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John Howard Speech On 50th Anniversary Of Election Of Menzies Government

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has spoken on the 50th anniversary of the election of the Menzies-led coalition government on December 10, 1949.

Howard spoke to a gala function in The Great Hall of Parliament House.

Text of John Howard’s address in The Great Hall of Parliament House.

John HowardThank you very much, Shane. To John and Nancy Gorton, Tamie and Malcolm Fraser, former prime ministers of Australia, to John Anderson the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Peter Costello the Deputy Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party, my numerous other friends, former members, fellow Liberals and distinguished Australians.

This is an important night, it’s also an emotional, sentimental and very special moment in the history of our party. It’s almost 50 years since, to the day, that the first Coalition Government was elected to office in 1949. It is, in fact, 38 years to the day when I cast my first vote in the 1961 federal election. And by way of reminder to all of us who naturally look to the next election as well as reflecting on the previous election 1961 was a reminder of the fragility, the potential fragility, of political office no matter how high you may imagine you are riding at any particular time.

As I reflect on the last 50 years of the Liberal Party’s existence I have tried to conjure in my mind and bring together what it has been that’s produced that common thread of behaviour and commitment of all leaders of the party, of all Liberal prime ministers of the party. And I think the thing that has bound us together over that 50 years is something that Shane touched on and that is that the Liberal Party has never been owned by any one section of the Australian community. We value our links with the business community. We believe in business. We believe in men and women of enterprise taking risks and getting a decent return on their investments. But we also see society in terms of a great social coalition where the Government, individuals, voluntary organisations and the business community working in partnership and coalition produce the best outcomes.

We are not a party that is dominated by sectional interests, we are a party that’s always tried to govern for the mainstream. And we have had our greatest electoral successes when we have done that devoutly and conscientiously. But there’s another important thing about the character of the Liberal Party and that is that unlike some other centre-right parties around the world we Liberals in Australia have always been the trustees and the custodians of two great traditions ­ the classical Liberal tradition and also the conservative tradition.

I often invoke the expression that we are a broad church. We are a party both of reform and courageous reform where the national interest requires it but we are also a party that values those inherited traditions and ways of life that are cherished and are very dear to all Australians. And the quality of good government is always to know to what to reform, what to discard and what to preserve and what to refurbish. And part of the element of Liberal success over the last 50 years has been to get a successful mix between those two traditions.

We particularly honour tonight the contribution to Australia of Robert Gordon Menzies, the founder of our party, the longest serving Prime Minister of our nation. But I also, as the current leader of the Liberal Party, honour the contributions of all of my predecessors as leader. I also remember the response of Robert Menzies in his retirement press conference in 1966 when he was asked what were the two greatest achievements of his time in office and he said: what I did for the universities of Australia and how I kept together the coalition with the then Country Party. And I acknowledge in the presence of the leader of the National Party, John Anderson, the debt the Liberal Party owes to the solid coalition that we have had in Government. And if I look back over the history of the last 50 years I remember, I particularly remember, that our years of greatest political desolation and irrelevance were the years when our relations with our coalition partner fell into disrepair and our years of greatest achievement and greatest success have been when we have worked together. The old adage that unity is strength and disunity is death remains as valid today as it was 50 years ago.

On a personal note can I say two very simple things. First and foremost, I want to say to the Liberal Party and this represents probably the greatest gathering of those who belong to, have led, have served, and have supported the Liberal Party that’s ever been assembled here in Canberra. But what I have achieved in public life I owe to the Liberal Party. I love the party. I joined just after I left school. It’s constituted a great bulk of my life. I care for it. It’s been very kind to me. And what I have achieved in public life is due to the unstinting loyalty and support of the thousands of people who’ve dedicated their lives in an unsung way to the service of our cause. And I want to acknowledge tonight not just the well-known names of the Liberal pantheon, but also those unnamed thousands upon thousands of men and women who’ve handed out pamphlets, who’ve worked polling booths, who’ve attended innumerable fundraisers, and have done all the things that have kept our party together particularly during its years of Opposition.

We gather tonight ladies and gentlemen at a time of immense strength, immense achievement, and great hope for the Australian people. The economy of Australia has not been in better shape probably at any time since the end of World War II. It’s growth is strong, its inflation is low, its unemployment is the best for ten years, the levels of business investment are high, you have a Government that has been willing to tackle some of the major economic reform challenges of the last 10 or 20 years. We have successfully stared down the worst economic downturn our region has seen in the last 40 years. And added to that through the initiative we took, in difficult and dangerous circumstances, to secure a just outcome in East Timor, the diplomatic reputation of this country has not been higher in decades.

So it is appropriate that we as Liberals from all over Australia pause for a moment to treasure and reflect upon our history. The history if any political party is immensely important not only to its own sense of self worth, but also to its place in the history of our country. Perhaps on occasions we as Liberals have not been as good as we should have been about treasuring and promoting our history. And one of the great values of a gathering such as tonight is not only to celebrate the privilege of serving the Australian people as we come to the end of this momentous century in the world’s history, but also to thank those who’ve served our party and our country in the past. And I’m particularly pleased that the two living former Liberal Prime Ministers, John Gorton and Malcolm Fraser are with us tonight. Both of them in their distinctive ways and distinctive styles made massive contributions not only to our party but also to the wellbeing of the Australian community.

And finally my friends, can I express my gratitude to my wife Janette, and to my family. You can’t hope to succeed in politics, you can’t even begin to succeed in politics without the support and love and affection of those closest to you. And I in that respect have been an immensely lucky man. And that has sustained me through my 25 years in Parliament. This is a great celebration. It’s a great occasion. It’s touching to all of us that Heather Henderson and her husband Peter should be here tonight as a strong and vivid link with Robert Gordon Menzies and that great achievement back in 1949.

But most importantly of all the things that I want to say tonight can I simply conclude by saying that to have the privilege of leading the Liberal Party of Australia is the greatest privilege that can come the way of any Australian, other than the other privilege that leadership confers upon you when the Liberal Party is successful politically and that is to be Prime Minister of our country. Thank you very much for being here tonight. Long may the Liberal Party serve the men and women of Australia. Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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