My God! Margo talks sense!

margo_c.jpgMargo Kingston’s Web Diary is a bizarre, eclectic and idiosyncratic publication, mostly with a tiresomely left-wing bias. And Margo herself is a strange creature to say the least. I often find her journalistic efforts shrill and irrational. But a long article by Margo in today’s SMH reminds me that there’s actually a core of centrist commonsense there, that’s too often obscured by her obsessive and overblown hatred for John Howard.

Robertmenzies2.jpgMargo’s article is actually a transcript of a speech she gave to the Sydney Institute a couple of nights ago. It compares the philosophies and record of Sir Robert Menzies with those of John Howard. She argues that Menzies was a true liberal democrat with a breadth of vision and a respect for fundamental freedoms that Howard conspicuously lacks. She’s no Judith Brett, but I reckon Margo has a point. Now I’ll stand back and let the RWDBs do their stuff (and possibly the LWDBs as well). Of course, it may well be a measure of how far Australia has drifted to the right in recent years that one could even flirt with the notion of Menzies as a beacon of centrist moderation.

PS – I just had a horrible thought. I wonder whether they’re related? Compare the eyebrows. And the lop-sided smile. Margo the Merciless? Nah!!!

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
This entry was posted in Uncategorised. Bookmark the permalink.
29 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Oh please! Not again with the Menzies lionisation. Much as I despise John Howard, I share Keating’s visceral hatred for Menzies. He tried to ban the Communist Party. He and his National colleagues left Australia a complacent economic backwater riding on the sheep’s back. And then there is his sycophantic arse licking of the parasites of Windsor: “I did but see her passing by.. and yet I love her till I die” Ugh!!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jason

Well yes, he did have his imperfections, and the Cinque ports/royal groupie stuff was the biggest of them. But, as far as protectionsim goes, he was very much a creature of his times, and the worst of it was in large part a legacy of the political necessity of keeping the Country Party onside. As for the Communist Party banning, Margo goes into that in some detail in her article. I haven’t looked at the question closely myelf, so I’d be interested in observations from any readers who can point out where her observations about Menzies in that respect are wrong.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

I would like to agree with Jason Soon with the exception of hating Menzies.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

“it may well be a measure of how far Australia has drifted to the right in recent years that one could even flirt with the notion of Menzies as a beacon of centrist moderation.”

You’re not wrong.

It was Menzies who got us into Vietnam, a piece of American-led stupidity that was 1000 times worse than Iraq (2 million Vietnamese dead etc.)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Dave

Yes, you’re right, just as Jason Soon is, but again hindsight is a fine thing. Communism was a huge threat in those days, almost certainly a larger real threat to western liberal democracy than Islamic fundamentalism is today. Margo’s point seems to be that Menzies at least hesitated and agonised before banning the Communist Party (if not before joining the Americans in Vietnam), and had a well-developed regard for liberal democratic values that John Howard lacks. I found her argument unexpectedly persuasive, which is why I blogged about it.

I’m still not sure about Vietnam myself. Was there a downward march of communism that might have continued through the rest of S-E Asia if it hadn’t been resisted? I suppose we’ll never know for sure, but I suspect that long-term American resistance to communist insurgency throughout the world was a decisive factor (along with communism’s inherent weaknesses) that caused it to fail so suddenly and completely in 1989-90.

The theatres of resistance included Vietnam, and finally Afghanistan through funding the Mujihadeen. Ironically, having played their part in completing the downfall of the greatest threat the west had faced, the Mujihadeen then transformed themselves into Al’Qaeda and became the west’s next great threat.

Thus, I don’t see getting involved in Vietnam as a huge negative against Menzies’ name at all. The Americans lost in one sense, and millions of Vietnamese were killed, but the war played its part in stopping communism, and if the Vietnam War hadn’t happened maybe even worse things would have.

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

I don’t know enough about Menzies to comment on him, but I don’t think you could seriously argue that Latham and Beazley’s “breadth of vision and respect for fundamental freedoms”

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

yes, the Vietnam war, I forgot that other major indictment against Menzies. Was hindsight really that necessary? Ho Chi Minh was fundamentally a nationalist and the popularity of his cause lay in that. Insofar as there were doctrinaire communists among his party they were not of the expansionist variety.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jason

I know that’s the Pilger line, but I’m not sure it’s 100% accurate. Even if it is, North Vietnam clearly allied itself with the Russians (and to a much lesser extent the Chinese) and obtained a huge amount of materiel support from them throughout the war. That in turn put pressure on the USSR economic system that eventually caused it to break. Moreover, there were communist insurgencies in other nearby countries at the time (including Malaysia – as you know). Even if they weren’t linked closely with the Ho regime, they would certainly have drawn strength from its unchallenged success, and were inhibited and eventually defeated by strong concerted resistance of non-communist governments backed by the West. I think it’s too glib to dismiss the failure of communism as something that would have occurred anyway, and wrong to regard US Cold War strategies as just wrong-headed, ham-fisted over-reactions. It’s easy to be wise in hindsight.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Ken, as Jason said it was a nationalist uprising against, first, the French colonialists, and, next, American-propped up puppet governments in the south. Likewise in Cambodia and Laos. That communism didn’t spread in the predicted domino fashion to adjacent countries who didn’t have such nationalist movements (Thailand, Malaysia, Burma), proves the point.

This is not hindsight. It was said at the time by opponents of the war.

Later events (the war and ongoing enmity between Vietnam and China, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia) further proved that the Vietnamese communists were not part of an international communist movement which threatened the world.

The Americans were just plain wrong, as they were everywhere (especially in Latin America) in interpreting any popular uprising against cruel and oppressive rulers as part of a Soviet-led communist plot to take over the world. Millions of people suffered as a result. (Yes, yes, I know, millions of people suffered in communist countries too.) Anti-communism as a convenient pretext for oppression was the order of the day. You might recall (though this one can’t be pinned on the Yanks) that the South African apartheid regime’s description and justification of itself was as a “bulwark against communism”, a turn of phrase used liberally, by the way, by that regime’s apologists in this country.

And, back to Menzies, it should not be forgotten that he was a shameless colonialist, who opposed at every turn independence for European colonies – India and Indonesia being just the two best known examples.

Craig G
Craig G
2022 years ago

Vietnam was before my time, but I remember reading somewhere that one of the supporters of US intervention in Vietnam at least around 1963-65 was one Edward Gough Whitlam. It was only in ’65 I think that Caucus came out against it and Whitlam thereafter toed the party line (and no doubt genuinely changed his opinion). Norman H is probably the correct bloke to ask.

As for Uncle Ho being a nationalist etc true only to an extent – like Castro he was good at dissembling and tailoring his propaganda to whatever audience he was targetting. Western liberals at the time believed it. But they weren’t 100% wrong to swallow it.

AS I’ve said before elsewhere, criticising Menzies for his monarchism, attempted banning of the CP (Communists that is, not Country), protectionism etc is pointless. That was the socio-cultural environment he operated in. He didn’t try to set any agendas.

John Humphreys
2022 years ago

I’ve very tired of hearing how we’ve all become more right-wing. Tax is higher than ever. Spending is higher than ever. Regulation is higher than ever. Immigration is higher than ever. Aboriginal rights have steadily increased. Women’s rights and participation and wages have steadily increased. Gay rights have steadily increased. There is much more environment regulation and spending than ever. Fewer people are living on the land, fewer people are going to church. Nobody questions public schooling or medicare. We have more politicians and bureaucrats than ever. Minimum wages are higher than ever. The list goes on…

If we have become more right-wing, then I must assume that “right-wing” means “socialist”!

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

Dave is right about Ming on foreign affairs. Aside from his Anglophilic tendencies, I think he was able to transfer his dominion-type relationship with the declining British Empire to the US without realizing the two were not identical. The US on foreign affairs was not much more knowledgeable than Menzies.

An unfortunate lasting legacy, which Howard has taken up in earnest, was that allegiance to the US was like an insurance policy. You paid your premium (support in dodgy escapades abroad) and you got your dividend (protection when the chips were down). Unfortunately, the Americans don’t feel the same familial loyalty as the Brits (and even that was a bit shaky in the Depression).

So when we’ve has problems with the Indonesians, the Americans have been pretty reluctant to jump in and help us out.

For all that, and having grown up in a family loathing Menzies, I have softened towards the old bastard in recent years, especially in domestic issues. I like especially his commitment to higher education.

And as Margo has shown (those Menzies radio scripts are well worth a read by the way) he is a beacon of community spirit compared with Howard, whose real model is Thatcher (“there is no such thing as society”).

He also had humility. In a John Curtin bio released recently, his corres with Curtin (1941 or 42)revealed that he believed he deserved to be tipped out and benefited from opposition, while Curtin had truly grown with the prime ministership.

In answer to the other query on Gough in the 60s, I can’t recall him ever supporting the commitment. Certainly he didn’t speak out against it as Cairns, Uren and Calwell had. And once when questioned, he did respond that you could not just pull out on-the-spot as some leftists advocated. He did indeed take up opposing it with a gusto later when it was clear that it was a mess.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

John,

you write garbage.

“Tax is higher than ever. Spending is higher than ever.”

Not as shares of GDP.

“Regulation is higher than ever”

In WW2, we had rationing and a million other regulations. An extreme case? You said, “than ever”. Banks not that long ago were regulated to the last of their quill pens. These days, they can do almost what they like. Governments used to regulate the price of electricity, water, gas, telephone calls, you name it. Now, it’s privately owned businesses who set the prices.

“Immigration is higher than ever.”

It was higher in the 80s.

“Women’s rights and participation and wages have steadily increased. Gay rights have steadily increased.”

Not since Johnny came to power.

“There is much more environment regulation and spending than ever.”

Your only valid point.

“Fewer people are living on the land”

So?

” Fewer people are going to church.”

But those who are, like the Hillsong crowd, are spreading their conservative social agendas like a cancer.

“Nobody questions public schooling”

The PM himself attacked the values of public schools just a few months ago.

” or medicare.”

Hardly a day goes by without the AMA attacking Medicare.

“We have more politicians and bureaucrats than ever. ”

False. Check yout facts.

“Minimum wages are higher than ever.”

All wages go up over time as the economy grows. Wages at the top end have grown a lot faster than minimum wages.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Ken
Malaysia is a particularly bad example to support your domino theory link with Vietnam as the Malaysian Communist Party was primarily funded and set up by China and China was as much a sworn enemy of Vietnam (and historically more so) as the US. This only leaves your plausible but still rather weak possibility that the triumph of Uncle Ho would have ‘given strength’ to the Malaysian Communists who really had a following amongst Chinese-speaking Malaysian Chinese (i.e. a subset of an albeit substantial minority in Malaysia).

John Humphreys
2022 years ago

Dave, you write garbage.

Tax & spending “Not as shares of GDP.”

Not true. You need to adjust for the GST. This is more complex than it looks, but it is possible. I have a little inside running, being the person who used to brief the Tsr on this very fact.

“Regulation is higher than ever”

The war example misses the point. True, some regulation has come down (banking), but others have gone up. In many industries, regulations have changed, but none of your examples (elec, water, gas etc) escape regulations. Total regulation has increased.

“Immigration is higher than ever.”

Ok, immigration is very high by historical standards. (I can’t be bothered checking the actual numbers).

“Women’s rights and participation and wages have steadily increased. Gay rights have steadily increased.”

Women’s participation and wages have increased since Howard came to power (no thanks to him maybe — but that’s a different story). These areas have not gone backwards.

“There is much more environment regulation and spending than ever.” Your only valid point.

“Fewer people are living on the land” So?

Rural people tend to be more conservative.

“Nobody questions public schooling” The PM himself attacked the values of public schools just a few months ago.

The PM is questioning what the public school should teach — but nobody is questioning whether public schools should exist. You seem to have missed the point. Does “right wing” simply means big government with a different agenda?

” or medicare.” Hardly a day goes by without the AMA attacking Medicare.

Once again – I was (quite obviously I thought) taking about whether medicare should exist.

“We have more politicians and bureaucrats than ever.” False. Check yout facts.

True. Check yours.

“Minimum wages are higher than ever.” All wages go up over time as the economy grows. Wages at the top end have grown a lot faster than minimum wages.

If your point was true, it wouldn’t make mine false. But wages at the bottom end have increased more in percentage growth terms. It all depends how you split the stats.

John Humphreys
2022 years ago

For interest — http://www.libertarian.org.au — on the taxing and spending records of the last 5 PMs.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

John, as I suppose you know, since you used to bried the Treasurer, the GST argument is about whether it is a state or federal tax. This has nothing to do with whether tax as a % for the whole country has gone up or not.

How do you know regulation is higher than ever?

Nobody other than a handful of extremists says that public schools shouldn’t exist. The debate is about their resourcing, in absolute terms and compared to private schools. For you to say “we haven’t moved to the right because no one questions existence of public schools” makes as much sense as saying “we haven’t moved to the right because no one questions the existence of a public police force”.

Medicare – you are talking about whether should exist. So am I. So is the AMA.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

One should recall Ming’s magnificent role in solving the Suez crisis and then later he expounded the Domino principle which only made sense if you completely discounted both SE Asian history and politics.

finally let us not forget that despite his great intellect he was never able to understand economics which is why Black Jack was able to do so much damage to Australian industry.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Homer

I think your observation about Menzies and economics applies equally to Saint Gough.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Ken,
Everyone knows that Gough was an economic simpleton.
Few however, unless they have read biographies of Menzies or even worse have read the Vernon Report realise how bad Menzies was particularly given the circumstances.
By the way the highest inflation Asutralia has ever experienced was under Menzies. 24or 25% I think.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

Jason,

I would strongly disagree with your theory about the enmity between China and Vietnam, at least during the period of US involvement in the Vietnam conflict.

After Korea, Red China abhorred the presence of the United States in South East Asia. Along with Russia they supplied the financial, training and materiel support that kept Ho and his North Vietnamese forces in the fight.

Why? Especially when Vietnam and China have traditionally been at each others’ throats?

Because when it’s convenient, an enemy of an enemy is a friend, that’s why. The United States was simply a bigger threat to China than Vietnam, so allegiance was convenient to both sides at the time.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Al

I think Jason’s point (and other commenters as well) was that Ho Chi Minh wasn’t a threat to the West or Vietnam’s neighbours (in the sense of not having expansionist ambitions) until attacked by the Americans. Once they were attacked, they had little practical choice but to seek assistance from whoever would give it, and that meant the Russians and Chinese.

However, as someone else intimated, altough Ho was quite accomplished at striking a “harmless nationalist struggler against evil colonialism” pose for the benefit of gullible western left-liberals, that was at least partly disingenuous from what I can tell (although it’s been quite a while since I’ve read relevant histories).

I’m sure some aspects of American domino theory mentality at the time were somewhat simplistic and even misguided. But I’m equally sure that most of the leftist regimes in Asia and South American in the 60s and 70s weren’t as harmless and non-threatening as the western lefties chose to believe (both then and now). It’s possible that some of them might have been won around to being at least neutral or even cautiously supportive of the West with skilled diplomacy and generous foreign aid, but that’s by no means certain, and now we’ll never know. The risk of a widespread communist diaspora that could have sustained the USSR for many more years (as well as destabilising neighbouring countries), had it not been contained and then stopped, is one I don’t think can be simply dismissed.

jamesquest
jamesquest
2022 years ago

i think the west (by which i mean the usa) posed an incredible threat to the communist countries during the cold war by its ginormous arms build up, the canting demonisation of russia and china and their endless desire to encircle the iron curtain with their puppets and surrogates in order to impose a wicked capitalist economy on a proud and industrious socialist peoples. no, not really but it sounds awfully feasible from their point of view.

Kay McCulloch
2022 years ago

John,
>Women’s rights and participation and wages have steadily increased.
Actually women’s rights, participation and equality of wages have decreased over the last decade.

Ken,
How can hatred for John Howard ever be overblown (or does asking that make me a LWDB)?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Kay

Leaving aside the provenance of the term RWDB, I only refer to people as “Death Beasts” (whether of left or right) when they persistently attack opponents in a nasty, personal way; conclusively assume that opponents are fools or knaves whose arguments by definition don’t have merit; and refuse to engage intellectually with an opponent’s arguments, and are instead content to ridicule by cheap, superficial, base rhetoric.

You find rather a lot of those sorts of people on the right of the blogosphere, a couple (but nowhere near as many) among leftie bloggers, and lots and lots of them among the sorts of people who post to Indymedia.

I haven’t read enough of your blog to know whether you qualify on the above criteria, but I certanly hope not. Mind you, having anything much at all positive to say about Michael Moore is a bit of a worry. It’s entirely possible to be vehemently opposed to Bush without completely prostituting one’s intellect and the documentary genre in pursuit of that opposition.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Actually I should qualify the immediately preceding comment. Although I would never label an blogger individually as a RWDB unless they met the listed criteria, I’ve mostly pasted blogs into the RWDB slot of the blogroll without rigorously assessing them against those criteria. Essentially I just stuck everyone there who was right-leaning but I couldn’t readily classify as “moderate right”. So there may well be quite a few there who don’t fit all the listed criteria. I’m happy to reconsider anyone who reckons they deserve the label “moderate right” instead (and who gives a stuff how I rate them anyway).

Kay
Kay
2022 years ago

I guess I don’t qualify as a LWDB then. As for Michael Moore, if he in any small way helps to get Bush out of the White House, I’m all for him!

mark
2022 years ago

That Michael Moore thing’s dangerous, though, Kay. It speaks of unspeakable depths to your leftyness… *cough*.

Okay, I’m kidding. But nevertheless y’might want to check out the recent threads where RWDBs are defending Howard’s lies on the grounds that, if it helps deal with the asylum seeker problem, they’re all for it…

Kay
Kay
2022 years ago

Yeah, I know I was thinking about that as I wrote. Of course, not absolutely *anything* is OK if it helps get rid of Bush – two wrongs don’t make a right yada yada yada (unless it’s the RMDB kind of right of course). Still, maybe almost anything…