Australia has had 29 Prime Ministers – some excellent, a few worthy of special mention, many mediocre, some shockers.
I thought that I would rate them while enjoying a wee dram of superb single malt scotch whisky – Lagavulin from the Isle of Islay – as it expands my mind to a splendid level of generosity.
The result is that I rank Malcolm Turnbull at No 19, ahead of Abbott, Rudd and McMahon who shared the wooden spoon.
My reasoning is simple. He has the capacity to become a great PM, but he is a long way short of realising his potential.
Let me state the basis of my calculations.
I have left out Forde, McEwan and Fadden, each of whom served for only a matter of days. This leaves us 26 to chose from.
Listed in order of serving, my top rung consists of Barton, Deakin, Curtin, Chifley, Menzies, Hawke, Keating and Howard.
Ranked just below them are those who performed honourably – Fisher, Scullin and Gillard.
Mediocre were Watson, Bruce, Lyons, Holt, Gorton and Turnbull.
Shockers were Reid, Cook, Hughes, McMahon, Fraser, Rudd and Abbott.
And who was the best of all – Joseph Benedict Chifley.
As Treasurer, he kept Australia solvent and financially viable during the Second World War. This was a hell of a task as he established Australia as a self sufficient manufacturing nation, making most of our own munitions (a situation that has been slowly destroyed by the Prime Ministers who followed him).
As Prime Minister after the war he had to rebuild the nation, find jobs for returning servicemen and establish an affordable system of social security, as well as causing Australia’s first car, The Holden, to be built.
Above all, he was a humble man from a poor family, having earned his living as a train driver. For the whole of his life as an MP, Minister, and Prime Minister he shunned the Parliamentary Dining Room and Bar, to enjoy sandwiches and tea at his desk while working long hours.
When told of Ben Chifley’s death, his Parliamentary rival, Robert Menzies, broke down and wept.
Others did great things.
Barton and Deakin founded the nation and passed hugely important legislation that has served Australia well to this day.
Curtin saved Australia from invasion, while Menzies provided the nation with sixteen years of stability in which the office of Prime Minister was respected, unlike today.
Hawke and Keating organised an economic revolution and the Howard years were ones of prosperity.
The three who deserve honourable mention ruled Australia in difficult circumstances. Fisher was a reformer, Scullin laid the foundations for Australia to survive the Great Depression, while Gillard was our first female Prime Minister who showed us how a minority government could survive for three years despite copping huge personal abuse from Abbott and Rudd.
The rest will be forgotten by history and few will lament.
Right now, two key question confront us.
The first relates to Turnbull’s ability to improve his ranking.
I hope that he can, but at this moment it looks highly unlikely as he has the title of Prime Minister, but not the power that goes with the office.
His party is split ideologically between right and left and he spends his days trying to bring them together instead of governing boldly. There seems to be no plan for the future of our nation in which manufacturing is dying, our transport system is a costly shambles, the nation needs drought proofing and soon we will be hit by the joint impact of climate change and ageing. Above all, we have no idea how to modernise welfare by marrying it with productivity.
The second question relates to who succeeds Malcolm if he continues to fail. There appears to be no candidate who is acceptable to both factions of his Party.
In my view, this will lead to a succession of one term governments as Bill Shorten is not solidly entrenched as ALP leader and voters will keep punishing both sides until one produces a leader of quality.
I have been polling many of my political friends to find out who might eventually emerge as the leader the nation so desperately needs. The consensus seems to be Angus Taylor and Jim Chalmers.
What challenges will they face when they finally reach the top?
It will be to scrap every vestige of both capitalism and socialism which are both utterly unable to meet the needs of modern society which wants a level playing field in which human dignity and justice merge with creative productivity to build a nation which grows as the result of the narrowing of the gap between rich and poor.
Ben Chifley could have handled the challenge?
The door is wide open for his successor to step in.
Yours at large,
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