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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 989


Photo of Menzies, Robert

Menzies, Robert

Period of Service: 19/12/1949 to 26/01/1966

More information about Menzies, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/09/1964

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 989

The Head of Security's at it again: " Seven of my agents
arrested two old-age pensioners selling Tribune in
Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill. But you should have
seen the ones that got away!" I am becoming a little
alarmed. Things seem to be getting out of hand. No,
Carolyn has stuck to her column to the end. " Doubtful
but Patriotic" asked her a question: " I am going with
a girl from Bondi who says she will marry me. But her
girlfriend tells me we shouldn't have a baby until we
reach California. Should I go?" Carolyn replied: " If
you had a future, I would say this: in future listen to
your girlfriend's girlfriend a damn sight earlier." ( A
Chinese sentry has stationed himself outside the saloon
bar.) Elsewhere in that great newspaper: A team of
anthropologists have discovered a discrepancy in the
Australian cephalic index. Nine professors of psychology
have announced that at last Australia's Mother
fixation is about to be sublimated, a finding hotly
contested by a group of Collins Street obstetricians
who argued that " it is very dangerous indeed for the
umbilical cord to be suddenly snapped without the
baby's considered consent." A well-known abortionist
commented: " Babies are not all that necessary." The
STOP PRESS carried a message of condolence from
the King, his father, the Queen Grandmother, the
Princess Aunts, and four former Governors-General
on what they described as our " most unfortunate
predicament". A group of Old Diggers, armed with broken beer
bottles and crying " One Aussie's worth ten boongs",
is rushing the Chinese sentry. They are all dead now.
I have drunk four more schooners. The sentry has
cleaned his submachine gun. The sun is setting over
Black Mountain ( I think). I am not sure where I can
file this story. The Rex-at-Canberra's personal flag is
at half-mast ( I think: I don't seem to be seeing things
too well). There is an aircraft circling overhead. Is
this the end? No, by God, mates, it isn't! The Cabinet
is up there in that aircraft and the Prime Minister is
broadcasting. His voice is coming out loud and clear
over the saloon bar radio ( interrupted from time to
time by starting prices from Adelaide, which still remains
free), yet cool, beautifully modulated, even confident:
" His Majesty has personally sent me a message
from the Britannia, at present cruising in the East
Mediterranean, homeland of Benjamin Disraeli, swimming
bath of the great Byron, deathbed of that even
more deeply English poet, Rupert Brooke, area of our
greatest battles in which we all took part, at least
verbally.... His Majesty said: ' In order to honour our
temporarily incommoded brothers across the Pacific,
we have decided to confer upon you, their leader, the
Order of the Garter.' On behalf of you all, I am on
my way to receive that Order. If in this most British
of all hours I may employ an Americanism: ' I shall
return.'" We have all returned to our beer. The Chinese sentry
is walking towards me. Strange. Summer Evening.
Night now. Night, night. DOWN
By Sir Robert Menzies
This is an address given by the Prime Minister, to
the National Press Luncheon Club at the Hotel
Canberra, on September 14.
TVE been misled and I've been misled by that deplor-
Iable character, Maley. ( Laughter.) I understood
Afrom him that today was my 30th anniversary. I am
no doubt quite wrong, but there you are. But I thought
it was I didn't look it up, and when I had people
coming to see me earlier and saying " Many happy
returns of the day", a somewhat fantastic wish, you
will agree, I was still under the illusion that it was
today, but now it's tomorrow. So I suppose I'll have to
make a little speech and then make it retrospective to
tomorrow, hoping that I survive so long.
Now I was told that what you would like to hear, as
briefly as possible, would be some retrospective views
of affairs, people, since I came here first in 1934. Or as
Ray Maley, with that exquisite capacity for an original
phrase that characterises the Press, said to me-
" Wandering Down Memory Lane". ( Laughter.)
Well, I will first of all wander down it about Canberra
itself because at that time, in 1934, Canberra had
6000 people, and you could positively stroll around
the whole, beat the bounds, in two hours with no difficulty.
Now it's a large place and getting larger. In
1934, it did not have municipal self-government, a
state of affairs that still continues. ( Laughter.)
Back in 1934, in the Lyons Government, we had a
Budget I haven't had a chance of looking up the
precise figures but I would say something of the
order of œ 75 m. for the year, the Commonwealth
Budget. 1, myself, in 1939, by a temporary but
speedily corrected error, became Prime Minister and
introduced the first œ 100 m. Budget. Happy days!
( Laughter.) Even then, I have no doubt that some of
the newspapers here represented complained of the
gross extravagance of public expenditure and said that
it ought to be cut down. We spent in a delirium of
excitement in 1935-6-7, around that time, œ 15 m. a
year on social services and it's now somewhere between
œ 400 m. and œ 500 m. and is conceded by everybody to
be grossly inadequate ( Laughter), but that was the
position at that time.
We had, in theory, an External Affairs Department.
We didn't really have a department, we had a Minister
for External Affairs, because George Pearce, about
whom I will say something later on, was Minister for
Defence and Minister for External Affairs. Instead of
masses of young men and women who now have their
being in the External Affairs Department and who are
Sir Robert Menzies has been Prime Minister
of Australia for the last 15 years. PROSPECT. No. 3, 1964

fully aware of the fact that this is the last great
opportunity to persuade every Chinese to buy a pair
of sox, and hence once-for-all solve the grazing industry's
problems?" The Minister replied that his officers
had the matter well in hand, which was better than
" still in the bush", he added wittily.
Darwin fell the next day. This was denied in the
Letter Columns the following day by " Five Experienced
Punters" of Randwick on the interesting ground
that the four-year-old gelding of that name had recently
been put to stud. " Visiting Irish Bloodstock Owner"
replied " I have learnt much about the virility of Australia's
youth during my brief, but ( I hasten to add)
extraordinarily pleasant visit to your shores. But I am
mildly surprised to learn that even your geldings are
sires." " Dinkum Aussie Sportsman" came back: " There
are no Sires in Aussie, Sire; we're all mates here, and
the sooner you realise that the sooner you'll become
one of the mob. We're sick of foreigners anyway. It
doesn't matter what a gee-gee is called. It's where she
runs that matters." He was backed up by " Lifetime
Horselover", who wrote: " I know Darwin's at stud. I
saw him in the paddock behind Darb Munro's yesterday.
I know Darb personally. When Ireland produces
a Don Bradman, I'll listen to ' Irish Visitor'. Not till."
Brisbane fell two days after that correspondence was
closed by the Editor. A lonely fanatic distributed a
pamphlet calling for national unity. The President of
the Associated Chambers of Manufactures, in a
spirited address demanding greater protection for Australian
goods, attacked the pamphleteer for being
unable to understand that the British way of life was
based on free competition. The new Member for
Wannon asked the Prime Minister why Portland, as
fine a harbour as any in Australia, had been excluded
from the itinerary of Chinese seaborne landings. The
President of the Waterside Workers' Federation
announced that his members would demand both dirt
and danger money before unloading any Chinese.
ToHE people were becoming slightly perplexed. And
the Chief of the Australian Security Intelligence
Organisation broke his accustomed silence
to announce that 17 Chinese restaurateurs and 93
university lecturers had been arrested in a recent dragnet.
A mild protest by university students led to the
setting up of a Royal Commission into Juvenile Delinquency.
Unfortunately, it was never implemented: it
was discovered that the whole Bench and Bar were
debating " Australia's Contribution to the Development
of International Law" at Jack Ruby College, Texas,
and were now adopting the filibuster tactic with
astonishing endurance.
The Ladies' Committee of Melbourne's Cultural
Centre held a charity ball to raise funds for the purchase
of a yacht which set sail the next day for the
U. S. A. carrying " items of central importance to Australia's
cultural contribution to civilisation". A list of
the main items was given to the Press: the Melbourne
Cup, a bat used by Sir Donald Bradman, a complete
set of Vogue ( Australian Edition), the poems of
Mr. David Macnichol, Ben Chifley's pipe ( known to
the Labour Movement as The Light over the Hill), a
garter worn by Dame Nellie Melba, a recording of Miss Gladys Moncrieff in " The Maid of the Mountains",
Ned Kelly's armour, " Chloe", the complete
works of E. V. Timms and Mary Grant Bruce, and the
semen of a famous fast bowler, two golfers, seven
Bondi lifesavers, and three Melbourne Cup winners.
Each donor received a signed recipe book from the
Ladies' Committee at a public ceremony in the Melbourne
Town Hall.
The day before Sydney fell, the Anglican Bishop of
Bushburg made the front page of all dailies: " Jesus
Christ is the epitome of the English public school man
at his best. He will not throw his wicket away because
of a few Peking off-cutters. He is still there, our
greatest opening batsman ever." The Catholic Bishop
of Bushburg said at a Communion Breakfast: " Mr.
Santamaria. must bear a heavy responsibility for this
crisis. His overwrought warnings came much too early."
Mr. Santamaria said something that was widely
regarded in progressive circles as both arrogant and
sinister. He said: " 1 tried to make a few points over
the years. Perhaps if my name had been Jock Pagan
I would have achieved a bit more."
At this moment of supreme crisis people naturally
tuned in to the last of Mr. Eric Baume's " This I
Believe" sessions. " This I believe," he enunciated with
panache and fruity gravity. " Today I want to say
something truly I repeat that word ( I don't mind
who is listening: I repeat that word). I am entitled to
my views too. I want to say this: I want to say something
truly yes, I know that ' Disgusted' of Whale
Beach disagrees yes, disagrees with me and
as the citizen of a democratic country with what can
STILL be a great future ahead of it, he is fully...
FULLY, I say entitled to disagree. I want to say
just this. After all, I have very little time at my disposal.
I want to say that the way in which the Whale
Beach Council has treated its new bulldozer is simply
disgraceful. Bulldozers are MACHINES. I don't like
them myself. Yes, I am quite entitled to say that. I
don't like them. They are loud. They make themselves
heard MUCH TOO OFTEN. But they are ENTITLED
to be heard. And so am I. Yes, I say this: so am I.
It is reliably reported that a battalion of Chinese
paratroops has now landed safely at Canberra despite
adverse weather reports. The purpose at the airport of
the Diplomatic Wives' Oriental Tea Ceremony Group
was apparently misunderstood by the Chinese soldiery
during the first 35 minutes after their arrival, but Canberra
Radio has just informed anxious members of
the Department of External Affairs that " no misunderstanding
whatsoever remains now".
Which is, I suppose, a fair summary of our general
situation as well. I am completing this despatch in the
beer garden at the Hotel Rex-at-Canberra, where the
regulars are helping a group of Methodist volunteers
to learn how to drink beer. Mr. Barry Jones is answering
a seemingly interminable number of questions about
how " the boys" behaved during the fall of other Great
Nations. Oh, dear, he has now collapsed under the
weight of a middy, muttering darkly, " They'sh all took
to the grog in the end."
I have before me the last edition of a Sydney newspaper
published under conditions of absolute freedom.
PROSPECT, No. 3, 1964

the masters of all the most subtle intricacies of the
United Nations' procedure, so important for somebody,
in those days, George Pearce, the Minister, " Hoddy"
Hodgson he was the department, and there was
the stenographer and she was the other part of the
department. ( Laughter.) We had a High Commissioner
in London. We had no other diplomatic representative
anywhere in the world. Those were days of noble
simplicity. Today, of course, as you know, we have
High Commissioners and Ambassadors around the
world and we have an External Affairs Department of a
fully sophisticated kind, with all sorts of aspects of
international affairs being dealt with. Very hard to
believe that when I was first here in this very place, in
this hotel, we had none of these things.
IDON'T think we had any Trade Commissioners at
that time. If we had, they existed in perhaps
New Zealand and Canada, but we had no
organised Trade Commissioner service of the kind that
we now have. In other words, these were days of
almost Spartan simplicity in administration. The complexities
of international trade, the complexities of
international affairs had not yet fully developed, they
had not yet been complicated by all the explosive
effects of the Second World War and those events that
happened after the Second World War, and I think the
result was, in those days, with fewer Ministers than we
now have, it was found possible to have a certain
amount of civilised leisure Ministers were well
known to be seen on the late lamented golf course,
playing golf. Indeed their fraternity with the heads of
departments on the old Canberra golf course postponed
the introduction of the lake for a long, long time.
( Laughter.) Which reminds me that of course we had
no lake. We had none of these things that we are now
beginning to take for granted.
Now I just said to you that there was a certain
simplicity about life. That's quite true. If there was a
conference in London, it was a conference between a
limited number of people, all of whom understood each
other. It had none of the complexities that have come
with the new Commonwealth. Indeed, nobody in those
days could have envisaged what was going to happen
as colony after colony came to self-government and to
independent statehood.
Well, of course, inevitably, moving over 30 years,
the complexity of matters to be dealt with by governments
has expanded almost by geometrical progression.
I can give evidence about this because I am the only
extant creature who was a Prime Minister in 1939 and
1940 and 1941 and who is still a Prime Minister in this
year of grace. " Grace", I think, is the right word.
( Laughter.) But, anyhow, I thought that I had plenty
to do at that time and indeed I did. I worked seven
days a week and there are only seven days in the week.
I would say that the complexity and mass of matters
coming across my table today is double or treble what
it was at that time, 25 years ago. This goes for everything.
The sturdy individualists in the country who resent
any political interference apply for it every week. The
manufacturers who oh, I must be careful because I
have to speak to them this week sometime ( Laughter)
PROSPECT, No. 3, 1964 what I will call the sturdy believers in private
enterprise who think the Government ought to keep
out of it are with us every week or with the Tariff
Board every week or with something or other every
week. There is hardly a section in the community today
that doesn't in one breath protest its undying hostility
to Government activity and in the next breath, pray
for it.
It isn't a wonderful or a remarkable or a regrettable
thing that the number of Ministers has perhaps almost
doubled since I first came to Canberra, it has been
necessary and I venture to say that if the complexity
of modern affairs and the demands made on governments
both continue their pressure, there will be more
Ministers and more Ministers in time to come, and a
bigger and bigger Parliament in time to come.
I mention it to you because I know it is not of your
own malice but under the instructions that you will be
given, or your successors will be given, that you must
criticise every increase of any kind, and say that it is
nonsense; that what the Government needs is fewer
Ministers and not more. Well, all I can tell you is that
if we had fewer there would be one interesting consequence,
because if you reduced the number of Ministers
and you thereby increased the responsibilities
coming to each Minister, you would make him more
and more dependent on his departmental officers. You
have only to reduce the number of Ministers far
enough to create ultimately a complete bureaucracy.
It's worth thinking about.
A Minister must have sufficient opportunity and
time, if he is a seriously minded person, to master the
problems of his department, and if he does, he will be
able to place the proper value on the highly competent
professional advice that he will get from his department.
But if he is so pressed, always against the clock,
that he just has to say, " Well, look, I haven't time to
answer this problem, So-and-so, my departmental head,
is a very wise and experienced fellow and he recommends
so-and-so, I'll say Now this is worth
thinking about. It is worth thinking about.
CABINETS don't cost much. Really they don't if
you look at the broad sweep of national affairs.
I would sooner have too many than too few.
The best kind of government arises when Ministers
have enough energy and time to think about their own
problems and to form views, and enough time to put
the proper value on the advice they will get, as they
will get it, from what in my opinion is one of the
greatest civil services in the world. But we must have
balance, and that's why, looking back over this time,
I see an enormous increase in numbers and I believe
that it's been justified.
Well now, I must push on. I've said to myself for
the last two or three days, " How does the standard of
debate in the House compare now with what it was
30 years ago?" Well, I think on the whole it's better.
There are two reasons which make me interested to
find myself admitting to myself that it is better. One is
that there are two very good reasons why it should be
w ors e.
One reason is that people, constituents ( I have no
complaint about my own; they have remarkable 17

patience and endurance), but people, constituents, will
write an enormous amount of correspondence to a
member, a private Member of Parliament, and if he is
going to answer them and deal with all the details that
they want him to deal with and go to the various
departments and get the necessary answers, then he's
going to have a pretty small amount of time to sit
down and do that good hard sweat and study that is
necessary if anybody is going to make a considerable
speech. TgHrEo wvsol ume of constituency work grows and
every year because we are always having
some new proposal, there is some new
social service, there are some new changes in the rules
of social services, there are changes in trade treaties,
changes in the tariff schedules. There are masses of
things of this kind, and on all of them, the member is
going to be at the receiving end. Therefore, when I
consider their constituency and correspondence and
interviewing work, I would have expected, as a more or
less detached observer, to find that the standard of
debate had fallen since those more spacious and
leisurely days when I first came to Canberra. Now, I
am happy to say I don't think the standard of debate
has fallen, on the whole. I can hear, I think, a higher
percentage of thoughtful contributions to debate than I
could have at that time.
I was a bit nervous about broadcasting. Very
nervous about it because broadcasting, of course,
has one great advantage which all you gentlemen of
the Press will understand perfectly. It does mean that
if anybody cares to listen to you, he does know what
you said. ( Laughter.) You understand me perfectly.
But I gather that only about one or one and a half
per cent of the people listen. That's, as a corrective
factor, not perhaps as great as it might have been. But
in the early days, I felt that it was almost ludicrous
when the broadcasting came in and we had these things
standing up you know, these microphones. Somebody
described it as looking like the petrified forest.
In those days, gentlemen, private members who sat
round here, would be seen to be moving very anxiously
to the nearest microphone when they were about to
deliver a speech. There was then a non-technical theory
that you had to be close to the wretched instrument to
be heard by your constituents. And, indeed, some of
you will remember that on one celebrated occasion,
one member of happy memory was having a little
difficulty with his upper denture in the course of making
a speech. There was a certain clatter and occasionally
a hissing and a certain amount of obscurity which
produced, I regret to say, some laughter in the House.
He said, " It's all right. It's my upper set. By the way,
Doe. ( addressing his dentist who lived in some place
500 miles away), by the way Doe., don't forget I've
got an appointment with you on Saturday morning."
( Laughter.) Well, there's another comment I'll make on that. I
thought that broadcasting with this business of getting
into line with the microphone would produce more and
more set speeches and less and less debate. I think in
the long run that hasn't happened. It did in the start.
It was quite clear that it didn't matter what Jones, Brown or Robinson had said, Smith was going to say
his piece into the nearest microphone and his constituents,
as he hoped, would be listening to him and
they would then understand. I think all that has rather
died away. I think on the whole there is more debating
in the true sense, more cut and thrust, more answering
of arguments to and fro now than there was in the two
or three years after broadcasting was introduced. And
from that point of view, I think there is much to be
thankful for.
I would think, on the whole, the average level of
debate, yes, has risen. There are many thoughtful
speeches. I was tempted to think that might be due,
particularly in recent years, to a rising level of educational
attainment, until I remembered myself that
formal education let's remember it has hardly
ever been the test of distinction in the political field.
George Pearce, about whom I will speak a little later,
who was a very great Parliamentarian, was a bush
carpenter. His formal education terminated, no doubt,
when he was 13 or 14 years old. You can't go by that.
Some people have talents and improve them all the
way through their lives and some people have some
talents and improve them early and neglect them later.
The real test is whether a man has a continuing mental
attack on the problems that he deals with. And from
that point of view, I think that the debate which has
improved, I think, has not improved solely because of
formal education, though that's of great assistance, but
has improved because it is increasingly seen how
serious a matter the government of the country is.
Now I wish I could say that I thought the standard
of reporting had risen. I don't think it has, quite
frankly. I remember saying to John Curtin, when he
was Leader of the Opposition, " You know, John, you
can speak, why do you read?" And he said, " Well, I
am an old journalistic sweat, but you know, if I want to
be reported, I must hand it out." Now, there is a bit of
truth in this, isn't there? A bit of truth. A recent debate
in the House that I listened to with great interest
consisted of one speech that was read and a reply that
was brilliant and destructive of the whole argument,
but it was the first one that arrived. I don't think, if
you will allow me to say so, that the standard of reporting
has been maintained, and that is, I think, to a
substantial extent, the responsibility of Ministers who
read out Second Reading speeches and of other people
who read out speeches in the course of debate and find
it convenient to hand them over.
The whole glory of Parliamentary debate is that it
is debate, that it has cut and thrust and nobody ever
produced any cut or thrust by the mere process of
producing a piece of paper. This is the clash of minds.
It is the debate which swerves from one side to the
other under the pressure of events, which accommodates
itself to a new argument, to a new thought. This
is the most fascinating thing in the world.
It is because of this, you know, that Winston, when
the House of Commons was to be rebuilt after the
War, said, " We will not have it any bigger. We will
not have a House of Commons that can hold all the
Members of the House of Commons." People,
strangers to his way of thinking, thought, " Well, how
crazy." But they did it, because the whole idea was
PROSPECT, No. 3, 1964

that if you have a place so vast and wide that all the
intimacy of discussion disappears, you might as well
have Parliamentary debate conducted by a series of
essays printed and distributed and a division list at an
appropriate time. The importance of Parliamentary
debate is, I think, something, weUl, in my mind, it is
something essential to the continuation of democracy.
And that's why I am glad to say that I think, on the
whole, the average level of debate is better now than
it was when I came up here.
' NTOW I've been going a long time perhaps I might
just say a few words to you about some of
' th ose who have been here and who are no
longer alive. It would be impertinent of me to discuss
the living. But there have been some very interesting
people here and I have time only to mention four or
five of them to you.
There was Mr. Lyons himself, the first Prime
Minister under whom I served. He had a bland
manner. He had a genial manner. He was the perfect
family man. This has great appeal in Australia, and
very properly, but it is sometimes not realised that
Lyons was a positively brilliant Parliamentarian. I
don't think I ever knew a better. Let me explain to you
what I mean.
You fellows have all known, you've seen this. Question
time, and So-and-so has got a curly one and unless
a Minister knows what it is about, he may easily foozie
it a little or he may be driven back into a series of
requests to put it on the Notice Paper; this is a testing
time, Question Time Without Notice. I remember on
two or three occasions when I was his Attorney-
General, going to Mr. Lyons and saying, " I just heard
a vcry nasty question, a very difficult question is going
to be put to you today. It is a rather complicated
matter and there is no earthly reason why you should
have heard of it." And he would say, " Well, no, I
haven't, but do you know about it?" And I would say,
" Yes, I've managed to." And he would say, " Well, sit
down and tell me." Then I would explain this matter
as best I could. And then I went away in my then
youth and innocence, saying to myself. " I hope he
remembers what I've told him." This was a stupid
thought of mine because, sure enough, up came the
question and, sure enough, up Lyons got and made a
reply, so charming, so bland, so accommodating, which
didn't answer a single point ( Laughter) that I had
mentioned, that when he sat down, the questioner who
had begun full of malice, would be seen smiling and
saying, " Thank you very much." ( Laughter.) Now,
this is not to be sneezed at. ( Laughter.)
When they say a man is a great Parliamentarian, you
must never just think that means he has been in
Parliament a long time. It means that he knows every
noise and every creak in the machinery and he understands
the human beings who are in Parliament and is
able to proceed without becoming involved in avoidable
arguments or talking himself out of his own Bill.
We've seen all these things happen, haven't we? I
think that Joe Lyons was a great Parliamentarian. I
learned a lot from watching him and listening to him.
Not enough, but a lot.
Well, then, the next man I want to mention is the
late Mr. Scullin. Now, he was Prime Minister before
PROSPECT, No. 3, 1964 I came here. He was Prime Minister from the end of
1929 until the end of 1931, beginning of 1932, and I
came here about this time in 1934, and when he had
been defeated and when the United Australia Party
came in, Scullin became the Leader of the Opposition
as a former Prime Minister and he held that post for
oh, I've forgotten two or three years perhaps.
Then he announced he was retiring from it. I was
staying in this hotel ( which then, of course, I hasten
to say, was not as good as it is now) and so was he,
and we walked down together to the House, and I
said, " Sir, why are you retiring, or is that an impertinent
question?" He said, " No. I don't mind telling you.
You see, I had a short but very torrid time as a Prime
Minister." ( He encountered the whole blast of the
Depression.) " Well, I know what happens in the Prime
Minister's Office. I know how many matters are the
subject of despatches, of cables with other governments
and other people and there are some things you
would love to be able to talk about which you can't
talk about because they are in a certain stage of
negotiation. Now ( he said) the only man who ought to
be the Leader of the Opposition is a fellow who has
never had that responsibility so he can put all the
embarrassing questions in the world. I can't and I won't
because I know what is going on inside the Administration
and so, I am disqualified by former office."
IWAS very impressed by this, though I didn't
follow the example ( Laughter) later on myself.
This was completely illustrative of Jim Scullin.
He was a very fine man. He was a man of
sensitive honour and integrity. He was indeed. I don't
think he was a very great thinker, if I may say so, with
respect, you know. He wasn't one of the great statesmen
in that sense, but he was a man of intelligence and
activity and an acutely conscientious man, and I think
that the Labour Party was indeed fortunate to have a
man of his quality, even for this brief period in which
it was in office in 1930 and 1931.
Now, of course, no talk about these people would
be complete without mentioning Billy Hughes. Well, I
can't say too much about this because I saw Hughes
only in his declining days 1934, well, he was never
going to be Prime Minister again. He had a beautiful
waspish wit which could be produced out of a blue
sky in Cabinet, but quite frankly, his ideas were no
longer constructive and his estimates of public opinion,
an element to which he attached a great deal of
importance, were not very frequently right. Now, I
don't know. I am going to read Fitzharding's book on
Billy with loving care because I would like to discover
a few things about him. All I want to say is that in
my time there was nothing about that he had to do or
say which would exhibit more than a gleam of what he
must have been at an earlier stage in his life. But his
wit was devastating, and his use of his deafness,
masterly. ( Laughter.)
I remember on one occasion, for example, he
brought up a proposition in the Lyons Government
which was so hopeless that even the rest of us, in our
ignorance, realised how hopeless it was; he didn't get a
supporter. Everybody said " No" for a variety of
reasons. Now in those days, those old days, we didn't

have a Secretary to the Cabinet, we didn't have Jack
Bunting sitting around or somebody making notes. The
Junior Honorary Minister we even had those at that
time, illegally but the Junior Honorary Minister
was supposed to retain some memory, and the Minister
concerned would put his submission over and get the
Prime Minister to say " approved". This was the
record. I remember one day when Billy had brought
up some proposition which was really too bad for
words, you see ( Laughter), and we all picked it to
pieces, but he had taken his little machine out of his
ear and so at the end of it all, he picked up his submission
and passed it over to Lyons and said, " Well,
I take it you can sign this." ( Laughter.)
ISAID something about George Pearce. You
know, there was a great legend about Pearce.
Because he had gone in almost at the same
time as Billy, though from another State, because he
had followed Billy's fortunes in crossing the floor of
the House, the ' sadition was that George Pearce was a
sort of Vicar of Bray. I would just like to tell you that
in my opinion, speaking about Canberra, I have never
sat in Cabinet with an abler man than George Pearce.
This needs to be said in justice to his memory. He was
a man of 6xtraordinary experience, of course, and he
had great wisdom and he wasn't just somebody who
could say, " Oh, well, you know, I remember." He
would analyse a problem just like that, and having
analysed it, he didn't leave all the loathesome bits and
pieces on the table as so many people do, if they
analyse a problem, but he always knew which one to
pick out and say, " Well, now, that's the thing. That's
the determining factor," and give you his reasons for it,
and his influence on these matters was tremendous and
not negative but positive at all times. Some day, justice
will be done to George Pearce. As it is, I look back on
my great good fortune to have sat in a Cabinet with
him for three years, as one of the things in my life.
Well, then, I have just time to mention quite briefly
two men who deserve far more than some mention.
One is John Curtin and one is Ben Chifley. I can speak
a little about them because they have gone.
Curtin and Chifley will never be understood until
you realise that they were utterly different. I have
never known two men more unlike. They were great
friends, but two men more unlike I would never
expect to see, because Curtin's instincts were towards
a sort of broad philosophical approach to matters. He
liked nothing better than to sit down and put his feet
on the table and have a talk to you about something
that didn't bear on the Bill before the House, but bore
on the general philosophy of politics or indeed of the
world. He was not the greatest speaker in the world,
with great respect, because he leaned too much to long
Latin endings which rather blurred the fine edge of his
speech. But he was a very good speaker, of course,
and would have been greater but for that. This was
part of his makeup. He did have the kind of mind
which liked to range over a wide variety of problems
and if he had had the opportunity in his life of professing
one of these subjects in a university, he would
have done it with great distinction. He was, of course,
a charming man, a delightful man, and a good friend. Chifley was just about the opposite because his mind
didn't range over a wide variety of objects. He dealt
with the economic problems and financial problems.
He had had no preliminary training for them. He
achieved a complete mastery of them. He didn't aspire
to be a great speaker because his voice was against
him, but he still spoke to the point, and he was a great
man to be able to sit down with and discuss matters
with. I would say that he had immense strength in a
narrow field. Curtin's strength was distributed over a
variety of fields. I think that if John Curtin hadn't had
Ben Chifley as Treasurer, his Government might have
fallen earlier or something else might have fallen out
differently. Two utterly different men.
Now, it is easy to say that Chifley well, he was
an engine-driver and he lacked formal education. True
enough, and yet, you know, one of the interesting
things about that man was that I discovered over a
period of years that he had what I thought, at any
rate, an almost immaculate literary judgment. He read
widely, his judgment was good, he could determine
what was shoddy and what was not. It was an illuminating
experience to sit with him on the Literary Fund,
when from time to time we advised about publications
and fellowships and the like. He had clear views,
strong views; I thought tremendously informed and
sound views on these matters and it was entirely to his
credit that while I was thinking of some very periphrastic
way of explaining this, you know, so as not
to hurt anybody's feelings, he was quite capable of
sitting up and saying. " Well, if you don't mind, Miss
So-and-so, I think it's all bloody nonsense" ( Laughter),
which shows the immense advantage in life of having
for a time been an engine-driver and not a barrister.
( Laughter.) So there they were, two different men. The Labour
Party, if I may say so, has great reason to be thankful
to them and I venture to say that each of them in his
turn contributed to making this Parliament a place of
some distinction. Let me say, gentlemen, it is a place of
some distinction. It has had, over the whole of its
history, a number of men of great distinction and we
do well to recognise that. I get pleasure out of it as I
look back over these 30 years. Indeed, as I look back
over the 30 years and remember all the people who
mattered, who emerged like that, I take leave to doubt
whether I will have many happief memories at the end
of my life than recalling them and the work that they
did. Now available:
" Monopoly and the Individual"
by Melbourne Businessman and Economist
The controversial Report on the practical
effects of economic and political
Analysis of Legislation, Consumers' Organisations
Paperback: 9/ 6 Hardcovers Post free from:
PROSPECT, No. 3, 1964

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