Menzies and Curtin contemporary perspectives: John Edwards

It’s true that Menzies was no longer Prime Minister when Japan attacked the allies in the Pacific, so that Curtin’s wartime task was altogether different. But it is also true that what contemporaries like Commonwealth Bank economist Leslie Melville recalled about Curtin’s early days in office was the energy of his government, compared to his predecessors. And while we cannot rerun history we do know Menzies strongly supported Churchill’s request for the 6th Division to be diverted to Burma, and he later supported a British view that Australian troops should be deployed to force the Japanese out of Malaya rather than take part in the attack on Japan itself. Menzies did not understand the gap which had opened between the national interests of England, and the national interests of Australia. The bigger difference between the two, however, was that Curtin created the foundations for the post war world, an achievement impossible for Menzies. Given everything he had done before, it is difficult to believe Menzies could have imposed and entrenched Commonwealth control of income tax, or a legislative framework which created a true central bank under government authority and with control over the financial system, or committed his government to the goal of post war full employment. He inherited the new architecture of the Commonwealth and made good use of it, but it was Curtin who designed it. Menzies could not have.

Dr John Edwards
Chief Economist
HSBC Australia
Appointed JCPML Visiting Scholar in 2000
Adjunct Professor, John Curtin Institute of Public Policy
Curtin University of Technology


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