Friday, January 25, 2013
The Australian Jewish News
T is said distraction is the last refuge of the desperate. In Mike Kelly’s case thisis more than apt. In an attempt toexplain away Labor’s abstention onthe UN vote for Palestinian stateobserver status and Bob Carr’s aggres-sive campaign to distance Australia fromIsrael, Kelly has opened a new front in thehistory wars (“Labor’s abstentionexplained”
18/01).His portrayal of Sir Robert Menzies as aNazi sympathiser and appeaser “not con-cerned for the fate of the Jews of Germany” isa despicable slur. Kelly’s claims are not only patently false but intellectually dishonest.Menzies understood the true nature of the Nazi threat, referring in his memoirs
, to the “sinister figure of Hitler”. When it came to attributing respon-sibility for the war, Menzies made clear “theguilt was that of Germany alone”.Following a four-day visit to Germany inJuly 1938 (not the “several weeks” Kelly claims) Menzies, in fact, was shocked by theNazis’ destruction of the liberal and demo-cratic features of Germany, and by theapparent willingness of the German peopleto accept this. He wrote about the “some-what queer atmosphere of Germany”, andtold Dr Schacht, the president of theReichsbank, that “the real danger of theregime was that the suppression of criticismwould ultimately destroy Germany”.Far from unrealistically believing peacecould be preserved, on his return heexpressed his deep concern at the parochial-ism of the Australian states in resistingCommonwealth plans to prepare for war.He told the Constitutional Club of Sydney in October that:“Few people of the Commonwealth fully realised that the European crisis mightinvolve hostilities in Australian waters – thatwar might be something that would come toAustralia, and not merely something thatwas happening 12,000 miles away” (
,25/10/1938).Kelly refers in his article to the distress of Dame Enid Lyons, wife of prime ministerJoe Lyons, at comments by Menzies in hisspeech to the Constitutional Club about theissue of national leadership. Kelly greatly misrepresents what Menzies said and thereasons for Enid Lyons’s distress.In his speech, Menzies contrasted the“good natured, easy-going”, head-in-the-sand attitudes of Australians with the patri-otic fervour the German dictatorship hadbeen able to whip up, especially in youngpeople. He said that Australia needed leader-ship that could inspire a sense of patriotismamong Australians.It was Menzies’ call for inspiring leader-ship, at a time when Enid Lyons’s husbandwas in the Lodge, that she could not forgive.Enid Lyons saw Menzies’ speech as a criti-cism of her beloved Joe. Kelly’s claim thatMenzies “contrasted the quality of the lead-ership of Lyons as PM unfavourably withthat of Hitler” is totally false, as is the impli-cation that Enid’s reaction was related to thetreatment of Jews in Germany. Menzies’biographer Allan Martin has examinedclosely Enid’s reaction and concludes thatshe was wrong in taking Menzies’ generalcomment about the importance of leader-ship and a greater sense of unity as a criti-cism of her husband.Again, Kelly’s implication that Menziesadmired Nazism based on his deeply ironiccomments in his letter to his sister Belle in1938, in which Menzies refers to theGermans’ “magnificent” abandonment of liberty and plunge into irreligion, reveals justhow far Kelly is prepared to go to distort thetruth. The defence of liberty was perhapsMenzies’ supreme political value, and hispoint to his sister was the same as his publicremarks.In quoting Christopher Waters’s study of appeasement in Australia, Kelly fails to men-tion Waters’s conclusion that: “Many aspectsof the Nazi system were totally alien toMenzies. The attorney-general was mysti-fied by the German people’s acceptance of their loss of legal and political rights underNazi rule ... Menzies was no fascist. He was acommitted democrat” (Waters, p.66).The suggestion that the Lyons govern-ment (and Menzies) were unwilling to doanything about the plight of Jews in Europeis again false. In fact the Australian govern-ment under both Lyons and Menzies greatly expanded the immigration intake, over JohnCurtin’s and Labor’s resistance, and many thousands of Jewish refugees had enteredAustralia by the outbreak of war.It would not have been an easy decisionfor Menzies to send Australia to war inSeptember 1939.With America remaining neutral andGreat Britain preoccupied in Europe,Australia looked with fear to a rising Japanin the East.The invasion of Manchuria had takenplace and Australia’s rearmament was stillunderway.Nevertheless Menzies had the fortitudeand foresight to put Australia into battle todefend freedom and help defeat the tyranni-cal Nazi regime and Japanese militarists.Curtin’s isolationism was, indeed, themost dramatic example of the “head in thesand” attitude that Menzies criticised. Billy Hughes said of Curtin at the time:“The honourable gentleman says wemust close our ears to the piteous cries of theoppressed, because otherwise we will beendangered ... The day may come when thissmall nation will cry aloud to the world forhelp, but what will the world say if we adoptand pursue the policy of selfish isolationoutlined by the Leader of the Opposition?”Curtin had even opposed the govern-ment’s rearmament program, because in his“class war” view of the world, as his biogra-pher David Day has written, Curtin believed“that it was serving the interests of the armsmanufacturers rather than theworkers”. Curtin, to be fair, struggled to leada deeply divided party in which the anti-Semitic “Jack” Lang was still a powerfulforce, and in which “white Australia” evokedpassionate adherence.“In my opinion,” Menzies said in a mes-sage to Chamberlain in October 1939, “theimmediate object is to win the war and winit in no uncertain way, since a patched-upand premature peace would inevitably expose us to a series of events similar tothose of the past few years.”It was Menzies, without Curtin’s support,who prepared Australia to resist the fascistsand Nazis.“The Labor Party,” Curtin said “isopposed in principle and in practice toAustralians being recruited as soldiers in thebattlefields of Europe.”In his more than two years as prime min-ister after Lyons’s death, Menzies put in placethe fundamental decisions that enabledAustralia to fight the war successfully. As F.G.Shedden, the public service head of theDepartment of Defence, and the man largely responsible for Australia’s war organisation,was to write to Menzies in December 1942after his resignation:“Tribute has yet to be paid to the greatfoundations laid by you at a time when youlacked the advantage of the effect on
Sir Robert Menzies.
AN ENEMY OF TYRANNY AND FRIEND OF FREEDOM
Following an op-ed in last week’s
by Labor MP Mike Kelly,which was critical of Sir Robert Menzies,
–whosits in Menzies’ old seat of Kooyong –and former Howardgovernment minister
JOSH FRYDENBERG AND DAVID KEMP
Menzies, without the Labor Party’s support, had the fortitudeand the foresight to put Australian lives on the line defendingfreedom and defeating the tyrannical Nazi regime.