Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Menzies and Costello

Much drama about an alleged agreement between Howard and Costello in 1994 for Howard to hand over the leadership after one and half terms. The Hawke vs. Keating precedent is flogged by the media but more appropriate is 1938-40, the facts of which are recounted in Martin's Menzies. PM Joseph Lyons was in poor health and some felt struggling as PM particularly in chairing an acrimonious Premiers' conference in October 1938. A speech by Menzies that month on the need for a 'national spirit' in Australia was interpreted by some in the media and by the PM's wife Enid as a disloyal attack on Lyons. When Lyons reconstructed cabinet in November some of those disappointed blamed the influence of Menzies. In March 1939 Menzies resigned over the government's decision to shelve the introduction of 'national insurance' (a contributory pension and welfare benefit scheme on which it had been elected, more on it in Watt's Foundations of the National Welfare State). So like Keating Menzies quit but unlike Keating or Costello there was no mention of deals, however Menzies did have a clear policy issue, far more than Costello's recent musings. In April 1939 Lyons died. Earle Page Country party leader took over as interim PM. The anti-Menzies group including Page and Casey tried to persuade Bruce to return as PM without success, and it was then that Page denounced Menzies for not serving in the Great War. Menzies defeated the 77 year Hughes by only 4 votes in the leadership ballot. Does this indicate that Menzies' had resignation made him unpopular; it seems extraordinary that Hughes could come so close? If this precedent counts for anything Costello would have done better to keep his head down and wait. Nelson, Abbott et. al. are surely stronger potential rivals to him than Hughes was to Menzies.


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