Craig Emerson Chifley Lecture

26 July 2012

The Minister for Trade, the Hon Dr Craig Emerson MP delivered the Australia India Institute’s inaugural Ben Chifley Memorial Lecture on

Australia and India in the Asian Century

Read the transcript  here

Ben Chifley PM

Joseph Benedict (Ben) Chifley (1885-1951), Prime Minister and locomotive engine driver, was born on 22 September 1885 at Bathurst, New South Wales. He was the 16th Prime Minister of Australia. He took over the Australian Labor Party leadership and Prime Ministership after the death of John Curtin in 1945. Chifley’s Labor Party went on to retain a majority in both houses of Australian Parliament at the 1946 election, before his government was defeated in the lower house at the 1949 election. The radical reforming nature of Chifley’s government was such that between 1946 and 1949, the Australian Parliament passed 299 Acts, a record up until then, well beyond Labor’s Andrew Fisher’s 113 Acts from 1910 to 1913.

Amongst the Chifley Labor Government’s legislation was the post-war immigration scheme, the establishment of Australian citizenship, the Snowy Mountains Scheme, over-viewing the foundation of airlines Qantas and TAA, improvements in social services, the creation of the Commonwealth Employment Service, the introduction of federal funds to the States for public housing construction, the establishment of a Universities Commission for the expansion of university education, the introduction of a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and free hospital ward treatment, the reorganisation and enlargement of the CSIRO, the establishment of a civilian rehabilitation service, the founding of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and the establishment of the Australian National University. One of the few successful referendums to modify the Australian Constitution, the 1946 Social Services referendum, took place during Chifley’s term.

The Australia India Institute decided to create a Ben Chifley Memorial Lecture, with permission from the Chifley family, as Chifley’s attitude to Asia, and in particular India, showed an opening of the Australian mind to a post-colonial Asia with new possibilities of engagement with India and the rest of Asia.

In her article in the Australian Journal of Politics and History Julie Suares from Deakin University examines the Chifley Government’s foreign policy, in particular in relation to India and Indonesia as evidenced by Australia’s attendance at the 1947 Asian Relations Conference and the 1949 New Delhi Conference on the Indonesian-Dutch conflict. Australia’s presence at these two conferences provided Suares an ideal opportunity to examine the Chifley government’s response to the momentous changes that occurred in post-war Asia as a result of the dismantling of the European colonial world order. She concluded that there is a diversity of views amongst historians regarding the extent of the Chifley government’s engagement with post-colonial Asia. This study of the two New Delhi conferences lends weight to the view that the government’s post-war foreign policy towards Asia was radical and innovative. Although hindered by significant political constraints and the ongoing effects of Australia’s own decolonisation process, the Chifley government did understand that there was a “changed order in the world”, and that Australia shared common interests and common problems with the emerging nations of Asia.

For further information read Julie Suares article: Engaging with Asia: the Chifley Government and the New Delhi Conferences of 1947 and 1949

The Hon Dr Craig Emerson MP

Craig Emerson has been the Member for Rankin since 1998. After the 2010 federal election he was appointed the Minister for Trade. Prior to that, he had portfolio responsibility for small business, competition policy, consumer affairs and deregulation. Craig holds a Bachelor of Economics (Hons) Degree from the University of Sydney, a Master of Economics Degree from the University of Sydney and a PhD in Economics from The Australian National University.

He has been a Post-Doctoral Fellow at The Australian National University and has 17 publications to his name, including a book setting out a vision and plan for Australia’s future.  Since becoming a parliamentarian Craig has had more than 70 opinion pieces published in national newspapers.

Professionally, he has been Secretary of a Queensland Government Department, CEO of a Queensland Statutory Authority, Assistant Secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Economic Analyst at the United Nations. Craig was a senior policy adviser to former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, former Premier Wayne Goss and earlier to Finance Minister Peter Walsh.

In addition to his more than 25 years of public policy work, Craig has successfully run his own small business. Craig’s other interests include Rugby Union and Rugby League and he still plays a few games for the Parliamentary Rugby Union Team.