The great John Kenneth Galbraith has walked back to the pavilion with a very respectable 97 and the Murdoch/Howard arselickers at The Australian decide to see him off with the latest in a long running series of character assaults, which they periodically aim at anyone who has in any way been well-regarded by the left.
Indeed, this shares a page with another in the series, by that eminent historical revisionist, the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. This time he’s expanding on his ongoing rhetorical position that the Labor Party is “weak on terror”. If those words sound familiar it’s because they are George W Bush’s words, unerringly repeated without credit by the Foreign Minister, day after day in parliament.
Labor “clings to the vain hope that by shrinking and hiding Australia may avoid the firing line of tyrannical regimes and terrorists.” Apparently, following without question every move and utterance of a great power like the United States is strength, while carving out an independent foreign policy, taking Australia’s own geographic and political interests into primary account is “shrinking and hiding”. “Labor has lacked the courage to combat evil,” he sqwarks, sounding like a Born-Again registered Republican.
Downer’s major target is John Curtin, the man who more than any other, ensured that Australia survived the Second World War and avoided invasion by the Japanese Imperial Army. Downer claims he was weak.
One might be forgiven for wondering what Downer’s qualifications for judging weakness might be. Does this man possess a strength forged in life’s furnace? Let’s compare the two shall we?
Downer was born in Adelaide into one of the state's oldest families. His father, Sir Alexander Downer, was an MP and High Commissioner to London. His grandfather, Sir John Downer, was a Senator in the first federal Parliament in 1901. His mother, Lady Downer is descended from early immigrants to South Australia.
Downer was educated at Geelong Grammar School, Radley College and at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in Britain. His absence from Australia precluded him from the possibility of military conscription to which other Australians of his age group were subject. He entered the Australian Diplomatic Service, where he served until 1982. He then worked as an advisor to the Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. In 1984 he was elected to the federal Parliament as Liberal member for Mayo, in the suburbs of Adelaide.
In 1993 he became Shadow Treasurer. In May 1994 he became leader of the Liberal Party after a leadership ballot. In January 1995 he resigned as Leader, and John Howard was elected to replace him. With a tenure of just over eight months, Downer is to date the shortest-serving leader of the federal Liberal Party. [Wikipedia]
His primary political achievement so far is in being the longest serving Foreign Minister of Australia.
John Curtin was the son of an Irish police officer, who went to work in a factory at the age of 12. He was journalist, a union official, an anti-conscriptionist and conscientious objector who spent time in prison for his beliefs. He suffered from fragile health for most of his life and was an alcoholic, a problem he overcame with great difficulty. War with Japan broke out while he was in office.
In February 1942 Singapore fell to the Japanese, who captured tens of thousands of Australian troops. The Japanese were soon bombing northern Australian towns.
Curtin took three crucial decisions. The first was to recall most of the Second Australian Imperial Force from North Africa, to the Asia-Pacific region, despite the furious objections of Winston Churchill. The second was to appeal publicly to the United States for assistance. Curtin also formed a good working relationship with the Allied Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur and directed Australian commanders to treat MacArthur's orders as coming straight from Canberra. By 1943, the threat of invasion had been averted. In August, Curtin led Labor to its greatest election victory up till that time.
The third step Curtin took was the introduction of conscription, which he judged vital for Australia's survival. This met furious opposition from most of Curtin's old friends on the left, and from many of his colleagues.
Curtin suffered all his life from stress-related illnesses. He also smoked heavily. In 1944, when he travelled to London for meetings with Allied leaders, he already had heart disease, and in 1945 his health deteriorated. He died in Canberra on 5 July 1945 at the age of 60. MacArthur said that Curtin was "one of the greatest of the wartime statesmen" and that "the preservation of Australia from invasion will be his immemorial monument". [Wikipedia]
This is the man that prompts Alexander Downer to say “The Labor tradition and philosophy … remains firmly built on the pacifism, isolationism and weakness that characterised most of Curtin's political life.”
Now what in the background or life experience of this gormless toff would qualify him to make such a judgement about a man like John Curtin?