First time as farce, second time as…

Not content with George Brandis’ legal opinion, the Coalition is searching for other arguments to give legitimacy to their stance on pairing:

The ill feeling between the main parties is already so intense that Joe Hockey has begun citing Labor’s treatment of Robert Menzies during the war to rationalise the Coalition’s approach.

In 1940 Menzies led a hung parliament in which the main parties had 36 each and there were two independents. The Labor leader, John Curtin, declined the offer to form a unity wartime government, says Hockey. This difficult attitude, not to mention Menzies leaving for London – Hockey is trying to find out whether Curtin gave him a pair – saw Labor in power after a year.


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36 responses to “First time as farce, second time as…”

  1. Geoff Robinson

    Labor actually was reluctant to push hard for govt after 1940 (and this caused some division within the party), the Indies changed sides because the Coalition govt self-destructed by dumping Menzies.Labor parliamentary pressure had very little to do with it.

  2. moz

    The desperate search for further excuses makes me wonder if they realise their justifications aren’t flying? It’s like a five year old saying “I didn’t do it. No one saw me. He made me do it. It’s not really broken. Dad will be able to fix it”. At some point even most five year olds trail off and realise they’re just making themselves look silly. The opposition need to just man up and say “we’re the opposition, we’re opposing. Get used to it”.
    I do wonder if this means the polls are showing people increasingly saying “you lost. Get over it” rather than buying the “we wuz robbed” line.

  3. Fine

    So how is this going to play out for the rest of the parliamentary reform agenda? They’ll be dragging their heels about everything, but it’s counterproductive for them.

  4. David Irving (no relation)

    I’m trying to see some parallel with the situation in 1940 … nope, there’s nothing. (It’s not like Gillard is angling to be included in Cameron’s cabinet after all.)

  5. joe2

    Moz, I half expect Tones to come out next with a claim that when he signed the agreement he actually had his fingers crossed.

    “True dinks”, he would say and jules would inevitably back him up with a “truly ruly” and the press would buy it.

  6. Fran Barlow

    Actually, in the traditional coupling the expression runs:

    Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

    from the 18th Brumaire … one of my favourites.

  7. moz

    Fran, I assumed Kim was alluding to that and implying that in this case the second time would be the tragedy. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.
    I do hope, in my happily partisan way, that should the other coalition engineer another election they get the s**t kicked out of them by a mob of enraged voters. Perhaps then we’d see a generational change rather than a harping back to the good old days when Howard was in charge, men were men and Tony had adult supervision.

  8. Razor

    Abbott should offer a pair for the Speaker in return for the recommitment to the promise from Gillard to not impose a Carbon Tax.

  9. moz

    Razor, that would be really interesting to see. Probably a strategic leap the other coalition is unable to make (or stick to), but brilliant politics if they did do it. Talk about a wedge, guv.

  10. Mike Cranny

    When do parliamentary conventions such as pairing, reach their use by date?

    By trashing one, Abbott risks trashing all.

    Probably not a bad outcome if we can get some real hairy chested reform from 1 July 2011. By that time a frustrated and jaded electorate will welcome an end to wrecking ball tactics used relentlesly in pursuit of personal power.

  11. Fine

    Radio National reports that Peter Slipper has missed both the Liberal Party meeting and the Coalition meeting in Canberra today, fuelling concerns from the Coalition that he’s going to take the Deputy Speaker’s job. If memory serves, his name was mentioned previously for the position.

  12. Razor

    Maybe Slipper was flying Virgin.

  13. Paul Burns

    1. Curtin did give Menzies a pair to travel to London.
    2. Laor never had any intention of joining a unity Government. Instead it agreed to join an Advisory War Council, comprising PM and Opposition Leader, Minister and Shadow Minister for External Affairs, Minister and Shadow Minister for the Army and Treasurer and Shadow Treasurer, from memory. (I haven’t looked its exact composition up.)
    3. Menzies lost the support of the majority of the members of the UAP, thereby losing the PM ship. the leadership of the Coalition was taken over by Artie Fadden, leader of the Country Party. At this point the city Independent, Arthur Coles, withdrew his support from the Coalition, but the matter did not come to a vote on the floor of the Parliament until early October, 1941, when the matter came to a vote. The wimmerra wheat field Independent continued to support the Country Party.
    4. Coles indicated he was withdrawing his support from the Curtin Government because of Eddie Ward’s inability to prove his allegation, made in Parliament, that a file pertaining to the Brisbane Line was missing from official files.
    5. It was Menzies, Fadden, Billy Hughes and company who threatened to withdraw from the AWC, which Curtin had kept going, not the Labor parrty.
    Hockey has his history wrong.

  14. mediatracker

    @12Paul Burns “Hockey has his history wrong” – What’s new. He didn’t get the name Sloppy Joe for his due diligence.

  15. Paul Burns

    And I put this post on my blog a week or two ago on the Independents, especially Arthur Cole, and the 1940-1943 hung Parliament.
    http://beingahistoryheadandotherthings.blogspot.com/2010/09/independents-in-australian-federal.html

    It is, incidentally a Parliament I have spent years studying, both from the official records and personal papers of all parties involved, where those papers were available.

  16. Paul Burns

    And, its worth noting, at the UAP Leadership ballot after Curtin won Government with the support of Coles on the floor of the Parliament, that Billy Hughes was made leader of the UAP. Just for the sake of historical tidiness. Menzies was, I think shadow Minister for Defence Co-ordination, (in so far as they had shadow ministers in the 1940s; the term is a little anachronistic. ) Certainly Menzies remained on the AWC.

  17. Nickws

    Paul has all the details, but I’d like to add the one huge chunk of subtext as to why Curtin couldn’t take the ALP into a national ‘grand coalition’ government—it would have meant splitting Labor, presumably into one party loyal to John Curtin and another ‘loyal’ to Jack Lang (if not to noone at all).

    It wasn’t the job of the Opposition leader (JC) to destroy his own side of politics in order to preserve Bob Menzies’ deteriorating hold over his side of politics.

    I couldn’t be stuffed reading Hockey’s piece, but does he make any mention of the one thing that would fix this impasse, indeed the one thing that did fix the impasse back in the forties? A majority for Labor at the next election.

  18. john

    Is this the same Menzies who thought the unions were being unreasonable because they wanted to stop selling iron to the Japanese before the war? That Menzies?

  19. Spana

    Why should Abbott help Gillard in any way? If the ALP was in opposition they would be doing exactly the same thing. Do you really think that the ruthless politics of Gillard, Arbib and Shorten would warm to Abbott as PM? If you want the Libs to stop talking about Menzies maybe we could have a little less ALP talk of Whitlam. Hearing ALP types romanticise the Whitlam era is always amusing, especially when they are 21 year old young Labor trainees.

    End the hypocrisy in this whinge. The ALP would do exactly the same thing.

  20. p.a.travers

    Paul Burns use of his own studies provides in itself another view completely for today,without his sense of it.That is, the communications then,whilst very difficult across the nation,was totally dependent it seems on the acceptance of both Parliamentarians and media as being completely and utterly honest,unless, someone claimed a dishonesty.To me the ALP and the Liberals are not tested for a deep sense of honesty but the Public Figure type, which then is the luck of Public Relations talent.As in John Howard’s shaved eyebrows over the nose.To engage in thinking the Liberals by their deceptive practices are somehow making the future worse for this country by being that way, is purely a function of how much one considers public honesty is worthwhile.In some ways todays politicians considered great spin doctors are and could not be as repugnant as those of the war era then.Accept,both parties have sent Australians to war with out any real consent approval or acceptance by the voting public.And as a cliche not only should they be condemned,but, they must be condemned.To do less encourages the same failing justifications, over and over again, with or without deceit.

  21. Paul Burns

    Nickws,
    Also, I don’t think Curtin wanted to. It is too readily forgotten that apart from fighting WW2, Curtin was a devout Socialists (as were all Labor people at the time) who saw both the war and the period of postwar reconstruction as opportunities to advance Labor’s Socialist agenda. Unity with the Conservatives was never on the agenda.
    In regard to the Langites – Curtin had effected a rapprochment with them by 1936 when Lang Labor was designated the official branch of the NSW Labor Party. Though this isolated Lang himself, leaving him in a position where he felt undying enmity toward Curtin and Chifley who were the architects of the deal, it also left as a separate party Lang’s Australian Labor (Non-Communist) Party with three seats in the Federal Parlt. This faction, if you like, was reconciled to Federal Labor in March 1941. By the time Menzies got back home from London, Curtin did not have to worry a great deal about the ex-Langites (one of them was even on the AWC by then.) And Lang himself outside of parliament was resentfully impotent, left to scream at the Federal ALP through the pages of his newspaper, the Century.

  22. Paul Burns

    And from the point of view of modern politics it would not be wise for either the Coalition or Labor to go digging tooo deeply into the 1940-43 hung Parliament looking for political advantage. Both sides would end up with an awful lot of egg over their faces they would not enjoy scraping off. What’s more, the various embarrassing details are reasonably easily accessible (though I doubt Hockey would have bothered to look further than Hasluck, if he even read that far. And even a judicious reading of Hasluck’s official history is enough to set an enquiring mind wondering about both sides.)

  23. Nickws

    It is too readily forgotten that apart from fighting WW2, Curtin was a devout Socialists (as were all Labor people at the time) who saw both the war and the period of postwar reconstruction as opportunities to advance Labor’s Socialist agenda. Unity with the Conservatives was never on the agenda.

    Paul, I’m sorry, but this sounds like the argument advanced by conservatives against Curtin Labor at the time of the controversy regarding its refusal to enter a grand coalition—i.e., that the ALP was purely self-interested, purely sectional, and not engaged with the strategy of fighting a war.

    Yes, to a certain extent what you say about the economic motivations of his party leadership are true (though John Curtin had actually progressed beyond identifying as a socialist by the time of his leadership, and was really no different than Chifley with his centre-Left Keynesianism) but they had no bearing on Curtin’s ultimate attitude towards an all party government during ’40/’41. He opposed such a thing because he knew it would ruin Labor, not because he thought it would blow some golden opportunity to implement Labor’s agenda. And a lot of pro-labour, pro-welfarist reforms were already being passed by the existing UAP/Country governments that Curtin refused to join.

    If for some reason a grand coalition had come to pass I think Lang would have taken advantage of it to revive his old nationwide Lang Labor push, and I think he would have found willing accomplices in the state branches to split the party in two, regardless of whether or not he commanded as much support in his home state of NSW as he had during the Depression.

    Spana: If you want the Libs to stop talking about Menzies maybe we could have a little less ALP talk of Whitlam. Hearing ALP types romanticise the Whitlam era is always amusing, especially when they are 21 year old young Labor trainees.

    Wait, just what atrocity did Gough ever perpetuate against the powers of unionism, how did he attack the workers ala Gillard (as you continually put it)?

    Don’t tell me you’re motivated to dislike the Great Man because of things like nofault divorce laws, Spana. That’s not very proletarian.

  24. Paul Burns

    Nickws @ 23,
    Well, yes and no. In the first place in depth investigation of wartime conservative arguments about the ALP, especially in regard to the Brisbane Line, proved them to be right. (Something at the time I was quite shocked by.)Curtin could work and chew gum at the same time. I think trhe downplaying of Labor’s Socialist Objective during WW2 is innacurate. While therte is no doubt both Curtin and Chifley were political pragmatists par excellence, there is also little doubt, IMO, that their actions were partly informed by their socialist convictions.
    The Langites are an interesting phenomenon. I think Curtin, and Chifley especially, neutered Lang and successfully neutralised the Langites. I would argue you grant them too much influence after 1936, and certainly after March 1941. Sure there were later sporadic outbreaks – Ward absenting himself from the chamber in Chif’s first term when it came to the vote on the IMF. But they were a spent force. Lang’s one man war against Chifley as an Independent between 1946-49. This doesn’t of coursae deny their power, influence and divisiveness from c. 1931-35.

  25. Paul Burns

    Nickws,
    Apologies for spelling mistakes. My fire alarm went off so I just hit the submit button. (Cooking.)

  26. ewe2

    What happened in 1940 is actually beside the point. The LOOP and friends keep dredging up slightly related past events in an attempt to tell themselves and their followers they have a reason to exist. Otherwise all they are is opposing for the sake of it, and with little legitimacy. They’re on the brink of an abyss.

  27. Paul Burns

    ewe2,
    That depends on whether you think history has any use other than making a living and sheer fun. One interesting analogy with today’s situation is what was done with the Speaker to keep dissident members in a minority Government happy. Archie Cameron was rewarded with the Speakership when he switched from the Country Party to the UAP. Sol Rosevear, a former Langite became Speaker when Curtin formed a Government, partly as a reward for the Langite Party defecting to Official Labor.
    If you think today’s pollies don’t have a Parliamentary culture of over 100 years that they root around in for precedents for current behaviour you haven’t been paying attention. Certainly JWH thought Labor was winning the argument because of its domminance of the historical narrative. Its one of the reasons he started the history wars and tried to inculcate a sense of their own history into the Liberal Party. And right at this very moment the Libs are using arguments from Parliamentary history in their critiques of the closed nature of the proposed climate change committee. Politics isone vocation where history, precedent, tradition, etc matter very much. The buggers glory in it.

  28. Nickws

    Paul, I’m influenced by economist John Edward’s book about the wartime government, and his thesis that the Curtin and Chifley ministry’s are basically indistinguishable on the domestic issues.

    The Langites are an interesting phenomenon. I think Curtin, and Chifley especially, neutered Lang and successfully neutralised the Langites. I would argue you grant them too much influence after 1936, and certainly after March 1941.

    I’m convinced the Big Fella was Curtin’s great fear during the hung parliament, as it was only a year or two since Lang had thrown the NSW Labor conference and executive into chaos (‘Hands off Russia’, the Hughes-Evans Group). I’d argue he and his remaining followers could have still caused a huge amount of damage without actually winning control of anything—they were at the height of their game as nihilistic spoilers. They didn’t need a whole state branch to destroy Curtin if it looked like he was being ‘duchessed’ into an all-party government.

    Of course it never happened, and the legitimate leadership of the ALP got to write the history of Labor in the war years.

  29. Paul Burns

    Nickws,
    I think we’re going to have to agree to differ a little on this one, though I take your very pertinent point that the victors wrote the history. I haven’t read Edward’s book, but I do agree Chifley especially was quite conservative in his economic approach. However, I don’t see either Curtin or Chifley as being conservative in their social policies. we forget at our peril precisely what a unifying factor WW2 was for the majority of Australians, especially after Japan entered the war. One of the reasons Jack L:ang was so personally dirty on both Chifley and Curtin was that they had gazzumped him. Personally I think Curtin’s greatest moment of political crisis in WW2 came from the Conscription debate which he had to handle with great political skill to achieve as it went against every shred of Labor tradition to support conscription, and I hope, still does.
    Being conservative economically in a time of total war just doesn’t happen. Australia though, was very lucky. I think we were the only country to comme out of Lend-Lease with a profit. Everybody else owed the Yanks money. (Which says a great deal about Chifley’s skills as a financial manager of a war-time economy.

    Now, on another topic, brought up on another thread.. I didn’t see Lateline last night so I didn’t hear what Hockey had to say about Curtin pairing Menzies while Menzies was in London. But I have read Menzies’ WW2 diary of the London journey. While its been a while, from memory he was never in the least concerned about his Government losing power on the floor of the House. Menzies kept in regular contact with Fadden and knew exactly what was going on in Canberra. His biggest worry about domestic politics was not whether Labor might win a no confidence motion on the floor of the House (which would have happened if Curtin had not paired with him) but about the treachery of the people in his own party. In fact, unless Martin mentions it in his bio of Menzies (I can’t remember if he does) I don’t think its a topic historians have ever though it worth worrying about. Certainly Menzies war time PM ship was never conducted as if it was likely to come under any real threat from Labor’s Parliamentary tactics. And John Curtin was a very very astute political tactician.

  30. ChrisB

    Nobody seems to have commented on the fact that in Hockey’s hypothetical (well, erroneous) “Curtin didn’t give Menzies a pair, so why should we give Gillard a pair?” Hockey is siding with Curtin rather than Menzies. This seems, for a Liberal, counterintuitive.

  31. Paul Burns

    I’m not sure how you’d actually find out for certain whether Curtin gave Menzies a pair while he was in London. I suppose one would look through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates for the time Menzies was away and check if Curtin voted. If he did, he didn’t give Menzies a pair. (Can’t imagine Hockey taking the time to do that. Besides, you’d have to check if there weren’t any other pairs, and if one of those pairs didn’t cover Menzies.) But I go back to my earlier point, it was not a situation which seemed to perturb Menzies, and his London diaries are quite revelatory. he was very disilusioned by the goings on on his own side of politics, but nothing sticks in my memory that he wrote anything dergatory about Curtin at this point. And I think i would’ve remembered it.

  32. Brett

    That depends on whether you think history has any use other than making a living and sheer fun.

    You can make a living from history? Cool!

  33. Paul Burns

    Brett @ 32,
    Na. But that is what one of my lecturers told me when we were debating the topic “What use is History?”

  34. Brett

    Oh well. I had my hopes raised there for a moment 🙂

  35. Paul Burns

    I do make about $200 a year out of it. And if I’d been more industrious and written more books more quickly I probably would be making more. It just takes so long to research a project properly. [sighs].

  36. Paul Burns

    I’ve done some detailed research on the relationship between the Menzies 1940-41 minority Government and the Curtin Labor Opposition and put it up on my blog here.
    http://beingahistoryheadandotherthings.blogspot.com/2010/09/curtin-opposition-and-menzies-minority.html

    It was bugging me. Footnotes for evidence and citations can be found in my book on the Brisbane Line, chapters 2 and 3.