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Australia’s 14th Prime Minister is widely regarded as one of the greatest. John Curtin’s achievement rests on his leadership of the nation during much of World War II. Curtin’s rejection of the British strategy for Australian troops enabled the successful defence of New Guinea. And, in a remarkable move, he put US General Douglas MacArthur in charge of Australia’s defence forces. Although he had been a strong opponent of conscription during World War I, as leader during the 1939–45 conflict, Curtin made the decision to send conscripted troops to serve outside Australia.
Curtin was also intent on ensuring that Australia emerge from the war free from the unemployment problems of the 1930s. He aimed for a policy of work for all who wanted it, arguing this could be achieved in peacetime as it had in war.
John Curtin died in office, on 5 July 1945, just six weeks before the end of the war in the Pacific.