Abjorensen, Norman: Ben Chifley’s botched attempt to nationalise Australia’s banks

Norman Abjorensen

Ben Chifley’s botched attempt to nationalise Australia’s banks‘, Canberra Times (Public Sector Informant), 6 June 2017

Against the background of another poke at banking power, this time by a conservative government, this is a concise summary of Chifley’s motivations and tactics. The former were largely sincere – trying to build bulwarks against a possible new Depression after World War II – the latter ill-judged – a terse announcement not followed up with a marketing campaign.

Opposition Leader Menzies had pretty much a dream run from then (August 1947) to the election in December 1949, although other players (the High Court and the Privy Council, bank workers mobilised) and other issues (petrol rationing, controls staying in place after the war) played a part. The anti-Labor advertising was perhaps the most vicious ever seen in an Australian election. And then, of course, Chifley, never robust, must have been so bloody tired after the war, including propping Curtin up for more than three years, that he may just have thought, ‘bugger it’, and let fly.

There is a lot about Labor and banking elsewhere on the Honest History site: here is a collection of resources (with lots of links); here are some thoughts from Humphrey McQueen. Stuart Macintyre’s book on post-war reconstruction describes the nature of Australia during these years and the Chifley biographies by Crisp and Day are worth reading. The Chifley family tribute has curiosity value only. Chifley, had he been around today and considering the approach of modern Labor to banking, might have offered the party some sage advice.

David Stephens

The author of this note wrote an MA thesis on the Curtin and Chifley governments, paying much attention to the banking saga.

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