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When John Curtin became Prime Minister in October 1941, Japan had not yet entered the war. Australia was yet to face its 'darkest hour'. When that time came, John Curtin was faced with an extremely serious situation that required a complete change in attitude towards foreign policy and the issue of conscription. In order to ensure its defence, Australia had to accept that Britain was unable to come to its assistance and that we were not strong enough to defend our country on our own. This was the moment when John Curtin decided to 'turn to America' as well as to recall the Australian troops from overseas service and bring in conscription for the defence of Australia.

Until recently, most historians have interpreted this period of Curtin's life as a renouncement of many of his earlier principles. And yet, Curtin's arguments throughout World War I and later in the 1920s and 1930s had always been that Australians should only be involved in war if their own country was under attack. He consistently argued that Australia needed to have its own

independent foreign policy, that it should have the resources to defend its soil and that it should not continue to see itself as dependent on Britain. In many ways, Curtin's approach to fighting the war was a continuation of his earlier principles. They happened to be the right ones for that period of time.

On 7 October 1941, Curtin took over the leadership of the country. Despite the war, there was celebration within Labor's ranks. They finally had an opportunity to show that they had overcome the internal problems of the party and were fit to lead the country.

Curtin's prime ministership was marked by a new sense of independence from Britain. One of the first signs of this new attitude to nationhood was Curtin's decision to declare war on Japan independently from Britain. Until this
moment, Australia had never declared
war on another country in its own right.

Another sign of this sense of Australia's own national destiny, was the ratification of the Westminster Act in 1942 that made Australia an independent nation. Curtin's insistence that Australian troops should come home to defend Australia, rather than remain under British command and his decision to invite the Americans into Australia were part of this same shift in foreign policy.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the Curtin family, Lord Gowrie - Alexander Gore Arkwright, Baron Gowrie, Signing Declaration of War on Japan (as observed by cabinet), December 1941, JCPML 00376/102.

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