Menzies and Curtin contemporary perspectives: Paul Kelly

Australia was fortunate during World War Two to have Robert Menzies and John Curtin as its main wartime prime ministers. Both were men of integrity, vision and standing and their war policies had more in common than is usually recognised.

Although they were political opponents and divided by ideology, Menzies and Curtin often helped each other in the nation’s interest. They put the war effort before short-term political gain thereby provoking the hostility of lesser figures in their respective parties. Menzies failed because he lost the confidence of his party; Curtin succeeded because he retained that confidence. After the 1940 election Curtin had the wisdom to wait for Menzies and the conservative governments to fall rather than campaign to destroy them. Upon his 1941 retirement as Prime Minister, Menzies wrote to Curtin saying that his opposition had been 'honourable' and his friendship 'a pearl of great price'.

These were men divided by temperament, intellect and style. The lesson from their stories is that a wartime prime minister cannot succeed and unify the country without the support of his own followers.

Paul Kelly
The Australian newspaper


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