Our least significant PMs

My son Daniel pointed me a Facebook post starting from the fact that Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Turnbull served almost identical periods as PM, and comparing their achievements. Of course, there is nothing to compare.  I can’t find the post now (another reason to hate the displacement of blogs by Facebook and Twitter) but I thought I’d give my own prize for Australia’s least significant PM. The main ground rules are that I’m counting only achievements as PM, and I’m not judging whether these achievements were good or bad.

And the award goes to …Joint winners: Frank Forde, PM for a week in 1945, between the death of John Curtin and his replacement by Ben Chifley, and  Malcolm Turnbull, whose achievements we’ve all seen over the past (nearly) three years


  • Billy McMahon, PM 1971-72.  A nonentity who made his way to the top by outlasting many more worthy candidates. I’ve ruled him out because he killed Australian’s nuclear power program, which took some guts at the time.
  • John McEwen, PM for three weeks after the disappearance of Harold Holt at the end of 1967. As Acting PM, his main contribution was to veto the selection of McMahon, leading to the surprise elevation of John Gorton, and keeping McMahon out until after McEwen’s retirement).

Note again that the ranking refers only to time as PM. Forde was a competent Minister for the Army during World War II, and McMahon was generally regarded as an adequate Treasurer. McEwen was a very significant figure as leader of the Country Party and Australia’s first Deputy PM.

Of course, that’s as of today. Scott Morrison shows every sign of matching his predecessor.

28 thoughts on “Our least significant PMs

  1. To those who responded to my coming of the BER, I was not arguing for the merits of the stimulus package, I was mocking the tendency of both sides of politics to dress their policy initiatives up with language such as “revolution”. Come on, grow up.

  2. My father always credited McMahon’s reputation as a good treasurer to a procedural hansard trick. When asked a parliamentary question on the economy, he could reel off the complicated figures instantly from memory, which looked impressive; except that he didn’t – he made the figures up, and then corrected them with advice from his department in proof hansard so that they were correct by the time that anybody checked them.

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