Gracious words in a hung parliament

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?

Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies in Se...

Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies in September 1939, broadcasting to the nation the news of the outbreak of World War II. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Yours sincerely,
Robert Menzies


John Curtin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Curtin replied the same day:

Dear Bob,

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.

Yrs faithfully
John Curtin

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)

4 responses to “Gracious words in a hung parliament

  1. Delicious stuff, Marion. Maybe you should send Julia and Tony copies!

  2. Oh wow. Thank you for fishing out these letters. What a reality check. At least … well … could be …

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