Arthur Fadden was considered one of the great characters of the Australian parliament, and built trust and rapport with colleagues across party lines. He used levity and wit to manage situations and strengthen relationships. Fadden believed in compromise and consensus, but not at the expense of core party and personal principles.
Fadden ran an accountancy firm and worked in local government before venturing into federal politics, winning the seat of Kennedy in 1932. Redistribution thwarted Fadden's attempt to hold the seat in 1935. Fadden's contribution to a conservative alternative to the United Australia Party led to the creation of the Queensland Country Party in 1936 and in December that year he won the seat of Darling Downs in a by-election. In 1940, a Country Party leadership challenge resulted in a deadlock between Earle Page and John McEwen, with Fadden emerging as an acceptable compromise. Fadden also served as acting prime minister for four months in 1941 while Robert Menzies was abroad. In August that year, Menzies resigned. With the UAP unable to put up a viable candidate, Fadden was elected leader of the Coalition despite being from the minor party. On 3 October 1941 Fadden lost the support of the two independents keeping the Coalition in power when they voted against his budget, and he left prime ministerial office the same day. He would, however, continue to serve extensively as acting prime minister while Menzies was overseas, some 676 days in all.
Siege of Tobruk
From April to August 1941, around 14000 Australian soldiers were besieged in Tobruk by a German-Italian army. Tobruk was critical to the Allies' defence of Egypt and the Suez Canal.
Day of National Prayer
On 7 September 1941 a day of national prayer is held to mark the end of the second year at war. Prime Minister Fadden made a radio broadcast encouraging Australians to unite in 'the supreme task of defeating the forces of evil in the world.'
On 3 October 1941, the Fadden Coalition government is defeated in a vote in the House of Representatives when Independents Arthur Coles and Alex Wilson side with the Opposition to reject Fadden's budget.
When Fadden assumed the role of prime minister, in addition to treasurer, he was leader of a party with 13 members in a parliament of 75. The senior Coalition party, the United Australia Party, was in disarray following Menzies' resignation. The Coalition retained power only because of the support of the independents Alex Wilson and Arthur Coles. Earlier Coalition governments had been attacked for their inadequate preparations for war and Fadden endured similar criticism. Attention was focused on the work to prepare the critical 1941-42 budget, and on whether all out war with Japan would eventuate. The Fadden Government also took the opportunity to resume discussions on the value of 'power alcohol', a matter of great interest to sugar producers in Fadden's home state of Queensland.
Australia's wartime prime ministers, including Arthur Fadden, faced demands which pushed them to the limits of physical endurance. In the 1940s Cabinet met in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, meaning that ministers were required to take frequent, long train journeys before arriving in parliament or attending a war council meeting. Added to this, Fadden needed to stabilise his own party, as well as the relationship between the Country Party and the United Australia Party. A key decision was to appoint Earle Page, who had been at the centre of some of the most bitter arguments between the parties, as Australia's special envoy to the British war cabinet. Fadden also chose to make minimal changes to the composition of the cabinet, and appointed Menzies to the ministry for defence coordination. Fadden's approach during this period, and throughout his parliamentary career, was to try to 'lead from the centre'.
In 1923, Ross Gollan joined the Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet. Gollan proved himself to be a capable journalist and, after twelve years covering coal troubles in Newcastle, he moved to Canberra as Federal parliamentary roundsman. Gollan’s new column was highly critical of the performance of some politicians and he was blamed for undermining careers and ruining reputations. In early 1941, as Prime Minister Menzies grappled with dissent within the Coalition, Gollan accused him of being out of touch with the electorate, while promoting Fadden as a successor. Gollan is credited with influencing the momentum in favour of selecting Fadden as Prime Minister. Gollan was, however, not the only member of the press at that time who admired Fadden’s financial skills and capacity to work collaboratively with colleagues, with Clem Lack writing that Fadden had ‘the gift of being the best “good mixer” the political game can show.’
In September 1941, Australian troops serving in Tobruk heard the voice of Prime Minister Arthur Fadden. His short-wave broadcast was brief, but its content heartfelt. Fadden observed the 'magnificently stubborn feat of arms' Australian soldiers had displayed and congratulated them for their 'effective, gallant and courageous resistance'. Through Fadden, the soldiers learnt that the Parliament placed on record its appreciation of the troops' efforts. The message was reported in newspapers across the country. All the while Fadden, with support from Curtin, battled with Churchill to regain control of Australian troop deployment.
Tracey Arklay, Arthur Fadden: A Political Silhouette, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2014
Australian War Memorial Encyclopaedia, Siege of Tobruk
Margaret Bridson Cribb, Fadden, Sir Arthur William (1894 - 1973), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 1996
Kathleen Dermody, Gollan Ross Francis (1902 - 1961), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 1996
The Mail, 'Broadcast to Tobruk Troops by Mr Fadden', 20 September 1941