Robert Menzies

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Robert Gordon Menzies

Sir Robert Gordon Menzies KT, AK, CH, PC, QC, FAA, FRS (December 20, 1894 – May 15, 1978) was an Australian politician, founder of the Australian Liberal Party, and Australia's 12th and longest serving Prime Minister. Encompassing the beginning of Australia's post-war era, Menzies' tenure as Prime Minister was significant for leading Australia into the Second World War and through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, for opening trade relations with Japan in 1953, increasing home ownership, and defining Australia's place in the Cold War world order.


Early career (1934-1939)[edit]

  • The real danger of the regime was that the suppression of criticism would ultimately destroy Germany.[1]
    • In conversation with Hjalmar Schacht, regarding Nazi Germany, during his four day visit in 1938
  • Few people of the Commonwealth fully realised that the European crisis might involve hostilities in Australian waters – that war might be something that would come to Australia, and not merely something that was happening 12,000 miles away.[2]
    • In speech to the Constitutional Club of Sydney, October 1938

First Term as Prime Minister (1939-1941)[edit]

  • Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of the persistence of Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war. No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to make such an announcement. Great Britain and France, with the cooperation of the British Dominions, have struggled to avoid this tragedy. They have, as I firmly believe, been patient; they have kept the door of negotiation open; they have given no cause for aggression. But in the result their efforts have failed and we are, therefore, as a great family of nations, involved in a struggle which we must at all costs win, and which we believe in our hearts we will win...[3]
    • Declaration of War Broadcast, on the outbreak of the Second World War, September 3, 1939
  • We can lose this war, and with it we can lose all. But we shall not lose it if every individual in the British Empire determines that for him there shall be nothing but cheerful and self-sacrificing effort until the war is over. I tell you quite bluntly that Australia cannot play her proper part in the winning of this war if she subtracts from her war effort by one unnecessary grumble, or by one act of sectional selfishness, or by the unnecessary loss of one day’s work.
  • His real tyrant is the glittering phrase so attractive to his mind that awkward facts have to give way.[4]

Wilderness Years (1941-1949)[edit]

  • In the long run, will our community not be a stronger, better balanced and more intelligent community when the last artificial disabilities imposed upon women by centuries of custom have been removed?[5]
    • Women in War speech, broadcast from Sydney, Australia — February 20, 1942
  • I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.
    • Radio talk, 22 May, 1942
  • The material home represents the concrete expression of the habits of frugality and saving "for a home of our own." Your advanced socialist may rave against private property even while he acquires it; but one of the best instincts in us is that which induces us to have one little piece of earth with a house and a garden which is ours; to which we can withdraw, in which we can be among our friends, into which no stranger may come against our will.
    • Radio talk, 22 May, 1942
  • The country has great and imperative obligations to the weak, the sick, the unfortunate. It must give to them all the sustenance and support it can. We look forward to social and unemployment insurances, to improved health services, to a wiser control of our economy to avert if possible all booms and slumps which tend to convert labour into a commodity, to a better distribution of wealth, to a keener sense of social justice and social responsibility. We not only look forward to these things, we shall demand and obtain them.[6]
    • Freedom from Want radio talk, July 10, 1942 (the fifth of "The Forgotten People" series)
  • Women are unquestionably destined to exercise more and more influence upon practical politics in Australia…In the educating of the electorate in liberal ideas they have for many years been an effective force. Now we have an organisation in which all distinctions have gone, and with men and women working equally for the one body …[7]
    • Albury Conference, 1944
  • The Communists are the most unscrupulous opponents of religion, of civilised government, of law and order, of national security. Abroad, but for the threat of aggressive Russian Imperialism, there would be real peace today. Communism in Australia is an alien and destructive pest. If elected, we shall outlaw it.
  • The highest production and living standards cannot be achieved without a new and human spirit in the industrial world. No industry can succeed without the co-operation of capital, management and labour. Each must be encouraged. Each must be fairly rewarded. Between the three there must be mutual understanding and respect.
  • Australia urgently needs more people, and we shall vigorously continue a drive for them. They should be selected with regard to our national needs, and their capacity to become absorbed into our community. Though we naturally want as many migrants as we can get of British stock, we denounce all attempts to create hostilities against any migrant or group of migrants, whether Jew or Gentile, on the grounds of race or religion. Once received into our community, a new citizen is entitled to be treated in every way as a fellow-Australian.
  • If I have tried to observe the personal courtesies of public life, it is not because I fail to hate the political enemy’s creed. If I have sought to find some humour in the conflict, it is not because I under-estimate the gravity of the battle. The best years of my life have been given to what I deeply believe is a struggle for freedom.

Second Term as Prime Minister (1949-1966)[edit]

  • If we want to make our contribution to the pacification of the world, it is our duty to present to the world the spectacle of a rich country with a great people, with an adequate population - with a population which may justly say to the rest of the world: 'We are here; we propose to maintain our integrity as a nation; and our warrant for that is that we are using the resources which God has given into our hands.' The case for immigration on a grand scale is, indeed, an irresistible one.[8]
    • Citizenship Convention, Canberra, 23 January, 1950.
  • The real and active Communists in Australia present us with our immediate problem - not the woolly-headed dupes, not the people who are pushed to the front in order to present a respectable appearance, but the real and active Communists. We have a clear choice, and we must make it clearly. We can attack these Communists frontally, or we can adopt inaction and justify it by accepting one or all of the arguments that are used currently to justify inaction. [9]
    • House of Representatives, Canberra, 27 April, 1950
  • We have had office without power; responsibility without the full means of discharging it. I say to you that the times are too grave and the burden of government too heavy to be confronted or borne by any Ministry which lacks the full power to place its plans on the statute-book, and to give that public leadership which is confidently based upon a loyal Parliamentary following. With your aid we believe that we can, as we must, do much to make Australia strong and to keep her free.[10]
  • In conclusion, we have sought this election to resolve a deadlock. We have no offer to make except that we shall serve you faithfully. What we seek is a Senate majority. If you approve of the Labour Senators frustrating your vote of December, 1949, you will not give us a majority in either house. To give it in the one and refuse it in the other would be a tragedy for Australia. [11]
    • Election speech, 1951
  • Heckler: I wouldn't vote for you if you were the Archangel Gabriel.
  • Menzies: If I were the Archangel Gabriel, you wouldn't be in my constituency. [12]
    • Conversation with interjecting heckler in Williamstown, Victoria, 1954
  • In the whole of recorded modern history, this was, I believe, the one occasion when one man, with one soaring imagination, with one fire burning in him, and with one unrivalled capacity for conveying it to others, won a crucial victory not only for the forces (for there were many heroes in those days) but for the very spirit of human freedom. And so, on this great day, we thank him, and we thank God for him.
  • There have been, in the course of recorded history, some men of power who have cast shadows across the world. Winston Churchill, on the contrary, was a fountain of light and of hope...his body will be carried on the Thames, a river full of history. With one heart we all feel, with one mind we all acknowledge, that it will never have borne a more precious burden, or been enriched by more splendid memories.[13]

Post-politics (1966-1978)[edit]

  • It has become the vogue for some writers in Australia to refer to me, apparently under the impression that they are using a derogatory expression, as an 'anglophile'. I certainly am, and would be sadly disappointed if I thought that a majority of my fellow citizens were not of the same mind. I love Britain because I love Australia, and like to think that I have done her some service. I cannot go anywhere in Australia without being reminded of our British inheritance; our system of responsible government and Parliamentary institutions, our adherence to the rule of law and, indeed, our systems of law themselves; our traditions of integrity in high places and of incorruptibility in our Civil Service. We derive all these things from Westminster. Our language comes to us from Britain and so does the bulk of our literature. To have no love for a relatively small community in the North Sea which created and handed on these vital matters would be, in my mind, a miserable act of ingratitude. The fact that in Australia we have received all these things, and have made all our own notable contributions to their development, not only fills me with pride but strengthens my affection.
    • The Measure of the Years (1970)

Quotes About[edit]

By Contemporaries[edit]

  • Tribute has yet to be paid to the great foundations laid by you at a time when you lacked the advantage of the effect on national psychology and morale of a war in the Pacific.[14]
  • I don’t think that there is any visitor that has more friends in the United States than the Prime Minister of Australia, and he has had those friends and kept them over a long period of time stretching back to the days of 1939. He has been a constant figure not only in his own country’s government, but also in the relations which exist between the United States and Australia. Those relations which permit the easiest kind of communication between the governments, which permit us to reach agreement on matters which in other countries might take much longer and might not be as nearly so satisfactorily resolved, have been a great source of encouragement to President Roosevelt, President Truman, President Eisenhower, and now to me. [15]
  • We are grateful, sir, that you honor us with this visit this year. We remember with particular favor your visit to our country last year when you sat here at this chair by the side of our beloved President John Kennedy. At that time you made a statement which I think expresses so well the feelings between our lands. Then you said, "We work for the same kind of free world." [16]


  • My father stood up to to Churchill in the war cabinet and that was unusual...I think the others were fairly browbeaten, but he was one of these rough colonials and so maybe he could get away with more than the others. [17]
    • Heather Henderson, daughter of Robert Menzies, regarding her father's relationship with Winston Churchill during the war years
  • I have mixed memories about the Menzies period...I try to... look at it objectively, there were many minuses, in my judgment but also considerable pluses. I think the minuses are a very significant...I think Menzies performance in the pre-war and immediate early war period...I think that was a time of weakness of Menzies' great inadequacy. And... his massive mistake in committing Australia to Vietnam. I think this is one of the real tragedies of our time.
    • Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke in interview with former Prime Minister John Howard, regarding Menzies' Prime Ministership
  • I respect the way in which he and Harold Holt took up the decision, which I think was the greatest decision made by any government in Australia's history. That is the decision of a wartime Curtin government to initiate in the post-war period the massive immigration program. Menzies and Holt supported that and carried it on...I give Menzies and McEwen considerable credit for the way in which they re-established the trading relationship with Japan which became our most important trading relationship. They showed imagination and a degree of courage...[18]
    • Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke in interview with former Prime Minister John Howard, regarding Menzies' Prime Ministership
  • Many aspects of the Nazi system were totally alien to Menzies. The attorney-general was mystified by the German people’s acceptance of their loss of legal and political rights under Nazi rule … Menzies was no fascist. He was a committed democrat. [19]
    • Professor Christopher Waters, in Australia and Appeasement: Imperial Foreign Policy and the Origins of World War II
  • Of all the leaders I have met, two of the ablest have been Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of the tiny city-state of Singapore, and the late Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia. They shared the distinction of being big men on small stages, leaders who, in other times and other places, might have attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone.
  • Menzies was the first – and maybe the only – national leader of whom it could be safely said that he was capable of rising to the top of almost any ladder he dared to climb.
    • Geoffrey Blainey, in The Story of Australia's People: The Rise and Rise of a New Australia (2016)


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