Ben Chifley
Ben Chifley Australian Labor Party

Delivered on March 28th, 1951

The election was held on 28 April, 1951. Menzies made protecting the nation against the threat of Communism the major theme of the election campaign. He constantly accused the Labor Party of being soft on Communism and Labor Party members of cooperating through union activity with Communist Party members.

The Korean War encouraged Menzies determination to ban the Communist Party. In 1950 the ‘Communist Party Dissolution’ bill was introduced into Parliament.

Ben Chifley, National Archives of Australia
Ben Chifley, National Archives of Australia

Joseph Benedict Chifley was born 22 September, 1885 and died 13 June, 1951. Chifley was the Prime Minister of Australia 13 July, 1945 to 19 December, 1949. He was the Leader of the Australian Labor Party. He represented the electorate of Macquarie, New South Wales from 1928-1931 and from 1940 to 1951.

Elections contested

1946, 1949, and 1951

Ladies and gentlemen, and fellow-citizens of Australia—fifteen months ago, the Menzies-Fadden coalition took over the reins of Australian government. They were full of promises, they raised false hopes—above all they undertook to put value back into the pound.

What has happened in 15 months?

Every housewife knows we have suffered the most disastrous inflation in Australian history. Every wage and salary earner knows that the value of the pound has fallen to tho lowest point in our history. Those on pensions, superannuation and fixed incomes generally have experienced downright hardship and face the future, if the Menzies Government continuous in office, with fear and dread. All sections of the community are threatened.

In May, 1948, the Menzies-Fadden parties defeated Labor’s Price Control referendum. In so doing, they kicked the foundations from under Australian price stability. Up to that point, Labor had given Australia a price stability record with which only one other country in the world could compare.

After that date, we became constitutionally disarmed in the face of inflation at home and abroad. Every housewife knows, from her own budgetary struggles, that there is truth in the recent figures which show Australia to have been in the forefront of the race to runaway inflation in the past 12 months. The house wife and her husband both know that quarterly cost-of-living adjustments, even of 10/- or 12/- , still leave then chasing hopelessly behind tho onward rush of everyday food and clothing prices.

What is the key, the central, the inescapable issue of this election which Mr. Menzies has despairingly rushed upon you?

Labor tells you, without hesitation, that the one and only problem is to arrest the runaway Menzies pound and to place it under restraint.

What has crippled Australia’s resistance to inflation over the past 15 months has not been any deadlock between the House of Representatives and the Senate. It has been tho deadlock, still unbroken, between the warring, sectional interests within the Menzies-Fadden Cabinet.

In 15 months, they have still failed to produce a policy for economic stability.

Halt inflation

The Labor Party pledges itself to take every measure necessary to halt the present disastrous inflation. To do that, a programme is required to stabilise the Australian economy.

An essential part of this programme is that the Commonwealth must be armed with sufficient power to regulate prices and profits. Effective regulation of prices is urgent, yet the Menzies-Faddon Government has shown its utter contempt for the wishes of the Australian people.

The Liberal and Country parties pledged themselves at the last election to restore full purchasing value to the Australian pound. But their pledge was dishonoured and the value of the pound has fallen rapidly under their administration.

Yet, when the Labor Party in the Senate passed a Bill to permit the people of Australia to confer on the Parliament the necessary power to regulate prices, tho Menzies-Fadden Government did not even permit the Bill to be considered by tho House of Representatives.

I point out to you that established authorities already exist in Australia which are legally empowered to regulate wages, salaries and conditions of employment in industry. I refer, of course, to the Commonwealth and State Arbitration Courts ond tribunals. Wages and salaries constitute an important element in the Australian economic and cost structure which is, in fact, under continuous regulation.

Prices, profits and wages

The Labor Party is satisfied that the Commonwealth Parliament must be given power to control prices und profits effectively. When that power has been obtained ond justly exorcised by a Labor Government, I am certain that it will be possible to obtain tho fullest co-operation with the A.C.T.U. and tho great trades unions in carrying out Labor’s programme for stabilising the economy of Australia. We will negotiate with the trades unions and employer organisations with the object of increasing production, minimising stoppages of work and giving trades unions an important share in the responsibility of production drives—while firmly rejecting the dangerous and futile expedients for repressive legislation favoured by the present anti-Labor Government.

Such agreements with the great body of organised workers would most certainly lend to a firm understanding that, subject to effective price and profit control, the trades unions would co-operate most actively with a Labor Government to achieve and maintain economic stability in this country.

Trade unions ballots

Labor will maintain end enforce the legislation passed by the Labor Government in 1949 dealing with the subject of irregularities and malpractices in trades union ballots. This legislation has been largely availed of and, if further experience reveals any defects, we will proceed to enact all necessary amendments.

The Labor Party pledges itself to eliminate all seditious and subversive activities and to attack all forms of industrial sabotage. Its method of doing so will not follow the illegal and unconstitutional measures of the Menzies-Fadden Government but will be based upon existing laws which have stringent and far-reaching in character. In substance, they are based on British practice and they mean that the laws of seditior will be applied in accordance with the due processes of law and the established principles of British justice.

We believe that the present laws are sufficient for the purpose required but if they are not they will be amended, if necessary, the people will be asked to give the Commonwealth Parliament additional constitutional powers on the subject.


What is the position now? The Menzies-Fadden Government has achieved nothing and the condition of the Australian economy has declined almost beyond recognition. Next week, you will be told by the Government that its failure is due to Labor. First of all, it will tell you that for many months we failed to let the Communist Party Dissolution Bill through. What is the truth? It would not have mattered whether that bill was passed in one month or in 12 months. As soon as the High Court had time to examine it; six of the seven justices, five appointed by non-Labor governments, come back with the clear answer that the measure, from top to bottom, was unmistakably illegal and unconstitutional.

As a matter of fact, Labor had striven for months to have struck out of the bill those monstrous provisions that threatened the basic British liberties of innocent and loyal trades unionists and on the say-so—not of the courts of justice—but of the Government consisting of party politicians.

The Communist Party Dissolution Act is now shown to have been illegal and void from the outset and, therefore, has no significance whatsoever for the abject failures of the Menzies-Fadden Government in the past 15 months.

On behalf of the Labor Party, I say that our party is second to none in its opposition to Communism. We know what has happened to democratic Labor parties and their members wherever Communism has come to power. At the same time, the Labor Movement refuses to be panicked into indiscriminate to repression and gaoling or strikers—at best futile policy. But we did not hesitate when we were the Government, and we will not hesitate in the future, to bring down the full rigor of the law on those proved to be engaged in clearly subversive activity in any walk of life. If need be, we shall strengthen the law to combat such activity.

You will next be told that Labor frustrated the Government’s programme by holding up the National Service Bill for examination by a Select Committee of the Senate. But you know that, if the Government had been sincere, it could have introduced compulsory military training on the day it took office under existing lew yet it failed to do so.

After the elections, the Labor Government will immediately examine the scheme of compulsory military service with a view to determining, in the light of the then existing economic and industrial conditions, the future operation of the scheme. Labor remains pledged against conscription for overseas service.


The Labor Government, in the recent post-war years, was the first Government in Commonwealth history to give to the armed services a balanced long-term programme to enable them to plan ahead with certainty and without risk of interruption or curtailment.

When returned, the Labor Government will maintain and develop Australia’s defence programme in keeping with our obligations as a member of the British Commonwealth and also of the United Nations.

The Labor Government will maintain its defence programme with special emphasis on modern scientific development, such as the rocket range. It will maintain an up-to-date air force and in the development of the navy will give special attention to anti-submarine defence.

The third attack on Labor which will be offered to you in the next few weeks, will be on our attitude to the recent bill dealing with secret ballots in trades unions.

What are the facts?

Existing arbitration legislation—all of it passed by the last Labor Government—already provides for, secret ballots in connection with industrial disputes and for the correction of any irregularities in the proper conduct of ballots for trades union officers. Moreover, trades unions already have secret ballots under their rules for the election of their officers. In addition, the existing legislation of the Labor Government provides for an appeal to the Arbitration Court if any member of a union feels that such ballot has not been properly conducted. If he satisfies the Court of the justice of the case the ballot is set aside. Even if he loses the case his costs may be provided for by court order.

In any case, when did Mr. Menzies bring forward this measure of interference with trades union rights? Not 15 months ago when he took office; not even six months ago; but three weeks ago, as pure ‘window-dressing’ when he already decided to press for the earliest possible double dissolution of Parliament.

I leave you to judge of his good faith in this matter.

So much for the alibis which the Menzies Government will offer for their 15 months of ‘do-nothing’ government.

Economics and finance

Mr. Menzies deliberately confuses the issue for you by distorting the relationship between subversive activities and the great economic problems which he has so completely failed to tackle. Labor will not treat you like that. We believe that the bread-and-butter issues of economics and finance are the basic ones in Australia today and we will tell you frankly where we stand on these issues.

It will be our policy to maintain the existing exchange rate with the British pound. We will provide an authority to investigate reasonable claims for relief from special disabilities caused by the importation of essential goods at high overseas prices.

As far as Australian industries are concerned, Labor will maintain its policy of full tariff protection.

We will retain the 1945 Banking Act and carry on a vigorous development of the Commonwealth Bank as required by that legislation. We will clear the 1947 Bank Nationalisation Act off the statute books, since it is now legally inoperative Following the Privy council’s judgment upon it. Under Labor, there will be no imposition or an outside bank board with representatives of private commercial interests to dominate, without any financial responsibility, the policy of our people’s bank, and the fate of your savings.

When the Labor Government is returned to power, it will make a thorough review of the recent credit-restriction policies of the Menzies-Fadden Cabinet.

Labor will assist legitimate home-makers by subsidising their expenditure up to a limit of £3,000 and by reducing interest rates on housing loans to the lowest practicable figure. In doing this, we will be going a very long way towards helping home-makers.


The urgency of the housing problem throughout Australia today calls for an immediate review or the Menzies-Fadden Government’s immigration policy with a view to determining an annual number of arrivals that is within the capacity of tho country to absorb.

This reviews would also cover the question of the proper selection of types of persons most needed for national developmental and other essential undertakings of Commonwealth and State Governments and of local government authorities.

The Labor Party stresses that the plans or the Menzies Government on immigration differ from those of the last Labor Government in that proper regard is not now being paid to the numbers and the selection of those migrants likely to make the best contribution to the solution of our housing and economic problems.

Social services

Labor, which has always pioneered advances in social services, has an extensive programme ready for improving the existing social services and benefits.

We propose to continue our efforts to eliminate the means test. As our next instalment, we pledge ourselves to raise the permissible income limit by 10/- a week and to increase the property limitation from £750 to £1000.

On the positive side, we will increase by 10/- a week the maximum rate of pension for the aged and the invalid.

In addition, the maximum rate for A class widows’ pensions will be increased by 10/- a week and other widows’ pensions will be increased proportionately by your Labor Government.

War pensions will be increased in the light of the reduced purchasing power of the pound since December 1949.

All pension payments will be kept under constant review.

The rate of unemployment and sickness benefits will also be reviewed and adjusted from time to time.

Last year, in the Senate, Labor inserted a provision in the Child Endowment Act for a payment of 10/- a week for the first child in every Australian family. The Government cut this down by half to 5/-. Labor pledged itself at that time, when returned to office, to increase first child endowment to 10/-. I now re-affirm Labor’s intention to honour this pledge.

The Labor Government will examine proposals for a system of marriage loans.

National health

Mr. Menzies’ failure to grapple with inflation has been exceeded only in the last 15 months by Sir Earle Page’s utter failure to provide this country with any effective national health scheme. He has produced enough words to bolster up half a dozen health schemes, but the truth is that Australia still lacks anything approaching a complete health covered such as the Australian people unmistakably demanded when they carried the social services amendment to the constitution in 1946.

Labor’s health policy will make provision for the payment by the Commonwealth of a substantial proportion of medical fees; for an extended pharmaceutical benefits scheme on the basis of voluntary participation of doctors; for increased assistance to hospitals; for a free dental service for children under 16 years; and for a national drive, in co-operation with the states, against currently threatening epidemic diseases.

The conditions of aborigines under Commonwealth jurisdiction have recently given cause for concern, notably in the Darwin area. One of the first duties of Labor’s Minister for the Interior will be to institute a thorough review of aborigines’ living and industrial conditions.

National development

When last in office, Labor inaugurated the most imaginative programme of productive national development works ever undertaken in this country. Some, like the Snowy River project, were undertaken as Commonwealth responsibilities. Others were surveyed jointly with the State Governments, the Commonwealth undertaking to provide funds and other assistance where there was a real prospect of useful development.

Today, there is disquiet in many parts of Australia on account of statements by present Ministers who have suggested that they are considering the curtailment of progress in schemes like that on the Snowy River which hold out the promise of permanent relief from the power shortages which are holding back real advances in Australian standards of living today.

Labor will not permit resources to be diverted from developmental schemes which add to the basic strength of the national manufacturing and rural industries.

The Snowy River project will be accelerated. Every effort will be made to assist development of the Callide and Blair Athol coalfields, and potential power and irrigation scheme areas such as the Burdekin Valley and the Clarence River. The Glen Davis shale development will be retained and re-organised for an experimental period of three years and, after two years, the results Will be assessed.

The Commonwealth will give assistance, in the States concerned, in the provision, importation and installation of modern equipment to ensure continuous services of power, gas and light. In several areas, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia, resources development is handicapped by inadequate port and harbour facilities.

Rural policy

The main features of Labor’s rural policy are:

  1. The wheat stabilisation plan, which came into being under the Labor Government, will be extended for a further five years, with the co-operation of the State Governments and the approval of the wheat growers.
  2. Our earlier procedures to determine costs of production in the dairy, wheat and other primary industries will be continued.
  3. We will extend for a further five years a guaranteed price for dairy products. In this and other cases, we will secure recular, periodic review of United Kingdom purchasing contracts.
  4. The Labor Government will co-operate with the State Governments to develop tropical agriculture in northern New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia.

To woolgrowers I want to say two things:

First, Labor is pledged to repeal the Wool Sales Deduction Act and the amounts already collected under it will be refunded in due course.

Second, Labor will offer a ballot to growers on the establishment of a post-Joint Organisation Scheme.

My colleague, the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) will speak to you on Labor’s rural policy in more detail over the national network next week.

The Labor Government intends to have an immediate review of the Menzies-Fadden sales tax legislation, particularly as it concerns the heavy additional imposts on everyday necessities such as radios, women’s handbags and cosmetics.

The last Labor Government was the first since Federation to enter actively into the field of education and cultural development. It built up a proud record and increased the Commonwealth’s contribution from £1,000,000 to £20,000,000 a year. When returned, the Labor Government will press on with this important feature of our national life. In particular, the Commonwealth Government will give assistance to public libraries, art galleries, national theatre and national orchestral projects.

In 1942, the Labor Government established ‘legal service bureaux’ throughout Australia and a very large number of service men and women have been helped by the free legal advice given by the Commonwealth offices of this organisation. Recently, the Menzies-Fadden Government has adopted policy of reduction and retrenchment in the bureaux. The Labor Government will restore the services as existing prior to December 1949.

Foreign policy

The Labor Party is concerned at certain aspects of the foreign policy of the Menzies-Fadden Government. The Labor Government played a prominent part in the formation and development of the United Nations, which is the world organisation for peace; but the support of the present Government for the United Nations is neither strong nor consistent.

Labor has always favoured close co-operation with the United States. But it is imperative that our relationship with Britain should be strengthened and also that the principles of the United Nations should be firmly adhered to.

We should insist that the primary purpose of the United Nations is the prevention of wars and the settlement of international disputes by conciliation.

In such matters, a policy of mere expediency is a very dangerous guide. A good illustration of this is the problem of the re-armament of Japan. It was solemnly agreed in the Japanese armistice and in the decisions of the Allied nations in the Far Eastern Commission that Japan should not only become de-militarised but should remain de-militarised. Yet, today, it is proposed, as a matter of expediency, to re-arm the Japanese in which event the South Pacific might again become an area of future Japanese aggression.

Labor Will firmly oppose the proposal for the re-armament of Japan.

‘Do-nothing’ government

  • The Labor Government will wage war increasingly against inflation.
  • Labor offers you action!
  • Labor offers you a positive policy!
  • Clear the way for Labor!
  • Throw out the Menzies ‘do-nothing’ Government!