Ben Chifley

Joseph Benedict Chifley (/ˈɪfli/;[1] 22 September 1885 – 13 June 1951) was an Australian politician who served as the 16th Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1945 to 1949. He was leader of the Labor Party from 1945 until his death.


Ben Chifley
Chifley c. 1948
16th Prime Minister of Australia
In office
13 July 1945  19 December 1949
MonarchGeorge VI
Governor-GeneralThe Duke of Gloucester
Sir William McKell
DeputyFrank Forde
H. V. Evatt
Preceded byFrank Forde
Succeeded byRobert Menzies
Leader of the Labor Party
In office
13 July 1945  13 June 1951
DeputyFrank Forde
H. V. Evatt
Preceded byJohn Curtin
Succeeded byH. V. Evatt
Treasurer of Australia
In office
7 October 1941  18 December 1949
Prime MinisterJohn Curtin
Frank Forde
Himself
Preceded byArthur Fadden
Succeeded byArthur Fadden
Leader of the Opposition
In office
19 December 1949  13 June 1951
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
DeputyH. V. Evatt
Preceded byRobert Menzies
Succeeded byH. V. Evatt
Minister for Postwar Reconstruction
In office
22 December 1942  2 February 1945
Prime MinisterJohn Curtin
Preceded byOffice Created
Succeeded byJohn Dedman
Minister for Defence
In office
3 March 1931  6 January 1932
Prime MinisterJames Scullin
Preceded byJohn Daly
Succeeded byGeorge Pearce
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Macquarie
In office
21 September 1940  13 June 1951
Preceded byJohn Lawson
Succeeded byTony Luchetti
In office
17 November 1928  19 December 1931
Preceded byArthur Manning
Succeeded byJohn Lawson
Personal details
Born(1885-09-22)22 September 1885
Bathurst, Colony of New South Wales, Australia
Died13 June 1951(1951-06-13) (aged 65)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Political partyLabor
Other political
affiliations
Industrial Labor (1938–1939)
Spouse(s)
(m. 1917)
EducationLimekilns Public School
Patrician Brothers' School, Bathurst
OccupationEngine driver
(New South Wales Railways)

Chifley was born in Bathurst, New South Wales. He joined the state railways after leaving school, eventually qualifying as an engine driver. He was prominent in the trade union movement before entering politics, and was also a director of The National Advocate. After several previous unsuccessful candidacies, Chifley was elected to parliament in 1928. In 1931, he was appointed Minister for Defence in the government of James Scullin. He served in cabinet for less than a year before losing his seat at the 1931 election, which saw the government suffer a landslide defeat.

After his electoral defeat, Chifley remained involved in politics as a party official, siding with the federal Labor leadership against the Lang Labor faction. He served on a royal commission into the banking system in 1935, and in 1940 became a senior public servant in the Department of Munitions. Chifley was re-elected to parliament later that year, on his third attempt since 1931. He was appointed Treasurer in the new Curtin Government in 1941, as one of the few Labor MPs with previous ministerial experience. The following year Chifley was additionally made Minister for Postwar Reconstruction, making him one of the most powerful members of the government. He became prime minister following Curtin's death in office in 1945, defeating caretaker prime minister Frank Forde in a leadership ballot.

At the 1946 election, Chifley was re-elected with a slightly reduced majority – the first time that an incumbent Labor government had won re-election. The war had ended a month after he took office, and over the following four years his government embarked on an ambitious program of social reforms and nation-building schemes. These included the expansion of the welfare state, a large-scale immigration program, and the establishment of the Australian National University, ASIO, and the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Some of the new legislation was successfully challenged in the High Court, and as a result the constitution was amended to give the federal government extended powers over social services.

Some of Chifley's more interventionist economic policies were poorly received by Australian business, particularly an attempt to nationalise banks. His government was defeated at the 1949 election, which brought Robert Menzies' Liberal Party to power for the first time. He stayed on as Leader of the Opposition until his death, which came a few months after the 1951 election; Labor did not return to government until 1972. For his contributions to post-war prosperity, Chifley is often regarded as one of Australia's greatest prime ministers. He is held in particularly high regard by the Labor Party, with his "light on the hill" speech seen as seminal in both the history of the party and the broader Australian labour movement.