31st Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.15 p.m., and read prayers.
– As honourable senators will have learned with regret, Monday 15 May saw the death of a great Australian. I seek leave to move a motion of condolence.
Sir Robert Menzies was born 83 years ago in the small Victorian town of Jeparit. By his own ability, determination, courage and will, he became one of the greatest Australians this nation has brought forth. His towering influence helped to mould this nation. He stood uncompromisingly for the abiding traditions and values of Australia.
His temporary defeat in 1941 served only to lift him and reveal his extraordinary resources of energy, the strength of his beliefs and the fortitude of his spirit. He led Australia through the boom years of the 1950s and into a period of unprecedented national development in the economy, in industry, in agriculture, in the arts, and in learning.
Sir Robert’s rise to eminence was meteoric. In 1 9 1 7 he graduated in law from the University of Melbourne with great distinction and one year later, at the age of 23, he was called to the Bar. Within a remarkably brief period at the Victorian Bar in which his practice ranged over industrial, common and constitutional law, Menzies built a formidable name as a brilliant legal intellect and an outstanding advocate. His greatest triumph as a young barrister was his remarkable appearance in 1920, at the age of 25, in the celebrated Engineers Case. After that historic achievement in which he successfully stood alone against several notable King ‘s Counsel he appeared in many famous constitutional cases before the High Court and the Privy Council. This outstanding constitutional lawyer had few rivals and in 1929, at the age of 34, he became Australia’s youngest King’s Counsel. In all his days Sir Robert’s love for the law never waned. But it was no narrow interest. For him law and civilisation were inseparably bound together. Opportunities to speak and write on law and public affairs were always welcome to him.
At the age of 72, when most professional scholars have put down their pens, he made a distinguished contribution as scholarinresidence at the University of Virginia, where he lectured on the Australian Constitution with all the authority, clarity and wit we knew so well. It is scarcely surprising that a man of such formidable talent for the law, and such high regard for its sanctity, should be chosen to serve as Attorney-General in both the State and Federal spheres, or that he should have distinguished those Ministries with his commanding legal experience.
Sir Robert turned to politics in 1928. He first entered the Victorian Parliament, where he served for nearly six years. Characteristically, he quickly made his mark as parliamentarian and Minister holding several portfolios and within four years at the age of 37 he became Deputy Premier. In 1934 he contested and won the seat of Kooyong and held it for the next 32 years. His unfailing interest in his constituents and his commitment to them, earned him their loyalty, their trust and their admiration.
Immediately upon his election to Federal Parliament, Sir Robert was appointed AttorneyGeneral and Minister for Industry- portfolios he held until 1939. In that year- just five years after his election to the House of Representatives- he became Prime Minister. His first Prime Ministership was from 1939 to 1941, and in that time he administered the portfolios of Treasury, Defence Co-ordination, Trade and Customs, and Information. These, Mr President, were years of extraordinary activity in which Sir Robert had achieved what for many men would have been the work and ambition of many lifetimes. But his finest years were yet to come.
History has recorded that the United Australia Party splintered, turned from its leader and fell apart. Inevitably, there was a change of government. The trials of these years may have left most men embittered and unnerved. It only served to spur Menzies to embark on a program of re-shaping, remodelling and re-assessing the needs of those Australians who had pinned their faith to a Liberal alternative. He struggled with adversity and won.
From the ashes of the UAP, and through the vision and undaunted determination of one man, Sir Robert Menzies, there arose the Liberal Party of Australia. This was a party which he designed to serve all Australia- to govern for all Australians. He travelled Australia’s length and breadth persuading and inspiring. In 1949 he triumphed- the Liberal and Country parties won office and remained undefeated for 23 years. That period is now a matter of history. Above all it is the history of Menzies.
Menzies’ return to the Prime Ministership in 1 949 came at a time of great domestic and international uncertainty. Depression and war had had a devastating effect. The world was tired of conflict, fearful for the future. But for Menzies, these were to be the years when all that he had passed through was simply preparation for his finest hours. His great task was to restore the confidence and stability of a nation recovering from the rigours and the distress of war- and this he did.
Drawing on his considerable will, knowledge and experience, he guided Australia for 16 years, with the steadfast hand of a leader sure of his ground and sure in the judgment of the Australian people. His years of strong and stable government gave strength and confidence to the Australian people and set the nation firmly on a course of recovery and unprecedented development.
Sir Robert was recognised by all as one of the Queen’s men. He saw clearly the place of the Crown in the Australian body politic, and stood by the principles of constitutional monarchy which are the fundamental base of our political life. We all recall Her Majesty’s first visit to this country in 1954, and how she was escorted with dignity and with a profound sense of the occasion by her Australian Prime Minister to the opening of this Parliament. Sir, we are all honoured by the gracious tribute Her Majesty has now paid to her former Prime Minister. It will be a source of comfort to Sir Robert’s family.
Sir Robert’s rich sense of the nation’s history, his vision of its vast potential, his evident love for its soil and its people, his presence and his eloquence ensured that Australia’s place in international affairs would become more firmly established- more widely known. He was one of the Commonwealth’s most eloquent spokesmen, and in time became one of her best-loved statesmen. He attended the Prime Ministers’ Conferences in London, striving through difficult and changing times to consolidate Commonwealth ties and to strengthen Australia’s relationship with Britain.
His admiration and respect for the country that had fathered the traditions of the rule of law and the country of Blackstone, of Milton, of Shakespeare and of Burns earned him a special place in the hearts of the British people. Undoubtedly, the stature of Australia ‘s Prime Minister during these years greatly added to the international prestige and influence of this nation. But his attachment to the Commonwealth did not blind him to the changing reality of new international horizons. As one of the founders of ANZUS and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, he was fully aware of the need to consolidate Australia’s natural bonds with its neighbours. He was equally aware that we should retain our relationship with the more powerful and more distant nations of the world. He conducted his relationship with both the new and old friends with ease and assurance. His loyalty and reliability were never in question, and he brought his great authority to every council. He earned the respect of all.
Upon his retirement, Sir Robert was invited to name two achievements for which he would most like to be remembered. He nominated his Government’s encouragement of tertiary education and the development of the national capital. Learning was for Menzies the cardinal privilege and his consuming passion because he believed that where there was learning there could be wisdom. Sir Robert established the Australian Universities Commission and encouraged the growth of the Australian National University. He was convinced that all Australians should have opportunities to share in a full educational experience and his Government presided over a vast expansion in tertiary education in this country. Again, it is characteristic of his pride in the nation that he should wish to enhance its capital. The Canberra of today, the city of lakes and fine buildings, is a great and enduring monument to his vision.
Mr President, such were the achievements and stature of the man that it was to be expected that some would say he was a distant political figure.
However, he won the respect not only of his political supporters but also of those who never voted for his party. To his friends he was a warm and delightful companion. To those who served him he was always courteous and considerate and to his family he was a constant symbol of devotion and love. He endeared himself to Australians from all walks of life by his love of cricket and, in Victoria, by his ardent support of the Carlton Football Club.
Australians will have many memories of Sir Robert Menzies- memories of him as a Prime Minister who led this country for 1 6 consecutive years; memories of him as a Prime Minister who strove to enrich the resources, the opportunities and the talent of the country; memories of him as a Prime Minister who cemented and extended our relations with Britain and the Commonwealth, memories of him as a Prime Minister who continued to nurture our relations with other allies such as the United States of America, and memories of him as a Prime Minister who saw the need for and fostered the highest standard of professionalism and integrity in the Public Service. They will have memories of his con.sumate skills as an orator, his mastery as a political tactician, his unerring sense of political timing and, last but not least, his integrity.
Mr President, anyone who had the pleasure to hear Sir Robert speak will remember his devastating wit. He had the rare ability of being able to make a jibe at his own expense. He once recalled that on the previous Sunday he had read the lesson at the Presbyterian Kirk, a reading which had included the Ten Commandments. He said:
To a practising politician, I know of no document more disturbing- unless it be the Sermon on the Mount.
Above all, his parliamentary colleagues will remember him for his abiding belief in our great democratic principles, in the central role of Parliament and in the rule of the law. He was a champion of the concept of responsible government in the Westminster tradition. Over many years he strove to develop our Cabinet system into that which we know today.
In the past few days the Government has received numerous messages of condolence and sympathy from leaders throughout the world. President Carter has referred to Sir Robert as ‘A great statesman whose leadership and influence extended far beyond Australia’. Prime Minister Callaghan has written of ‘his courage, his devotion to duty and his wisdom’ which ‘have ensured him an honoured place in the history of our time ‘. However, there is one message which I would like to read in full, for it captures in essence the feelings expressed by many during the past week. It is from Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore, and reads:
I send you my condolences on the death of Sir Robert Menzies. He was one of the great men of his era.
He had a commanding presence, a powerful intellect and a rare eloquence.
His robust approach to life enabled him to make more than Australia ‘s contribution to the world ‘s quest for peace and stability in an age of rapid and revolutionary changes.
He has left his imprint on the history of Australia and of the region.
In 1937, Sir Robert was created a Privy Councillor. In 1951, he was created a Companion of Honour. In 1963, the Queen created Sir Robert a Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. In 1965, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1 966, after his retirement from politics, he was appointed Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports following in the path of Sir Winston Churchill. In 1976, Sir Robert was created a Knight of the Order of Australia- the first Australian to receive that accolade. The honours showered on him over many years are fitting tribute to Sir Robert’s stature as an Australian and Commonwealth statesman.
As generations pass, it is easy to forget those who have gone before. But Sir Robert Menzies has left an indelible mark upon countless facets of Australian life. He will be remembered as a leader, a statesman, a scholar, an ally, a friend and, to his family, as a loving and devoted husband, brother and father. He gave to each of these roles the full measure of his being.
To this one man- Robert Gordon MenziesAustralia owes an immense debt. It is a debt which future generations of Australians can honour by holding fast to the virtues he brought from his forebears and carried into his life- the virtues of sincerity, integrity, loyalty, steadfastness and courage. We can honour him by following his example of unstinting service to our nation, serving all the people, working to reinforce those fundamental values which unite us as a nation.
We all no doubt have our own personal impressions and memories of Sir Robert. I first met him in 1958 when I was a senior Vice-President of the Liberal Party in Western Australia. Later, as a State President and Federal Vice-President, I had the privilege of working quite closely with him for many years until his retirement from the Parliament. Like all who worked with him, I was impressed by his warmth, his helpfullness and his capacity to understand issues and to work at solving problems.
The Menzies era saw the growth of the antihero as a part of Western culture- the ugly, the miserable, became the types to be emulated and respected. Yet, in the era of the anti-hero, Menzies was an heroic figure- a giant of a man in intellectual capacity as well as physical size. It was this that impressed me most about him in the years during which we worked together- this rare quality that distinguishes the great from the ordinary. It is a gift bestowed upon few men. Menzies had it. Even now it is, at times, fashionable to by cynical, even contemptuous, of those few gifted with the aura of heroism. I find that sad. In a society like ours, we have a need of heroes and of hero figures. They are not to be despised. The memories of their achievements will last far longer than those of their petty critics and detractors.
It is a matter of regret that there are not more like Menzies. In the case of Sir Robert, to quote T. S. Eliot, I am sure the time will never come:
When men shall declare that there was no mystery About this man who played a certain part in history.
– I rise to support the motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers). He has set out in quite considerable detail the life of Robert Gordon Menzies. As we all realise, Robert Gordon Menzies was unquestionably one of Australia’s most prominent political figures since Federation. Out of the political shambles of the antiLabor forces in Australia in the early 1940s, he was the architect in the creation of the Liberal Party. His involvement in Australian Federal politics spanned nearly three decades, and that in itself is some indication of his grasp of the Australian political scene. He was a man who made enemies, not only outside the Liberal Party but also inside. But at no time did he ever appear to lose control of the organisation which he created virtually single-handed.
Robert Menzies also possessed that attribute which most politicians hope they have, that is, of being able to judge political issues and to use them to the advantage of their own Party. That he was the dominant figure in Australian political life, particularly from 1949 to 1966, can hardly be disputed. It was a dominance resulting from continuous years in office by his own Party, even though on one occasion that dominance was nearly brought to an end. On the other hand, it must be recognised that over many of those years he did not have united, opposing political forces with which to contend, especially after the creation of the Australian Democratic Labor Party in 1955. To what extent he contributed to that situation will remain a matter of debate in Australian political history. His commitment to the development of the Australian university system saw considerable advancement in tertiary education during his time as Prime Minister. I understand that is something which he regarded as his greatest achievement over those years. On the other hand, his decisions on the Communist Party Dissolution Bill of 1950, the Petrov affair of 1954, Suez of 1956 and Vietnam of 1965 brought bitter criticism from his political opponents. But because of his capacity to judge issues of the day, on which he was able to sense the feeling of the electorate, he was always able to survive that criticism. In Australian political history Robert Gordon Menzies will remain a dominant figure and one of great interest to political historians in the years ahead. On behalf of the Opposition I express my sympathy to Dame Pattie and family.
– Honourable senators of the National Country Party of Australia support this motion. Following the passing of Sir Robert Menzies tributes from throughout the world have emphasised that he was the most noted Australian to have lived and to have died in the twentieth century. The Very Reverend Frederick McKay, who conducted Sir Robert’s funeral service in Scots Church, Melbourne on Friday last, said that no words spoken at the service could add to the stature of the man. So it was, and so it is today. Such was Sir Robert’s greatness that his place in Australia’s history and in the hearts of his countrymen stood undisputed. It needs no endorsement by eulogy here.
I believe we can offer thanks that he was given to serve his nation in our time. Those of us who served in the Parliament with him were particularly privileged. Indeed, the Parliament has been served by no more illustrious Australian, by no leader so brilliant or so singularly outstanding. At the service to which I referred His Royal Highness, Prince Charles, quoted Ecclesiasticus 44: ‘Let us now praise famous men’. That phrase spoken by a member of the Royal family, to whom Sir Robert was so proud to look as the pillar of democracy, was as appropriate as it was simple. No greater tribute could have been paid to a man who was himself a bastion of democracy than to have Prince Charles, representing the Queen, take a leading part in Sir Robert’s funeral service in his own church, in his own home city.
No previous leader in this country was so mourned. I thank God for his life and for his example. I feel great pride in having known Sir
Robert. In my view, only one other person in this century has demonstrated qualities so universally admired and that was Sir Winston Churchill. Sir Robert built his reputation from his own skill and by strict personal control. Many of us would wish to emulate his character, his capacity and his wisdom. I expect that there are many- and I am one- who have profited from an association with that great man. My first mental picture of Sir Robert Menzies, which I retain, is of a man striding down Collins Street in Melbourne, head above the crowd, with a stride which showed the obvious purpose and destiny of that man. That was many years ago. He had much to do and his life thereafter was crowned with achievement.
My first meeting with him was in Kings Hall. Sir Robert Menzies- Mr Menzies as he then was- had the ability to convey the impression that you were the one whom he had been waiting all evening to meet. This is a quality sought by most yet achieved by few. I perhaps more than most, certainly in a unique situation, have learnt that to the great allegiance and friendship are not transitory qualities. I received Sir Robert’s publicly expressed support when undertakings which had stood for many years were sought to be broken. I recall his allegiance to his political partner to be as important as his allegiance to his own party. Written undertakings were unnecessary when Menzies gave his word. I recall, as others will, that he acknowledged publicly in his own electorate that he would support John McEwen- Sir John McEwen as he is now- when a section of Sir Robert’s party thought it wise to stand against John McEwen in an election.
He was a man whose personal actions strengthened one’s respect for the depth of thought and consideration which he gave to an enormous range of problems. It is often simple to say: ‘I stand with you. ‘ It was unnecessary for the great Robert Menzies to affirm his obligation. He carried out his part without one having to consider what circumstances might be found to cause deviation from pacts of responsibility and friendship. All persons in political life will recognise his qualities and wish heartily that there were more like Menzies amongst its aspirants. Since time immemorial man has questioned the hereafter. The ethereal hereafter is unknown but one thing is certain. There is a hereafter for Robert Gordon Menzies. It stands clearly for all to see and admire in this relatively young nation.
Since Sir Robert left political life I have been most fortunate to share with a small group of men the great pleasure of Sir Robert’s brilliant mind in the relaxed circumstances of his favourite private club. After leaving active political life it appeared to be his aim to spend every Friday evening that was available to him in the company of visitors and members who feasted upon his company and generally went their way amazed at the wisdom and brilliance that continued to his late life. The passing of Sir Robert Menzies is an event of national loss. 1 deem it a personal loss. To Dame Pattie, who was so obviously the perfect partner to this man in his difficult and trying career, I add a contribution of respect and comfort which is, of course, inadequate on such an occasion. I extend deep sympathy to other members of the Menzies family. My Senate colleagues of the National Country Party share that loss and express their deep regret and sympathy on this occasion.
Senator JANINE HAINES (South Australia) It is with considerable regret that I rise today to extend my sympathies and those of the Australian Democrats to the widow and family of the late Sir Robert Menzies. Like most Australians, I was unfortunate enough not to know him personally but I grew up during the period of his leadership of this country and watched with interest his career following his retirement from active politics. This was easy for, inevitably, as must happen to a man of his stature and background, the Press always concerned itself with him, his actions, his sayings, the person he was and the person it wanted him to be. It is difficult, however, for someone with no first-hand knowledge of a man to know how much of what one hears or reads about him is myth or a reality unembellished by adulation or spite.
Sir Robert has been portrayed as someone larger than life; a god to some and a martinet to others. He was a man revered by many sections of the community but feared and hated by others. Yet as with all of us, he was flesh and blood, a mixture of good and bad. The anecdotes that abound show often only one aspect of him. They show the wit, the man who was never lost for words, an articulate, clever proponent of whatever he thought was right. I have no anecdotes to contribute to this picture of Sir Robert Menzies, statesman extraordinaire. However, I have a story, although not a witty one, which I think is worth preserving. It says a great deal about a great man and even more about the changes that have taken place in Australian society over the past quarter of a century.
The story concerns a young man who was then President of the Adelaide University Liberal Union, Sir Robert Menzies who was then Prime Minister of Australia, a speech, a haircut, the
Chief Justice of South Australia and an ordinary man in the street. The incident took place in 1 950 in Adelaide to which place Sir Robert had flown after a late night’s sitting of Parliament with memories still fresh in his mind of a fairly unpleasant incident that had occurred at Sydney University the week before when he had gone there to speak. Typically of Sir Robert then and later in his career he did not duck what could have been an unpleasant incident. He did not use his tiredness or the late night’s sitting as an excuse for not going. He went and, in fact, he faced a tumultuous welcome from a packed Elder Hall. It was a lunchtime meeting organised by the Liberal Union of the University of Adelaide.
At the end of that meeting, because he had some time to kill and perhaps because he wanted to celebrate, he suggested a haircut. Sir Robert was noted for the fact that he was never anything but well groomed of course. Unattended by anyone other than the young President of the Liberal Union, he walked out of the University’s grounds and down North Terrace. On the corner of North Terrace by the Bank of New South Wales building they met Sir Mellis Napier who was then Chancellor of the University of Adelaide and Chief Justice of South Australia. They chatted for a while. What struck my friend, the President of the Liberal Union, was the unfeigned and total deference accorded to Sir Mellis by the man who was then Prime Minister of Australia. It was a total, complete and genuine deference. They walked on. They had their hair cut. I rather suspect that it was the only time that Robin Millhouse has ever paid for anything for somebody else in his life, mostly because he rarely carries in his pocket more than the money for a telephone call. This may say something about the cost of haircuts in the 1 950s.
After they left the barber’s shop they walked back to the University. On the way they met an ordinary man in the street who came up to Sir Robert, shook his hand and treated him with the same awe and deference as Bob Menzies had previously shown to Sir Mellis Napier. He said how much he admired the Prime Minister, how much good he thought he was doing and what a wonderful man he thought he was. As they walked away Bob Menzies turned to Robin and with obvious and unfeigned embarrassment said: ‘I wish people would not do that. I am just not worth it’. I have told that story today because I think it demonstrates exactly where the greatness of Bob Menzies lay. I think it shows that there is more to greatness than wittiness, presence and magnificent oratory. The greatness of
Sir Robert Menzies lay not just in those things but also in his ability to face a potentially unpleasant situation with determination, if not with equanimity, to be unaffected, to recognise and acknowledge greatness and talent in others and to know the limits of greatness and talent in himself. Sir Robert, loved or loathed, was a great man. To his family I extend my sympathy. Whilst Australia has lost a man who is an integral part of her history the members of his family have lost not a hero but the man they loved.
– I wish to add my own personal and quiet tribute to a man whom I knew for some 32 years, a man who I met immediately after the Second World War and a man whose career I observed closely throughout the whole of that period. In so doing I shall peek behind the outward commanding presence of the man, the outward personality, the oratory, the obvious giantness of intellect and look with just a few words at the man I knew. I think it is important to do that. Time and history will form a consensus that will put the stature of the man Menzies in perspective. We have had some 30 years of headlines, incidents and episodes. Perhaps a few of the things which I am about to say may help in that regard. I found him then to be still a relatively young man, a man of very limited means, a man who could have made a fortune at the Bar but took the modest providence of Parliament as his career and a man who like the Churchills, the Adenauers and the de Gaulles had been shaped, burnished and strengthened by defeat and adversity.
There is no doubt in my mind from the times when I was privileged to have him talk to me about his period in office in the 1930s and his period in opposition in the 1 940s that the period when he sat in opposition and observed what had gone before- his early successes and his failures- were valuable years in putting things in perspective. When I think of the early times when he talked about his hopes for Australia the strongest impression I have is that burned on his mind was the extreme vulnerability of this continent in 1939. He would talk to those around him about how Australia at that time was vulnerable in every sense. I can hear him saying now that Australia did not make a motor vehicle. We did not know that we had any petrol- certainly we did not refine any. We did not make any flat steel and we did not know we had bauxite. Here we were with a handful of people, some six million or a little more, in peril from abroad. He was determined that, if he could, he would strengthen and waterproof the country which was his. I think that that was the strongest of his impressions of those years. He lived through the 1 950s to turn a nation which had been extremely vulnerable into a nation which was one of the strong middle nations in the world and which, therefore, was greatly waterproofed.
I recall also the subjects about which he talked so much. Fellows such as Senator Sir Robert Cotton, who is in the chamber, will dearly remember that Sir Robert Menzies talked about how he detested the petty bureaucracy which bedevilled the ordinary family; how much he felt that government ought to be designed to free the ordinary person and to help him to fulfil himself. Indeed, Sir Robert wrote, spoke and worked for that. There is no doubt in the world that people judged him from headlines. There was always a talk of arrogance. In fact, the man was a shy and reticent man to all who knew him and were close to him. Anyone who was near him before he made speeches or before he made great decisions will know how he struggled, with an intellectual integrity, to get what he thought was the fine honing of the issues which he wished to project. The shyness and the reserve might have come through as arrogance; I found none of it. I say this not in any retrospect at all; many of my friends have shared these experiences with me.
In the days when he received the epithet of Pig- Iron Bob ‘ and, indeed, collected some of the tangible fragments and shrapnel which was around, he took it in good faith and, indeed, courage. He marvelled that the decision of a Western Australian Labor government to export pig iron should have given him the endearing epithet, which he wore with pride. He marvelled also at the fact that he should have been branded as being, in an almost obsessive fashion, an Anglophile. Of course, he was proud of his Scottish history. But he, of all men, saw the need to form the strongest of links with our cousins the Americans and he, of all men, with the fine example of Curtin before- this must be acknowledgedtook Australia into the ANZUS Treaty, into links with America. Many a time he talked to me about the need for unity in Europe. I have at home the only disc I have kept of Menzies, which is of a speech he made on the Common Market and on the concept of the European Economic Community. I think the speech was made in 1962 in Maitland. He had the concept that peace could be established in this world by a strength of unity between America on the one hand and Western Europe on the other hand. He saw the role of Australia as something of a placental influence- something of a link- as he also saw Asia. Therefore, the headlines tended to be wrong in their judgments.
In those years I saw the family man. Anyone who knew the Menzies with the young familythe Menzies who walked so often from the Lodge across to this House- will recall seeing him with his daughter Heather laughing and joking together. I recall the delightful sense of humour of the two and the obvious enormous affection which pervaded the family. Those people who served with him are the complete proof of the man- of his qualities and of the affection which he engendered around hin. The fact is that he kept his staff over the decades.
I recall the morning after Her Majesty had asked him whether he would accept the Order of the Thistle. That was the first time I had ever seen the man lost for words. He asked for time to consult his wife and was genuinely, for hours, worried lest if he were to accept that might be misjudged by the people of Australia; that they might feel their Prime Minister was no longer the kind of common man who had served them so well. I am delighted that he accepted it. I heard him so many times speak of his links in days gone by in the arbitration system, with the trade unions, how proud he was that he had won some famous cases for the trade union movement, and of his friendship and affection for trade union leaders such as Albert Monk. He took great pride in having negotiated the outstanding salary award for the journalists.
So it goes, and out of it emerges not an arrogant or overpowering man but a man with a quite flexible mind who many times I saw accept advice which changed his mind. He had the clearest of principles for himself. He summed himself up when he said, with some whimsey I believe, ‘I am just a simple Presbyterian’. In terms of his values he was a simple Presbyterian, and that is not a bad thing. I do not want to suggest that he was king size. I will let history judge that. All Australians must be enormously proud that they were able to walk for a couple of decades with a great Australian. I do not regard him as anything other than an absolutely authentic Australian. His Australianism, his pride when there was a Davis Cup and he could barrack for us, his pride in the Australian cricketers, in the Australian footballers, in everything that was essentially Australian, was something to see.
It is a sad time for the family, for Dame Pattie, for his son and his daughter. It must be doubly hard for the families of the great, and of public figures, to suffer sorrow, because the one they have lost becomes such public property and almost seems to be taken away from them and their grief. I want to join in expressing the hope that the gentleness of time will soften the sorrow of the Menzies family, and to acknowledge with thanks the contribution that he made.
-I would be remiss if I did not add a tribute to Sir Robert Menzies. I will tell honourable senators why briefly. I do so on the threshold of my retirement from Parliament. He preceded me with his retirement 10 years ago; he is about 1 1 years my senior. I first met him in 1932 when I was his second junior in a case before the High Court. I remember well that he told me: ‘Do not enter politics, young man. It is the dirtiest game in the calendar’. As other speakers have said, he was such a dominant and majestic advocate in the courts as to be easily the leader of the Bar of his time. It occurred to me this morning that I could bring to notice, for those who may not have studied it, the fact that when as Attorney-General of the Commonwealth he appeared in 1936 in the Privy Council in the case of James and the Commonwealth, their Lordships concluded their judgment by saying that they wished to express their appreciation of the help given to them ‘ by counsel who have argued in this appeal, in particular the Attorney-General for the Commonwealth, the merit of whose admirable argument is in no way diminished by the fact that it has not succeeded’. That was a very high tribute to be paid. Of course, it is in line with tributes which were maintained of him as a barrister throughout his time.
It was a great comfort to me to see in the church in Melbourne last week two of his distinguished contemporaries at the Bar in the persons of Sir Edmund Herring and Sir Victor Windeyer. Menzies would not wish his forensic career to be referred to without tribute being paid to Sir Owen Dixon of whom he had the privilege of being a pupil. The only two other pupils that Dixon ever had were Sir Henry Baker and Sir James Tait. I bring those names to the Senate as a galaxy of men of integrity and talent with whom we in this generation should be extremely grateful to have lived.
Sir Robert Menzies’ political career in the Federal sphere began in troubled times, with the growth of Hitlerism in Europe and the onset of the Second World War. These times brought political troubles to Sir Robert but he had the great character and that comprehension of intellect and patriotic purpose for Australia that impelled him at the end of the war to bring together the ‘wandering thoughts of men’, if I can invoke Drinkwater. In 1945 he assembled in Canberra 13 different parties in the anti-Labor forces. I believe I have the honour and the privilege of being the last to leave this Parliament of the delegates who attended that conference and who entered Parliament. So I am bound to speak of what I feel was the outstanding contribution that Sir Robert Menzies made to the foundations and purposes of what I believe are political purposes inseparable from the destiny of Australia- that is to say, truly liberal purposes. We assembled and he demonstrated his capacity for leadership not only by growing tolerance and understanding, but also by thought. We went away completely unanimous upon the platform and policies of the Party that we were to go into the country to create. We reassembled in Albury three months later to give account of our stewardship in the electorates and there the mainstream of enthusiasm for the uniting of the liberal forces was an inspiration that could never leave one.
Well I remember after I was accorded the privilege of speaking on behalf of my State by that generous leader with whom I was associated, Sir Henry Baker, Sir Robert’s turn came to speak and with tears in his eyes he said: Sweet are the uses of adversity’. Out of his adversity he built the foundations of the Liberal Party. The Party did not succeed in all electorates then but it did succeed the next year in respect of the famous four, one of them being Franklin in Tasmania under the candidature of Bill Falkinder. In 1949 Sir Robert had an overwhelming victory. I entered Parliament then and had the privilege of serving with him from then until he retired and of serving his cause from then until now. He maintained a liberal philosophy in the whole of his political career. It was demonstrated by a fact that a great number of people have forgotten. It was his platform and his leadership that resulted in the establishment of the Department of National Development. That occurred at a time when we were merely an agricultural country. It was the work of that Department, under his guidance, over a decade that revealed the mineral wealth without which we would weep today. It came into the stream of life in the 1960s.
He was responsible for the formation of the party and for accepting the leadership of a government with a dynamic for development, with a few vicissitudes, but we should remember that during this time he was surrounded by Sir Richard Casey- later Lord Casey- Alan Hulme, Bill Spooner, Magnus Cormack, Phil McBride, Tom Playford, Ross McDonald, David Brand. As I turn towards one seat in this chamber and see Shirley Walters I am reminded of the man whom Sir Robert said was a man in a millionEric Harrison. He was his loyal lieutenant and deputy through it all. Sir Robert should be remembered as a unique and outstanding Australian of his generation. He was independent. He did not ask his disciples to be subservient, and not all of them were. It is one of the remarkable things about the little things of life that it is the differences of life that are magnified and the great combined efforts that are treated just as routine.
To dispel any idea of there being anything other than grateful co-operation on a friendship and political basis, I remind the Senate that when we were confronted last year by what was thought by a few of us to be an unfortunate effort to change the Constitution to weaken the Senate, Sir Robert sent me a telegram immediately after my speech in this chamber in which he said:
The case you put in the Senate about the effect of the constitutional proposals on the position of the Senate was unanswerable.
Mr President, is that not the sort of thing from Sir Robert, at a distance, that would increase the measure of my chest? It was not answered. That Ought to wither the chest of the Honourable Reginald Withers. The telegram continued:
Good luck to you. Go and spread it in the electorate.
He had co-operation that was not built simply upon the genuflections of the supine and acquiescent but upon a robust purpose from his Scotch ancestry, a fervent patriotism and the capacity of speech to impart persuasion to the soul and rouse the spirit of people even in this Parliament. He could make a speech that would be attended not only by every member of Parliament but also by full galleries. Thank God on this occasion that he gave those talents to the service of his country, much to our admiration and the admiration and affection of his family, whose service to him, especially during the last few years of his affliction, is something that we will always remember with the deepest affection.
– As a Queensland senator, I think that on this occasion I should speak some words of condolence to Dame Pattie Menzies and the other members of Sir Robert’s family. Like Senator Wright, I came into office after the 1949 general election when Sir Robert was swept back into office as Prime Minister of this country. To me he appeared to be an outstanding personality. He had that easiness of speaking which made him a truly great speaker. But he was not an orator, as so many people say. In fact when speaking to me he said that he did not like people referring to him as an orator because he was not; he did not orate: He spoke in the simplest, easiest and most beautiful language in which one could speak. This is one of the facts that lots of people do not recognise: Speech is a means of communication and, if people do not understand the words one uses, one does not communicate.
Sir Robert had the knack of communicating completely with people. I know that when he made a public address, whether it be from the platform or through the radio or whatever other medium it might be, wherever one went people always remarked on the wonderful speech he had made. I think that everybody on both sides of the House, of all parties, recognises this quality in him. I shall relate a story about this which I found rather interesting.
I was in charge of a tour that took in the Queensland areas of Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville, Cairns and the Atherton Tableland. The Mayor of the City of Townsville was staging a civic luncheon in honour of Sir Robert. I can remember telling Sir Robert while he and Dame Pattie and I were waiting in a small room: ‘Well, Mr Prime Minister, you will be required to make a speech at this function’. To my surprise, he said: ‘I’m not going to make a speech’. I said: But it will be necessary for you to make a speech’. He said: ‘It’s all right for you; you can get up and talk at any time, but not me; it worries the life out of me to make a speech’. I said to him: ‘What nonsense’. But Dame Pattie said: That’s right, Senator. He can’t eat a meal before his speech because of his concern about it’.
I said to Sir Robert: ‘Why don’t you realise that every time you speak you give people such great pleasure? Your going in there now to make a speech will give those people great pleasure, which in turn will give you great happiness?’ So in he went with Dame Pattie and myself. He made that speech- an impromptu speech, apparently- and almost brought the place down with roars of laughter and applause. It was a terrific success. I remember that he said to me afterwards: ‘I’m glad you pushed me into that. I wouldn’t have got a reception like that in my own city of Melbourne’. That was a very pleasant occasion and it was a wonderful trip. I found everywhere that people liked him and enjoyed what he said to them. He went over remarkably well.
There was another occasion when circumstances were not so happy. I had a big difference of opinion with him and with his Treasurer at the time they were introducing sales tax on cars. Over the years, people have said that it was their belief that anybody could have been a good
Prime Minister during that period. That was not the case because I can remember a Budget that was termed the Horror Budget. Sir Robert was associated with a very able Treasurer in the late Sir Arthur Fadden. As a pair, they worked remarkably well together. There was a unity in the parties. I think that spoke very well for the leadership and the co-operation of Sir Arthur Fadden. After Sir Arthur Fadden had retired the late Mr Harold Holt became the Treasurer. It was at that time that an increase in car sales tax was brought about. In those days, the car manufacturing business in Australia was developing and that was a way in which to receive revenue.
I remember that to the amazement of everyone in the Party, except my colleague Senator Wright, I opposed that measure. Senator Wright was the only other honourable senator- as far as I can remember- who supported me. We had a real fight in the Party over that matter. We still fought on until it came to a vote in the Senate. But before coming to a vote in the Senate I remember that Sir Robert Menzies asked Senator Wright and me to see him, which we did. He was a man of position. He was not only the leader of the Government but also the leader of the Liberal Party to which both Senator Wright and I belong, and I think it is interesting for people to know that when he spoke to us he put his case. At the end, he said: ‘That is my case. I hope you will be able to see the points that I have brought forward. ‘
The point I bring before the chamber is that he did not try to bully us. He did not try to dictate to us. He put his arguments and he left it for us to decide. So, we made our decision and we voted against that tax. It was a very big issue. I always remember that when we came into his office, he said: ‘We have put a policy before the people. I hope you will recognise that it has gone before the people and I hope that you will vote for the various aspects of the policy.’ But he said: ‘You may feel very strongly on some particular issue. You may feel that, although you went to the elections with us, you were not consulted on some particular aspect. If you feel so strongly about a matter then you should let your conscience rule. ‘ In all other matters, in true Liberal Party fashion, he said: ‘On all other matters that have not been put to the people you should let your conscience rule.’ The advice that he gave us after the 1949 election is advice upon which I have always acted.
He was a man of great stature, both mentally and from the aspect of education. The thing that amazed me was that he never gave the people the impression that he was above them. When he spoke to them, he spoke with them. As a consequence, he was understood. I believe he was recognised as someone that the average person in the street understood easily. They recognised his greatness because of his simplicity and understanding. People talk nonsense at times and, when referring to great men, quite often they say: ‘Of course, he was a man of those days; he would not be a man of today. ‘ My own assessment of Sir Robert Menzies is that whatever day in which he had operated, he had the flexibility of mind and the ability to gauge what was required at a particular time. If he were in his prime today I believe that he would still be a great Prime Minister.
I offer my very sincere sympathy to Dame Pattie Menzies, a gracious person who was a very important part of his life as Prime Minister. I express my deep and sincere sympathy to her and other members of her family. I believe that the name Sir Robert made in the Parliament of this country as a member and as Prime Minister will endure and be remembered throughout history. He will be remembered as a truly great Prime Minister. In my opinion he was the best Prime Minister I have seen in this Parliament since I became a member of the Senate in 1 949. My comments are a true expression of what I believe and what I feel the people of Australia generally believe. I therefore support the motion of condolence moved in this chamber.
-I desire to join in this tribute to Sir Robert Menzies, not to canvass the areas which have been so fully mentioned in the Senate today by those who had experience of his great capacity and great character in various fields. I speak as a Victorian Liberal senator, as one representing the Liberal Party from the State of Victoria, from which State Sir Robert came and which he represented for so many years in the House of Representatives.
It may be said that Victoria is the heartland of liberalism. We sometimes say it. However we may not, I think, claim that it has anything to do with the nature of ordinary liberals in Victoria as opposed to those in other States. Perhaps it has something to do with the leaders who have, by chance or for some other reason, come from that State this century. We had Alfred Deakin, who, in the early part of the century, gave a new direction to liberalism in Australia and who was one of our great national leaders. Then, when affairs were in a very poor state, we had Sir Robert Menzies, a leader in Victoria who formed the Liberal Party in Victoria, restated its philosophies and principles and then, of course, led it to great political success in this country.
I knew Sir Robert Menzies for some 35 years although not nearly as well as I would have liked to have known him. I did not, of course, have any association at all with him in the Parliament. I saw his activities from a different direction, namely, as one who lived in his electorate, who worked as an officer in his branches in election campaigns, along with a lot of other people, and who saw the way in which he campaigned. I saw the ability he had to inspire people to work for him unsparingly because they believed that he had the real abilities and great integrity which make for an Australian leader of significance.
My first experience of meeting him goes back to the period when he was, I suppose, at the depths of his career, when he was no longer leader. At that time he was supported by an organisation which I joined called the Kooyong Citizens Association and which fought for him in his electorate in 1 943 when he retained his seat. It was after that, of course, that he made the quick journey back and reformed into one Liberal Party the parties that had fragmented and in 1944-45 created the Liberal Party of which Senator Wright has spoken so well.
From those days until the time when he ceased to be a member of parliament I well recollect the way in which Liberal Party members in Victoria supported him strongly and to what degree they admired and appreciated his election campaign speeches and the way in which he fought out election campaigns. With that they had the experience of Dame Pattie Menzies who very often was the real ally and representative of Sir Robert in the electorate when he had to be elsewhere in the national interest. She, of course, is greatly loved and admired not only by the Liberals in Victoria but also by all the people of Victoria. They regard her as a gracious and kind lady who could always have a kind word in discussions with any individual. For her, for Sir Robert’s son, daughter, brothers and other members of his family, there is a great respect in Victoria.
In the speeches today reference has been made to Sir Robert as a great statesman, national leader and Prime Minister. I do not need to repeat the remarks that have been made in that area. But there is one other area which has not been sufficiently mentioned; that is his great skill and ability as a politician. ‘Politician’ is a word which so often in this country becomes a word of condemnation. I think that the work which Sir Robert Menzies did, the skills which he displayed, his absolute support for the Westminster system of government and the way in which he admired and recognised the importance of Parliament have brought a permanent value to the institution through his own life and effort.
During his period of Prime Ministership the great statements that needed to be made were made in the Parliament. There was parliamentary debate on them. He was meticulous in his consideration of the Bills which came within his jurisdiction. In other words, he was never a man aloof from Parliament. He was always enmeshed in the parliamentary system. Nor did he ignore the part of the parliamentary system that required work in the electorate and actions and speeches which took him round the country so many times stirring up the community to the points of view he felt needed to be raised.
The period when Sir Robert was a figure in politics was a period when people came to election meetings. People would interject. They could be heard, unlike today when I fear that at political meetings it is so often a matter of trying to shout down the speaker or his opponents. In those days Sir Robert was ever ready to answer an interjection. So many times at meetings I have seen him answer an interjection often abruptly and perhaps sharply. But I have seen on the face of the interjector a great deal of pleasure at the skill with which he had been answered. Even though his answers may have been a little offensive they brought pleasure to people who said that he was a political leader who did not feel that he was above and beyond the ordinary citizen. He felt that somebody who made a remark was worthy of a reply and that he ought to give to that reply all the skill he could. In that way he demonstrated that he had respect for the ordinary Australian citizen and that he was prepared to bandy words and speak to him during an election campaign. I fear that to some extent we are losing this today.
In his respect for Parliament and the political process Sir Robert Menzies did a great deal that will be of permanent value to this country. I hope that it will not be forgotten. On behalf of the people in Liberal politics in Victoria I wish for his widow and family happiness in their lives ahead. I am sure they will have the feeling that although they have lost a great family man and a fine friend, they have given to the nation someone who was worthy. Sir Robert Menzies made very large footsteps in the political life of this country. They are footsteps which will probably never be filled again.
-So much has been said today and so much has been written during the last week in tribute to Sir Robert Menzies that 1 find it hard to add anything new. As so many people have said, he was Australia’s greatest statesman. He created the most stable era this country has ever known. It was because people felt secure under his leadership that they re-elected him for 1 6 years as their Prime Minister. At the end of that time it was not the people but he himself who said that he should retire. There have been repeated references to Sir Robert’s great oratory and lively wit. Some have called it a devastating wit and his opponents have called him arrogant. But it does not seem to matter what people have said. The people more than just respected him; they loved him. His comment that all a Prime Minister needed was a third of the people to love him, a third to respect him and a third to hate him was an underestimation of the people’s regard for him. If any proof of the affection they held for him was needed, it was demonstrated in Melbourne last Friday when thousands of people lined the streets to pay him homage. It was a very moving experience to see, as I did on television, those people joining in the service as it was relayed and singing the hymns along with the congregation. Few people have commanded such respect and love from a cross-section of the community- from the man in the street to Queen Elizabeth herself- and this must be of great comfort to Dame Pattie and her family.
I had known Sir Robert since I was a little girl. He and my father were not only colleagues but also great friends. They showed great loyalty to each other, as Senator Wright has said today. I remember my father telling me the story of the time when one of the so-called Press barons attempted to pressure Sir Robert. This occurred following the imposition of newsprint rationing during the war. One of those Press barons came to see Sir Robert and threatened him by saying that if he did not sack my father from Sir Robert’s Cabinet- he was then Minister for Trade and Customs- Sir Robert would lose the support of that newspaper. Needless to say Sir Robert showed the Press baron the door. History records that the Minister for Trade and Customs was not sacked but that the Government did lose the support of that newspaper, which changed its allegiance thereby causing a considerable change in the fortunes of the government of the day.
There is nothing that I can say that will add to the stature of this man or the respect that I hold for him. I thought that little story would be just one more example of the loyalty and integrity of that man to his colleagues even though the cost at that time was high. I would like to extend my sympathy to Dame Pattie and her family. Faith and time are the only healers and, whilst it may be hard for the members of his family to recognise that at the moment, I am sure that over the years their sorrow will be lessened and they, too, will realise that we are all the better for his having lived amongst us.
-Like other honourable senators, I have had various associations with Sir Robert. I recall, amongst other things, his visit to the town of Strathalbyn in South Australia in September 1946- a long time ago. I was privileged, as a much younger man, to be associated with the events of that day as his host. Over the years there were many other opportunities to associate with him publicly and, of course, I had the privilege of serving under him in the Parliament. In all that time he used his quite remarkable talents to convince both the Parliament and the Australian community that they had the capacity and, indeed, the duty to reach beyond their grasp.
I take a moment of the Senate’s time this afternoon to refer to one area in which the Senate is involved as far as Sir Robert’s career is concerned. I refer particularly to the National Library of Australia, with which the Senate has a particular connection and involvement. It is my privilege to represent the Senate on the Council of the National Library and also to be its Deputy Chairman. On 10 November 1960, Sir Robert Menzies placed before the Parliament the National Library Bill. That day in a long and comprehensive speech he indicated that this was the first major Bill on library services to be introduced into the Australian Parliament. He traced the history of libraries in Australia. He traced the relationship of library services from 1907 and expressed his desire that the National Library of Australia would take its place among the great national libraries of the world. On that occasion and, indeed, on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the National Library, Sir Robert’s chief argument was that we cannot understand the present and we cannot plan for the future unless we have a knowledge of the past. It was his desire that the National Library should house a collection of Australian facts and information which would give the Australian community guidance as it planned for the future.
Above all and in this connection, Sir Robert was concerned about the educational and cultraldevelopment of the Australian people. The very many avenues of educational enterprise which he initiated contributed to this. Amongst these was the institution of the National Library of Australia, which he championed, supported and developed. The National Library represented not only a building of elegance and beauty, not only collections and services, but also a system of information and material which was to establish a national resource centre which was as important as any other item or list of national projects in this country. Today the National Library of Australia comprehensively collects and preserves Australian books and publications, pictures, prints, maps and films. It houses with pride Sir Robert Menzies’ personal papers, which adorn our collections there.
In the development of all these features Sir Robert had at various levels and at various times strong and intimate connection with such distinguished men as Sir Harold White and our Parliamentary Librarian, Mr Leslie Moore. Sir Robert Menzies not only took a personal initiative in the formulation of the National Library but also over the years was personally committed, whether to the site, the building or the purpose of the National Library. He laid the foundation stone. He set the pattern of the National
Library as a great Australian institution designed for the future to serve Australia’s needs in this field. The Senate is involved in the National Library. Sir Robert was its great architect, not only as it appears to be now but also as it inevitably will be. When Sir Robert presented the National Library Bill the motion for the adjournment of the debate on the Bill was moved by Mr Leslie Haylen, the then member for the then division of Parkes. Prior to the adjournment of the debate Mr Haylen is recorded in the Hansard record of that day to have said:
I should like to thank the Prime Minister for his wide and generous statement on the National Library and to indicate that today marks a high point in the cultural development of this country and the development of its libraries. . .
We remember Sir Robert Menzies today for many things. This afternoon I have taken leave to mention the National Library of Australianot only to mention it with appreciation, but also to mention it as an indication of our remembrance of the man. I offer my condolences to the members of his family.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honourable senators standing in their places.
Senate adjourned at 3.45 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 23 May 1978, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1978/19780523_senate_31_s77/>.