As the State Leader of the LNP (Liberal National Party) I think it’s appropriate that this book launch “Menzies: The Shaping of Modern Australia” be held here in Queensland.
This is as I believe it was Queensland in 2008 which finally delivered on the vision Menzies put forward from around 1941 which culminated across 1944 and 1945 with the near-complete merger of the conservative forces through the formation of the Liberal Party out of what was previously fourteen separate parties. In 2008, the one outstanding element – merger with the former Country, now National Party was completed here in Queensland.
It is something I personally am very proud of, and I recall at the time quoting Menzies view on the need for the conservative side of politics to present to the electorate a united front – which brings me to the contributions made in the book being launched here today.
The contributions look predominately at the legacy of the pragmatic and effective coalition that epitomized Menzies second term as Prime from 1949 -1966 - a period of 16 years, one month and seven days which is far and away the longest unbroken tenure in that office.
I ask you to consider that compared to what is happening in more contemporaneous times – where Australia has had 5 different Prime Ministers in less than half Menzies’ period of tenure.
When Menzies resigned as Prime Minister on Australia Day in 1966 it is noted he spoke with great pride of his legacy in the areas of foreign affairs and education.
But what contributors to this book point out is that these are just two components of the far-reaching impact his Government’s reform agenda had on shaping modern Australia.
It was under Menzies stewardship average weekly earnings in Australia increased in real terms by 50% - the five-day workweek became the norm as well as three weeks of paid annual leave.
In foreign policy Menzies maintained strong ties with our traditional allies such as Britain and the United States while also focussing Australia’s foreign policy focus towards the Asia Pacific – signing the ANZUS treaty in 1951.
The Menzies Government recognised the potential of postwar Japan and negotiated the Commerce Agreement with Japan in 1957 - followed by bilateral agreements with Malaya and Indonesia.
And I would observe whilst many books have been written about Menzies time in unifying the conservative side of politics, it is a book such as the one being launched here tonight which we should encourage members of our side of politics to read.
All too often, our opponents frame themselves as the champions of modern political causes, yet many would be surprised by the extent of the reforms that can be attributed to our side of politics under the Menzies era.
Some cases in point:
It was under Menzies that some important social reforms occurred which shape contemporary Australian society. Let us not forget it was under Menzies in 1962 that Menzies' Commonwealth Electoral Act provided all Indigenous Australians should have the right to enrol and vote at federal elections.
The Menzies Government introduced a new pharmaceutical benefits scheme, extended the Commonwealth Child Endowment scheme, increased rates of pension, unemployment and sickness benefits, and introduced a substantial body of reform around taxation.
It was in the Menzies era Government ended open discrimination against married women in the public service, by allowing them to become permanent public servants, and allowing female officers who were already permanent public servants to retain that status after marriage.
The Menzies government expanded the postwar immigration scheme. In 1949 Immigration Minister Harold Holt decided to allow 800 non-European war refugees to remain in Australia, and Japanese war brides to be admitted to Australia.
Students from Asian countries were admitted to study at Australian universities, non-Europeans with 15 years' residence in Australia were allowed to become citizens.
Reform of the of the Migration Act introduced a simpler system for entry and abolished the "dictation test" which had permitted the exclusion of migrants on the basis of their ability to take down a dictation offered in any European language.
In Higher Education, the Menzies government introduced the Commonwealth scholarship scheme in 1951, to cover fees and pay a generous means-tested allowance for promising students from lower socioeconomic groups.
It also tripled Federal government funding and provided emergency grants, significant increases in academic salaries, extra funding for university buildings.
Against this backdrop of significant domestic reform Australia joined efforts to curb communist insurgencies by committing Australian troops to the Korean War of 1950–51, the Malayan Emergency of 1955, the Borneo Confrontation of 1963 and to the escalating conflict in Vietnam in 1965.
Furthermore to strengthen defense ties with countries in the Asia Pacific region, the Menzies government signed the South East Asia Collective Defence Treaty (SEATO) as a South East Asian counterpart to NATO.
What strikes me on reading this book is the insight the book gives as to how Menzies was able to deliver on this defining legacy – and I think it can best be summed up by the term “principles and values.”
Menzies' personal values reflected the philosophical underpinnings of the Liberal Party. Whilst Menzies operated as a pragmatic coalitionist, few can doubt or question the clear nexus between his views and values and that espoused by the Party. They were one and the same.
Yes there were issues which arose from time to time which clearly challenged the public perception of the Menzies Coalition Government’s united approach to policy issues of the day. But it is the hallmark of Menzies that when such matters came down to the “push-versus-shove” Menzies could always fall back on the fundamental founding principles of his party to guide his direction in both negotiation and action alike.
The other thing which is abundantly clear from the book being launched today is Menzies dedication to party building. Today’s modern conservative politician should have a look at the way in which Menzies carried his reformist agenda through. It is abundantly clear while in his role as Prime Minister he worked hard to ensure the Party organisation and Party membership was meaningfully engaged. Whether it be on strategy, policy development or fundraising, Menziespersonally involved himself in the operations of the Party organisation and the Party’s membership.
The modern political process sees politicians heeding the calls of a “24 - hour - a - day - 7 - day - a – week” news cycle, responding to the often manufactured demands of the twitter-ati and social media set, and all-to-often attempting to fill a resultant policy vacuum.
I would observe that whilst the mechanisms of political operations may have changed since 1966 - the fundamentals stay the same. The Menzies era should enlightens us all as politicians – values, principles, and a dedication to ensuring the Party and its membership supports and has ownership of our combined political destiny is not only the task of the day, but builds our legacy for the future.