in 1924 in Geneva, attended numerous party conferences and sat on the Child Endowment Royal Commission and a Committee on Public Works. After he became Leader of the Opposition in 1935, John Curtin became much more vocal in Parliament, stating that Australia should have its own independent foreign policy separate from that of Britain. He spoke on the need for Australia to have its own defence force, as well as about social welfare issues and unemployment.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the National Library of Australia, Leader of the Opposition, John Curtin, Parliament House, Canberra, 1941, JCPML 00438/12.
(Original held by the National Library of Australia, MS 3939, Box 28, Folder 8)

"I hope that this Parliament will take the initiative in attempting to remove the causes of discontent so that the federation will, in fact, be a union of the Australian people with the central government a coordinating body and the

States regarding themselves as partners with the Commonwealth in ensuring the welfare and happiness of the citizens of Australia. As a believer in the Australian nation and in good government, I am strongly of the opinion that this Parliament must take steps to give effect to the hopes and aspirations of the Australian people when federation was consummated. The Australian federation was a statesmanlike attempt to obtain uniformity, where uniformity is necessary or desirable, and at the same time to preserve the autonomy of the States in regard to certain domestic activities ..."

(Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, vol.147, 16 October,1935, p.740)

Link to audio clip

Extract from oral history of Frederick Mann, acquaintance of John Curtin

In 1924 John Curtin travelled to Geneva to represent Australia at the Sixth International Labor Conference of the League of Nations. While in Geneva, Curtin served on committees dealing with anthrax and night work in bakeries.

In his report to the Prime Minister, Curtin pointed out that the Australian delegation laboured under a number of difficulties. Having no support staff, they were unable to attend many of the committees where matters relevant to Australia were discussed. In contrast to Australia's ill-prepared delegation, the four British delegates had the benefit of 27 support staff. He concluded his report by saying:

"The spectacle of delegates from 40 countries ... meeting on a common platform to consider proposal for the more humane regulation of industry possesses a moral significance of immense value to civilisation. It is a great and a big thing that the subjects associated with work and wages, unemployment, and industrial amelioration generally, should be regarded the world over as a definite part of the problem of universal peace; it is, furthermore, an immense step forward for the nations to solemnly contract with each other to remove such obstacles as stand in the way of a general improvement of the standard of life which the workpeople of the respective countries have to endure."
(Curtin, 5 September, 1924).

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the National Library of Australia, John Curtin at ILO Conference Session, Geneva, 1924, JCPML 00438/17
(Original held by the National Library of Australia, MS3939, Box 28, Folder 8).

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the Curtin family, John Curtin speaking at opening of South Beach, Fremantle, c.1930s, JCPML 00376/160


John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the Curtin family, Advisory War Council 1940, JCPML 00376/71.

John Curtin presenting trophy to Arthur Atkinson at the Claremont speedway.
Courtesy Claremont Museum.



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