1944 Australian Post-War Reconstruction and Democratic Rights referendum

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The Constitution Alteration (Post-War Reconstruction and Democratic Rights) Bill 1944[1] was an unsuccessful proposal to alter the Australian Constitution to give the Commonwealth an additional 14 powers for a period of five years, with Prime Minister John Curtin saying that maintaining wartime controls was necessary for Australia to re-adjust to peacetime conditions. It was put to voters for approval in an Australian referendum held on 19 August 1944.

Question[edit]

Do you approve of the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled 'Constitution Alteration (Post-War Reconstruction and Democratic Rights) 1944'?

Proposed amendment[edit]

The referendum was known as the "14 powers", or the "14 points referendum". It sought to give the federal government power, over a period of five years, to legislate on a wide variety of matters.[2]

The 14 powers[edit]

The powers the government sought to gain included:

  • The rehabilitation of former servicemen
  • National health
  • Family allowances
  • Employment and unemployment
  • The ability to legislate for indigenous Australians
  • Corporations, or combines
  • Foreign investment
  • Trust laws
  • Monopolies
  • Air transport,
  • Uniformity of railway gauges
  • Marketing of commodities
  • Manufacturing (production) and sales of goods
  • National infrastructure (subject to state approval)

Many of these powers also included limitations as safeguards against the abuse of legislative power.

Restrictions on government power[edit]

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression were restrictions on state and government power that the commonwealth sought to legislate on.

The government also sought to apply the right to freedom of religion to state governments.[1]

Referendum[edit]

All of these points (the proposed heads of power and restrictions on power) were put to referendum in the form of a single question. It is notable that the points referring to aviation, employment, marketing, trusts, corporations, combines and monopolies had previously been the subject of referendums advanced by both Labor and conservative parties that had not been carried.

The 14 proposals covered the participation of the federal government in postwar reconstruction, including control over employment, profiteering and prices, and related subjects. [3]

For and against[edit]

The proposal was put forward and supported by the Australian Labor Party government. It was opposed by the federal opposition (United Australia Party and the Country Party).

For[edit]

Prime Minister John Curtin gave his broadcast to the nation on 25 July 1944. The Prime Minister said to abandon wartime controls on the declaration of peace would cause disorganization to the social system and destroy the capacity of the system to meet the need of the first few disturbed years after the war.[4]

Against[edit]

The Country Party leader, Arthur Fadden, gave his broadcast against the motion, stating : Its proposal means that in peacetime, you will work under government compulsion, you will eat and wear what the bureaucrats ration out to you: you will live in mass-produced government dwellings: and your children will work wherever the bureaucrats tell them to work! If granted nothing can be made, produced, built or grown without permission. Everything that is grown or made, carried or carted, sold or exchanged will be under government control. A yes vote would enable the Government to implement Labour's policy of socialization. Nationalization of Industry would follow.[5]

Results[edit]

Do you approve of the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled 'Constitution Alteration (Post-War Reconstruction and Democratic Rights) 1944'?

Result [6]
State Electoral roll Ballots issued For Against Informal
Vote % Vote %
New South Wales 1,758,166 1,694,119 759,211 45.44 911,680 54.56 23,228
Victoria 1,266,662 1,227,571 597,848 49.31 614,487 50.69 15,236
Queensland 633,907 599,568 216,262 36.52 375,862 63.48 7,444
South Australia 403,133 392,443 196,294 50.64 191,317 49.36 4,832
Western Australia 278,722 272,339 140,399 52.25 128,303 47.75 3,637
Tasmania 143,359 139,411 53,386 38.92 83,769 61.08 2,256
Armed forces [a]   417,082 218,452   195,148   3,482
Total for Commonwealth 4,483,949 4,325,451 1,963,400 45.99 2,305,418 54.01 56,633
Results Obtained majority in two states and an overall minority of 342,018 votes. Not carried
  1. ^ Armed forces totals are also included in their respective states.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Constitution Alteration (Post-war Reconstruction) Bill 1944 (Cth).
  2. ^ "Referendum Proposals: Meaning of the Fourteen Points". The Age. 21 June 1944. p. 2. Retrieved 4 July 2018 – via Trove.
  3. ^ "Opening of Campaign. Official Booklet on Referendum". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 June 1944. p. 4. Retrieved 4 July 2018 – via Trove.
  4. ^ "Prime Minister states case why referendum necessary". The Telegraph. 26 July 1944. p. 6. Retrieved 4 July 2018 – via Trove.
  5. ^ "The Referendum: "Socialisation" if carried". The Canberra Times. 25 July 1944. p. 3. Retrieved 4 July 2018 – via Trove.
  6. ^ Handbook of the 44th Parliament (2014) "Part 5 - Referendums and Plebiscites - Referendum results". Parliamentary Library of Australia.