The Daniel Mannix Memorial Lecture - Sir Robert Menzies: In Search of Balance
The following is the text of the speech delivered by the Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser, C.H.
Wilson Hall, University of Melbourne - 30 July 1987
I am honoured to have been asked to give this eleventh Archbishop Mannix Memorial lecture. I have chosen to speak about Sir Robert Menzies. I also want to say something about balance in public policy. Instead of merely judging his period from our perspective, I also want to ask how he would judge some aspects of present public life in Australia. But first a word about Archbishop Mannix, after whom this lecture series is named.
He came to Australia in 1913, he was born a mere 15 years after the end of the potato famine. During the course of three years, 700,000 Irish peasants died as a result of the famine and over 20 years three million people emigrated.
Early in my life as Minister for the Crown in Australia, I was told an apocryphal story by a senior Australian public servant of Irish background. He told me that during the potato famine a message was sent by her majesty's government to the Irish viceroy indicating that the famine was not the responsibility of Her Majesty's treasury or of Her Majesty's government, it was indeed an act of God and must be borne by Her Majesty's loyal Irish subjects with fortitude.
I had always wondered if there could be a germ of truth in that story and when I was asked to give this eleventh Mannix lecture, I thought I would re-read recent Irish history. It is indeed true that Charles Trevelyan, permanent head of the U.K. treasury at the time, believed that Britain should not interfere in the course of the famine. There was a belief that 'all that could possibly be done for Ireland had been done' and that Ireland must now be left to what Trevelyan in a terrifying phrase described as 'the operation of natural causes'. Trevelyan wrote that too much had been done for the people and that they had grown worse instead of better.
As my good friend and first lecturer in this series, Mr Santamaria, indicated, the Irish famine and the death of some hundreds of thousands of people was entirely unnecessary. Through all the years of the famine, Ireland remained an exporter of food. Potatoes were the staple diet of Irish peasants. They could not afford the grain, the poultry, the sheep or the pigs exported to England.
Archbishop Mannix was clearly a person sensitive to the needs, the problems of his own people and particularly for those subject to his religious guidance. He possessed a powerful sense of history, of justice. His integrity to the stricture and ideals of his faith were absolute.
An Irish Catholic coming to Australia in 1913 would have to possess concern for ordinary people. He would inevitably believe that 'authority' would somehow work against their interests. At the time he was appointed here, that was indeed the position in Ireland.
Why should he believe circumstances to be essentially different in Australia which, to him, would have been a mere extension of the British Empire?
It was inevitable with numbers, emigrating from Ireland, with a leader like Dr Mannix, that the history of Ireland and its relationship with England, would have a significant impact on the early development of Australia.
There are many who believed that Archbishop Mannix was disloyal to Australia because he opposed the conscription referenda in 1916 and in 1917. That view was shared by many who fought in the trenches.
I do not share that interpretation. Australia had been persuaded to send five combat divisions to Europe in the bloodiest war. The British had said: don't worry about logistics, don't worry about support, we will look after all of that, just send us the divisions of fighting soldiers. There was one natural consequence of that: Australian casualties in relation to the size of our force were going to be much higher than anyone else's. So indeed they were.
I suggest that Archbishop Mannix's view was quite simply that he believed Australia was doing more than Australia's share and that he saw conscription and the referenda as a means of adding to the inequality of Australia's share. I happen to believe that to be the legitimate and proper interpretation of the archbishop's actions. There is also evidence to [suggest] that Prime Minister W. M. Hughes quite deliberately drew the archbishop into the argument, believing that if there were an anti-Irish component, it would increase the possibilities of the vote being carried.
During the first conscription debate in 1916, Archbishop Mannix made only one speech. That speech was no more than two minute's duration and was not made from the pulpit, or from any well-known platform.
A wise prime minister should have ignored the speech. After all, much of the religious hierarchy was supporting the call for conscription; all state governments were supporting the referendum. Why, then, should Billy Hughes make such an issue about one Irish-born archbishop? He referred to that two minute speech time and time again. In that first referendum the archbishop did not respond.
By 1917, seeing a vacuum in leadership, with the anti-Irish, anti-Catholic element in the government pushing its case hard, Archbishop Mannix responded to the challenge. The situation was forced on him by Hughes' government.
Such a tactic was extraordinarily divisive. It was an unbalanced act.
Mannix's view that Australia had done enough because five divisions out of a country of barely five million people represented a greater fighting effort than any other allied nation, was surely fair, reasonable and balanced, even to those who did not agree with him.
This latter interpretation is given weight. Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig had major arguments about the conduct of the war. Haig was a popular General but one whom Lloyd George believed to be careless about the lives of his troops. He did not believe he was strong enough to sack him but instead denied him the reinforcements which Haig consistently demanded.
From the time he arrived in Australia, Archbishop Mannix helped shape the face of Australia in emphatic ways.
He believed strongly that Catholics coming here were in an inferior position and sought to redress that. He fought for State aid.
He waged a necessary and important war against communism and gave particular support to those fighting communism in the union movement.
Archbishop Mannix was a significant person to whom this country owes a great deal.
He spent much of his life in pursuit of balance, or, if you like, to redress imbalance, injustice. In this he had much in common with Menzies.
I have chosen to speak of Sir Robert Menzies because of all those in public life in Australia, Menzies is the one I have admired most. He is also the one who in our lifetime has unquestionably has done most for Australia.
Much of Menzies's life represented a search for balance in public policy. He was, above all, concerned with those whom he regarded as the 'forgotten people'. He defined their number by exclusion.
He excluded the wealthy and the powerful because, he said, they can mostly look after themselves. He excluded those who were represented by the trade unions and the Labor Party, because they had powerful, and many would say too powerful, organizations to represent their alleged interests. The great bulk of the people in the country, ordinary Australians, small business people, shopkeepers, farmers, workers throughout Australia, were the forgotten people. In his view, public policy should be directed to the benefit of the forgotten people. They represented the heart and the strength of Australia.
He first made speeches on this subject, or at least for the first time that my research has been able to uncover, in 1942. It is not insignificant that the Liberal Party was fashioned to respond to their needs and to be free from undue influence by powerful individuals or groups.
Menzies had experienced the United Australia Party of the 1930s, when those who paid the bills attempted and often succeeded in determining candidates or policy. He recognised the importance of divorcing those who helped in financing a political party, from power over candidates or more than normal influence, exercised in common with all party members, over the development of policy.
It is significant that while Labor used to suggest that the Liberal Party was the party of big business, such charges were never able to carry substance. Policies across a broad front were directed to the well-being of the whole nation. The structure of the party as a whole was a search for balance. There had been a need to weld the large number of disparate organisations together into one federal body. Just as the Australian constitution was a search for balance between the Commonwealth and the states, so, too, was the constitution of the Liberal Party, a consequence of the search for balance in reconciling a wide cross section of views, including differences between country and city.
Like most things in public life, a search for balance in politics is a continuing process. Menzies ended his public career in 1965 at a time when the post-war truths about economic management were still firmly held. His was the generation that had experienced the depression of the 1930s and the war which was at least in part caused by that depression.
As a consequence of the war, that generation saw the birth of the great international institutions, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Although Menzies was in opposition when these institutions were formed, he fully recognised the need for a careful transition from war to peace and that major international institutions were necessary to create an order quite different from that of the 1930s.
A careful reading of his speeches shows that he often took a balanced view where others were more prone to support a popular course. I do not for one minute believe that Menzies would have used the kind of arguments that Billy Hughes used in an attempt to get support for conscription in the first war. He would have been conscious of the damage thus done.
My secondary title in this address 'in search of balance' defies easy definition. It is not a simple process. Menzies' support of the forgotten people, people who are not organised into groups, was in itself a search for balance. Balanced policies must, by their own definition, attract significant criticism because they must necessarily be opposed to the selfish interests of vocal, organised groups. All the more reason why political parties be organised to represent the 'forgotten people'.
Balance connotes breadth. It involves a sense of direction and purpose. It involves a capacity to achieve support for the right policies. There must be an emphasis on time and place. It involves an understanding of the concerns of ordinary people, of knowing what is important and having the capacity to achieve it.
Balance in public policy is not a question of weighing two sides of the scales. It does involve a capacity to meet the challenge of the day.
The Liberal Party must always reject attempts to factionalise the party, either by the left or the right. Whatever merit may be found in some of the arguments of the 'new right', their attempts to gain control of the party must be rejected, as they have been hitherto. They reflect a narrow ideology, wealth and selfishness in public policy. A liberal government must also remain broadly based, as was Sir Robert's. If differing views are not expressed within a cabinet, policy decisions will be unbalanced.
Organisations formed to support special interests, whether it is conservation, nuclear disarmament or whatever, find it very difficult to balance their own special interests with broader national issues. Their own membership does not allow it. It is often because that membership wants an unbalanced approach that such special interest groups are formed.
In the search for balance Menzies was well aware of two conflicting requirements. One was well expressed by John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty: 'as the tendency of all the changes taking place in the world is to strengthen society and diminish the power of the individual, this encroachment is not one of the evils which tends spontaneously to disappear but on the contrary to grow more and more formidable.'
The second was forcefully expressed by Edmund Burke in 1774, speaking at Bristol he said: 'the only liberty I mean is the liberty connected with order, that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them.'
The first quotation expresses the dangers of government involvement, the second expresses the necessity of such involvement.
Often we spend a great deal of time criticising our predecessors against the background of later knowledge and experience, an ex post judgment which is generally harsh and unfair. How many of us have the courage to turn that around and ask how those who performed reasonably well in earlier times would make their judgment of us. How would Menzies judge us now?
Let me turn to the role of the Commonwealth government.
Menzies placed a primary importance in the '50s and '60s on the economic development of Australia, on building the independent strength of this country. He knew, however, that Australia could not live by economics alone. There is a role for government that transcends economics, to maintain equity, to create opportunity, to maintain the balance. Australia's problems are different from any other nation or state. We are the largest island continent with a population the size of a small American state. How do we best build one nation, one people? Economic progress across the face of the nation and communications for all Australians are obviously key elements.
In Britain, Telecom can be privatised as a commercial operation. In Australia, however, there has always been a service element in providing communications to many parts of rural and provincial Australia. This goes beyond economics.
Many of the writings of the new right would be anathema to the kind of balance sought by Menzies. Government and economics must both be for people, they can't be merely for theories.
Today we are taught that the market place, unregulated or at best self-regulated, can solve our problems, shades of Charles Trevelyan. In Australia, some people seem to hold that belief more fervently than in Britain or America where the role of government is still more positively expressed. For example, the securities industry in the United States is probably more heavily regulated than in any other country, with no sign that the regulations are to be lightened or lifted. In the United Kingdom deficiencies in the organisation of Lloyds insurance have led to new government legislation.
Both countries have more powerful trade practice legislation than does Australia.
When we are told that the markets must be allowed to operate freely and without government interference, we should ask ourselves what makes a market free. If the players are equal and fairly balanced as buyers and sellers, then we have the theoretical perfect competition. Such markets are rare.
If one supermarket chain controls 40% of the market, what chance do suppliers have in gaining a fair price? There is virtually one buyer and there may be a thousand sellers. In such circumstances the freedom of consumers is also severely reduced.
Before the days of the Australian Wool Corporation, there were about six wool buyers in Australia who would almost certainly know each others mind, and 100,000 sellers. Such a market was not free nor was it fair.
Free markets need to be defined.
A market is not free if it is dominated by one player or a few players. If the large or the powerful can manipulate or destroy the small within a market, that market is not free. A fair market, with the exception of the economists' definition of perfect competition, which almost never exists, needs rules to maintain balance, equity and open competition.
So defined, free markets give most power and influence to the forgotten people in their role as consumers. They provide most freedom to the forgotten people in their role as producers. Monopolised markets or markets controlled by dominant players reduce that influence and freedom dramatically.
It was Menzies' government which introduced trade practice legislation when Sir Garfield Barwick was Attorney General. When it was introduced it was novel for Australia, a new idea that governments should establish rules designed to promote competition and fair marketing. By restricting the power of large and powerful interests, the freedom and influence of the great majority is expanded.
Since those days the original legislation has been weakened, which I greatly regret, because the need for legislation is certainly no less, indeed it is now much more.
Menzies recognised that the forgotten people, the unorganised, ordinary Australians, needed protection from great and powerful interests. He recognised clearly that there was a positive role for government. I wonder how he would judge present debates in Australia. Certainly times and circumstances alter but the principles of government don't change much. I do not believe Menzies would admire some characteristics of the current debate, a debate that seems to deny any role for responsible government.
In 1951 he spoke in the Commonwealth parliament against British interests buying a control in a radio chain. He was not prepared to use the word foreigner of an Englishman, but he said in the strongest terms that it was wrong for a person who does not belong to this country to control such a powerful medium for propaganda. That seems a fair enough principle, but one many people in this country have since forgotten.
He enshrined that view in legislation controlling foreign ownership and designed to avoid television monopolies. How far we have now strayed from those principles.
I want to emphasize that in no place would Menzies, or for that matter myself, argue for uninhibited government action or intervention. Governments can obviously extend their influence too far. In a number of areas that has occurred in Australia. I have no doubt that Menzies would strongly support today's efforts to reduce government expenditure and taxation. There is all the difference in the world, however, between those who argue that regulations are bad and must be abolished, and those who argue that regulations should be as few as possible. Some regulation is necessary to preserve the interests of the forgotten people. It is the balance between too much and too little regulation and between wise and foolish regulations that appears so elusive in today's debate.
Those who argue for deregulation often seem to suggest that there is no role for government. That is not the position of the true liberal. Menzies himself indicated that the essence of his liberalism was one which looked to see if private enterprise could respond to a problem adequately and only in the event of failure or inability of private enterprise to do that, would there then be a role for government.
Menzies clearly saw a role in expanding and improving assistance to needy groups within the Australian community. For families, support for children was first introduced in 1941. Australia's best health
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had fought for government assistance to church schools for a long while. Substantial principles were involved.
Can we understand that in the development of these policies there was a continuing search for balance, the balance between public ownership and private competition, the balance between those who operate in different market places, a balance between those who can pay for themselves and those who need some supplement from the government. Government was truly for the forgotten people. It was much more than economics.
An examination of Menzies' influence on foreign policy and his comments on the role of the Commonwealth give an insight into some of the complexities and subtleties of his nature.
He believed in the Commonwealth as a changing vision. Menzies is often depicted as a person who had longings for the old commonwealth with few members, the close, cosy club, where the great could converse together. He clearly enjoyed such company but did not for one moment believe that progress could or should be restricted and restrained. His Liberal Party was never a party of reaction, it was one that recognised the need for change, for social progress, for new developments.
The common view of Menzies' attitude to the Commonwealth is shown to be quite false by his own words. Speaking of the Commonwealth in international affairs he said: 'yet we have much matter for honest pride when we suddenly realise that a great country like India has, at a stroke, achieved parliamentary self government as a republic. Let us waste no time on melancholy yearnings after the past.'
He recognised the process of change at work within the Commonwealth. I doubt if he ever would have been at home in today's Commonwealth, but such comment only makes the point that we should remember perspective when today we talk of events some decades ago. Too often we criticise on a basis of later attitudes. Menzies recognised that the changing Commonwealth had much to offer a peaceful world.
He saw a distinctive role for Australia. He believed that the link to the crown and our relationship with Britain left us as something less than a completely separate nation but at the same time he would have vigorously defended Australia's independence of spirit and of purpose.
Contrary to views often attributed to him in later times, Menzies argued strongly for the League of Nations and that it be given a proper opportunity to bring order to the troubled world of the 1930s. He regretted greatly that the U.S., Germany and Japan were not members of the league.
In 1940 he was writing to Lord Bruce, arguing the need for an international military force and suggested that, once the war was over, major nations will find themselves immeasurably more disposed to accept such concepts.
In the same period he was arguing for a common foreign policy from the British Commonwealth but at the same time he was indicating an understanding of Australia's special responsibilities in the pacific. His historic links and sentiments about the commonwealth were strong but his pragmatism remained.
We often forget that in those days British foreign or colonial officers in different parts of the world represented Australia overseas. In 1940, however, R. G. Casey was sent as Ambassador to Washington, a separate ambassador was appointed to Japan and a high commissioner to Canada. Menzies indicated in the clearest terms that Australia and the pacific were inextricably bound together, that we had primary responsibilities in the pacific that could not be fully met by British representation. We needed therefore to establish our own offices.
The words he used to describe Australia's involvement in the war in 1939 as Prime Minister were instructive. After explaining that Germany had not responded to the British ultimatum about withdrawal from Poland and that Britain was therefore at war, he made it plain that Australia was also at war.
Some have wrongly construed his words to indicate that Australia had not made a separate and independent decision. The fact that a separate proclamation was made by the Australian government makes it plain enough that the decision was separate. It was not that the Australian government had not made its own decision but that Menzies believed fervently in the destiny of the British people and that it was quite unthinkable that we in Australia could, in a manner that affected the life and death of the British people, take a separate and different path.
I suspect that later Prime Ministers would have used different words, indicating separately the reasons why the Australian government had taken the decision based on Australian national interests but we need to judge the words against the sentiment and attitude of earlier occasions.
There were ever after two strands in the conduct of Menzies' foreign policy. His affection for and relationship with Britain and the monarchy, links which were so important to him, were dominant in many speeches and in attitudes. By intellect, however, he recognised that Australia's future lay with the Pacific and in relationships with other states.
Menzies' affection for Britain did not prevent him from recognising the realities of power and the shifting balances between major states. This clearly led him, together with the need to acquiesce in the peace treaty with Japan, to fight for and support vigorously the Anzus alliance with the United States and New Zealand.
The Australian government of those years saw a number of problems in the offing, much earlier than might have been generally suspected. Moves towards community were growing in Europe. Churchill encouraged other European states to join but said that Britain could not, for Britain had her empire. It would, however, be idle to suggest that Australian governments could ignore the possibility that at a later point Britain may join. That would mean a great deal to Australia. We would have to look elsewhere for markets. There was, therefore, a powerful and self-interested reason why we should start that process with a major trade treaty with Japan, an act of courage only a few years after the war and still less after the signing of the peace treaty.
The Japanese Prime Minister, Kishi, was to come to Australia in 1957 to commemorate the trade treaty. I can remember members of parliament in the corridors asking whether they should attend a reception. It was members and senators who had been prisoners of war of the Japanese who set the example. They made it plain that they were attending and that if they could put the past behind them, it was clear that it was not an issue for others. Here again, there was a search for balance.
While there was self interest, as indeed there should be in such matters as trade treaties, there was also a wider objective. Australia was saying: we want a different kind of world, one in which the prejudices, the discrimination of the 1930s would be for ever banished.
If policies are balanced and reasonable, the failures of the '30s could not reappear. Menzies was well aware that many had discriminated against Japan in relation to trade in the decade before the war. He believed that Japan did have a point of view which should be reasonably discussed.
In this period he had also expressed the strongest condemnation of the German and Italian dictatorships and of the denial of political rights to their people. He had a larger objective, however, than condemnation.
Menzies had had the courage to express concern about the possible direction that Germany and Japan were taking, in terms which may well have and later did offend some of his own countrymen. It was, however, a deliberate effort to try and lead the two axis powers away from disaster for themselves and for the world.
Menzies has been criticised for speeches allegedly sympathetic to Germany in the 1930s and for allowing Australia to trade with Japan in the years before the war. It is correct that he paid recognition to the fact that Hitler had reduced unemployment in Germany. That under Hitler there had been much economic progress.
Such speeches should be seen, not in the context of a person being sympathetic to Hitler, but in the context of a political leader who saw the enormous and tragic dangers lying ahead and who realised that, however small the chance, one should point to the benefits for ordinary Germans in the economic recovery of the nation and appeal that that not be thrown away by mad and destructive ventures.
In the first war, Japan was on the side of the allies. Surely it is not the act of somebody acquiescing in Japanese militarism to point out to Japanese leaders that their best interests lay in a continuation of friendship with former allies and with arrangements that had proved workable over long periods.
It might be possible to say that such appeals had no chance of success. I do not believe that reasonable people could say that such appeals should not have been made. I do believe that such appeals represented a balanced act of statesmanship and that subsequent charges made for political purposes in Australia were deliberately destructive.
Menzies' letters to Bruce in the early years of the war indicated his analytical approach to the problems that would inevitably emerge after the war. He was much opposed to a new Versailles. He opposed those who wished to dismember Germany. He believed the British foreign office had no practical understanding of far eastern problems. He regarded Winston Churchill as a menace and a publicity seeker who stirred up hatred in a world already too full of that. Menzies believed Churchill lacked judgment.
How would Menzies now, with the memories of the 1930s so vividly in his mind, respond to the speeches recently made in the United States Congress on trade relations between the United States and Japan . Those speeches give us no cause for complacency. They are unbalanced, they use terms which are only fit for nations at war, rather than for ones that are significant and major trading partners, linked also by a major defence treaty.
Discrimination does not stop at language. The United States has taken a number of discriminatory actions against Japan and, indeed, she has been supported in that by a number of European States. Indeed the United States is fighting a trade war not only with Japan but also with the European community. We have seen some of the consequences of that in this country. Trade discrimination against Japan runs almost as strongly but much less publicly in a number of European states. While Japan needs to open her markets more, the European community and the U.S. approach to their difficulties leaves much to be desired.
On this issue today's world is unbalanced. We are forgetting that free peoples have much more in common than their trade relationships. The problems that many of us now experience in trade have emerged for many reasons. For twenty-five years after the war, economic progress was relatively smooth and even. Most countries have experienced economic difficulties in more recent times. We have therefore become more introspective, our policies have grown more selfish. The sense of internationalism that was so important to the generation of the thirties and forties as they .took charge of affairs after 1945 is almost dead in today's world. The Reagan concept of international economics is a simple one: you do as I do and you will be as well off as I am.
That is indeed a return to the survival of the fittest. It is a great pity that we do not have somebody such as Menzies, who saw and understood the dangers of trade discrimination in the thirties, who lived through its consequences/ to comment on this current folly.
Most of us in this audience probably take the rule of law for granted. I don't think we should, even in this country. There have been some serious blows at its substance in recent times. I understand much better than I once did the emphasis that Menzies always placed on the rule of law. It was always mentioned in Liberal documents. It was one of the great truths and without it our society would collapse. He believed fervently in an independent judiciary necessary to preserve the balance and the law. He certainly did not believe in judges interpreting the social mores of their times, that was for politicians for better or worse to do.
He did not believe in judges looking for some future benefit from governments, so judges from one court were not promoted to another. Respect for the rule of law and for the constitution governed Menzies in his relationship with the states.
I can remember a rather sad conversation I had with Lord Hailsham shortly after the Australian High Court had given a judgment on the Franklin Dam case. There, you may recall, the Commonwealth had argued that the external affairs power gave it authority to override the wish of the state government.
This was not an argument about whether or not the dam should be built. This was an argument about the constitution. The Commonwealth was able, on argument, to overturn the constitution because of our accession to a convention of UNESCO and because that accession allowed the Commonwealth, under the external affairs power, to argue, inaccurately, that construction of a dam on the Franklin would affect relations with other countries.
There are many international conventions. Australia, for her sins, is probably a member of too many. They affect health, education, industrial relations, all sorts of activities which go very much to the heart of government in this country. On the precedent set by the High Court in the Franklin Dam case there is hardly an aspect of the Australian constitution which could not be upset by the Commonwealth appealing to the appropriate convention and taking the case to the high court. That no longer represents the rule of law. There is little legal doctrine in these conventions. It was never the intention of those who approved the Australian constitution. That it could be overturned in this way.
I discussed this particular case with Lord Hailsham and he dismissed it in the end with these words: ‘pity, we used to examine the judgments of your High Court closely. We don't read them now.'
If he had heard or known of .that comment I suspect it would have disturbed Menzies greatly because next to politics, law and the maintenance of the rule of law judged by the highest standards was important to him. Here Australia has failed those standards.
This concern for law enables us to put a more accurate judgment on Menzies' advocacy and activities during the Suez Canal crisis, in which he very nearly persuaded President Nasser to accept proposals which he put on behalf of eighteen nations. Menzies always believed that his failure had resulted from the unilateral action of President Eisenhower who, while negotiations were in train, rejected unconditionally at a press conference the possibility of the use of force against Nasser.
It was of major concern to Menzies that Nasser had breached international law, a solemn agreement, a solemn contract. There were many people taking a less principled stand who were prepared to say: the canal runs through Egyptian territory, he has just as much right to nationalise the canal as a national government has to nationalise an industry. That analogy was entirely false. The contract governing the canal was a solemn agreement between several parties in different states. Nasser had no legal right to abrogate that agreement.
If the matter were not redressed, Nasser would have set a precedent for the breach of any international commitment or the breach of any understanding between states. If the international community were to acquiesce in Nasser's behaviour, the conduct of international relations would be that much more difficult. It would become harder to establish a reasonable framework for relations between states. The breach of formal treaties and agreements unlawfully, unilaterally, would have been accepted.
Here then we have the crux of the matter and a clear example of the way in which the unbalanced man will take the common path.
It was easy to allow Nasser to get away with it. What immediate consequence could it have on our lives, therefore why stand for the principle.
I was never in a cabinet of Menzies', coming into the ministry after he had resigned. But I heard him tell a story once of a debate within his own cabinet during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The cabinet had been called together and he asked advice. Many views were put, none having a very clear view of the course Australia should take. If there is a clash between the United States and Soviet Union, did we want to be involved; is the United States right; will she have enough courage to stand; should we be urging caution.
After a considerable and lengthy debate, as I heard the story, Menzies put his own view. It was simply that this was a major crisis between east and west. The Soviet Union was taking provocative actions in an area of close and paramount interest to the United States. The United States had thrown down the gauntlet. How then were the interests of the free world to be preserved and best protected? What had to be achieved? Clearly the Russian ships with missiles destined for Cuba, had to turn around if the interests of the free world were to be maintained.
What would best achieve that, isolation of the United States or letting it be known to the world that America 's allies stood fair square with America on the issue and that if anyone wanted to take on America , they would be taking on America with her friends and allies. Give America courage to stand firm and let it be known that America's allies were with her, that was the only way Australia could contribute to the issue and to the protection of her own interests. Any other course would have positively damaged our interests. Menzies was among the first, perhaps the first international leader to support the United States in her action.
The difference perhaps between a politician who can see with clarity where interest and principle lie and those who become muddled by insufficient knowledge or sometimes by too many little understood facts, not knowing what is important and what is not, is the difference between clear headed statesmanship and mediocrity. It also involves capacity to achieve balance.
I quite deliberately added the term 'in search of balance' to this address because I wanted to provide a link between Sir Robert and the present day Australia.
We have fast forgotten some of the essential lessons about equity and fairness which were so important to him in his public life. In a number of ways we are becoming an unbalanced nation, where self interest and financial power govern all.
What could be more anomalous at a time when Australia has run up the greatest debt in its history and when the majority of Australians are told that they must tighten their belts and reduce their living standards, that a tiny minority have become wealthy, even beyond their wildest dreams of four or five years ago. In such an Australia, the 'forgotten people' are truly forgotten, without adequate advocacy on their behalf.
Of course society changes. I make no plea for a return to the policies and structures of 25 years ago. That is not possible or desirable. Today's Australia is more complex. Economic policies attract different responses, different reactions from those earlier years. A number of old certainties have disappeared.
Much of this has occurred because we ourselves have failed to see with sufficient clarity the direction that we should take, the policies that we should pursue. We recognise excesses in one direction and seek to redress that imbalance by excess in another.
The lessons inherent in Menzies' time in government are clear and simple ones. Governments must remember the 'forgotten people'. If governments are praised too much by millionaires or powerful pressure groups, then beware the policies of those governments. Government is a search for balance. Australia needs that sense of balance restored.