"A group of Monash University students
approached me in 1978 to chair a Trust that would arrange an annual
lecture in honour of Sir Robert Menzies. Michael Kroger, a leading Liberal
activist, was one of the students in this group. I was a member of the
Education Faculty at the University's then only campus, Clayton. They
were difficult times at Monash University. Of all Australian universities
Monash University bore the major brunt of the unrest that swept through
universities of the western world at that time - unrest occasioned by
external events such as the war in Vietnam, as well as that prompted
by mounting dissatisfaction with the traditional structure of universities.
To many of us, there were major faults on the side of the universities,
notably the slowness of groups within the university, at Monash in those
days notably the professors, to respond to a genuine desire for more
student participation in the life and decision making of the university.
This was in a new university, prepared to go in new directions and headed
at that time by a great Vice-Chancellor, Louis Matheson, who was a man
responsive to student ideas.
"The ferment and radicalism of the 1970s was, for those of us who
went through it a disturbing experience. Traditional ways of behaving
and operating were challenged, and a difficult atmosphere prevailed.
Monash was the place where we saw the most radical and violent student
activism in Australia.
"In this setting, for a group of students to hold different views
was courageous, and their courage was frequently tested. They wanted
to have heard a different view, and in doing so make a positive contribution
to university life.
"The fact that one of Monash's main buildings was named after Menzies
was testimony to the considerable contribution Menzies made to university
education in Australia, and to the expansion of tertiary education in
Australia, and even more reason why students wanted to pay a special
tribute to a great Australian Prime Minister.
"Because of the radical nature of student politics and in particular
the nature of the Student Union at Monash, the students seeking to establish
the lecture wanted to protect the lecture from constitutional take-over
by distancing it from any student club. Accordingly a separate trust
was established under trust deed, and while a role was given to the
Monash University Liberal Club, the constitution provided that the majority
of trustees were not club delegates. To balance student enthusiasm,
some more senior people , who were known to be sympathetic to the Liberal
cause, including Stan Guilfoyle and myself, were invited to be members
along with some state and federal members of parliament. Notably we
had the Hon Andrew Peacock, Sir Billy Snedden, and the Hon Geoff Coleman.
As an independent trust, it also had no official relationship with the
Liberal Party _ although the philosophy has been unashamedly Liberal.
"Having been set up during the lifetime of Sir Robert Menzies,
the Sir Robert Menzies Lecture is not as such a memorial lecture. The
founding students met with him, and he gave permission for his name
to be used. Universities were dear to his heart, and the thought of
young students wanting to honour him in this way appealed to him.
"One reason for the survival of the lecture and its continued success
was the support of Dame Pattie Menzies and the Menzies family. Dame
Pattie attended most of the lectures in her lifetime, and her willingness
to attend and lend endorsement meant much to students and trustees.
Other members of the family have continued the tradition and daughter
Heather, Mrs. Peter Henderson, is currently Patron as well as Trustee.
The lecture has also profited from the continued support of Malcolm
Fraser. As Prime Minister, he delivered the inaugural lecture in 1978.
This was a memorable event, not least because of the hundreds of hostile
demonstrators who tried to block his entry to a packed Blackwood Hall.
"The choice of a lecturer each year has been determined by the
trustees, giving consideration to the views of the current Monash University
Liberal Club. Every Australian who has been invited to deliver the lecture
has accepted. The only refusals have come from Americans, usually citing
problems of schedule or cancelled visits. The trustees have long wished
for an eminent American and will continue to pursue this goal.
"No topic has ever been suggested to a lecturer, and indeed the
topic has usually not been announced in advance. For some lecturers
the topic has been predictable, but there have been many exceptions.
We had not expected Sir Garfield Barwick to pick the topic he did, nor
did we predict Sir Zelman Cowen's. It is clear that the lectures vary
considerably and we freely admit that the quality of content is uneven.
Often political reasons have determined what could be said or not said.
"Because many of the lecturers have been political figures, it
has been important to allow last minute changes of topic or substance
to accord with current events. This has led in some cases, to dramatic
faxing of amended drafts minutes before the lecture was due to be delivered.
"In the crucial matter of finance, the Monash University Liberal
Club helped initially, as did some individuals and some Liberal branches.
Help from these sources has been modest being barely sufficient to meet
the costs of hiring the theatre and printing the text. The financial
situation improved, when in 1981, thanks to the good offices of Prime
Minister, Malcolm Fraser, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,
agreed to give the lecture while visiting Melbourne for CHOGM (Commonwealth
Heads of Government Meeting). Mrs. Thatcher was very much in the public
eye at the time, and while vast numbers were anxious to hear her, there
were many within the University_among them some administrators and left-wing
student groups_who were vocal and active in their opposition. To meet
the demand, we hired the largest venue in the university, the Robert
Blackwood Hall. This was not accomplished without difficulty and required
the intervention of Mr Fraser. For the first time, we charged a modest
fee for tickets($5). The hall was filled, with a waiting list as well.
The funds collected not only covered the costs but also provided a useful
nest egg to help finance the lecture for many years to come. Funds have
been supplemented since then by donations and contributions from "Friends
of the Trust".
"The media's treatment of the lecture has been interesting. Their
attendance has been assured if a demonstration or protest is threatened,
but even then mainly by the camera crews. Reporters would rarely stay
for the lecture itself after receiving a copy of the text. Unquestionably,
the Thatcher and Muldoon lectures attracted the most press attention,
as there were demonstrations accompanied by arrests. In neither of these
cases was the lecturer deterred. They appeared instead to welcome the
challenge. In this connection , it must be emphasized that at no stage
has the Trust sought to provoke protest or demonstration. In the best
tradition of a university, the Trust feels that the views of its lecturers
should be heard and made available to as wide an audience as possible.
In ensuring the success of this policy, the Trust pays tribute to the
splendid co-operation of the Victoria Police in ensuring the safety
of lecturers and audience. Since 1985 there has not been a problem with
demonstrations or interruptions.
"When the idea of publishing the complete lectures was suggested,
it was felt that they would be enhanced by inviting lecturers to reflect
back on their lecture, and in addition inviting a commentator to provide
an independent comment on the lecture and its context. In a different
time and context lectures can read very differently. Three lecturers
have died: Sir Robert Muldoon, Sir Paul Hasluck and Sir Garfield Barwick.
Some others did not feel the need to make any additional comment; as
one pointed out, the lectures are written and delivered for a special
occasion and that is it! So there are no comments from the The Lady
Thatcher LG OM FRS, or Professor Geoffrey Blainey AO We have not sought
comments from more recent lecturers, (Sir Zelman Cowen Dr Allan Martin,
the Hon John Howard, the Hon Peter Costello, and Mr Don Argus.) The
first lecture in 1978 was introduced by Sir James Killen - so rather
than reprint that introduction, we have asked Sir James to comment on
Dr Allan Martin's paper_given Sir James oratorical skills we felt it
appropriate. In some cases we have two commentators_there is no significance
in this other than we felt there were two ideal people for such a commentary.
We have selected commentators sympathetic to the lecturers to help place
the lectures in context. Our thanks to the commentators for their participation.
"In our lectures we have not sought to extol the virtues of Sir
Robert Menzies, although in 1994 we felt it appropriate in the centenary
year of the anniversary of his birth to have a lecture on Menzies the
person. To this end his biographer Dr Allan Martin spoke-but such was
the vast material he had on Menzies he wisely confined his lecture to
Sir Robert's speech making-taking a phrase Menzies himself had used
as a title "Speech is of Time". Volume 1 of his superb biography
of Menzies had just appeared, and Volume 2 is expected during 1999.
Dr Martin finished his lecture by playing to the audience a tape of
an address Menzies gave to Sydney University students-and the speech
with its repartee and handling of interjectors was a joy to listen to.
I hope that Allan Martin's books are read for people to better appreciate
not only our longest serving Australian Prime Minister and founder of
the Liberal Party but a person who dominated the political scene in
his years of office.
"However, a brief comment on Menzies is appropriate, and there
is none better than the remarks made by Sir Paul Hasluck on 24 February
1989 when he proposed the toast to Dame Pattie Menzies on her 90th Birthday.
"Although this occasion is one in honour of Dame Pattie, I think
it is quite appropriate to say something about the statesman whom she
supported. Historians have yet to record the full service Menzies gave
to Australia. In his first term as Prime Minister he laid the foundation
of the Australian war effort. Of his other troubles at that time my
verdict is that he was girded to strive against Titans and was defeated
by mice in the pantry. Dame Pattie will remember those difficult days
more vividly than any of us. She will remember too the fightback, the
return to office and the labours of the next seventeen years of post-war
recovery and growth.
" The Menzies post-war years stand as a great period in Australian
history. Australia had stability. Australia had a sound base for re-organisation.
There was regularity, high standards and the utmost probity in all aspects
of government. Australia stood with dignity and growing respect in a
reconstructed world. Our economy was managed with care. To use a phrase
of the period, we walked the knife-edge of inflation without losing
balance. We kept a high level of employment. We guarded the overseas
balances. Great care was taken over all appointments to public office
and scrupulous control of government expenditures. In Menzies' years
in Australia tradition was respected and progress was soundly based."
"My thanks to all the lecturers who have been so willing to assist
by preparing a lecture. The quality of these lectures has ensured the
high standing the lecture has in public life. The last two lectures
have been televised nationally by the ABC and we are grateful to the
ABC for their co-operation. The lectures are frequently referred to
in speeches or in publications, and often back lectures are requested.
Many are now out of print. We hope that the publication of all the lectures
to date, with the additional reflections and comments, will make a further
contribution to the aims of the lecture of better informing public life
Alan Gregory (Extract from the "Editor's Introduction" to
"The Menzies Lectures 1978-1998")