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Post War Australia: Robert Menzies
By Hector, 16 September 2007; Revised
Category: 20th Century: Political History
When Menzies started his position as Prime minister, Australia was still recovering from the effects of war. The citizens were in dire need of some stability in life, as well as basic needs such as materials to build their homes and jobs. The 17 years of which Menzies ran as Prime minister are often referred to as the “golden era” as it was a time with widespread prosperity, a thriving economy and work for all.
Menzies contributed to Australia’s post war development by increasing the standards of living for all Australian’s. This was achieved by increasing full-time employment (during this time unemployment was only 1- 3%). The ratio of home owners rose to 75% of the population, which was the result of Menzies introducing the “Department of Housing”, “Home Savings Grants Scheme” and housing loans insurance. There was also great progress in industry, manufacturing output, primary industry production and mineral development.
Menzies also introduced a number of schemes to benefit the needy, with tax concessions introduced for married pensioners, he introduced free ‘life saving’ drugs, a National Health Scheme, commonwealth scholarships and invalid pensions.
However, when Menzies was elected Prime Minister, Australians were still cautious of the communist threat. Therefore during the 1949 election, Menzies promised to outlaw the communist party of Australia. The Communist Party Dissolution Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 27 April 1950. This bill made members of the party ineligible for commonwealth employment, holding office in a trade union, or working in a defence related industry. It also made the party and associated organisations unlawful and they were required to dispose their property. This bill was passed without amendment on October 19, 1950. In March 1951 it was challenged in court and voted to be unconstitutional and therefore invalid. Menzies then attempted give the government control of the senate, with a referendum to alter the constitution to follow. The coalition returned and gained control of the senate, but the referendum still failed.
In September 1951 Australia, New Zealand and the United States became allies against the communist threat, as a part of what became known as the ANZUS (which stood for “Australia, New Zealand and United States”) treaty. This was particularly important as the US was considered the dominant power at that time. The ANZUS treaty was arbitrary in a sense though, as it did not state that member nations were required to provide military support if another is in danger or at risk. It was more of a guide or recommendation – a loose alliance of sorts.
In 1954 Australia also joined the SEATO (“South East Asia Treaty Organisation”) treaty in an attempt to protect Australia from the looming communist threat. It was believed that communism was moving in a southward direction, which was then referred to as the domino theory. The Domino theory is fairly self explanatory; communism would spread to one country, in turn influencing other nearby nations, and the process continued, as it was throughout much of Asia and Eurasia. By joining SEATO, Australia was extending its boundaries and ‘containing’ communism, before it moved too far south.
Later during 1962, it was stated that President Diem requested Australia to send troops into Vietnam. However, in 1995 the cabinet papers were opened and it was discovered that this statement was in fact false, and Diem actually tried to dissuade Australia from becoming involved in the war. Anthol Townley has since stated that Australia was acting under its SEATO obligations, to assist the US and Vietnam in the war.
Menzies’ time as Prime Minister secured any worries Australia had about communism and he introduced policies and formed treaties to keep Australia secure. Menzies also transformed Australia to be an efficient and developed society. He increased the standards of living, realised ‘the great Australian dream’ for many and improved the lives of the needy, as well as introducing many other schemes and benefits, to advance Australia’s post- war development.