The origins and early years of the Australian Ministry of Post-War Reconstruction

by Yaroslaw Andreas Mamchak

Institution: University of Canberra
Year: 1980
Keywords: post-war economic reconstruction; full employment; World War II; Curtin Labor government; Ministry of Post War Reconstruction; Chifley
Record ID: 1510832
Full text PDF: http://erl.canberra.edu.au./public/adt-AUC20060829.145111


This thesis examines the process by which an Australian policy of post-war economic reconstruction, the main focus of which was the achievement and maintenance of full employment, was developed in preparation for the return of peace at the conclusion of World War II, and the consequences which that policy had within the Australian community. Development of a policy of economic reconstruction took place largely at the instigation of the Curtin Labor government, which had come to power in October 1941, and which in December 1942 established a Ministry of Post War Reconstruction with J.B. Chifley as Minister. Those who were associated with the work of the Ministry in formulating economic policy were Ministers of the Labor Government and professional economists. In the contribution which they made, each was conditioned by the experience of the Great Depression, which motivated them to formulate a policy of full employment, by their adherence to the attitudes and values of the groups to which they belonged: the Labor Party which advocated a move to centralized powers and socialism on the one hand, and the school of Keynesian economic thought which gave the economic initiative to governments on the other, and by the pervasive climate of stringent government direction and control which the war had brought about. This thesis argues that the attitudes and values which were brought to the task of economic reconstruction policy defined the character of that policy, set limits on its scope, and created difficulties in reconciling political and economic views. As a consequence, the policy proposals which were put forward for public debate and endorsement were inadequately thought through, poorly co-ordinated, and too radical to be accepted by the Australian electorate. Because the response of the various interest groups within the community had not been taken into account when the policy was framed, nor had been considered when deciding on the measures to implement the policy, there was considerable opposition to the proposed program of post-war economic reconstruction. This program, when associated with other apparently radical policies such as the nationalization of the banking system, notably contributed to the defeat of the Labor Government in the 1949 elections. The rejection of the post-war reconstruction program might have been avoided or at least ameliorated had a broader perspective been taken in formulating the policy and assessing its consequences.