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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 988


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: 13/09/1964

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 988

Speech by the Prgime Minister the Rt. Hon. Sir Robert-Menizies
Sir, Your Excellency and Ladies and Gentlemen:
I think I might be permitted, as usual, to engage
in a few vagrant thoughts at the beginning of my talk. One
is that I was delighted to hear from the, distinguished Chairman
that Governors in the State of Victoria keep on improving.
( Laughter) Now Sir Irving is such a master of English that
I was surprised to find myself left in doubt. Did he mean that
each JIovernor was better than the previous one? Or did he
mean that each individual Governor, himself, keeps on improving?
And by interjection he tells me that he meant both. All I
want to say, Your Excellency, is that I shall watch you with
loving care ( laughter).
The second preliminary remark I want ID make is that
I think it is a very agreeable compliment that a fellow who
was at school in Ballarat should have the privilege of listening
to singers from Ballarat. This was not always a pleasure.
It has been this afternoon a most undiluted pleasure. I thought
they saing beautifully. But when I was a schoolboy in Ballarat
and was living in the house of my Scottish grandmother, somebody
had in some way produced a ticket for a Saturday afternoon at
the South Street competitions. Now some of you may know about
the South Street competitions. They were then in their heydayperhaps
for all I know they still are, But I went as a matter
of duty because the tickets cost nothing ( Laughter) and I found
myself sitting in a row of women. They terrified me, There
were four or five to one side and four or five to the other
I had no kiope of esca ping, and that afternoon they had what
they called Set Piece Competitions.
F'ifteeni young men came out stood on the same little
chalk marks on the platform and recited that most marvellous
jury speech in the world, which none of them understood, the
speech of Mark Antony over the dead body of Caesar. ( Laughter)
A.. Ld each of them did it exactly the same way. In those days
they didn't wear double-breasted coats like old-fashioned
fellows like me ( Laughter), and they dropped the thumb and
forefinger into the left waistcoat pocket and raised the right
hand and said, " Friends, Romans countrymen... 0 tt You know.
Well, I have lived long enough o have reread that specch and
indeed all of Shakespeare many times with immense joy, but I
want to confess to you that at the ripe intellectual age of
fourteen, I found it pure horror. ( Laughter)
And then the next item was the Set Piece -Song
and the song was " Who Is Sylvia?" ( Laughter) They don't
remember it because it is before their but " Who Is
Sylvia?" and I heard thirteen or fourteen people sing " Who~ Is
Sylvia?" until I don't mind telling you that at the end of that
time I didntt care a hoot who Sylvia was. ( Laughter) All I
do know is that the South Street Competitions made Ballarat
over the years a centre of singing, and I've been as delighted
as you have been to hear the YWCA choir from Ballarat singing
so beautifully, Now since I saw you last indeed since last year,
( when I wasn't here) Itve been in London that won't surprise
** 0900/

you because that happens and we had a Prime Ministers'
Conference. Many of you have observed the results of the
Conference and have seen I hope with great satisfaction
that after many difficulties in the course of discussion
we arrived at conclusions which I believe will lead to
increasing co-operation between Commonwealth countries.
But I have thought more than once that perhaps many people
still think of the Commonwealth in rather old terms. It is
only a few years ago that I could hear eminent politicians
say, " Well, of course I refer to the Commonwealth but I
like the expression tthe Empire'. I'm an old-fashioned man."
I might have said that myself many years ago for all I know.
But what I want to put to you this afternoon what I want to
tell you about this afternoon is that we must accommodate our
thinking about the Commonwealth.
We must accommodate our thinking about our relations
with other countries to the realities and changes of life,
because in 1964, at the last meeting that I have attended
the ninth consecutive meeting that I have attended, the sate
of affairs was fundamentally different from the state of
affairs thirty years ago because, believe it or not9 I attended
my first meeting of what was then called the Imperial
Conference in 1935 not then, I hsiston to say, being a Prime
Minister but being Deputy to the late Mr. Lyons, and he being
ill, I attended. 1935, and here we are in 1964.
Now, Sir. perhaps it might be useful for me to
recall what our imperial/ Dominions/ Commonwealth relations
were at that time, just tunder thirty years ago, Well, for
a start, there were fiv people present, There was the Prime
Minister of Great Britain, the Prime Minister of Canada, Prime
Minister of Australia, Prime Minister of South Afriua and the
Prime Minister of New Zealand. And we were all, in a sense,
much of a kind. We spoke the same language, we had the same
sort of background, we understood each other, we found it not
very difficult to arrive at common conclusions and we were
all the subjects, the loyal subjects of the Crow. at that
time, of King George V, and so a conference didntl take very
long and we usually came out of it with a few joint ideas which
we thought might be useful to the world.
Now at that time, $ ir, and indeed until just after
the last war, we had all sorts of things in common. I hope
you won't mind if I point out some of these because this is
a time in history when if we are to be tolerant and understanding,
we must know what the facts are, Now at that time and,
indeed, until 1948 we were all bound together by a common
allegiance to the Throne, This indeed was the whole essence
of the famous Balfour Declaration independent countries,
equal in all things, governing themselves in all things and
united by a common allegiance to the Crown. And, of course,
Australia, New Zealand, Canada Great Britain are all still
united by a common allegiance to th3 Crown9 but that doesn't
apply any longer in a general sense . in the Commonwealth
because in point of fact, beginning n 1949 1948/ 49 when
India became a Republic, and it was agreed India could remain
in the Commonwealth, the great majority of the new nations who
have been created out of the old colontal system have elected
to be republics, and indeed, this led to a nuw formula for how
could a republican be united to another country by a common
allegiance to the Crown,, It was impossible,, And so they
invented a formula, rightly or wrongly of referring to The
Queen as the Hend of the Commonwealth tut eliminating the
requirement of the common allegiance to the Throne. 00 ./ 3

Now we were five in those days, At the last Conference
in London, there were eighteen Prime Ministers. You, of course,
may frequently think, God bless you, that one is too many
( Laughter) but there were eighteen of us, and the great bulk
of those present, republics, and therefore not within the
allegiance to the Throne. Now it's worth remembering that
because there is something about being a subject of The Queen
which really does give you something, doesn't it? This
distinguishes you in a material way from other people,
And at that time, and afterwards, it was permissible,
indeed it seemed occasionally almost compulsory for people in
after-dinner speeches particularly and I warn you there is
n~ othing more devastating than the habit of after-dinner speakingit
was the habit of people to say, " Well, look at all the great
elements we have in common," and indeed we had them then. The
sovereignty of Parliament.
Now Parliamentary self-government is commonplace to
us, isn't it4 Parliamentary self-government is the whole
essence of political life, and people may grumble at it, growl
at it, and have great and partisan feelings about this candidate
or that caniidate, but without Parliamentary self-. government
we would not be a democracy and, as we believe, and as I believe,
half our freedoms would disappear. And so it was said with
great tr1u th one time that we were bound together by our common
belief in the sovereignty of Parliament.
I just want to tell you that's no longer true, We
practise the sovereignty of Parliament in Australia and they
do in Canada and they do in New Zealand and they do in. Great
Britain and they do in two or three or four or perhaps five of
the new Commonwealth countries but not in all, not in all,
We have lived long enough to be able to recognise a species of
dictatorship In one country and a one-party system which is
a kind of dictatorship in this country or that country.
There is no longer that common belief that unites, the common
be*.. ef in the sovereignty of Parliament, That's not to say that
we must give up our faith in it, but it does mean to say that we
are to understand that we are now thinking about a Commonwealth
which has lost one of its old unities indeed, more than one
and that we must struggle to understand the point of view of
those who have entirely different ideas,
We have responsible government. Well, I know, ladies
and gentlemen., that every now and then you are a little tempted
to believe that governments are irresponsible, Even my
Government, I believe they tell me, puzzles you occasionally,
but we have responsible government, because the people you send
into Parliament can throw a government out if they feel that it
has fallen into some cardinal blunder. And every time we have
an election and you elect Members of Parliament a Cabinet emerges
and Cabinet is responsible to the Parliament ancA therefore to
you. This is the whole essence of our system of government.
And ever since responsible government was created by the
resignation of Walpole in 174+ 2 because he was defeated on a
vote in the House of Commons over sIRnce then this has been
one of our glories and one of the guarantees ol human freedom
responsible government,
You are not to assume that there is any such thing as
responsible government in five or six or seven of the new
Commonwealth countries, and I am not saying that critically,
All I mean is that these are new countries, newly-won to their
independence and that we will err very grievously if we expect
aO # a

that their standards of government, their institutions of
government, their basic thinking about government will be the
same as our own, because after all, ladies and gentlemen , you
and I are the inheritors of the richest tradition of' Parliamentary
and responsible government the world has yet produced.
Some of these countries, as I say, don't have the
party system except in a highly-simplified form, that is to
say, one pariy; there is only one party you can belong to and
therefore only one party you can vote for. This is quite true
in two or three of the new African countries, and we have had
distinguished spokesmen for these countries, explaining why
they think this is a good thing and T wontt argue with them.
All I know is that I hope we will never havre a one-party system
of government in this country, though at a reception at
Canberra to Mr. Mboya from Kenya, two or three of my friends
of the Opposition in Canberra tapped me on the shoulder when
ho was talking about a one-party Government and 11said, " Don't
worry, old boy, youtve had it for fifteen years."( agtr
Well, I hope I will not have it when it becomes necessary to
destroy it. But two parties a government and an opposition,
the hammer and the anvil this is the way in which the truth
emerges. We have lived, fortunately for ourselves, for many
years under the rule of law, urdor a. system in which however
much we may wrangle, if we go before the judge, we all believe
we are going to have a fair hearing and an equal deal, end
we have had a wonde-6-ul judiciary, and so they have in Great
Britain, and so they have in many other count'~ ies, but the
rule of law, as we understand it, with all people equal before
the Bar of Justice is not a coinmonplace thing in some of the
new countries. We, of course, have a common htstoriaal background.
Indeed, it is our common historical background that makes it
so easy for us to be on terms with the Americans bu~ t never
let it be forgotten, that if you are going to talk about the
history of a people, with ours going right back to the ancient
Britons and to the Romans and to the Angles and the Saxons
-nd the Jutes and the Norman invaders and so on until the Scots
took charge. ( Laughter) If we are going to think about that,
then we must remember that up to the late eighteenth century,
this was a history we had in common with the people of America.
This is frequently forgotten our historic paths diverged
at the Declaration of Independence, That's only a few days
ago thatts towards the end of the eighteenth century. And
therefore in all the Parliamentary countries, as I will call
them, we have a tremendous body of common historic tradition.
This is not true, necessarily of countries in
Asia or in Africa. It is very difficult f'or people who have
reached my age and who have lived and moved and had their
being in this historic tradition and have taken all these
inherited things for granted very difficult for us to
understand that there ar-o other people who are just as good
as we are who don't have th-Is tradition or background at all
but who have their own and we must struggle not to be superior
about ours but to understand theirs and the right way to begin
to understand anybody is ' to discover what your differences are
so that you may perceive them, think about them and try to
reconcile theme 00 0 D ae1

We've had, many traditions indeed for a long, long
time. We've had our language and our literature. w4e take
all these things for granted, don't we, I think so, I know
I find myself constantly taking -them for granted. We regard
language as a sort of instrument of communication as indeed
it is and as for literature we read either by compulsion or
choice, and we may take it l'or granted that all this is the
ki~ nd of-thing that happens to other people. But you know, my
friends, it isn't. It isn't, W3 just happen to be British
people, Australian citizens British subjects, and we have a
literary tradition the tradition of language which we share
with hundreds of millions of people in the world, twio hundred
millions of them being in the United States of America, and we
have great fun with each other because there are about twentyseven
different accents in the United States of Amprica and at
least twenty.-seven in Great Britain, and so it goes on and
everybody is prepared to say, " Oh, yes. He has an Australian
accent" as no doubt he has " and he has an American accent,"
although that might be one of many ( Laughter) but allowing for
all that, we do knowa don't we, that in our rough and ready
fashion, we are speaking the same language and that we can
communicate with each other on terms and can, so far as communication
will bring it about, understand each other. This is one
of the great things -in the world in the New Commonwealth, which
is in a sense the new world, thai we have to become more
toleralit, more understanding, a litt2e less dc-E;_ aatic about these
things, a little more inclin~ ed to believe that -the fact that
a man speaks in a language not ours is no evidence that he
doesn't have high intelligence and great understanding and
great capacity. And therefore those Pr'ie Ministers? Conferences are
becoming nowadays a liber& I exercise in patience and understanding
in debates, yes, sometimes quit'-e fiery but at the end
with a desire to arrive at an accommodation with the othor man
for an overall cause that you both think is worthwhile and has
sign~ ificance in thae world.
Therefore, Sir, we have come to a new Commonwealth in
which there are now people, ne~ w methods, new problems, new
thinking. The only time I have ever wanted to be younger than
1 am because I am happy to -tell you that I have no grievances
about my ago the only time that I've ever wished that I were
younger than I am is when I have occasionally thought not that
I would like to see what is going to happen in the world in the
world of science, though of course I should be interested, what
is going to happen in the development of armaments what is
going to happen when people go to the moon and fina. it is a
rather dusty spot ( Laughter) these things really don't induce
me to want to be an old, old tiresome man of one hundred-but
I would occasionally like to take twenty years off' my life, just
conditipna lly, able to put it on again later on but just for a
while take twenty years off my life in order to see how this
tremendous task of reconciliation is going on, how the new
Commonwealth is going to work out, how far we will be able to
submerge the occasional irritations in the interests of
kindliness and understanding and a mutual strength, because
believe me I ha-Ve lived long enough to know that he fact ihat
a man is different is no evidence against him. On the contrary,
it may be the greatest evidence in his fivour, * a Ga. 9 e e/ 6

' 0 -6
Here we are, at the end of an old empire
which 0there it at the end of the older
Commonwealth and at the beginning of a new one. If the
new one succeeds by producing understanding and tolerance
and charity of mind and anxiety to succeed, then it will
turn out to be one of the great new experiments in human
life but if we allow ourselves to be impatient, to look
unduly at the past, to yearn for the old state of affairs,
to tal~ k about the good old times, then perhaps the new
Commonwealth will not last long and perhaps indeed I
would have thought certainly Lhe world will be poorer
for it,

Transcript 988