July 30

Shame Fraser Shame

In the recently published book of letters from the former prime minister, the late Sir Robert Menzies, to his daughter Heather Henderson, it is clear that Sir Robert disapproved of Malcolm Fraser's decision to withhold supply from the Whitlam government.

Sir Robert demonstates here what a truly great statesman he was. 

But as Sir David Smith reveals in his book, Head of State, the Labor opposition had attempted to block supply on well over 100 occasions.

Sir David cites Mr Whitlam as opposition leader on one occasion indicating that the purpose of his motion to reject supply was not only to destroy the budget, but also to destroy the Liberal -Country Party coalition government.  

The point is, he was never able to persuade the cross bench Democratic Labor Party to join him. From Sir Robert's letter, it is clear that Mr. Whitlam had a differnt view on supply from that of his predecessor.

…Fraser blames the Crown for his action…

Had Mr Fraser waited until the Whitlam government had run its course, there can be no doubt that he would have won by a landslide – without the bitterness that came from withholding supply.

What is entirely wrong is that so many of those involved at the time blamed the then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, for doing no more than his duty.

It was the politicians who created a political crisis; the constitution provided the solution and Sir John was the servant of the constitution.

What was absolutely appalling in the 1999 republican referendum campaign was to see Malcolm Fraser coming out as a republican convert and blaming the Crown for the political crisis in 1975 . One of the bumper bar banners in 1975 was "SHAME FRASER SHAME"

What more can be said.

The particular letter follows:    

My darling Heather,


I write to you at a time when I think I have never felt worse about politics. The idiots who now run the Liberal Party will drive me right round the bend. Their last move is to deny supply to the present Government in the Senate. Now, this is something that shocks me. The House of Representatives is the House that is in charge of the finances of the country. The Senate can quite properly reject individual bills, but for the Senate to deny supply to the Government of the country is a matter without precedent.

I have never believed that the Senate ought to take charge of the finances of the country. But this time it looks as if the Senators in the Opposition in the Senate will be prepared to deny supply to the Government and thereby make an election inevitable.

Now, I am all for an election if the Government decides that, having the material for a double dissolution, it will have one. But I think that an election in which the issue is who runs the finances of the country, the House of Representatives or the Senate, could be the most disastrous thing in political history. I cannot tell you how upset I am about all this . . .

Well, that is all the miserable stuff. I am sorry to inflict it on you, my dear. I think I might be a good deal better off when you arrive here in May and I am able to talk to you about matters I think I understand and that I am quite sure you understand. Meanwhile, we are looking forward to Sibby [Heather's youngest daughter Elizabeth], who probably thinks I am a dreadfully old man, and, unfortunately, all the children in the neighbourhood will be away on their Easter holidays when she arrives, but I will rely on her to keep me alive and kicking. But, oh! for May, oh! for the time that you and Peter will be here. This great event will, undoubtedly, lengthen my life.

I always like to remember that when Arthur Calwell was Leader of the Opposition, he would never tolerate the refusal of supply by the Senate; his view being, quite rightly, that the primary control of the finances was with the Lower House and not with the Senate. His view was right, as the Liberal Party's view today is wrong.

With my love to you both,


This is an edited extract from Letters to My Daughter, by Robert Menzies, published by Pier 9, $39.99 


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