The last time Australia had a hung parliament was more than 60 years ago. In 1939, Robert Menzies, an ambitious Victorian lawyer, became Prime Minister, replacing the more popular Joe Lyons, who came from the outer state of Tasmania. The following year, Menzies scraped home in an election that failed to deliver him a clear majority. His government hung on precariously with the support of a couple of independents until the following year, but his backbench became increasingly restless, and began to look around for other possible leaders. Sound familiar?
In August 1941 Menzies resigned as Prime Minister, and as leader of the United Australia Party. The independents switched their support to the Australian Labor Party, and the Governor-General called on the Opposition Leader, John Curtin, to form a government. Could something like this happen again?
On 29 August 1941, Robert Menzies sent the following letter to John Curtin:
My dear John,
I have ceased to be Prime Minister and we shall therefore no longer be opposite numbers at the table.
I want to thank you for two years and four months in which my task, always difficult, has frequently been rendered easier and at all times rendered more tolerable by your magnanimous and understanding attitude.
Your political opposition has been honourable and your personal friendship a pearl of great price.
John Curtin replied the same day:
Thank you for your letter. I appreciate it more than I can say. On my part I thank you wholeheartedly for the consideration & courtesy which never once failed in your dealings with me. I wish you good health & fair going. Your personal friendship is something I value, as I hope and know you do, as a very precious thing.
Might our current crop of politicians behave with similar graciousness? No chance, I fear.
Both letters are in Brenda Niall and John Thompson (eds.), The Oxford Book of Australian Letters (1998)