It’s January, it’s the holiday season, but it’s also an election year, so let’s play with some historical data.
Don’t take it too seriously, but 2013 offers a number of interesting possibilities for Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Gillard is the 27th person to serve as prime minister in the 112 years of Australia’s federation. She is the 11th Labor prime minister.
Gillard is currently the 17th longest serving prime minister, having exceeded the terms of 10 prime ministers, 7 from the conservative side (Page, McEwen, Fadden, Reid, Cook, McMahon & Holt) and 3 from Labor (Forde, Watson & Scullin).
Of the ten PMs Gillard has already overtaken, only three ever won an election (Cook in 1913, Scullin in 1929 & Holt in 1966). None could be regarded as raging successes.
- Joseph Cook called a double dissolution in 1914 and became one of the first casualties of the Great War. Andrew Fisher, the Labor PM Cook had defeated in 1913, returned to the post.
- James Scullin’s government, elected one week before the Wall Street crash ushered in the Great Depression in 1929, split three ways and was demolished at at an early election by his former Treasurer, Joe Lyons, who had defected to the conservatives.
- Harold Holt won a smashing victory against the ALP and Arthur Calwell in 1966. At the time of his death by drowning in 1967, his leadership was under threat from rivals within and from without by a rampant Gough Whitlam.
Three of the prime ministers Gillard has overtaken (Page, Forde & McEwen) assumed the office on a temporary basis following the death of the incumbent.
- The Country Party leader Earle Page served for 20 days after Lyons died in 1939. Despite a vicious verbal assault by Page, the United Australia Party elected Menzies as their new leader.
- Frank Forde was prime minister for 8 days after John Curtin died in 1945. He continued serving as the ALP’s deputy leader after Ben Chifley became leader but lost his seat at the 1946 election.
- Like Page, John McEwen was leader of the Country Party when he became prime minister after the death of Harold Holt. His major achievement in this time was to threaten to bring down the government if the Liberals chose McMahon to replace Holt. He succeeded in delaying McMahon’s accession to the position for another three years.
Two of the prime ministers Gillard has surpassed (Watson & Reid) served briefly after upheaval in the House of Representatives.
- John Christian (Chris) Watson became the first Labor PM after the House amended Alfred Deakin’s Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. Deakin handed the job to Watson who lasted nearly four months until the House passed another amendment to the same bill. The Governor-General refused to grant Watson an election and Reid took over.
- George Reid lasted for 10 months until the House amended the Address-in-Reply and the Governor-General again refused to grant an election. Deakin returned for the second of his three terms as prime minister.
The 10th prime minister Gillard has overtaken (Fadden) would appreciate the position she has faced for the past two years.
- Arthur Fadden was Country Party leader when a joint meeting of the United Australia Party and the Country Party made him prime minister in 1940 after Robert Menzies resigned. Even though the UAP had elected the 77-year-old Billy Hughes as their leader, it wasn’t thought he was sufficiently able-bodied to return to the post he had last held in 1922. Fadden lasted for 40 days until the two independents who held the balance of power in the hung parliament tossed him out in favour of Labor’s John Curtin.
Gillard’s achievement in rising to 17th place in the list of longest serving prime ministers doesn’t look overly impressive when you consider the circumstances of the 10 men she has overtaken.
In terms of prime ministerial longevity, what does 2013 hold in store for Gillard? [Read more...]