Launch by Julian Leeser MP of Menzies: The Forgotten Speeches
International Convention Centre, Sydney
Friday, 23 June 2017
Transcript of Address by Julian Leeser MP, Federal Member for Berowra
Tony Shepherd MRC Board Member
Peta Seaton MRC Board Member
Senator the Hon George Brandis QC
Tim Wilson MP
Felicity Wilson MP
Rick Wilson MP
The Hon Philip and Heather Ruddock, my distinguished predecessor as member for Berowra
The Hon Patricia Forsyth
My successor Nick Cater who is doing an extraordinary job at the MRC
And the man who has done all the work to produce this extraordinary book David Furse-Roberts.
It seems every dead artist has an undiscovered recording lurking in an archive, a back room or a shed.
Somewhere the hidden gems are waiting to be found and the deeper they are buried the better the story.
In 1983, some years after his death, Island Records released Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier, which went on to be one of his greatest hits.
In 1995 the Beatles released “Free as a bird” based on a demo tape by John Lennon from 1977.
In 2008 Stephen Stills of Crosby Stills, Nash and Young unearthed an album he recorded with Jimmi Hendrix thirty years before.
In that vein almost 40 years after his death, David Furse-Roberts has given us Menzies: The forgotten Speeches - fifty one of Sir Robert Menzies speeches remixed and remastered for a new generation.
Why Menzies Matters
Robert Gordon Menzies is one of the remarkable figures of Australian history. The son of a coach painter and the grandson of a mining union president, born in a tiny town called Jeparit in the Mallee in rural Victoria. He won scholarships to Wesley College and the University of Melbourne. He was president of the University SRC.
He went to the Victorian bar and read with Sir Owen Dixon, the finest lawyer Australia has ever produced and he himself became one of the leaders of the Bar. Just shy of 100 years ago he appeared in the most important constitutional law case of the century The Engineers Case.
Elected to the Victorian Parliament at age 34 he was Victorian Attorney-General four years later, federal Attorney General two years after that and Prime Minister by the age of 44 at the outbreak of World War Two.
Menzies sounds like a man with the Midas touch but, as we know, his first prime ministership was ultimately unsuccessful and he spent eight years in the political wilderness where he developed a political philosophy and a political organisation that we know today as the Liberal Party.
An idea developed that our side of politics “can’t win with Menzies.” But Menzies demonstrated qualities that Australians admire very much: determination, courage and the ability to face adversity and overcome it with equanimity. He went on, of course, to become Australia’s longest serving prime minister, steer Australia through the post war boom and usher in an age of prosperity which is almost unparalleled in our history.
The Menzies story is a great Australian story. But it is also the story that best illustrates what we as Liberals are trying to achieve: to put in place the conditions so that talented individuals, who are prepared to work hard and apply themselves regardless of where they were born or who their parents were, can rise to lead their profession; and who through their own success will feel the call to some form of public spirited service where they can apply their talents to the service of our community. For a few, like Menzies that service will be on the political stage, but for many it will be service in their local communities and organisations.
For Menzies success was not just about creating free individuals it was free individuals who recognised their duty to society. As Menzies says in one of the speeches contrasting Liberals with the socialists “I believe in the individual, in what he can do for the nation, whereas they believe in the nation and what it can do for the individual.”
In recent years the public has had a greater insight into the private Sir Robert Menzies, courtesy of the books published by his daughter Heather Henderson.
Menzies the Forgotten Speeches is the public Menzies – on the record and rediscovered.
In the present age any utterances of public figures – even off the record ones –create the possibility that someone, somewhere in the room is recording the speech on their phone knowing Laurie Oakes is just a Dropbox file away.
In Menzies time he could have been fairly confident that, other than when he was broadcasting or in Parliament, he was only speaking to the people in the room or any journalists that might be recording the event.
But through David Furse-Roberts’ efforts mining the archive he has brought us Menzies Speeches which had been heretofore forgotten.
Spanning his public career the speeches were delivered between 1928 when Menzies was first a member of the Victorian Legislative Council and 1975 three years before his death - a period of almost 50 years.
The speeches are thematically presented and range across eleven topics: from the philosophical such as “Liberalism and Free Enterprise”, “Politics parliament and Government” or “Faith and religion” to policy topics as diverse as foreign affairs, constitutional law and the role of women in society. The book concludes with some addresses on Speech Language and Character the last address delivered at Cranbrook, coincidentally the school I attended in Sydney.
The speeches have been given as broadcasts and speeches to organisations as diverse as schools, learned societies and community organisations. But interestingly of the whole collection only one speech was delivered in the House of Representatives.
Some speeches are presented in full while others are extracted. For each speech Dr Furse-Roberts, a research fellow at the Menzies Research Centre and a PhD in History writes a short, useful introduction providing context and commentary for what follows.
Menzies as a public speaker
Menzies has always had a wonderful reputation as a public speaker. He had been involved in public speaking clubs as a young man and practised debating the issues of the day in organisations like the Constitutional Club in Melbourne.
Clyde Cameron, a Minister in the Whitlam Government, described Menzies as “the greatest orator ever heard in the Australian Parliament.”
Former President Richard Nixon, writing in 1982, described Menzies as “an excellent parliamentarian, a strong campaigner and a dazzling speaker.” Nixon went on
‘if I were to rate one [international] post war leader even above the others…it would be Robert Menzies. His sense of humour was sharp but seldom cruel. He was an eloquent phrasemaker; and he loved the give and take of spirited dialogue… As a result of Menzies skill with words, few were willing to tangle with him in public… At his first press conference as Prime Minster a leftist reporter jeered, “I suppose you will consult the powerful interests who control you before you choose your Cabinet.” Menzies replied “Naturally, but please, young man, keep my wife’s name out of this.”’
Some of Menzies’ reputation came from the educated and modulated quality of his voice. The Liberal Party in his time even ran advertisements with women saying how nicely he spoke.
Today a good speaking voice seems to matter less. A bad speaking voice, like that of Julia Gillard, can be a political disadvantage but a good speaking voice is unremarkable.
Menzies was also entertaining as a public speaker At a time when political rallies were both common and a form of entertainment Menzies skill with interjectors helped to attract a crowd.
At the most famous instance of this, reportedly at Hornsby in my electorate, an interjector told Menzies: "I wouldn't vote for you if you were the archangel Gabriel." Quick as a flash, Menzies replied: "If I were the archangel Gabriel, madam, you wouldn't be in my constituency."
Menzies’s speeches drew on his well-furnished mind. Alan Martin, his official biographer, described Menzies as our best read Prime Minister. Wide reading is an advantage for a parliamentarian as parliamentarians are often called to speak at short notice on a wide variety of topics.
Menzies spoke plainly and he praised the use of plain language over long and convoluted words.
As he explains in a speech to the Bible Society:
“I took 100 words at random from a most competent speech delivered in recent times in the House of Representatives. And I took 100 words from the Bible. I read them both aloud, and the interesting thing was this – that in the 100 words from the current modern political speech there were only, I think, 15 words of one syllable and all the rest had two or three or four and of course, under the influence of the economists, five or six, And the 100 words from the Bible had 80 words with one syllable – 80!
In the Bible you have this noble simplicity, this illustration of the most complete command of English. Because you either have command of words, or words have a command over you.”
Unlike Churchill who wrote speeches and laboured over the precide choice and sound of words, tasting them in his mouth Menzies reveals himself in this collection to be a great stump orator –in a tradition which in our time was best exemplified by John Howard.
Another story about Menzies and public speaking is told by Philip Ruddock. Menzies successor as Member for Kooyong Andrew Peacock asked him for some advice on a speech he was going to make. Menzies told him it was a good speech but that he should cut it in half. Peacock asked “which half?” Menzies retorted “it doesn’t really matter.”
One of the techniques of modern political communication is that such communication has to be more retail and less detail in the current aphorism. In this sense Menzies was ahead of his time. Menzies speeches, revealed in this handsome volume, are not wide ranging lectures brimming with facts, figures and examples. They tend to cover a single topic with minimal facts, figures and examples but the genius of these speeches is that they are an appeal to fundamental values.
Menzies reveals himself to be a liberal. And he contrasts his liberalism with communism, socialism and being a reactionary. He is also not a libertarian either. His Liberalism saw the importance of the freedom of the individual but it was an individual who had a responsibility to the society around them. If society is comprised of free individuals who don’t have that responsibility then the society itself falls apart
I would like to make a couple of final observations about the future and I want to say a word about the sources David Furse-Roberts had used.
David Furse-Roberts has done copious research to find these Forgotten Speeches and of the 51 speeches you can imagine the thousands that did not make it. But it is important that we give more people access to life, work and writing of Sir Robert Menzies.
In 2002 I spent a week in the Manuscript room of the National Library of Australia where the Menzies papers are kept. It is a room David will know well. As part of my research I was looking at some of Menzies correspondence in the 60s and early 70s. I read correspondence with Churchill, Dean Acheson, Felix Frankfurter and JFK. There was his very personal correspondence with the Invincibles test cricketer cum journalist Jack Fingleton and a memorable letter to “my very dear Dick Nixon” telling him – and I’m paraphrasing now - not to worry this Watergate thing will blow over which shows even our greatest prime minister can occasionally be wrong.
Fast forward 15 years and I have the privilege of serving on the Council of the National Library. One of the projects I would like to see the library undertake is the digitisation of the Menzies Papers so that anyone, anywhere, anytime can read his papers. This project is something that would need to be met above and beyond the ordinary appropriations given to the Library. But it is something that Menzies fans and Australian patriots might be interested in supporting. If you are interested come and have a chat – of course that is after you have given your generous support to the MRC.
The second thing to note for prime ministerial scholars and political junkies, and for this I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Paul Ritchie, is that the Department of Prime Minister and cabinet has digitised its archive of prime ministerial speeches for every prime minister since John Curtin and this provides a wonderful national archive that all Australians can access.
The second future point I wanted to make is that I hope the Centre will make this Volume One of Menzies the Forgotten speeches. I have one suggestion for the second edition.
The youngest people to vote for the Menzies Government in 1963 are now 75. The majority of Australians have never heard Menzies deliver a speech.
Thus to the extent it is possible to also publish a companion audio or even better a video edition so that the current generation can hear Menzies voice and experience him in the same way his audience experienced him. Menzies on the page is excellent gives us only one of the three dimensional Menzies experience.
Let me congratulate Dr Furse Roberts for assembling, commenting on and curating this fine collection of Menzies speeches. Under Nick Cater’s leadership, the Menzies Research Centre is doing so much to educate succeeding generations about the life, philosophy work and importance of Sir Robert Menzies. And this latest publication, following on from the republication of the 1942 edition of the Forgotten People speeches, adds to that effort.
In conclusion to Paraphrase the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, thanks to the Menzies Research Centre “the forgotten speeches will be forgotten no longer” and as a former Executive Director of this Centre I am delighted to declare Menzies The Forgotten Speeches officially launched.
Transcript of Address by the Editor David Furse-Roberts
Well, thank you very much Julian for that magnificent and warm introduction, I rather fancied the Bob Marley comparison!
It’s wonderful to have so many of you here, distinguished guests and dear friends, so many that I know, that it’s like a little foretaste of heaven but I wonder if it would be anything like the International Convention Centre!
Well the first thing I want to say is that this volume was very much a team effort. I would like to thank very much, the team at Connor Court led by Anthony for their great work in producing this magnificent volume and bringing it to print. We think it looks crackerjack! I would also like to thank very much, Nick, for his inspiration behind this idea to bring the light of Menzies out from behind the bushel. I would also like to thank very much my colleagues Kay, Michelle and Rick for all their support, encouragement and hard work in making today possible.
Now I come to the real author of the book, Robert Gordon Menzies. The son of a humble storekeeper who rose from the dusty Victorian plains of Jeparit to occupy the highest elected office in the land. There are so many things that can be said about this august statesman. As Julian mentioned, he is rightly credited for shepherding Australia through an unprecedented period of economic prosperity where he created a climate that was favourable to private enterprise, innovation and nation building. In so doing, he created a great economic miracle perhaps only paralleled by that of Chancellor Adenauer of West Germany who rebuilt his nation from the ashes of Nazism.
He is remembered also for his supreme mastery of the English language and for his razor sharp wit. He was once questioned by a boy about cuts to his geometry classes and Menzies said to him: ‘Well, dear boy, I wasn’t much good at geometry myself in school but since politics I have come to learn a fair bit about different angles!’
He is remembered for his track-record of human social reform which gave the elderly the opportunity to dwell in homes rather than institutions and which gave people with a disability the hope and opportunity of work through these new work house that he established. In so doing, he really channelled that wonderful British liberal tradition which was exemplified by MacAulay, by Gladstone, and by Shaftesbury, even stretching right back as far as Burke and Wilberforce. The movement that led the charge for the abolition of slavery, the end of child labour and all these other reforms conducive to a more gracious life. To paraphrase that wonderful remark of Shaftesbury, Menzies’ had a vision to see more and more people “stand erect in the dignity of free men and free women”.
He is remembered importantly for his great reserve of moral character. An attribute he shared with the great American President, Abraham Lincoln, whose greatness similarly sprang from the fount of moral character. Flowing from this moral character, Menzies believed in a liberalism that was essentially self-giving. It was all about the freedom to give, the freedom to contribute, the freedom to serve and love one’s neighbour.
He believed also that we are there for the good of our country, and he was aware also of the challenges to freedom and democracy.
He travelled to America in 1951 to address the United States Congress and as Australia stared down the threat of Soviet aggression, he told our great United States allies in the Congress that Australia needed to stand strong, not with the strength of a bully but with the strength of a deliverer. He offered a message of hope and freedom to souls oppressed by the spiritual and political slavery of communism. In a sense, he began the great mission of redemption in the twentieth century that would finally be accomplished by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul which saw the Iron Curtain finally tumble down to let the oppressed go free.
He was also keen to heal old wounds. In 1957, he had successfully negotiated the commerce agreement with Japan, an old adversary, and when the Japanese Prime Minister visited Australia at a time when those gruesome memories of POW camps and harbour bombings were still raw in the Australian imagination. He was able to look an old enemy in the eye and say that it is not in the Australian way to prolong hatreds but to live in peace and friendship with the nations of the world. This was given concrete expression in the Colombo Plan, that marvellous scheme which brought so many people from around the world to our shores to open Australian eyes to new cultures and new peoples.
He also had in Margaret Thatcher’s words a deep and warm understanding of human nature. He affirmed that there are “amazing possibilities in every boy and every girl” and he also believed that we can make our best selves even better. At the same time, he reminded us that we are our “brother’s keeper” and in what he described as that lovely phrase of the Apostle Paul, “members of one another”. Never forget that, we are members of one another. As he said in 1974, no man or woman lives to himself as an island but as part of a community where he owes every friend or foe every good thing.
Thank you very much Ladies and Gentlemen.
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 introduction: 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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