From Revolutionary to Federal Politician
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By the 1930s, the Australian Federal Government had begun to take an interest across a broader selection of issues. Some of these were structural issues, dealing with the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States over finance, industrial issues and infrastructure. For example, in the 1920s, the High Court ruled that State governments must obey the rulings of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. This gave some help to the unions in their attempt to gain better conditions for the workers. A growing interest in transport issues led to the Federal Roads Act in 1926 which enabled money from the Commonwealth budget to be put towards road building projects. And the difficult issue of the financial relationship between the Federal and State governments was resolved by the setting up of a Commonwealth Grants Commission with powers to redistribute revenue from wealthier to poorer States. The relationship between foreign policy and trade was recognised by setting up the first permanent Trade Commissioner in Canada. All of these decisions point to the way in which Australia was slowly developing into a nation with common interests.

There were also developments at the social and cultural level. In 1921, largely as a result of the Spanish Influenza epidemic, the Commonwealth set up a Department of Health. This fledging interest in the well being of Australian citizens was added to by the establishment of the Department of Social Services in 1939. Interest in the role of the media continued, with the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) set up in 1929.

Norman Lindsay Feeding time chalk and wash Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia Presented by the Proprietors of the Bulletin, Sydney

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the Curtin family, Grants Commission, 1932. JCPML 00376/148. (John Curtin second from left)

Petition based on referendum result to the British Gov. to allow Western Australia to secede from the Commonwealth. Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.

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