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Wednesday, 9 March 1966

Mr HAROLD HOLT (Higgins) (Prime Minister) . - I move -

That to mark the retirement from this Parliament of our former colleague and member for Kooyong, the Right Honorable Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, K.I"., C.H., Q.C., after a distinguished public career encompassing six years in the Parliament of the State of Victoria, and over thirty-one years in membership of the House of Representatives, including sixteen consecutive years as Prime Minister, this House places on record its recognition of his long, able and devoted service to Australia, to the Commonwealth of Nations and to the institution of Parliament, and extends to bini and Dame Pattie Menzies its sincerest good wishes

Mr. Speaker,I am sure that members from all sections of the House, having learned of the retirement, after so long a period of service in this House, of Sir Robert Menzies, would welcome the opportunity which J now present to them of placing on record some expression of our appreciation of his services and of the admiration we feel for him and for his wonderful helpmate, Dame Pattie Menzies. As I indicated to the House yesterday, Sir, there will be an opportunity for the Parliament to meet Sir Robert and Dame Pattie personally at the dinner that we are tendering, as a Government, in their honour in this Parliament House on Thursday of next week. J felt - and my colleagues of the Government shared this feeling - that it would be appropriate if at the first available moment a resolution in the terms that I have put before the House were proposed, so as to provide an opportunity for some public expression of our sentiments in the Parliament itself and, in particular, in this House of Representatives, where the right honorable gentleman was such a distinguished member for so long a period of years.

It is not my intention, Sir, to give a detailed recital of the right honorable gentleman's long record of achievement. There are in existence, of course, details of this kind in official and semi-official places. The "Parliamentary Handbook", "Who's Who ", the Press records of this country and the history of our times as written by various people all enshrine the achievements of the right honorable gentleman. To adopt a phrase which he himself sometimes employed, this is not an obituary occasion. The right honorable gentleman has retired from the service of this Parliament, but he is very much with us as a citizen of the Commonwealth - a very distinguished citizen. He will, I am sure, as long as breath abides in him, continue to seek ways in which he can be of some service to the nation he loves so well.

Sir, whenone reflects on his life, one sees how remarkably long a period of our young Federation the public service of the right honorable gentleman has spanned. He came into this Parliament in 1934 but by that time he had already spent six years in the service of the Parliament of the State of Victoria. For more than half of the life of this Federation of ours he has been in a key political situation. He has been frequently at the centre of controversy. Indeed, it would be impossible to write a history of these times without having running through it, as a shining thread, the service and performance of Sir Robert Menzies. His retirement brings to an end what many people will regard - I number myself amongst them - as the most distinguished parliamentary career in the history of our nation - certainly a career which, in achievement of high office, has surpassed greatly that of any other Australian citizen. He had in the office of Prime Minister more than double the length of service of any other Prime Minister in the history of the nation. He served for 18 years as Prime Minister and for six years as Leader of the Opposition.

About such a man - one of those rare persons who become legends in their own lifetimes - a certain mythology develops. I have read with some amusement from time to time, as I am sure he has, the descriptions of him which have appeared in either journals or the Press. As with other public figures - I am sure the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) will agree with me on this - there is a similarity about some of these comments, as if they had proceeded from an authoritative source and had been taken up by other commentators as being authentic and accurately descriptive. But some of the comments which regularly have appeared about my former leader have been so far from the actualities as known by those of us who were close to him in the Cabinet that I thought I should make some reference to one or two of them.

He has been presented so often as an authoritarian figure, who left his Cabinet very little opportunity to make a contribution to the matters coming before it. Well, it is not customary to discuss what goes on in a Cabinet. Indeed, as Executive Councillors we are bound by oath not to disclose the details of our discussions, but I think I would not violate that principle in any degree if I made some mention of the manner in which the right honorable gentleman, as the head of the Government, saw his duties in the Cabinet. As my colleagues who have sat in the Cabinet of the nation know, far from discouraging the presentation of independent viewpoints around the table, he not only encouraged it but expected it. A great value we found ourselves deriving from his presence as Prime Minister was that as argument and debate unfolded around the Cabinet table he was able, with that calm, judicial quality of mind which is peculiarly one of his outstanding attributes, to pull the threads of argument together. With that mastery of exposition which has not been surpassed by any other public figure 1 have encountered anywhere in the world in my experience of public life, he would lay so clearly before us the pros and cons of argument that our task of decision became very much easier. We did not always agree with his judgment, yet he would accept cheerfully and readily the decision of his Cabinet when a majority opinion was obvious.

So one turns to other aspects of this mythology. There is the story that goes abroad about an aloofness of manner and a coolness of temperament. Again those of us who were close to him, as I was honoured to be for the whole period of my public life, know what a warm, friendly, charming companion the right honorable gentleman is to all who come intimately into contact with him. I know that in all sections of this Parliament, and certainly in the ranks of the Opposition in great number, there are those who are proud to call him friend and who can reflect today on many an incident in which they were personally involved in his friendship. His geniality, his good humour, radiated to all of them.

I mention these things because here we speak as people who know him intimately and I would not have an unfavourable record linger any longer than public contradiction can prevent it from lingering.

While discussing the conception that there was some aloofness or coolness of temperament associated with the Prime Minister I take my mind back - at a time such as this memories crowd into the minds oi all of us - to a time when he and I, in company with Dame Pattie, were making an inspection of the developments taking place at Weipa. While we were at the mission station at Weipa the Prime Minister called some Aboriginal children over to him. He sat there with an Aboriginal child on each knee, singing to them the song, "The Galloping Major ". I thought that if only we could have had the incident suitably recorded there would be many people around Australia who would entertain a very different view of this great man.

The oratory of Sir Robert Menzies has been the subject of admiring comment not only in his own country but around the English speaking world. I heard the former Presidential candidate Tom Dewey say - and I know that he had made this statement previously - that in Robert Menzies Australia had the finest orator in the English speaking world. A tribute of this kind, coming from a man who had been closely in touch with the great political figures of his time, was indeed a tribute worth recording. Lester Pearson, the Prime Minister of Canada, has described him as whole-souled and of an outgoing temperament, and the admiration which Sir Winston Churchill felt for our former colleague is, I think, widely known.

The right honorable gentleman had, as Australia realised throughout his years of national leadership and in the years when he was in Opposition, a mastery of exposition of the fundamental principles of our public life. He would, I think, regard as one of his own great achievements the foundation of a great political party which stands as a memorial giving expression to the high principles of public office for which he stood - the principles of policy and the principles of conduct. He stands in my mind as a man who has always kept his spirits high in adversity. I do not think I have ever admired him as much as I did through those years immediately following the election of 1961. His spirits seemed to rise with the challenge of near defeat and the prospect that defeat might face us in the future unless we could convince the community of the wisdom and appropriateness of our policies. Although this came towards the end of his long parliamentary career, he revealed a vigour, a strength of purpose, and an application of energy which were matters foi admiration by all of us who came closely in touch with him at that time.

Politics, it is said, is the science of the possible, and here is a science surely in which he greatly excelled. Cleverness, intelligence, wisdom - these are three terms which are not always clearly understood in their relation one to the other. We see cleverness in this place; we see some intelligence in this place, and more rarely we find wisdom. Not often do we find these three qualities embodied in the one man, but here is a man who embodies them, all in ample measure.

His political life covered a period of far reaching change in Australia, lt ran right from the period of the depression in the 1930's, through the experience of war and into the era of national growth and peaceful development in the post-war years. He was a member of the Government which introduced the first £100 million Budget in Australia and was in the Parliament when the Budget of last year, amounting to more than £2,600 million, was introduced. This gives an indication of the enormous increase of the scope and diversity of the political activities of the Parliament in which he served.

Sir, ifhe had to specify those achievements in which he had found the greatest satisfaction, I think he would number amongst them the foundation of the Liberal Party and the alliances in the forging of which he had so important a part to play and which have strengthened the security of this country immeasurably. Then there is the love he has for Canberra, the capital of the nation, to the development of which he devoted so much of his time and thought. He must today be deriving great satisfaction from what he sees of the growth in beauty of the capital which is now attracting an increasing body of his fellow Australians as they come to see the work which we have performed here. Sir Robert Menzies must also have found great satisfaction in his achievements in the field of education which, until bis own time of leadership, had been regarded as almost exclusively a matter for the States. I am not overlooking, here, the valuable work which Mr. Dedman did in this field during his period in a ministry. But Sir Robert Menzies led the development of the Commonwealth's interest in education and, in particular, the development of our universities and the provision of opportunities for young Australians to participate in the life of a growing number of Australian universities. This, too, would stand as one of the achievements he would prize.

But we, sir, think in our more reflective moments, of the contribution he has made to the quality of service and the rectitude of public service in this country. Here is a man for whom the word " upright " is so singularly appropriate that we found it running through the whole history of his administration. At no point of time can I recall an instance in which a member of his own Administration or, for that matter, a member of the Public Service, has come under public challenge for some impropriety. He, himself, insisted on the highest standards of integrity and rectitude, and he stands as a model for any member of Parliament or of an Australian Cabinet for the strict adherence he maintained at all times to what he regarded as the standards and requirements of his office. I mentioned earlier the great contribution which had been made to this notable parliamentary life by Dame Pattie Menzies. She has the affectionate admiration of all of us and on leaving the service of the Parliament for the pursuits that lie ahead of them he and she carry our warmest good wishes.

There was not a time when Sir Robert Menzies sought distinction for himself. I am quite certain he would have been very happy to have gone from the Parliament as Robert Menzies; but two distinctions very understandably possessed an irresistible appeal for him. One was the offer held out to him by Her Majesty the Queen of the Knighthood of the Thistle, this ancient Scots distinction of such outstanding order, the highest that has gone to any member of this country from a ruling monarch. Thc.i there was the distinction which, by virtue of its possession formerly by his old colleague Sir Winston Churchill - the Wardenship of the Cinque Ports - came his way as the result of an imaginative and friendly gesture from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This, too, he proudly received as a tribute not only to himself but also to the country he has been serving for all those years.

We hope that, in his retirement from the Parliament, and as he goes about his occasions which will in themselves bring great credit and distinction to Australia wherever he proceeds, he will carry the pleasure of these distinctions with him and we, in Australia, will be sharing in the happiness and the pride that he and Dame Pattie enjoy in them. Sir, a chapter of this notable life is concluded. There are many years ahead, we trust, for this great man, still in the vigour of mind and robustness of physique and temperament that saw him through so many arduous years of leadership in this Parliament. We shall, from all sections of the Parliament, be glad to join in the warmest good wishes to Sir Robert Menzies and Dame Pattie and it is with the greatest sincerity that we subscribe to the resolution I have put before the House.

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