Jul 13, 2020





MONDAY, 13 JULY 2020


SUBJECTS: 75th anniversary of Ben Chifley becoming Prime Minister of Australia.


TIM WILLIAMS, HOST: I thought it might be appropriate that we have the current Federal Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, to have a chat about Ben Chifley. Good morning.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Tim. Terrific to be on air talking about a great son of Bathurst.


WILLIAMS: Yes, he certainly was. He was born here. For the locals, 29 Havannah Street was the place of his birth. And then he remained with Bathurst his entire life.


ALBANESE: He was a great Australian. And that was a different time, of course. But together, he and John Curtin fashioned the slogan, ‘Victory in war, victory in peace’. The idea that during World War Two when Australia was under threat, of course, and we had submarines in Sydney Harbour, we had the bombing of Darwin, we had Australians serving in all the theatres of war, that someone with Chifley’s vision as the Minister for Reconstruction was, even before he became Prime Minister, was at the forefront of thinking about how we could emerge from the war even stronger. So, post war migration, the Snowy Hydro scheme, the massive investment in infrastructure and in jobs, the transformation of the way that Australia functioned into the modern society that we became in the second half of the 20th century. All those foundations were laid by Chifley, a humble man, a train driver from Bathurst, someone who always stayed true to his roots. And it is terrific that Bathurst still, of course, you commemorate him so strongly. I’ve been to the home there. And so many places have lovingly been restored and kept intact. And, of course, the Labor Party’s major speech every year is the ‘Light on the Hill’ speech at Bathurst there, it was my great honour and privilege to give a few years ago. And it is one that is a very important date on the Labor Party calendar.


WILLIAMS: One of the things, as well, that Ben Chifley was responsible for was the post-war immigration into Australia. And that certainly shaped Australia as a country when you think about the people from Italy, Greece, Latvia, that came into Australia over that period post-war. That certainly completely reshaped Australia for the future.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. And I think I’d like to think that Ben Chifley would look at the Labor Party now with a Leader with a name like Albanese, and Ed Husic, of course, who is the Member for Chifley. The fact that he is honoured, of course, as other former Prime Ministers are, with an electorate named after them. But Ed’s parents, of course, migrated from the former Yugoslavia. And his dad actually worked, came out as a skilled migrant. That’s exactly the sort of people who were attracted to Australia because of Chifley’s vision.


WILLIAMS: And that seat, of course, in Western Sydney, the seat of Chifley that Ed Husic looks after so well these days. Now, the Chifley Government it was a real powerhouse in terms of the number of acts that it passed during the four years and, of course, Ben Chifley, the first Labor Prime Minister to successfully re-contest an election.


ALBANESE: That’s right. He, having seen Australia through the Second World War, they were re-elected with Ben as the Prime Minister. And it was, indeed, a historic moment. And they had a comprehensive plan that laid those foundations. The support for Australia’s national interest, of course. Issues such as the development of a car industry is just one of them that can be traced to Chifley’s vision, really accelerating that, creating jobs and meaning that for a long period of time, before, unfortunately, the Government that’s still in office today, dared the car industry to leave, and, of course, they did. And that had consequences for us. And we’ve seen in recent times how important that self-reliance and manufacturing is when we struggled over things like PPE equipment during the COVID-19 crisis. I think that we can learn a lot from history, not just as an academic exercise, but those who came before us who did the hard yards who put in place those policies should be respected. And certainly, there’s no one in my view in the Labor movement that we can learn more from than Ben Chifley.


WILLIAMS: There is that wonderful photo, and you mentioned the car industry, that wonderful photo of Ben Chifley standing next to the first ever Australian made Holden, which that’s just indicative of the time back in 1948. We’ve got the Labor Leader, Federal Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, and we’re talking about the 75th anniversary today of Ben Chifley becoming Prime Minister of Australia.


ALBANESE: It’s a great day for Bathurst as well. And the fact that in more recent times, there’s been a much greater centralisation of the population. One of the things that Chifley recognised was the importance of regional cities like Bathurst. And he brought that experience to bear. Of course, the area there was a tough electorate to represent. But he won it for the Labor Party and kept it for a long period of time and was always a great local representative as well. He never forgot where he came from, even though, of course, in those times, it was more difficult to travel to Canberra and they tended to spend long periods of time in the national capital.


WILLIAMS: And the other one, as well, was when he passed away in 1951, just the sheer size of the number of people who came to the funeral. Now, again, in 1951, we didn’t all have access to cars and the like. So, for 40,000 people, which was the estimate of the crowd at the funeral, for 40,000 people to come to a funeral of a Prime Minister in Bathurst was just extraordinary.


ALBANESE: And that reflects the high honour and respect that he had. One of the things about Chifley was that he was able to get respect from people who were his political opponents as well. He’s someone who, I have met people who remember him, and he always treated everyone with respect. And that’s one of the reasons why he got it. I think he is one of Australia’s iconic Prime Ministers. And indeed, a great Australian Labor Prime Minister. And I think one of the things that I think about as the Labor Leader is the opportunity that government gives you to make a difference, that you’re not just there to occupy the space, you’re there to change society in a positive way. And Chifley never wasted the day. And I know that when we were in Government during Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership, that was a feeling that Labor had. And I do think it’s one of the divides in Australian politics. Labor in government hasn’t been in office for more than a third of the time. In fact, considerably less. And when we have been in office, though, you think of the big reforms that make a difference, whether they post-war reconstruction, migration, the National Housing Construction program that he set about, a massive expansion of public housing when all our armed forces were coming home, the creation of jobs in manufacturing. But since then, as well, whether it’s Medicare, whether it’s superannuation, whether it’s the great changes to welfare and pensions, occupational health and safety, fair industrial relations, then I think that it’s Labor governments that make the big changes that transform our society. And Ben Chifley was certainly at the forefront of that with his Government


WILLIAMS: Anthony Albanese, the Federal Labor Leader, Leader of the Opposition at the moment, thank you very, very much for your time this morning. It’s been terrific as we talk about the legacy of Ben Chifley, 75 years today since he became Prime Minister of Australia.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Tim. And all the best to everyone there in Bathurst. It is a great day for your city. And you are right to be proud of what I believe is your greatest son.


WILLIAMS: Nice warm start to the day too here, Anthony, 0.1 we got down to this morning. So, it does make Sydney sound quite warm, doesn’t it?


ALBANESE: It does indeed. But Canberra probably dreams of getting to 0.1 at this point in time. Thank you.