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Ben Chifley

Ben Chifley was Australia’s 16th Prime Minister. A railway engine driver in his home town of Bathurst, New South Wales, Ben Chifley became one of the most highly regarded of Australia’s Prime Ministers.

Ben Chifley with his head of Postwar Reconstruction, HC Coombs

Ben Chifley, briefly in London for an Imperial Conference in April 1946, enjoys the spring sunshine in Kew Gardens with his head of Postwar Reconstruction, HC Coombs.

NAA: M2153, 6/1

First elected to a Labor seat in parliament in 1928, Chifley lost his seat in 1931, but was re-elected in 1940. Chifley was Treasurer in the Curtin Labor government in 1941 and was a prime mover of the economic organisation for the war. Chifley was elected leader of the Labor Party after John Curtin died in July 1945.

Ben Chifley was a committed centralist. As Prime Minister he introduced national projects such as the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme and the assisted immigration program. He also pushed through legislation that enabled the Commonwealth to become the collector of income tax and sought nationalisation of the private banks so that the federal government could have more control over the economy.

Chifley lost office at the 1949 federal election, after his attempt to nationalise the banks. In Opposition, Chifley was against RG Menzies’ proposal to ban the Communist Party – a major issue at the federal election of April 1951. Two months after the Labor Party was again defeated, Ben Chifley died on 13 June 1951.

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