Describe the extent in which Ben Chifley Achieved His Light on the Hill.

Essay by leelingHigh School, 10th gradeA, March 2009

download word file, 3 pages 0.0

Joseph Benedict Chifley born September 22, 1885, Australian politician and 16th Prime Minister of Australia, was one of Australia's most influential Prime Ministers. Among his government's accomplishments were the post-war immigration scheme under Arthur Calwell, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric scheme, the national airline TAA, a social security scheme for the unemployed and the founding of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). He believed in the need for social reform to improve the living standards of all Australians through his ‘light on the hill’ which he did not achieve to a full extent.

"I try to think of the labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective - the light on the hill - which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand.

If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for", a quote from the ‘light on the hill’ speech given by Prime Minister Ben Chifley on 12th June 1949 to describe the objectives of the labor government. The Labor party believed in the concept of the ‘welfare state’; the idea that the wealth of society would be shared and that the government was responsible for the welfare of its citizens, especially the needy. To achieve this welfare state, the labor government introduced the ‘Social Services Act’ of 1946 and which provided unemployment, maternity, sickness and hospital benefits as well as widows pensions, housing commission and medical and dental services.

Chifley believed that the suffering of the great depression was in part the government’s fault due to lack of control over the economy. The government sought to take control of key industries through the labor policy of nationalisation. Chifley did not quite achieve nationalisation due to the intervention of the High Court. The government already had ownership of the rail services and now sought to nationalise all inter-state airlines which was attempted through the ‘National Airlines Act’ of 1945. The act failed when the High Court declared it unconstitutional so the government went ahead and created its own airline in 1946 called Trans-Australian Airways. The following year, the government gained ownership of Qantas by buying 100% of its shares. If the government were to have a strong control over the economy, control over the banking system was vital. In the controversial Bill of November 1947, the Chifley government aimed to nationalise private banks in Australia but was once again blocked by the High Court deeming it unconstitutional.

The labor government believed that Australia needed to expand its population to solve the problem of the serious shortage in labour after the war that was needed to stimulate the post-war economic growth. Also it was argued that a nation as vast as Australia was too sparsely populated and needed to grow in terms of population in order to ensure its protection and defense. In 1945 the Department of Immigration was established and Arthur Calwell became the minister of immigration. His view was that Australia had to “populate or perish “ and he worked hard on developing policies to bring more people into Australia. There was an intake of 75000 migrants from whom all had to be white, the ratio of British and non-British had to be 10 to 1 and assisted migrants had to stay for a minimum of two years and work anywhere they were told to. Chifley also established the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to aid in the nation’s defense by countering any espionage.

Chifley established the Australian National University (ANU) in 1946 to satisfy his belief that Australia’s future depended on research and technology. Originally it had four research schools: medicine, physics, social sciences and Pacific studiesand many highly regarded academics undertook work at ANU. British and Australian scientists also worked together at Woomera to design and test defense systems.

Chifley’s continuation of the rationing of petrol, butter and tea long after the war caused public discontent also many Australians felt that Chifley was going too far when he tried to nationalise banks. He lost the support of the left-wing sections of the Labor Party because of his actions to break the coal strike of 1949 and was seen as being a socaialist and only one step away from being a communist. In the 10 December 1949 elections, Ben Chifley was voted out of Prime Minister and he remained the leader of the opposition (ALP) until his death in 1951.

Chifley achieved the ‘light on the hill’ to a fair extent through his Social Services Acts, immigration policies and educational goals by the creation of the Australian National University. Though, he did not fulfil all of its objectives including the failing of nationalisation schemes and loss of the favour of the Australian public through various reasons such as continuation of rationing, an exaggerated scheme in nationalisation and accusations of being socialist and very close to being communist.