Australia's Prime Minister beginning October 1929. The world depression
was deepening and the government was divided on how to deal with it.
"He chose the wrong time to be prime minister" was Scullin's
unofficial epitaph. The Labor Party lost the election of December 1931
and Scullin remained leader of the Party until 1935. He left Parliament
James Henry Scullin was born on 18
September 1876 at Trawalla, near Ballarat Victoria, of Irish Catholic
parents. He helped form the local Labour Party branch and stood
unsuccessfully for the seat of Ballarat against Deakin in 1906. He
married Sarah McNamara in 1907.
In 1910 he again stood for Federal
Parliament but lost his seat in 1913. Whilst editor of the Ballarat
Evening Echo he rallied round the Labor anti-conscription cause. He
failed to win a seat in the Victorian Parliament in 1920, but within two
years was back in federal politics. An inspired orator, Scullin was made
leader of the Labor Party in 1928. He became prime minister in 1929 only
days before the Wall Street crash. It was a difficult time with the
depression worsening-unemployment was high and debts to Britain were
scheduled for repayment. The government was divided on how to handle the
financial crisis and the inherent social problems. A more cautious group
advocated cutbacks in spending and honouring financial obligations.
Scullin and his treasurer Theodore favoured gradual reflation of the
economy and extension of existing loans. A more radical group,
influenced by Jack Lang, premier of New South Wales, wanted repudiation
of loan commitments. No agreement was forthcoming.
When Australia asked Britain for
deferment of payment on the war debt, the Bank of England sent Sir Otto
Niemeyer to assess Australia's financial situation. He advised that
Australians were living beyond their means and that there must be an
immediate cutback on public spending.
Scullin lost a valuable ally when
Theodore resigned, facing charges of fraud whilst in the Queensland
Parliament. Though later cleared of the accusations and re-instated, he
was not in office when needed-Scullin himself took the Treasury
portfolio but handed it to Lyons when he left Australia to attend the
Imperial Conference in London in 1930.
Whilst he was away Caucus revolted
against government austerity measures and Lyons refused to take
responsibility for deferring loan payments. Devaluation, tariff
increases and wage cuts constituted the first steps in a programme of
recovery. Sir Robert Gibson, the director of the Commonwealth Bank,
threatened to cut off loans unless governments reduced their spending.
Theodore was reinstated but his currency bill, devised to reduce
unemployment, was defeated by the Senate.
Lyons and Fenton (deputy-leader) used
Theodore's reinstatement as cause to resign. In November 1931 Lang's
followers alleged that the Scullin-Theodore faction was being advantaged
in the payment of unemployment relief. Scullin narrowly survived a vote
of no confidence but called for a double dissolution.
Labor lost the December 1931 election.
Scullin remained leader of his Party until 1935 but was too ill to
accept a ministry in later Labor governments. He left Parliament in 1949
and died in 1953.