Robert Menzies

The Rt Hon Sir Robert Menzies
Enlarge picture
Robert Menzies

Preceded by
Succeeded by

Political partyUnited Australia; Liberal
ReligionPresbyterian



Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, KT, AK, CH, FRS, QC (20 December 189415 May 1978), Australian politician, was the twelfth and longest-serving Prime Minister of Australia, serving eighteen and a half years. He had a rapid rise to power, but his first term as Prime Minister was unsuccessful. He spent eight years in opposition, during which he founded the Liberal Party. He was re-elected Prime Minister at the 1949 elections, and he then dominated Australian politics until his retirement in 1966. Menzies was renowned as a brilliant speaker, both on the floor of Parliament and on the hustings, but one example being the forgotten people.

Early life

Robert Gordon Menzies was born to James Menzies and Kate Menzies (nee Sampson) in Jeparit, a small town in the Wimmera region of western Victoria, on 20 December 1894. His father James was a storekeeper, the son of Scottish crofters who had Immigrated to Australia in the mid-1850s in the wake of the Victorian gold rush. His maternal grandfather, John Sampson, was a miner from Penzance who also came to seek his fortune on the gold-fields, in Ballarat, Victoria.[1] Both his father and one of his uncles had been members of the Victorian parliament, while another uncle had represented Wimmera in the House of Representatives.[2] He was proud of his Highland ancestry - his enduring nick-name, Ming, came from "Mingus," the Scots — and his own preferred — pronunciation of "Menzies".

Menzies was first educated at a one-room school, then later at private schools in Ballarat and Melbourne, and read law at the University of Melbourne.

When World War I began Menzies was 19 and held a commission in the university's militia unit. Menzies resigned his commission at the very time others of his age and class clamoured to be allowed to enlist. It was later stated that since the family has made enough of a sacrifice to the war with the enlistment of these brothers, Menzies should stay to finish his studies. However, Menzies himself never explained the reason why he chose not to enlist. Subsequently he was prominent in undergraduate activities and won academic prizes and declared himself to be a patriotic supporter of the war and conscription. [1] He graduated in law in 1918. He soon became one of Melbourne's leading lawyers and began to acquire a considerable fortune. In 1920 he married Pattie Leckie, the daughter of a federal Nationalist Party MP, who was reputedly a moderating influence on him.

Rise to power

In 1928, Menzies gave up his lucrative law practice to enter state parliament as a member of the Victorian Legislative Council representing the Nationalist Party of Australia. His candidacy was nearly defeated when a group of ex-servicemen attacked him in the press for not having enlisted, but he survived this crisis. The following year he shifted to the Legislative Assembly, and was a minister in the conservative Victorian government from 1932 to 1934, and became Deputy Premier of Victoria in 1932.

Menzies entered federal politics in 1934, representing the United Australia Party (UAP) in the upper-class Melbourne electorate of Kooyong. He was immediately appointed Attorney-General and Minister for Industry in the Joseph Lyons government, and soon became deputy leader of the UAP. He was seen as Lyons's natural successor and was accused of wanting to push Lyons out, a charge he denied. In 1938 he was given the pejorative nickname "Pig Iron Bob", the result of his industrial battle with waterside workers who refused to load scrap iron being sold to Imperial Japan. In 1939, however, he resigned from the Cabinet in protest at what he saw as the government's inaction. Shortly afterwards, on 7 April 1939, Lyons died.

First term as Prime Minister

On 26 April 1939, following a period during which the Country Party leader, Sir Earle Page, was caretaker Prime Minister, Menzies was elected Leader of the UAP and was sworn in as Prime Minister. But a crisis arose when Page refused to serve under him. In an extraordinary personal attack in the House, Page accused Menzies of cowardice for not having enlisted in the War, and of treachery to Lyons. Menzies then formed a minority government. When Page was deposed as Country Party leader a few months later, Menzies reformed the Coalition with Page's successor, Archie Cameron. (Menzies later forgave Page, but Pattie Menzies never spoke to him again.)

In September 1939, with Britain's declaration of war against Nazi Germany, Menzies found himself a wartime Prime Minister. He did his best to rally the country, but the bitter memories of the disillusionment which followed the First World War made this difficult, and the fact that Menzies had not served in that war and that as Attorney General and Deputy Prime Minister, Menzies had made an official visit to Germany in 1938 and had expressed his admiration for the regime undermined his credibility. At the 1940 election, the UAP was nearly defeated, and Menzies' government survived only thanks to the support of two independent MPs. The Australian Labor Party, under John Curtin, refused Menzies's offer to form a war coalition.

In 1941 Menzies spent months in Britain discussing war strategy with Winston Churchill and other leaders, while his position at home deteriorated. The Australian historian David Day has suggested that Menzies hoped to replace Churchill as British Prime Minister, and that he had some support in Britain for this. Other Australian writers, such as Gerard Henderson, have rejected this theory. When Menzies came home, he found he had lost all support, and was forced to resign, first, on 28 August, as Prime Minister, and then as UAP leader. The Country Party leader, Arthur Fadden, became Prime Minister. Menzies was very bitter about what he saw as this betrayal by his colleagues, and almost left politics.

Return to power

Enlarge picture
Sir Robert Menzies


Labor came to power later in October 1941 under John Curtin, following the defeat of the Fadden government in Parliament. In 1943 Curtin won a huge election victory. During 1944 Menzies held a series of meetings at 'Ravenscraig' an old homestead in Aspley to discuss forming a new anti-Labor party to replace the moribund UAP. This was the Liberal Party, which was launched in early 1945 with Menzies as leader. But Labor was firmly entrenched in power and in 1946 Curtin's successor, Ben Chifley, was comfortably re-elected. Comments that "we can't win with Menzies" began to circulate in the conservative press.

Over the next few years, however, the anti-communist atmosphere of the early Cold War began to erode Labor's support. In 1947, Chifley announced that he intended to nationalise Australia's private banks, arousing intense middle-class opposition which Menzies successfully exploited. In 1949 a bitter coal-strike, engineered by the Communist Party, also played into Menzies's hands. In December 1949 he won the election and again became Prime Minister.

The ALP retained control of the Senate, however, and made Menzies's life very difficult. In 1951 Menzies introduced legislation to ban the Communist Party, hoping that the Senate would reject it and give him an excuse for a double dissolution election, but Labor let the bill pass. It was subsequently ruled unconstitutional by the High Court. But when the Senate rejected his banking bill, he called a double dissolution and won control of both Houses.

Later in 1951 Menzies decided to hold a referendum to change the Constitution to permit him to ban the Communist Party. The new Labor leader, Dr H.V. Evatt, campaigned against the referendum on civil liberties grounds, and it was narrowly defeated. This was one of Menzies's few electoral miscalculations. He sent Australian troops to the Korean War and maintained a close alliance with the United States.

Enlarge picture
Robert and wife Pattie Menzies in the 1940s


Economic conditions, however, deteriorated, and Evatt was confident of winning the 1954 elections. Shortly before the elections, Menzies announced that a Soviet diplomat in Australia Vladimir Petrov (see Petrov affair), had defected, and that there was evidence of a Soviet spy ring in Australia, including members of Evatt's staff. This Cold War scare enabled Menzies to win the election. Labor accused Menzies of arranging Petrov's defection, but this has since been disproved: he had simply taken advantage of it.

The aftermath of the 1954 election caused a split in the Labor Party, and Menzies was comfortably re-elected over Evatt in 1955 and 1958. By this time the post-war economic boom was in full swing, fuelled by massive immigration and the growth in housing and manufacturing that this produced. Prices for Australia's agricultural exports were also high, ensuring rising incomes. Labor's rather old-fashioned socialist rhetoric was no match for Menzies and his promise of stability and prosperity for all.

Labor's new leader, Arthur Calwell, gave Menzies a scare after an ill-judged squeeze on credit - an effort to restrain inflation - caused a rise in unemployment. At the 1961 election Menzies was returned with a majority of only two seats. But Menzies was able to exploit Labor's divisions over the Cold War and the American alliance, and win an increased majority in the 1963 elections. An incident in which Calwell was photographed standing outside a South Canberra hotel while the ALP Federal Executive (dubbed by Menzies the "36 faceless men") was determining policy also contributed to the 1963 victory. This was the first "television election," and Menzies, although nearly 70, proved a master of the new medium. He was created a Knight of the Thistle in the same year.

In 1965 Menzies made the fateful decision to commit Australian troops to the Vietnam War, and also to reintroduce conscription. These moves were initially popular, but later became a problem for his successors. Despite his pragmatic acceptance of the new power balance in the Pacific after World War II and his strong support for the American alliance, he publicly professed continued admiration for links with Britain, exemplified by his admiration for Queen Elizabeth II, and famously described himself as "British to the bootstraps". Over the decade, Australia's ardour for Britain and the monarchy faded somewhat, but Menzies' had not. At a function attended by Queen Elizabeth II at Parliament House, Canberra, in 1963, Menzies quoted the Elizabethan poet Thomas Ford, "I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her till I die". (This poem has often since been misattributed to Barnabe Googe.)

Retirement and posterity

Enlarge picture
Sir Robert Menzies
Menzies retired in January 1966, and was succeeded as Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister by his former Treasurer, Harold Holt. After his retirement the Queen,in 1966, appointed him to the ancient office of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. He toured the United States giving lectures, and published two volumes of memoirs. His retirement was spoiled, however, when he suffered strokes in 1968 and 1971. Thereafter he faded from public view, and in old age became very embittered towards his former colleagues. He died from a heart attack in Melbourne in 1978 and was accorded a state funeral.

Menzies was Prime Minister for a total of 18 years, five months and 12 days, by far the longest term of any Australian Prime Minister, and during his second term he dominated Australian politics as no-one else has ever done. He managed to live down the failures of his first term in office, and to rebuild the conservative side of politics from the depths of 1943. These were great political achievements. He also did much to develop higher education in Australia, and made the development of Canberra one of his pet projects.

Critics say that Menzies's success was mainly due to the good luck of the long post-war boom and his manipulation of the anti-communist fears of the Cold War years, both of which he exploited with great skill. He was also crucially aided by the crippling dissent within the Labor Party in the 1950s and especially by the ALP split of 1954. But his reputation among conservatives is untarnished, and he remains the Liberal Party's greatest hero.

Several books have been filled with anecdotes about him and with his many witty remarks. While he was speaking in Williamstown, Victoria in 1954, a heckler shouted, "I wouldn’t vote for you if you were the Archangel Gabriel" – to which Menzies coolly replied "If I were the Archangel Gabriel, I’m afraid you wouldn’t be in my constituency."

Planning for an official biography of Menzies began soon after his death, but were long delayed by Dame Pattie Menzies's protection of her husband's reputation and her refusal to co-operate with the appointed biographer, Frances McNicoll. In 1991, the Menzies family appointed Professor A.W. Martin to write a biography, which appeared in two volumes, in 1993 and 1999.

Criticism

In 1950, Britain, hoping to proceed with its atomic weapon testing program, was denied use of the Nevada testing facilities in the United States. As a result, Labor prime minister Clement Atlee sent a top secret personal message to Australian prime minister Robert Menzies, a staunch anglophile, asking if the Australian government might agree to the testing of British nuclear weapons at the Montebello Islands, off western Australia. In effect Atlee asked Menzies if he could lend him his country for atomic tests. Menzies agreed immediately, with no record of him having consulted any of his cabinet colleagues on the matter. Menzies is known to have ruled his cabinet with an iron fist and is unlikely to have received much resistance anyway. The agreement was the start of a program of testing and involvement of the Australian people that was to last years, with little proper safeguards for the land or the people involved, even to the use of over 15,000 Australian servicemen to be involved in "safety testing," not to mention the Aboriginal population of the area.

Whether ill-informed, simply naive, or prompted by a misguided loyalty to british interests, the Australian government of the time, had embarked on a program that would do lasting damage to the Australian landscape and its people. The cancer and radiation remain to this day.[3]

See also

Actors who have played Menzies

  • In the 1984 mini series The Last Bastion, Menzies was portrayed by John Wood.
  • In the 1987 mini series Vietnam, he was portrayed by Noel Ferrier.
  • In the 1988 mini series True Believers, he was portrayed by John Bonney.
  • In the 2007 film Curtin, he was portrayed by Bille Brown.
  • Max Gillies has caricatured Menzies on stage and in the comedy satire series The Gillies Report.

Notes and references

1. ^ Australian Academy of Science: Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows: Robert Gordon Menzies 1894-1978
2. ^ Australia's Prime Ministers website: Robert Menzies
3. ^ YOU DID WHAT? Mad Plans and Great Historical Disasters

Further reading

  • Alan Martin, Robert Menzies: A Life, two volumes, Melbourne University Press, 1993 and 1999 (this competent but uninspiring official biography was delayed for many years by the un-cooperative attitude of Dame Pattie Menzies.)
  • Judith Brett, Robert Menzies' Forgotten People, Macmillan, 1992 (a sharply critical psychological study)
  • Michelle Grattan, "Australian Prime Ministers", New Holland Publishers , 2000 (very good summary of his life and career)

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
John Latham
Minister for Industry
1934 – 1939
Succeeded by
Billy Hughes
Preceded by
Earle Page
Prime Minister of Australia
1939 – 1941
Succeeded by
Arthur Fadden
Preceded by
Richard Casey
Treasurer of Australia
1940 – 1941
Succeeded by
Percy Spender
Preceded by
Arthur Fadden
Leader of the Opposition
1943 – 1949
Succeeded by
Ben Chifley
Preceded by
Ben Chifley
Prime Minister of Australia
1949 – 1966
Succeeded by
Harold Holt
Preceded by
Richard Casey
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1960 – 1961
Succeeded by
Garfield Barwick
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Latham
Attorney General of Australia
1934 – 1938
Succeeded by
Billy Hughes
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
John Latham
Member for Kooyong
1934 – 1966
Succeeded by
Andrew Peacock
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Lyons
Leader of the United Australia Party
1939 – 1941
Succeeded by
Billy Hughes
Preceded by
Billy Hughes
Leader of the United Australia Party
1943 – 1945
Succeeded by
Party dissolved
New titleLeader of the Liberal Party
1945 – 1966
Succeeded by
Harold Holt
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Winston Churchill
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
1966 – 1978
Succeeded by
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother


Prime Ministers of Australia
Barton | Deakin | Watson | Reid | Fisher | Cook | Hughes | Bruce | Scullin | Lyons | Page | Menzies | Fadden | Curtin | Forde | Chifley | Holt | McEwen | Gorton | McMahon | Whitlam | Fraser | Hawke | Keating | Howard
Leaders of the Liberal Party of Australia
Menzies | Holt | Gorton | McMahon | Snedden | Fraser | Peacock | Howard | Peacock | Hewson | Downer | Howard


Persondata
NAMEMenzies, Robert
ALTERNATIVE NAMES
SHORT DESCRIPTIONAustralian politican
DATE OF BIRTHDecember 20, 1894
PLACE OF BIRTHJeparit, Victoria
DATE OF DEATHMay 15, 1978
PLACE OF DEATHMelbourne, Australia
United Australia Party

Last Leader Billy Hughes

Founded 1931
Disbanded 1945
Preceded by Nationalist Party of Australia
Succeeded by Liberal Party of Australia

Political Ideology Conservativism

..... Click the link for more information.
Liberal Party of Australia

Leader John Howard

Founded 1944

Preceded by United Australia Party

Office Cnr Blackall & Macquarie St
Barton ACT 2600

Political Ideology Conservative liberalism,
..... Click the link for more information.
Presbyterianism is a tradition shared by a large amount of Christian denominations which is most prevalent within the Reformed branch of Protestant Western Christianity. Hallmarks include Calvinist theology and the presbyterian form of church governance.
..... Click the link for more information.
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle is an order of chivalry associated with Scotland. While its original date of foundation is unknown, James VII (also King of England as James II) instituted the modern Order in 1687.
..... Click the link for more information.
Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established by Elizabeth II on February 14, 1975 "for the purpose of according recognition to Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or for meritorious service".
..... Click the link for more information.
The Order of the Companions of Honour is a British and Commonwealth Order. It was founded by King George V in June 1917, as a reward for outstanding achievements in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry, or religion.
..... Click the link for more information.
Fellow of the Royal Society is an honour accorded to distinguished scientists and a category of membership of the Royal Society. Fellows are entitled to put the letters FRS after their name.

Up to 44 new fellows are elected each year by ballot of the existing fellows.
..... Click the link for more information.
Queen's Counsel (postnominal QC), during the reign of a male sovereign known as King's Counsel (KC), are lawyers appointed by letters patent to be one of "Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the law"; the position exists in various Commonwealth countries around
..... Click the link for more information.
December 20 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.

Events

  • 69 - Vespasian, a former general under Nero, enters Rome to claim the title of emperor.

..... Click the link for more information.
18th century - 19th century - 20th century
1860s  1870s  1880s  - 1890s -  1900s  1910s  1920s
1891 1892 1893 - 1894 - 1895 1896 1897

:
Subjects:     Archaeology - Architecture -
..... Click the link for more information.
May 15 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.

Events

  • 1252 - Pope Innocent IV issues the papal bull ad exstirpanda

..... Click the link for more information.
19th century - 20th century - 21st century
1940s  1950s  1960s  - 1970s -  1980s  1990s  2000s
1975 1976 1977 - 1978 - 1979 1980 1981

Year 1978 (MCMLXXVIII
..... Click the link for more information.
Anthem
Advance Australia Fair [1]


Capital Canberra

Largest city Sydney
..... Click the link for more information.
Australia

This article is part of the series:
Politics of Australia


Federal Government
Executive
  • Queen (Queen Elizabeth II)
  • Governor-General (Michael Jeffery)
  • Prime Minister (John Howard)
  • Cabinet

..... Click the link for more information.
Liberal Party of Australia

Leader John Howard

Founded 1944

Preceded by United Australia Party

Office Cnr Blackall & Macquarie St
Barton ACT 2600

Political Ideology Conservative liberalism,
..... Click the link for more information.
Federal elections were held in Australia on December 10, 1949. The incumbent Australian Labor Party led by Prime Minister of Australia Ben Chifley was defeated by the opposition Liberal Party of Australia led by Robert Menzies with coalition partner the Country Party led by Arthur
..... Click the link for more information.
A husting, or the hustings, was originally a physical platform from which representatives presented their views or cast votes before a parliamentary or other election body.
..... Click the link for more information.
The forgotten people is the name given to a 1942 speech delivered by Robert Menzies, an Australian politician who went on to become the country's longest-serving Prime Minister.
..... Click the link for more information.
Jeparit
Victoria

Antwerp Weir, Wimmera River

Population: 582 (2006)[1]

Postcode: 3423

Elevation: 85 m

Location:
..... Click the link for more information.
The Wimmera is a region in the west of the Australian state of Victoria.

It covers the dryland farming area south of the range of Mallee scrub, east of the South Australia border and north of the Great Dividing Range.
..... Click the link for more information.
Victoria

Flag Coat of Arms
Slogan or Nickname: "Garden State", "The Place to Be"
Motto(s): "Peace and Prosperity"

Other Australian states and territories
Capital Melbourne
Government Constitutional monarchy
Governor David de Kretser
..... Click the link for more information.
December 20 is the 1st day of the year (2nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 0 days remaining.

Events

  • 69 - Vespasian, a former general under Nero, enters Rome to claim the title of emperor.

..... Click the link for more information.
18th century - 19th century - 20th century
1860s  1870s  1880s  - 1890s -  1900s  1910s  1920s
1891 1892 1893 - 1894 - 1895 1896 1897

:
Subjects:     Archaeology - Architecture -
..... Click the link for more information.
Scottish people (Scottish Gaelic: Albannach) are a nation[6] and an ethnic group indigenous to Scotland. As an ethnic group, Scots are a composition of groups such as Picts, Gaels, Brythons, Angles, and Norse.
..... Click the link for more information.
croft is a fenced or enclosed area of land, usually small and arable with a crofter's dwelling thereon. A crofter is one who has tenure and use of the land.

The word croft
..... Click the link for more information.
Victorian gold rush was a period in the history of Victoria in Australia between approximately 1851 and the early 1860s.

During this decade, Victoria produced more than one third of the world's gold output.
..... Click the link for more information.
Penzance
Cornish - Pensans

Arms granted to the municipal borough of Penzance in 1934
Penzance ()
|240px|Penzance (

..... Click the link for more information.
Ballarat
Victoria

Population:
• Density: 85,197 (2006) (19th)
1220/km

Established: 1838

Postcode: 3350

Elevation: 441 m

Area:
..... Click the link for more information.
Scottish Highlands (A' Ghàidhealtachd in Gaelic) include the rugged and mountainous regions of Scotland north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault. The Great Glen divides the Grampian Mountains to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands.
..... Click the link for more information.
Scots refers to the Anglic varieties derived from early northern Middle English spoken in parts of Scotland. In Scotland it is sometimes called Lowland Scots or its contraction Lallans
..... Click the link for more information.


This article is copied from an article on Wikipedia.org - the free encyclopedia created and edited by online user community. The text was not checked or edited by anyone on our staff. Although the vast majority of the wikipedia encyclopedia articles provide accurate and timely information please do not assume the accuracy of any particular article. This article is distributed under the terms of GNU Free Documentation License.