About this record
This newspaper article headed 'The Issue is socialism' was written as an election-eve statement by the leader of the Liberal opposition, Robert Gordon 'Bob' Menzies, and was published by the Melbourne Herald newspaper on 9 December 1949. It is accompanied by a line drawing of Menzies's head showing a three-quarter profile, and contains his signature at the bottom.
- This article is significant because it outlines the key ideas central to Menzies's philosophy of liberalism, particularly the relationship between the citizen and the state, that would underpin his government for the following 16-plus years. The Menzies view was that society is based on individuals, and citizens should be free to seek prosperity. Government's role is to liberate the individual and not impose restrictions through centralised state control of business and industry.
- This article by Menzies (1894–1978) was published on the eve of the 1949 election, an election crucial to the resurrection of his political fortunes. Menzies's previous prime ministership (1939–41) as leader of the United Australia Party had been cut short when dissension in the party forced his resignation. In 1946, as leader of the newly formed Liberal Party, he had won only 17 seats–with the Country Party winning 12–against the 43 seats the Chifley Labor government had won.
- Menzies indirectly draws upon the political climate of fear of communism to construct his case, by claiming that the election presents a choice between embracing and rejecting socialism. Fear of communism had grown with the onset of the Cold War, the success of communism in China and stories of communist influence in trade unions. Communists were said to be behind the seven-month coal miners' strike of 1949. A longing for security free from threat prevailed in this postwar period.
- The article makes a link between the 'socialising process' and the government's 'attempts at nationalisation', referring to the Labor government's determination to nationalise the banks. Ben Chifley (1885–1951) felt that government control over money and credit was vital in order to control inflation. With central government control already unpopular due to petrol rationing, Menzies argued that this proposal indicated Chifley's desire to socialise the country.
- Menzies's prediction that the 1949 election would be a 'turning-point election' turned out to be accurate. After eight years in government Labor was defeated when Menzies led the Liberal Party to victory, winning 55 seats to Labor's 48 in the House of Representatives. The Labor Party managed to maintain a majority in the Senate. However, Menzies went on to be Australia's longest continuously serving prime minister, remaining in the position for more than 16 years until he resigned in 1966.
- The article provides an example of Menzies's writing style, showing a level of readability that takes account of the average voter. Even though Menzies does not speak directly to the Australian voter he speaks personally of how he sees the issues in the coming election and his impression of the mood of the voters. He recalls 'incredible meetings' indicating 'tremendously keen public interest'. He declares his faith in the voters' understanding of the issues at stake in the election.