Monday, May 08, 2006

Prime Minister Primer

Tim Sterne has just finished a 2,500 words essay about Robert Menzies. Yes, that's right. He could have written more, but he stopped at 2,500 words exactly. Anything else would have been superfluous.

Anyway, I don't see why he should be the only one to write about a subject as wildly exciting as the Australian Prime Ministers. That's right, I'm going to do it too!

Unverified Facts About Australian Prime Ministers for the Uneducated Person

Edmund Barton
Edmund Barton was the only man unfortunate enough to be the first Australian Prime Minister, mainly because there were no Prime Ministers before him. He couldn't help it, so don't hold it against him.

Stanley Bruce, Lord Melbourne.
Not much is known about Stanley Bruce, apart from the facts on public record. When he was born he was either to be called Stanley Bruce or Bruce Stanley (depending on which way he came out, and what he was wearing at the time). He came from a long line of Stanley Bruces: his father was called Stanley, and his mother was called Bruce.
There has been some speculation that his sordid upbringing led him to taking up a career in politics, but such vile speculations are not for this blog.
In his spare time, he liked to compose simple little villanelles, grow tulips, and wear a variety of evening gowns for the pleasure of his three fox terriers, Spotty, Dotty, and Hotty.

Robert Gordon Menzies
Bob Menzies long and steady Prime Ministership of Australia is marked by the fact that he didn't do very much for a great deal of it: it was distinguished by its undistinction. Menzies started off by boldly doing very little, continued by courageously achieving not much, set not a great deal of goals for the next heroic stage of his career, achieved this, then finished it off (in a brilliant coup de grace) by retiring before anything untoward (ie, anything at all) happened.
After he made his resignation speech, a backbencher sneezed, and several state dailys picked up on this, and ran it as a headline in their papers. But Menzies could hardly be blamed for this.

Harold Holt
Harold Holt's main achievements as a Prime Minister were drowing and doing things that Gough Whitlam could take credit for.

Gough Whitlam
Gough Whitlam was a progressive, and like most progressive Prime Ministers, achieved a great deal. From the very beginning of his Prime Ministership, he busied himself by running up huge government debts, stacking the senate, involving his government in a number of scandals, and making decisions without consulting the opposition, the senate, or his own cabinet. He industriously claimed the earlier achievements of the Liberal Party for himself, and bustled about, excusing the crimes of numerous communist dictators.
Therefore, it can honestly be said of Whitlam that he may not have done Australians very much good, but at least he certainly did something.

John Howard
John Howard is the Prime Minister Australia doesn't know it has. He is referred to by his supporters as "That guy, you know," and his detractors as "Him!" or, "That evil little man!" When he goes home, his wife glares at him, and says, "Oh, You!". People at the shops simply greet him with, "Oh, hi, Mr ... " before trailing off and staring blankly at the ceiling.
Howard himself takes great pains to appear 'ordinary' and 'everyday', meaning, essentially, that he doesn't get noticed at all. He presumably likes it this way.
If voters in other democracies get the leader they deserve, voters in Australia got somebody they didn't know to work in a position they didn't quite realise existed, for ... no particular reason at all.


Tim said...

Extend your Menzies thing by a couple of thousand words and you've pretty much got my essay. Not exactly the most exciting I've ever written.

When Gough was elected, he and his deputy immediately began reforming anything they could, without even waiting for the apointment of Cabinet. It was very much like in the Simpsons when Mr Burns and Smithers are left to run the power plant on their own.

TimT said...

Yeah, Donald Horne said something similar of Menzies in 'The Lucky Country'. He said it critically - he wanted a bit of excitement; he was a journalist after all. I look upon him with a bit of affection - hey, most politicians stuff things up; so maybe it's better when they don't do much.

But seriously, what did he do? You must have been able to rustle up something of interest out of his tax policy, or something?

No, I guess not, me neither ...

Tim said...

He was the ultimate conservative - didn't touch a damn thing unless it was absolutely warranted. The only really proactive thing he did was try to ban the Communist Party, and when that didn't work he simply continued using them to scare the shit out of the electorate.

He was an interesting man in a lot of ways, but hardly an exciting politician, although as you say that is probably a good thing. "Exciting" doesn't necessarily equal "good".

TimT said...

... except for the media! (Which is why they continue to write about Whitlam when articles about Curtin, Chifley, Menzies, Gorton, Fraser, etc, tend to have fallen by the wayside).

There are some good Menzies quotes here:

Also, if you can find it, Fred Daly's book 'From Curtin to Kerr' or the later edition 'From Curtin to Hawke' has some great stories about parliamentary figures, Menzies being prominent. Then again, maybe you've already read it ...

Caz said...

Re: Howard - except when he's wearing his trackie, on a power walk. Or wearing his trackie watching cricket.

Rebecca said...

Who is this John Howard you speak of, I have never heard of him. I thought our Prime Minister was Dr.Teeth from the Muppets, minus the hat.

Anonymous said...

tim is a nerd

Email: timhtrain - at -

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