- Robert Menzies
Infobox Prime Minister
The Right Honourable
name=Sir Robert Gordon Menzies
honorific-suffix = KT AK CH QC
order=12th [Menzies served 2 terms. He was the 12th person to serve as Prime Minister, in his first term in 1939. He was succeeded after his second term by Harold Holt, the 17th person to serve.]
Prime Minister of Australia
Elections: 1940, 1946—1963
term_start =26 April 1939
term_end =26 August 1941
term_start2 =19 December 1949
term_end2 =26 January 1966
birth_date =Birth date|1894|12|20|df=yes
birth_place =Jeparit, Victoria
death_date =Death date and age|1978|5|15|1894|12|20|df=yes
party=United Australia; Liberal
constituency = Kooyong (Victoria)
Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, KT, AK, CH, QC (20 December 1894 - 15 May 1978),
Australian politician, was the twelfth person to serve as Prime Minister of Australia. His second term saw him become Australia's longest serving Prime Minister, a record which still stands. He had a rapid rise to power as Prime Minister at the 1940 election which his party narrowly won. A year later, his government was brought down by MPs crossing the floor. He spent eight years in opposition, during which he founded the Liberal Party. He was re-elected Prime Minister at the 1949 election, 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; his speech " The forgotten people" is an example of his oratory skills.
Robert Gordon Menzies was born to James Menzies and Kate Menzies (née Sampson) in Jeparit, a small town in the
Wimmeraregion of western Victoria, on 20 December 1894. His father James was a storekeeper, the son of Scottish crofterswho 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 Penzancewho also came to seek his fortune on the gold-fields, in Ballarat, Victoria. [Australian Academy of Science: Biographical Memoirs of Deceased Fellows: [http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/bsparcs/aasmemoirs/menzies.htm Robert Gordon Menzies 1894-1978] ] 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. [Australia's Prime Ministers website: [http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pageName=before&pmId=12 Robert Menzies] ] He was proud of his Highland ancestryndash 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.
World War Ibegan 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 had made enough of a sacrifice to the war with the enlistment of two of three eligible brothers, Menzies should stay to finish his studies. [Australia's Prime Ministers website: [http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pageName=before&pmId=12 Robert Menzies] ] 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. [http://www.primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=12&pageName=before] 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; she was reputedly a moderating influence on him.
Rise to power
In 1928, Menzies gave up his law practice to enter state parliament as a member of the
Victorian Legislative Councilrepresenting 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 Lyonsgovernment, 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, Arthur Colesand Alex Wilson. 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 Churchilland 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
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 Warbegan 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 the December 1949 election, Menzies won power for the second time in a massive landslide, scoring a 48-seat swing--still the largest defeat of a sitting government at the federal level in Australia.
Although Menzies had a comfortable majority in the House, the ALP-controlled Senate made life very difficult for him. 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 on the question of changing the Constitution to permit the parliament to make laws in respect of Communists and Communism where this was necessary for the security of the Commonwealth. If passed, this would have given a government the power to introduce a bill proposing to ban the Communist Party (although whether it would have passed the Senate is an open question). 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 Warand maintained a close alliance with the United States.
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 Warscare enabled Menzies to win the election; although Labor won a majority of the two-party vote, it was unable to take enough seats from the Coalition to topple Menzies. Evatt 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, with several anti-Communist members from Victoria defecting to form the
Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist). The new party directed its preferences to the Liberals, and Menzies was comfortably re-elected over Evatt in 1955. Menzies was reelected almost as easily in 1958, again with the help of preferences from what had become the Democratic Labor Party.
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.
Robert McNamara(right) at the Pentagon in June 1964]
Labor's new leader,
Arthur Calwell, gave Menzies a scare after an ill-judged squeeze on creditndash an effort to restrain inflationndash 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.
In 1963 he was appointed a Knight of the
Order of the Thistle(KT), the order being chosen in recognition of his Scottish heritage. He is the only Australian ever appointed to this order, although three British governors-general of Australia (Lord Hopetoun; Ronald Munro-Ferguson, later Lord Novar; and Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester) were members. He was the second of only two Australian prime ministers to be knighted during their term of office (the first prime minister Edmund Bartonwas knighted during his term in 1902).
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 Her Majesty 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 The Queen 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
Menzies retired in January 1966, and was succeeded as Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister by his former Treasurer,
After his retirement the Queen, in 1966, appointed him to the ancient office of
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. He toured the United Statesgiving 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, held in Scots' Church, Melbourne.
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. He also did much to develop higher education in Australia, and made the development of
Canberraone of his pet projects.
He was the only Australian Prime Minister to recommend the appointment of four governors-general (Sir William Slim, and Lords Dunrossil, De L'Isle and Casey). Only two other Prime Ministers have ever chosen more than one governor-general (Malcolm Fraser chose Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen; and John Howard chose Peter Hollingworth and Michael Jeffery).
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, Victoriain 1954, a heckler shouted, "I wouldn’t vote for you if you were the Archangel Gabriel"ndash 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. Martinto write a biography, which appeared in two volumes, in 1993 and 1999.
Titles and honours
tyles from birth
Styles and titles Sir Robert Menzies held held from birth until death, in chronological order:
*Mr Robert Menzies (20 December 1896 – 1928)
*The Hon. Robert Menzies, MLC (1928 – 1929)
*The Hon. Robert Menzies, MLA (1929 – 1929)
*The Hon. Robert Menzies, KC, MLA (1929 – 1929)
*Mr Robert Menzies, KC, MLA (1929 – 1932)
*The Hon. Robert Menzies, KC, MLA (1932 – 1934)
*The Hon. Robert Menzies, KC, MP (1934 – 1937)
*The Rt Hon. Robert Menzies, KC, MP (1937 – 1951)
*The Rt Hon. Robert Menzies, CH, KC, MP (1951 – 1963)
*The Rt Hon. Sir Robert Menzies, KT, CH, KC, MP (1963 – 1966)
*The Rt Hon. Sir Robert Menzies, KT, CH, KC (1966 – 1976)
*The Rt Hon. Sir Robert Menzies, KT, AK, CH, KC (1976 – 15 May 1978)
First Menzies Ministry
Second Menzies Ministry
Third Menzies Ministry
Fourth Menzies Ministry
Fifth Menzies Ministry
Sixth Menzies Ministry
Seventh Menzies Ministry
Eighth Menzies Ministry
Ninth Menzies Ministry
Tenth Menzies Ministry
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
* In the 1988 mini series "True Believers", he was portrayed by John Bonney.
* In the 2007 film "Curtin", he was portrayed by
Max Gillieshas caricatured Menzies on stage and in the comedy satire series " The Gillies Report".
Eponyms of Menzies (incomplete)
* [http://www.menziesfoundation.org.au/ Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Foundation]
* [http://www.menzies.edu.au/ Menzies School of Health Research Australia]
* [http://anulib.anu.edu.au/subjects/ap/buildings/ R. G. Menzies Building, Australian National University Library]
* [http://www.latrobe.edu.au/menzies/ Menzies College (La Trobe University)]
* [http://www.mq.edu.au/rmc/ Robert Menzies College (Macquarie University)]
* [http://www.monash.edu.au/campuses/clayton/ Sir Robert Menzies Building (Monash University, Clayton Campus)]
* The Australian federal electoral
division of Menzies. [ [http://www.aec.gov.au/Electorates/Electoral_DPM/Origin_Current_Division.htm Origins of Current Divisions Name - Current Divisions] , Australian Electoral Commissionweb site]
Notes and references
* Alan Martin, "Robert Menzies: A Life", two volumes, Melbourne University Press, 1993 and 1999
* A. W. Martin, "Menzies, Sir Robert Gordon (Bob) (1894ndash 1978)", "Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15", Melbourne University Press, (Membourne) 2000, pp 354-361. [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A150416b.htm?hilite=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)
* [http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=12 Robert Menzies] ndash Australia's Prime Ministers / National Archives of Australia
* [http://www.menziesfoundation.org.au/ The Menzies Foundation]
* [http://www.menziesvirtualmuseum.org.au/ The Menzies Virtual Museum]
* [http://www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/depts/menzies/index.html The Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, London]
* [http://www.liberals.net/sirrobertmenzies.htm The Liberal Party's Robert Menzies website]
* [http://www.nla.gov.au/events/menzies.html The Legacy of Sir Robert Menzies] National Library of Australia
* [http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=12&pageName=before Australia's Prime Ministersndash Meet A PM: Robert Menzies]
* [http://colsearch.nfsa.afc.gov.au/nfsa/search/summary/summary.w3p;adv=yes;group=;groupequals=;page=0;parentid=;query=Number%3A355187%20|%20Number%3A188388%20|%20Number%3A356440%20|%20Number%3A358819%20|%20Number%3A430051;querytype=;resCount=10 Sir Robert Menzies at the National Film and Sound Archive]
DATE OF BIRTH=20 December 1894
PLACE OF BIRTH=
DATE OF DEATH=15 May 1978
PLACE OF DEATH=
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