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Walter Maxwell Nairn (1879–1958)

Walter Nairn, early 1940s

Walter Nairn, early 1940s

National Library of Australia, 25964165

Walter Nairn, in Adelaide at 80, was the Liberal who virtually kept the Curtin Labour Government in office for two years during the war, writes Don Whitington, the Canberra Columnist.

When Curtin took over after the Menzics-Fadden split in 1941, the House was almost evenly divided. Curtin had to rely for his majority on two independents.

There was no general election due for two years, and with a war on no-one wanted an election as long as it could be postponed.

Had Labor had to find a Speaker from its own ranks, its majority would have been reduced to one. Nairn, who had been Speaker for Menzies and Fadden, agreed to carry on for Curtin.

It might have been that he had a fellow feeling for Curtin, as they both came from Perth. It may have been that, sensing electoral defeat in 1943— when he lost his seat — he decided to make every post a winner. (The Speakership is a very lucrative plum in anyone's language.) 

Whatever the reason, Nairn stayed on until the election in 1943, enabling Labour to keep a precious extra vote up its sleeve.

Nairn was not a good Speaker. He was fussy, weak and tended to become excited. Richard Hughes, a noted Canberra correspondent in those days, once described him as resembling a hen in a wig.

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'Nairn, Walter Maxwell (1879–1958)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 31 May 2024.

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