Launch by the Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP of Menzies: The Forgotten Speeches
Parliament of Victoria
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
Transcript of Address by the Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, Minister for the Environment and Energy
Well thanks very much Nick, and to correct the record, the real successor as you know was the “Colt from Kooyong”, Andrew Peacock, I just call myself the “draft horse from Kooyong” but I was very fortunate that both Andrew and Heather were there at the opening of my first campaign back in 2010.
Can I firstly acknowledge you, Nick, and say what a wonderful job the Menzies Research Centre does and today’s crowd is testament to the publications, the public engagements and the leadership you have shown. Can I acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues, Tim Wilson and Neil Angus, and I think Jane Hume was coming along as well, and also Stuart McArthur and David Kemp. It’s wonderful to have significant Members of Parliament here in the audience and of course, Graham Menzies, its lovely to see you and the extended family and of course, Don Markwell, who has shown a great interest in the history. Last but not least, the chairman of the Kooyong electorate conference, Richard Alston. You know, after been the Deputy Leader in the Senate, High Commissioner to London, Australia’s longest Communications Minister on Record, there was one thing that he really had to do to round off his CV and that was to be the chairman of the Kooyong electorate conference, so Richard, lovely to see you. And of course, there are lots of other friends I see here, Peter O’Brien and Steven Skala and others but to David, congratulations on this wonderful volume and all you have done to promote the history and lessons of Menzies. It’s wonderful to be in this Parliament, in this room, particularly as Sir Robert, or he was not Sir Robert when that photo was taken, is looking down upon us from the back of the room. So there is a real significance of occasion, I think, having it in this room as well and in this parliament.
It was Winston Churchill who said “History will be kind to me because I intend to write it” and what Sir Winston knew was that he had an obligation, others had an obligation, to record history because others would come later and seek to interpret it in their own way and not necessarily in a truthful way and that’s why we, as Liberals, have an obligation and indeed a duty to preserve and to promote, the memory, the achievements and the record of our founder, Sir Robert Gordon Menzies. I think this volume contributes to the other volumes and pieces of work that David and others have undertaken, Heather Henderson indeed, with her recent books as well to ensure that the next generation are able to remember what Sir Robert achieved.
There are fifty-one different speeches that are recorded in this volume and they’re speeches that were given at schools, at churches, in Town Halls and indeed the Parliament. There are speeches that covered a range of topics from liberalism, and identity, and citizenship, and faith, to women, to law, to social security, to education and there are remarkable speeches here that have never been recorded, circulated, distributed, for today’s generation to read and understand.
The lessons in some of these speeches resonate very loudly today. There’s a speech there from 1943, the “Education Address” from Sir Robert when he talked about how important it was to invest even more money, something we know about from the last week, in education. Perhaps one of the most telling speeches in here was 1944 at the Albury Conference, page 23, go and read this quote where he says: “A party needs to know what it stands for in order to remain faithful to the people who elected it and it needs to communicate what it stands for until the bell rings”. That was Menzies and it’s something he knew and understood when he formulated the Liberal Party, in opposition, and brought together all those disparate groups and gave equal weighting to men and women. He reminds us then as he does now, how important it is for the public to understand what the party stands for and to fight for it till the bell rings.
There are a couple of speeches about Menzies’ respect for the Judeo-Christian ethic, and in particular, his relationship with the Jewish community, which I feel particularly proud of. There’s a speech there from 1948, from the time of the establishment of Israel, where Menzies is acknowledging Israel, but also going out of his way to acknowledge the Jewish community in Australia. To say that the Jewish community in Australia is not sectarian, he uses the word, that it does not keep to itself but is part of the broader fabric of the community and he cites Isaacs and Monash as two golden sons of the Jewish community here in Australia.
There’s a wonderful speech in 1960 about social welfare, where he says there is no “Department of lovingkindness”, it’s a speech to Legacy and what he reminds us in that speech is that we don’t do anyone a favour if we just hand out money. We’ve got to help the people who can’t help themselves, and indeed the widows and the veterans are at the top of that list.
There is a speech from 1975, so it goes from speeches in 1928 when he was a young minister to speeches in 1975 where he is the elder statesman, and in the speech in 1975, he talks about the media, he says: “Back in my day, the young journalists wouldn’t try to shove a microphone up your teeth, but today that’s what they want to do and all they’re interested in is a headline”. How telling is that? Wind the clock forward forty-years, and I think it’s a factor of ten, but again, Menzies was ahead of his day.
I know Julian Leeser, my colleague, when he launched this book in Sydney recently, he said that there would be, and I think he is absolutely right, a need to produce the audio of these speeches because the words spring from the page, but Menzies’ voice, the tone, the direction, the weight, tells even another layer to the Menzies story. Heather in her book, A Smile to my Parents, recounts how important speech-making was to Sir Robert. She recounts how Sir Robert uttered his very first words when he was quite late, three, and she says that my father was later asked: “You know, you are such a great speaker Sir Robert, but apparently you only uttered your first words when you were only three years of age, what took you so long?” and he said: “I was taking my time, I didn’t want to make mistakes”. Heather also recounts how Sir Robert’s uncle, Sid Sampson, went to Sir Robert’s first ever political speech and said to him afterwards, “Robert”, because he asked uncle “how was the speech”, and Sid Sampson said, “It would have been good if it had been delivered in the High Court, it wasn’t very good as a political speech” and Menzies took that on board. And later again, this is in Heather’s book, Menzies wrote to his granddaughter Edwina about how he thought of his speeches and what he said was that he would write just a few ideas down and he would allow, in his words, the words to come to him as he was speaking, to quote “clothe his ideas”. That was Menzies, he didn’t read from a written speech. He, like John Howard, subsequent to him, and a great Menzies’ scholar as well, they allowed the words to come to them when they were in the middle of delivering a speech. So Menzies’ speech-making was absolutely integral to his ability to be a communicator and to ensure that his political message got through.
I just want to say something about Sir Robert Menzies, because here we are celebrating his speeches but we also need to celebrate his remarkable achievements as a man, as well as a political leader because this is somebody whose strength, whose civility, whose conviction, whose values, whose resilience, is really a roadmap for everyone who stands for political office today. Think about this. After achieving everything that he did in state politics, Deputy-Premier. Indeed in state politics, he was able to develop relationships across the political divide; one of his closest relationships was with John Cain Snr. And there’s that story of how when he was in state politics, the Premier at the time, Sir Stanley Argyle, said to him: “I’m not so sure Robert about this relationship you’ve got with John Cain”. He didn’t take a step backwards and he said to Stanley Argyle: “On matters of policy, as Premier, I will take direction from you, but as to whom my friends are, I will not”. It said a lot about Menzies, because subsequent in life, Menzies had that relationship with Curtin and other members of the Labor Party based on a sense of shared purpose for the country as opposed to necessarily a shared sense of political philosophy.
So Menzies comes into the parliament, at the Federal level, and with the death of Joe Lyons in 1939, he becomes the wartime Prime Minister and there’s that book by Anne Henderson about Menzies as wartime Prime Minister because everyone thinks about his seven election victories from 1949 to 1966, and we forget what his time was like between 1939 and 1941. She, in that book, writes, I think, very authoritatively about how successful Menzies was as a wartime Prime Minister. He understood before others, the threat that Hitler posed, he pleaded with Churchill about Singapore, and he developed in Australia, the Office of Munitions to help prepare Australia for the subsequent conflict that was to come. So let’s not forget, when we think about Menzies’ legacy, his time as a wartime Prime Minister between 39 and 41. Indeed, in my office, I’ve got this wonderful photo of 1940 down at the Barracks, with Menzies presiding over the war council with six; it turned out to be six prime ministers in the one photo. From Billy Hughes, to Fadden, to Forde, to Harold Holt; Percy Spender is in the photo, it’s a remarkable photo. So Menzies was a great Prime Minister, even in that first stanza from 39 to 41. As we know, he had hubris, and he had a blind-spot and he handed over to Arthur Fadden in 41 and in his own words, he had to “bleed a while”. In those years, he didn’t give up his political calling but founded our great party and he gave what Nick described as those remarkable speeches about the “Forgotten People”, which again provide us today, as Liberals, with a roadmap to the future.
Then, after that time in the wilderness, he came back to the prime ministership, 49 to 66, and they all said, “You can’t win with Menzies”, “You can’t win with Menzies”, but they did win with Menzies and people like Chifley, and Evatt, and other Labor luminaries were all dispensed with by Menzies over those years. His record as Prime Minister has no equal. As you all know, Richard Nixon was asked “Which post-war leader would you rate above all others?” and he said without doubt, “Sir Robert Menzies”. It wasn’t De Gaulle, it wasn’t Lee Kuan Yew, it was our own Sir Robert Menzies at the top of his list.
So we have a lot to be proud of as Liberals, we have a wonderful Party that has really dominated for the majority of time that it’s contested elections since its formation at Albury. We have a Party that’s based on the values of the individual, free enterprise, a fair go, a hand-up but not a hand-out. We have in our founder, somebody who saw politics as a personal calling, who could of, as Geoffrey Blainey said, he was one of the smartest people in the country at the time, he could of probably sat on the High Court as a judge. We all know about his involvement in the famous Engineers Case. He could have done so much more in his career in the law as he was doing before he went into politics, but he had a calling. It wasn’t about fame, and it certainly wasn’t about fortune, because Heather tells me the story about how poor he was at the end of his prime ministership. He didn’t have a piggery unfortunately! All his friends had to chip in, and the house was bought at Haverbrack St in Armadale, and so many people drove past - “that’s where Menzies lived”! - that they had to give it a new title, “Have a Look Street”!, true story.
Menzies, true to the rest of his life before that, left in his will, before he passed away because he never bought that house himself, that the money would not go to himself or his family but it was to be evenly split between two schools, Ryton and Fintona, because Heather had gone to one and Dame Pattie to the other. These little stories are what makes up the Menzies legacy, and to come back to David, I think he has done a remarkable job in spending time in the archives recording Menzies’ “forgotten speeches” so that we, the current generation, my children and your children and grandchildren, the future generation, can make sure that Menzies, as a powerful political force, is never forgotten. Thank you.
Edited by MRC's Research Fellow Dr David Furse-Roberts , Menzies: The Forgotten Speeches is a selection of previously unpublished speeches by Robert Menzies which have been retrieved from the vaults and brought back to life in a high quality volume. This publication is much more than a record of our history; it is a guide to the present that charts a path to the future.
An i ntroduction: Few politicians captivated an audience quite like Bob Menzies. His passion, intellect and humour speak as clearly from the printed page as when delivered from a platform. Yet remarkably, his many brilliant speeches have been largely forgotten, preserved only in original typewritten manuscript hidden in the vaults. The selection brought back to life in this volume will entertain, challenge and inspire in equal measure.
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