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What might John Curtin think of the Federal election campaign?— 2016 John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library Anniversary Lecture

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Broadcaster, anthropologist and writer, Sally Warhaft delivered the 2016 John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library (JCMPL) Anniversary Lecture at Curtin University this week.

The annual lecture, introduced by JCPML Patron and former Prime Minister, the Honourable Julia Gillard, marked the upcoming 71st anniversary of Australia’s war time Prime Minister John Curtin’s death on July 5, 1945.

In her speech, Ms Warhaft outlined what John Curtin, Australia’s 14th Prime Minister, would have made of the current Federal election campaign, the longest campaign in the country’s history.

She said the speech was an opportunity to look at the changing nature of election campaigns.

“John Curtin knew a fair bit about election campaigning. He knew what it was like to win – to win well, win by a fraction — and to lose,” Ms Warhaft said.

“Although there are many things about today’s campaigning that Curtin wouldn’t recognise, some things haven’t changed as much as we might think.

“What Curtin would surely find incomprehensible are the leaders’ debates,” she said.

In closing, Ms Warhaft said Curtin would most likely have been perplexed by the stilted, disingenuous and monotonous culture of the current election campaign.

“He would be amazed at the society we live in, the wealth, the technology, the progress. And he would be mightily perplexed at how we put it all to use.” she said.

“We will probably wait a long time for our political culture to change. And when we do change, we must hope that it will be for the better.

“We would appear to need two politicians with the famous humility of John Curtin at once — one on each side of the despatch box — to agree and insist on some new ground rules,” she said.

Ms Warhaft is a Melbourne broadcaster, anthropologist and writer, and the host of the Wheeler Centre’s live journalism series, The Fifth Estate, now in its fifth year. She is a former editor of The Monthly magazine and the author of the bestselling book Well May We Say: The Speeches that Made Australia.

Further more information on the 2016 JCPML Anniversary Lecture, visit

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