CHAPTER XXXI. FROM THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES TO THE SECOND WORLD WAR
In 1941 Mr. Menzies visited Britain, going by air via Singapore and the Middle East. His conferences with Mr. Churchill, the British Prime Minister, and his own experiences during a period of terrific German bombing raids on British cities, convinced him that Australia should quicken the pace of her war preparation and increase the scale of taxation. The situation called for efforts similar to those being made in Britain; the cutting down of all unnecessary expenditure and a sterner war effort. But his party, which was really a coalition of the United Australia and Country parties, was not prepared to accept the programme he proposed; doubtless they feared that their parties would lose political popularity. Moves were made to replace Mr. Menzies by another leader, and in August, 1941, Mr. A. W. Fadden, leader of the Australian Country Party, succeeded Mr. Menzies as Prime Minister. But his tenure of office was short-lived, for in October Mr. Fadden was defeated on his budget, and Mr. John Curtin, the leader of the Labour Party, became Prime Minister. At last, after ten years in opposition, Labour again had charge of the government of the Commonwealth, although it hardly had power. Its majority depended upon two independent members of parliament, but the Curtin Government took up its task with such vigour, determination, and sincerity that it maintained its position until a general election was due in 1943. When this took place in August, 1943, the Curtin Government was returned with an overwhelming majority. The people of Australia had appreciated the way in which Mr. Curtin and his government had successfully organized the nation for war, particularly when Australia was under the threat of a Japanese invasion. His measures called for self-sacrifice and hard work; men and women worked longer, and submitted to rates of taxation never previously contemplated. They contributed hundreds of millions of pounds to war loans, and they submitted to rationing of tea, sugar, butter, meat and clothing. Australians felt the pinch of war in a way they had never felt it in the war of 1914-18, yet most of them put up with all these shortages and inconveniences willingly in the national interest. The presence of hundreds of thousands of American service men in Australia also put a great strain upon Australian supplies and services, but American help was indispensable in defeating the attempted Japanese invasion.
With Labour in power as well as in office after August, 1943, it was natural that the Curtin Government should try to introduce some of Labour's social programme, and to realize some of the objectives proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt in August, 1941. The Menzies Government, faced by a strong demand for an increase in the basic wage in 1940 and 1941, had introduced a system of Child Endowment in June, 1941, paying 5/-per week for each child in a family after the first. In February, 1944, the Curtin Government passed a Social Security Act to provide a national health and unemployment scheme, and thus give security from poverty and want. It also began to lay its plans for the return to Peace-time conditions after the war, and passed a bill to alter the constitution, so as to give the Commonwealth power to control employment and production. These powers were possessed by the States, and to transfer them to the Commonwealth it was necessary that the people should approve the alteration of the constitution at a referendum. However, by the time the referendum was held in August, 1944, the danger of a Japanese invasion was past. The people were beginning to become weary of the prolonged strain, and of the close control over their activities that had been necessary in a time of danger. Only two States out of the six voted in favour of the measure, and it was defeated by a considerable majority. The figures were as follows:
STATE NO VOTE YES VOTE INFORMAL MAJORITY FOR NO
New South Wales 911,680 759,211 23,228 +152,469 Victoria 614,487 597,848 15,236 + 16,639 Queensland 375,862 216,262 7,444 +159,600 South Australia 191,317 196,294 4,832 - 4,977 Western Australia 128,303 140,399 3,637 - 12,096 Tasmania 83,769 53,386 2,256 + 30,383
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Totals 2,305,418 1,963,400 56,633 +342,018
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It is possible that the people of Australia may suffer considerable inconvenience as a result of their decision at this referendum, for at the end of the war the return to peace-time conditions will present governments with many difficult problems. These problems will be nation-wide in scope and the national government, the Commonwealth, would be able to deal with them much more effectively if it had wider powers and was more clearly paramount over the States. In addition to the internal problems to be faced, the Commonwealth Government will also have to take its part in laying down the terms of a peace settlement after the war. Our responsibility and our share in this will not be nearly as great as in the case of great nations like the United States, Russia, and Britain. But our voice will depend to a large extent on the contribution we make to final victory, and it should be heard. It is very desirable that our voice should be used to advocate a wise and long-sighted settlement in order to obtain an era of lasting peace among the nations of the earth. This would be the best reward for the sacrifices endured by this generation in this country and many others throughout the world.