Former political speech writer, Graham Freudenberg, presented the speech Curtin’s Battle for Australia: relevant questions for 2011 at last night’s John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library (JCPML) Visiting Scholar lecture at Curtin University.
As the JCPML 2011 Visiting Scholar, Freudenberg examined former wartime Prime Minister John Curtin’s political leadership and commitment to Australia during the dramatic events of early 1942.
In his speech Freudenberg moved past obvious question of whether or not Australia was at threat of an invasion, and focused on the lessons learnt from 1942, in particular the nature of Australia’s relationship with Asia and the US.
“Churchill was proposing to evacuate the British forces, including the 8th Australian division from Singapore as a lost cause, and concentrate instead on the defence of Burma,” Mr Freudenberg said.
“Not only was Churchill proposing the nullification of 20 years of British and Australian defence planning, but he was contradicting his own insistence that Singapore must be held at all costs.
“It was not until the arrival of General MacArthur on 17 March 1942, sent here by Roosevelt for political as much as military reasons, that Curtin found a powerful ally, where it was needed most – Washington.”
Freudenberg also reflected on the criticism Curtin faced in maintaining the threat of invasion to Australia remained a real and extreme possibility.
“Many have accused Curtin of exaggeration, deception and exploitation of the invasion threat, but this was not the case,” Mr Freudenberg argued.
“It is wrong to claim that Curtin’s speeches and actions focused solely on an invasion that never materialised, long after the threat had ceased to exist.
“It mistakes utterly his strategic vision, and his efforts to convince the Australian people that it (Australia) was something worth fighting and dying for.”
A former journalist, Mr Freudenberg’s knowledge of political issues, affairs and policies has helped to shape Australia’s reporting of political thought for more than 40 years.
He has written thousands of speeches for several leaders of the ALP at both the state (NSW) and federal level including Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Neville Wran, Barrie Unsworth, Bob Carr and Simon Crean.
Full text of the lecture is available at http://john.curtin.edu.au/events/speeches/freudenberglecture.html