'Bob' Menzies or Mr
Menzies - was our longest serving Prime Minister. He was Prime Minister
twice - from 1939 to 1941, and from 1949 through to 1966 - a total of 18
years and five months - an impressive amount of time in any job! Early
in his first period in office, he announced the declaration of the
Second World War to the people of Australia. In 1944 he helped start the
Liberal Party, which in terms of winning elections, has been the most
successful party in federal politics. He presided over Australia's
longest period of prosperity and rising living standards this century.
Rt Hon. Sir Robert Gordon Menzies was
Prime Minister twice, from 26 April 1939 to 29 August 1941 and from 19
December 1949 to 26 January 1966.
Born: 20 December 1894 at Jeparit,
Died: 15 May 1978 at Melbourne,
Robert Gordon Menzies was born in
Jeparit, Victoria, on 20 December 1894. He died in Melbourne on 15 May
He married Pattie Maie Leckie
(daughter of a Senator) in 1920, and had three children.
His parents were James Menzies and
Kate Sampson. James, of Scottish descent, had been a coach-painter in
Ballarat before opening a general store in Jeparit. Kate, of Cornish
descent, was the daughter of a miners' union leader. James was elected
to the Victorian parliament in 1909 as the representative for Lowan.
He started at Jeparit State School
before going to Grenville College, Ballarat, then attended Wesley
College, Melbourne, on scholarships. After an outstanding academic
career at the University of Melbourne, he graduated with first class
honours in Law in 1917. He was admitted as a barrister in 1918, and
built up a highly successful practice. In 1929 he became a King's
Counsel, the youngest in Victoria.
Robert Menzies was elected to
Victorian state parliament as a Nationalist Party candidate for the
Legislative Council seat of East Yarra in 1928; he resigned and was
elected for the Legislative Assembly seat of Nunawading in 1929; he
served as Honorary Minister from 1928 until 1929, Attorney-General and
Minister for Railways from 1932 to 1934, and Acting Premier in 1934.
He quit state parliament in 1934 to
contest the federal seat of Kooyong as a United Australia Party
candidate. He retained Kooyong through the next ten elections until his
resignation and retirement from federal parliament in February 1966.
On entering federal parliament he
immediately became Attorney-General and Minister for Industry in J.A.
Lyons' United Australia Party Government. He held these positions until
March 1939, and was also deputy UAP leader from 1935. He resigned from
Cabinet in March 1939 in protest against the government's failure to
implement its national insurance scheme.
Menzies was elected leader of the UAP
and became Prime Minister in April 1939, following the death in office
of Lyons, and after the 18-day caretaker Prime Ministership of Country
Party leader, E.C.G. Page. He suffered an immediate ferocious attack in
parliament from Page, who had favoured the recall to parliament of
former Prime Minister S.M. Bruce. Page bitterly accused Menzies of
disloyalty to Lyons and the government, and suggested he had been a
coward for choosing not to serve overseas during World War I, although
he was a lieutenant in the Army reserve. (Menzies said his first loyalty
was always to the people of his electorate, and explained that he had
family reasons for not serving overseas, as two of his brothers had
done.) Refusing to work with Menzies, Page took the Country Party out of
coalition with the UAP.
As Prime Minister, Menzies announced
the declaration of war against Germany on 3 September 1939. He formed a
War Cabinet on 15 September.
Australia's entry into World War II;
divisions of 2nd AIF sent to the Middle East and North Africa; campaigns
against Italian and German armies in Libya, Germans in Crete and Vichy
French in Syria 1940-41. Department of Navy formed November 1939; Royal
Australian Navy active in actions against Italian navy in Mediterranean
in 1940. Australia joins the Empire Air Training Scheme in October 1939;
new RAAF squadrons formed; many RAAF pilots and other personnel fought
in Battle of Britain with RAF in 1940.
The Country Party re-entered a
coalition with the UAP in March 1940, but losses to Labor at the general
election in September severely weakened the Menzies coalition
government. Continuing dissension with the coalition prompted Menzies to
resign as UAP leader and Prime Minister on 28 August 1941. Country Party
leader A.W. Fadden replaced Menzies as Prime Minister, but held office
for only 40 days before being defeated in parliament, making way for
J.J.A. Curtin's Labor government on 7 October.
A period of turmoil and instability in
UAP-Country Party coalition 1939-41. E.C.G. Page resigned the CP
leadership on 13 September 1939; replaced by A.G. Cameron, who resigned
in October 1940 (and later joined UAP) and was in turn replaced by A.W.
Fadden. Coalition in-fighting resulted in Menzies' resignation as Prime
Minister 28 August 1941. W.M. Hughes replaced him as UAP leader. Fadden
became Prime Minister but his government was forced to resign on 7
October 1941, when it lost support of two Independents who voted with
Labor to defeat the government.
Despite the instability in the
coalition and his loss of office, Menzies had led a government which
prepared the nation for war as well as its limited resources allowed.
He was re-elected UAP leader and
became leader of the Opposition in September 1943. In October-December
1944 he sponsored the formation of a new party, the Liberal Party,
combining the UAP and 17 other non-Labor groups. He was subsequently
elected Liberal leader.
Following increasing public
dissatisfaction with J.B. Chifley's Labor government, the Liberal and
Country parties swept to power at the general election on 10 December
1949. By exchanging electoral preferences the Liberals won 55 seats and
the Country Party 19, to Labor's 47. The Liberal and Country parties
formed a coalition government on 19 December with Menzies as Prime
Minister and Country Party leader A.W. Fadden as Deputy Prime Minister.
Menzies' comeback as Prime Minister after the humiliating circumstances
of his resignation from the position eight years previously was a great
The fall of J.B. Chifley's Labor
government following a series of Communist-inspired strikes,
controversies over Labor's wish to nationalise private banks, medical
practitioners, transport and communications, and mounting public
impatience with continuing wartime austerity measures. Shaking off an
earlier reputation for disdain of the public, Menzies proved to be a
highly effective populist campaigner, appealing to ordinary citizens
through slogans such as 'Put value back in the pound' and 'Are the
people the masters of government or government the masters of the
Menzies led the Liberal-Country Party
coalition to victory at next five general elections: in 1951, 1954,
1958, 1961 and 1963. He resigned from the Prime Ministership in January
1966, passing the position to H.E. Holt, the Liberals' deputy leader,
and resigned from parliament in February 1966. His total of 18 years as
Prime Minister and his unbroken 16-year tenure of office during his
second period in the position are the longest of all Australian Prime
Ministers during the 20th century.
Menzies coalition government pursued
various initiatives of the former Chifley Labor government, including
development of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, mass immigration and the
Colombo Plan for aiding developing nations of the Commonwealth.
Otherwise it set its own agenda. A key policy was to stamp out Communist
influence in union movement and end disruption caused by strike action;
goals to be achieved by abolishing the Communist Party. Parliament
passed the Communist Party Dissolution Act in October 1950. The Act was
immediately challenged in the High Court by ten trade unions, Labor's
deputy leader H.V. Evatt representing one of these. The Act was declared
invalid in March 1951. Menzies then sought power to outlaw the Communist
Party through a referendum in September 1951.
Evatt led a campaign for a 'No' vote
to deny government such powers; 'No' supporters narrowly win. The
referendum on government power to ban the Communist Party occurred in a
climate of mounting 'Cold War' tension between Western and Soviet power
blocs. Post-war Communist gains in eastern Europe and China and
development of nuclear 'Arms Race' between USA and Western allies (USA,
UK and France), outbreak of Korean War June 1950 and defection of UK
spies to Soviet Union were factors contributing to widespread fear of
the Communist influence in Australia.
In Australia, fears about possibility
of a Soviet infiltration heightened by the 1954 defection of two staff
members of the Soviet embassy in Canberra - Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov.
Labor and Communist sympathisers accused Menzies and the Australian
Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) of manipulating the Petrov
case for the political advantage of the coalition parties. Labor leader
H.V. Evatt became a central figure in the Petrov case when his secretary
was named as a Soviet contact.
Australian armed services were active
in Korean War 1950-53; Australian forces suffered 339 war deaths.
Australian military forces were sent to Malaya in 1952 to assist in the
suppression of Communist insurgents, beginning a long-standing
commitment of Australian forces to the defence of Malaysia and
The ANZUS treaty with USA and NZ was
signed in 1951, becoming the basis of Australian defence planning for
the next four decades. In 1954 Australia became a signatory to the South
East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) treaty, which became a second
major component of defence planning until the early 1970s.
As well as being Prime Minister,
Menzies at different times held other ministerial and acting ministerial
positions. His portfolios included Defence Coordination, Information,
Trade and Customs, External Affairs, External Territories, Treasury,
Attorney-General and responsibility for the Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
The Menzies government presided over
the longest period of economic prosperity in Australia's history,
lasting from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. This period was one of
rapid development, almost continual economic growth, rising standards of
living and very low (below 2%) unemployment rates. From the mid-1960s
the 'long boom' continued with the discovery and exploitation of new
mineral and petroleum resources.
Two major public spectacles of the
mid-1950s became the focus of national attention, prompting outpourings
of national sentiment - the Royal Tour of Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of
Edinburgh in 1954 and the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. Both events
were strongly promoted by the government.
Television was introduced in September
1956. Many Australians had their first experience of TV watching Olympic
events on TV sets in the windows of retail stores.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s
the Menzies government laid the foundations for the subsequent rapid
growth of Australia’s university system and began providing financial
support to non-government schools.
The Labor Party split of 1955-57,
beginning first in Victoria, and later extending to other States (but
not NSW). It resulted in the formation of the anti-Communist breakaway
Democratic Labor Party, which had strong links with 'the Movement', a
secret Catholic organisation founded in 1942. By directing electoral
preferences to the Liberal Party coalition, the DLP effectively kept
Labor out of power federally until 1972. In Victoria, where the DLP was
strongest, Labor was kept out of office for 27 years from 1955-82. In
Queensland the split led to the expulsion - in 1957 - of the Premier,
Vince Gair, by the party's State branch. Gair then formed a breakaway
Queensland Labor Party, a DLP 'clone' which held office for two months
before being defeated in parliament. Labor remained out of office for 32
years from 1957-89.
During his second period as Prime
Minister, Menzies’ principal political adversaries were Dr H.C.
(‘Bert’) Evatt (1894-1965), Labor leader from 1951 to 1960, and
Arthur Calwell (1896-1973), Labor leader from 1960 until 1967.
Menzies travelled widely in Australia
and overseas on government business, and was the first Australian Prime
Minister to do so. Apart from frequent trips to the UK, USA and
Commonwealth nations (New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, India,
Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia), he visited numerous countries in Europe
and Asia for conferences on international relations, trade and defence
matters. As such, he played an important ambassadorial role on behalf of
both Australia and the Commonwealth of Nations.
One particularly important excursion
abroad was his trip to Cairo in September 1956 as head of a 5-nation
delegation mediating in the Suez crisis. Menzies mission failed, and
many commentators regarded his intervention as a fiasco.
Cold War tensions continued throughout
the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, until the collapse of the Soviet bloc in
Europe in 1989. The commitment of the Menzies government to its
alliances with the UK led to the establishment of UK nuclear weapon
testing facilities in Australia, first in the Monte Bello Islands,
Western Australia, and later at the Woomera missile testing range, in
South Australia. The test program continued from 1952 to 1963.
An increasingly close alliance with
the USA resulted in the establishment of American military
communications bases at Onslow in Western Australia (1963), Pine Gap in
the Northern Territory (1969), and Nurrangar in South Australia (1969),
as well as other defence and science installations elsewhere in
A devoted royalist, during his second
period as Prime Minister Menzies received numerous honours and awards,
including the imperial titles Companion of Honour (1951), Knight of the
Thistle (1963), Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (1965), Chief Commander
US Legion of Merit (1950) and twenty honorary doctorates.
The Menzies government sent military
observers to Vietnam in 1962 to assist the South Vietnamese government
and US military forces in the war against the Communists. The first of
nine Australian infantry battalions to serve in Vietnam arrived there in
1965. The Government introduced the selective military conscription of
20 year old males in 1964, and the first conscripts were sent to Vietnam
in 1966. By 1967, after Menzies had retired, the Australian task force
in Vietnam numbered 6,000 troops. By the time Australian military forces
were withdrawn from Vietnam in 1972, 50,000 Australian military
personnel had served in Vietnam - out of which 496 were killed. Both
conscription and the government's commitment to the Vietnam War became
increasingly controversial, leading to widespread and large-scale public
protest demonstrations during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Robert Menzies devoted himself to
authorship in retirement. His publications including two books of
memoirs: Afternoon Light (1967) and The Measure of Years (1970). Menzies
died on 15 May 1978 and was given a state funeral. His second period as
Prime Minister has remained an inspiration to Liberal Party members.
The rise of a distinct youth culture
in Australia from the mid-1950s. Rock 'n Roll music arrived in Australia
in 1955. The Australian tour of the Beatles in 1964 attracted the
largest crowds of young people yet seen in Australia.
The availability of the contraceptive
'Pill' for women introduces a new era of family planning, and
far-reaching changes in women's lives.
Menzies (I) 1939-41. The most
important new legislation resulted from the need to put Australia on a
war footing. This legislation included:
The Supply and Development Act 1939 to
set up the Department of Supply to organise purchase and manufacture of
arms and munitions.
The National Security Acts 1939 and
1940 to give power to the government to make regulations for ‘general
safety and defence of the Commonwealth’. This law could be extended to
cover almost any activity, but was sometimes successfully challenged in
The Aliens Registration Act 1939 to
control the movement of foreigners in Australia.
The National Registration Act 1939 to
set up a registry of men liable for military service and to help
The Trading with the Enemy Act 1939 to
prohibit trade with countries at war with Australia.
Menzies (II) 1949-65
The Communist Party Dissolution Act
1950 declared illegal and dissolved the Communist Party and affiliated
bodies but was declared invalid by the High Court in 1951.
The Conciliation and Arbitration Act
1951 provided for the use of secret ballots in trade union elections.
The Security Treaty (Australia, New
Zealand and the United States of America) Act 1952 provided
parliamentary approval of the ANZUS pact.
The Defence (Special Undertakings) Act
1952 facilitated British nuclear tests at the Monte Bello islands off
the coast of Western Australia and later at the Emu and Maralinga sites
in South Australia.
The National Health Act 1953
consolidated medical, hospital, pharmaceutical and pensioner medical
The Broadcasting and Television Act
1956 gave the ABC the same powers in television as it already had in
radio, and made other arrangements for the introduction of television.
Separate industrial court established
under an amendment to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.
Various banking acts, including the
Reserve Bank Act 1957, which separated central banking from other
functions, had been blocked in the Senate during the 22nd Parliament but
became Acts of the 23rd Parliament when the Menzies Government obtained
a majority in the Senate at the 1958 election.
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959
provided for uniform divorce laws rather than the ten codes then
The Telephonic Communications
(Interception) Act 1960 (since replaced) established the procedures by
which ASIO could tap telephones in order to protect the Commonwealth
from acts of espionage or subversion, and the Crimes Act 1960 redefined
the offences of treason, sabotage and espionage.
The National Library Act 1960
established a National Library separate from the Parliamentary Library.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962
removed the franchise prohibition existing in Queensland, Northern
Territory and Western Australia against Aboriginal people in
The Papua New Guinea Act 1963 was a
response to the United Nations Trusteeship Council's criticism of
Australian policy in PNG and provided for an enlarged legislature with a
majority of indigenous members.
The Currency Act 1963 prepared for the
introduction of decimal currency in 1966.
The United States Naval Communication
Station Act 1963 approved the agreement to establish a communications
station at North West Cape.
The first year of the 25th Parliament,
1964, saw a record 130 bills enacted. The figure for the following year
The National Service Act 1965 was a
response to Australia's increasing involvement in the Vietnam War.