This spoken word gramophone disc recording is a four-minute New Year address by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons to the Australian people. It was broadcast on 12 December 1934 by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (the ABC). Lyons’s speech reviews the previous year. Written during the Great Depression, Lyons acknowledges the suffering and sorrow that some people have experienced. He expresses faith in the public and asks them to place their faith in their leaders. The speech concludes with a quote by Robert Louis Stevenson about the importance of hope.
Lyons's speech was seen as an unusually honest assessment of the past year. The Labor Daily newspaper, generally a critic of Lyons's conservative United Australia Party (UAP) government, described it as 'the most extraordinary broadcast address of all time'.
This broadcast attempted to address the despair felt by many Australians during the period of the nation's greatest economic hardship. The global Great Depression, which had followed the collapse of the Wall Street stock market in 1929, caused bank failures, a collapse of investment, mounting unemployment, falling commodity prices and sharp falls in international trade.
The Great Depression had caused many Australians to lose their jobs in an era in which government benefits for the unemployed were limited, causing significant poverty and hardship. By mid-1932, 29 per cent of the Australian workforce was unemployed and many Australian families were forced to live in exceptionally difficult circumstances, losing homes and income.
Lyons encourages his audience to be hopeful but he gives few reasons for feeling optimistic. Lyons's government believed in the importance of repaying international debt and in balancing the budget. Economists such as John Maynard Keynes advocated deficit financing—stimulating the economy through government spending and paying back the debt when the economy recovered. Lyons’s government disagreed with this approach, however, and recovery, while steady, was therefore slow during his terms in office.
Lyons had been acting federal Treasurer for a short period in the Scullin Labor government (1929–32) but he left in 1931 because of intra-party disagreements about how to deal with the economic crisis. The Scullin government was divided between those who advocated increased government spending, those who believed Australia should default on its international debt and Lyons's own more orthodox and cautious views.
Lyons became Prime Minister in 1932 as the leader of the newly formed UAP, which brought together former Labor Party members who preferred a more conservative approach to the economy, and the Nationalist Party.
Dubbed 'Honest Joe', Joseph Lyons (Prime Minister from 1932 to 1939) was popular with the electorate and widely seen as pursuing a safe fiscal policy. He made this speech about three months after his victory in the September 1934 federal election, the second of three consecutive terms. By 1937, the year Lyons won his third term, unemployment had dropped to below 10 per cent. Although this was still high, and many Australians continued to endure hardship, Lyons was given credit for the improvement.