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Thursday, 20 April 1939

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader of the United Australia party) . - I do not oppose the motion. On the contrary, I support it, and I should have had no occasion to say more than that if it were not for the most extraordinary speech that has just been made by the Prime Minister (Sir Earle Page), speaking, as I understand, in his capacity as Leader of the Country party, but not, I imagine, on behalf of his Cabinet.

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !

Mr MENZIES - It was an extraordinary speech, delivered, if I may say so, at a most inappropriate time. We all agree, irrespective of party associations, that the Commonwealth is, at the moment, called upon to deal with difficult problems. Most of us believe that those problems can be attacked successfully only by a concerted effort. I, in consequence, and in spite of some temptation during the last two days, have preserved complete silence on subjects that are now matters of notoriety, although I have heard whispers occasionally about the reason for the refusal of the Country party to co-operate with me in the formation of a government. I should have been very glad to avoid having to say anything about that matter even if that refusal had been persisted in, because my own view is that in the interests of Australia the door might have been kept open. If that door had been closed for reasons of high policy, I could have respected those reasons. But the door has been closed, bolted, and barred, presumably, for reasons which are not only offensive and personal, but also paltry. I shall say something about those reasons in their turn, and I shall speak, Mr. Speaker, with due restraint - indeed with more restraint than I might have felt disposed to display on another occasion.

The first reason that has been adduced for the refusal of the Country party to co-operate with me, as Leader of the United Australia party, is that I resigned from the Lyons Government on the issue of national insurance. But honorable members know that I resigned from that government because, only a few weeks ago, I had given a specific pledge in writing to my electors.

Mr Brennan - Irrespective of the honorable gentleman's Cabinet colleagues ? Did he have no responsibility to them?

Mr MENZIES - I am stating my views; in due course, the honorable gentleman may have an opportunity to give his. After all, I am the person who has been attacked - nobody else. I resigned from the Lyons Government because, as I have told the House, I gave a specific pledge to my electors in connexion with the national insurance scheme. Is it a contemptible thing for a man to keep his word? Is it the mark of a coward for a man to keep his word on an issue which is far from popular? I have no apologies to offer for my resignation. On the contrary, I regard it as one of the more respectable actions of my public life.

The second reason given exhibits an amazing effort at ingenuity on the part of the right honorable gentleman. Having, I think, looked the matter up, he said that 24 weeks ago - I have forgotten the date - I made a speech to members of the Constitutional Club in Sydney on the subject of leadership. I do not know whether any honorable gentleman was present on that occasion and heard the speech, but I can say now that not one word of it do I wish to retract. The burden of my remarks was that the dictatorships owed no small portion of their success to two things - one was the leadership, the undivided leadership, which they enjoyed ; the other was the undivided loyalty to that leadership which existed inside their countries. I went on to. say that whilst I despised the doctrines of dictatorships and would resist them to the utmost, the test of a successful democracy was leadership, and loyalty to that leadership. After I had said that I actually went out of my. way to add that it was a homily which I was addressing to myself and every other person in Australia who occupied any public position involving leadership of the people. I am not responsible for the manner in which my views may have been twisted. The right honorable the Prime Minister refrained from saying that he personally thought that my speech was an attack on my late leader. All I can say on that point is that conversations which I had with my late leader and friend were completely inconsistent with any suggestion that he regarded my speech as an attack upon him. After all, is this not getting down pretty low? If we are to be held responsible not only for what we say - I am always prepared to accept responsibility for my utterances - but also for the gloss which some person who may or may not have heard a speech puts upon it, that will be the end of all pleasure in public life. I invite every honorable gentleman in this chamber to ask himself : " How should I like that standard of judgment to be applied to me?"

I come now to the third ground of attack, which, I may add, is no novelty. It represents a stream of mud through which : I have waded at every election campaign in which I have participated. The attack is " You did not go to the war." That is a statement which, I daresay, has occasionally been directed to some members of the party led by the right honorable gentleman.

Mr Gander - Yes, and in the Government front rank. " Shoot 'em down, Thorby:'! ; "

Mr MENZIES - There are certain people who regard it as their ordained mission in life to pry into the private reasons for the actions of other people; to put them up against a wall and say, " Why didn't you do so and so ? ". Presumably prying in this fashion, the right honorable gentleman discovered some facts concerning my action at the time he mentions, but failed to discover others. He said, with all its deadly implication, that I resigned a military commission a year after the Great War broke out. If he had investigated a little further, he would have discovered that I, in common with other young men of my age, was a trainee under the then existing system of compulsory training, and as such, in common with other young men, I took my chance of being a private, a sergeant, a lieutenant or an officer of any other rank. When my period of universal training expired, my activity in connexion with the system also expired. I did not resign anything. I served the ordinary term of a compulsory trainee.

I was in exactly the same position as any other person who at that time had to answer the extremely important questions - Is it my duty to go to the war, or is it my duty not to go ? The answers to those questions cannot be made on the public platform. Those questions relate to a man's intimate, personal and family affairs, and, in consequence, I, facing those problems, problems of intense difficulty, found myself, for reasons which were and are compelling, unable to join my two brothers in the infantry of the Australian Imperial Force.

Mr Frost - It is the business of no one but yourself.

Mr MENZIES - I say that. After all, this kind of attack is very disagreeable. It is the sort of attack that is made, and in my case has been made, time and again; but I am foolish enough to believe that the only judgment as to a man's capacity, a man's courage, a man's fortitude that has any relevancy to his public conduct is the judgment of the people who have known him and worked with him. Members of the United Australia party are familiar with me; they know my many faults; they are acquainted with such poor qualities as they may think that I possess; they believe, and I am conscious of the honour that they have done me in expressing that belief, that I am capable of leading them, and I am vain enough to hope that I have capacity enough to discharge that trust, and that in the discharge of it I shall exhibit none of those miserable attribute;-, that have been suggested by the Prime Minister in the most remarkable attack that I have ever heard in the whole of my public career.

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