Ben Chifley’s Pipe
One of the most highly regarded of Australia’s Prime Ministers, Ben Chifley was a former train driver with a voice like worn-out boot leather. He was well aware that his image as the typical bloke nextdoor – he was rarely seen without his tobacco pipe – helped to sell an ambitious raft of postwar reconstruction projects to the Australian public.
He was also a gifted treasurer, prone to personal and professional thrift, which allowed him to set the stage for Australia’s economic boom in the 1950s.
Chifley became Prime Minister after the death of John Curtin. The war ended soon after, and the great challenge was now changing to a peacetime economy that would create jobs for the returning troops, house the new families they would start, stimulate trade and development, and increase social welfare.
The economy was so active that not only were houses built and jobs found for the 10,000 men who were returning each week, but a massive immigration program was started. Many of the migrants worked on the new Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electricity scheme, with its promise of opening up new areas to irrigated agriculture.
One of the Chifley Government’s main challenges was the threat that inflation would soar in such an economic boom time, as demand outstripped supply. Chifley countered this by maintaining some of the price controls and rationing that had been imposed during the war. He also wanted to give the Commonwealth more power to control the economy, and proposed to do this by taking over the banking system. His attempt to change the Constitution to allow this was defeated in a referendum.
Mistrust over Chifley’s economic policies, plus resentment at continued rationing and controls, led to his defeat in the 1949 election.
Ben Chifley (1885–1951) was Prime Minister of Australia from July 1945 to December 1949. Ben Chifley’s pipe is held at the Ben Chifley Home in Bathurst NSW.
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