Gerard Henderson, who has been described as a chief safeguard of the Menzies legacy, recently gave a speech on Robert Menzies which was re-produced in the latest edition of Quadrant Magazine. At the end of the article Henderson outlines the achievements of Menzies, which I thought I would score from a libertarian perspective.
1) Menzies believed in the family. Well, we all believe that families exist and are good things. But Henderson is presumably refering to distortionary government policies that subsidise or restrict various lifestyle choices. That’s 0/1 so far.
2) Henderson suggests that Menzies believed in private enterprise. However he goes on to clarify that he only really means small business (ie, if a business is too successful, it becomes bad) and he can only find one act of economic liberalism during his decades in power. The reality is that Menzies maintained the three pillars of insular Australia — protectionism, white australia policy and highly centralised industrial relations policy. The best thing that can be said (as with the Howard government) is that Menzies didn’t screw things up too much. Using that very liberal approach he gets half a mark, so that’s 0.5/2.
3) Menzies was a military interventionist and never saw a war he didn’t want to get involved in. Whether Korea, Malaya or Vietnam he was happy to increase the size and scope of government if it meant he could get involved in wars that we didn’t need to be involved in. Henderson is also proud that Menzies restricted civil liberties and tried to ban the Communist Party. Naughty naughty. That’s 0.5/3.
4) Menzies believed in economic growth. Wow. That is such a banal thing to mention I’m not going to score it.
5) And finally, Henderson proudly mentions that Menzies is responsible for undermining federalism by getting the commonwealth government involved in education though state aid to catholic schools. That has ballooned into billions of dollars of middle-class welfare and jurisdictional duplication. So that’s a total of 0.5/4… which is a fail mark.
The sad news is that this is the list of positives that could be found from one of Menzies greatest supporters.
Menzies was a conservative, not a liberal. Some conservatives hold him up as Australia’s greatest Prime Minister, and by their standards that may be true. However, by classical liberal (or libertarian) standards it is hard to see the appeal of Menzies.