The Price of Nostalgia: Menzies, the "Liberal" Tradition and Australian Foreign Policy

By Bongiorno, Frank | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, September 2005 | Go to article overview

The Price of Nostalgia: Menzies, the "Liberal" Tradition and Australian Foreign Policy


Bongiorno, Frank, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


Perhaps, if I reach a ripe age, I will be a curio because I once lived a few week-ends in great country houses of England. (1) (Robert Menzies, Diary, 20 April 1941)

It is a feature of Menzies' long rule that little of what he does seems to matter much. His great talent is to preside over events and look as if he knows what they are all about. His few active interventions have been mainly failures [...] It is a feature of his rule that most of the things in which he seemed to believe when he regained office in 1949 did not happen [...] His attitude has been largely nostalgic; he has regretted much of what he saw of Australia in the 1960s. (2) (Donald Home, The Lucky Country, 1964)

Robert Gordon Menzies, the subject of Donald Horne's scathing assessment in The Lucky Country, was Prime Minister of Australia for almost one-fifth of the century. His first prime ministership, in the early years of the Second World War, was brief and came to an inglorious end when he was tipped out by members of his own party. His second period in office lasted over sixteen years, and encompassed much of the period that Eric Hobsbawm has called capitalism's "Golden Years". (3) Although nearly defeated during a 1961 recession, no other figure has approached his dominance of the federal scene.

Any consideration of the existence of a Liberal Party tradition in Australian foreign policy, then, would need to find a prominent place for Menzies. Although he served only for two years as Minister for External Affairs (1960-61), Menzies played a major part in seeking to define Australia's place in the world between the 1930s and the 1960s. The office of Prime Minister had, since federation, played a dominant role in the formulation of Australian foreign policy, not least because communication with the British Government occurred directly through that channel. (4) However, the development of the Department of External Affairs from the late 1930s, and the growing importance of Australia's relationship with the United States and therefore of the Washington Embassy after 1939, combined to shift the centre of gravity in Australian foreign policy away from the prime minister. This trend became clear during Menzies' 1950s prime ministership; yet he was still able to play a dominant role on many issues, especially in matters that touched on relations with Britain and the Commonwealth. (5)

These changing configurations of political, diplomatic and bureaucratic influence help to explain an otherwise puzzling paradox of Menzies' long prime ministership, and one that largely conforms with Home's assessment: that he was personally peripheral to many of his government's major landmarks in foreign and defence policy. These include the commitment of troops to Korea (1950), the formulation and development of the Colombo Plan (1950), the signing of the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand and United States) Treaty (1951), in all of which Percy Spender was the moving force; and the Trade Agreement with Japan (1957), of which John McEwen was the architect. (6) Moreover, Garfield Barwick and the Department of External Affairs (DEA), much more than Menzies and the Prime Minister's Department, were the drivers of Australia's restrained and ultimately successful response to Indonesia's "Confrontation" of Malaysia (1963-6), even while Menzies allowed himself to be persuaded that Barwick and DEA's policy of a "carefully graduated response" was worthy of support in the interests of friendly relations with Indonesia. (7) Perhaps Menzies' most important contribution to Australian foreign policy was to allow ministers such as Spender, McEwen and Barwick (and, to a lesser extent, Casey and Hasluck) the scope to exercise their own talents while remaining open to "rational argument" on particular issues. (8) Menzies arguably exercised the greatest influence in connection with a relationship that would become progressively less important to Australia during his prime ministership, and especially in its twilight years (1963-6)--notably, Australia's relationship with the United Kingdom. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Price of Nostalgia: Menzies, the "Liberal" Tradition and Australian Foreign Policy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.