It’s rare in the course of history that one can pinpoint the exact moment when the trajectory of a nation was changed for the better – which makes the anniversary we celebrate today all the more important. 75 years ago to the day when Sir Robert Menzies delivered his Forgotten People speech, few would have imagined that decades later, future generations would continue to draw inspiration and guidance from those instrumental 3,000 words.
His speech marked the birth of a political Movement that would go on to dominate Australian politics, holding the Treasury benches 45 out of the 75 years following and changing our nation for the better, based on the simple premise that the individual knows best and that the heart of a nation lies in her people.
Menzies founded our party for the Forgotten People: the salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, farmers, professional men and women whom he said “are for the most part unorganised and unself-conscious. They are envied by those whose benefits are largely obtained by taxing them. They are not rich enough to have individual power. They are taken for granted by each political party in turn. They are not sufficiently lacking in individualism to be organised for what in these days we call ‘pressure politics’.” And yet, he described them as the “backbone of the nation” and stated that “in their children they see their greatest contribution to it”.
But 75 years on, are those values still relevant? And will they continue to be for the next 75 years? The simple answer is yes, absolutely.
In 1960, when then Prime Minister Menzies addressed the Young Liberal Movement he said:
Modern history is, as you all know, full of examples of great movements that disappeared because they had ceased to have any genuine reason for existence. It isn't enough just to accommodate the structure to new things or new events. The important thing is to have a faith to live by. And that goes for us in this party.
He went on to say:
What's the first objective of national policy in Australia? Not just to be in office or to stay there but to build something. To build a balanced nation. A strong nation. A progressive nation. A civilised nation in which advances and advantages belong to all the people.
And don't let us as Liberals above all things fall into these easy ideas that the modern conception of life allows you to be idle, to be dependent, to leave it to the government and between a yawn and a yawn cast a vote about something. This is a wonderful country, it's going to be more wonderful still, but it will achieve greater wonders on the hard work and efforts of its people and not by a spirit of dependency. Not on that kind of attitude towards government and what government ought to do that our opponents find so easy.
If Liberalism stands for anything and Young Liberalism above all it's for a passion to contribute to the nation. To be free but to be contributors. To submit to the discipline of the mind instead of the ordinary dull discipline of a regimented mass of people.
This call to arms directly to our Movement echoes through the ages.
While some people may seek to reflect on how these statements apply to the Parliamentary Liberal Party, it’s important to stress that our party’s future has never been tied to the popularity, policies or purity of the Parliamentary Party. While sometimes the Parliamentary Party pleases us and other times it disappoints us, in those times of disappointment we must channel those energies into making the case on why things should change rather than throwing hands up in despair.
That’s why when we were given the opportunity to lead our Movement, we committed to be more active and activist in honour of the challenge Sir Robert laid down.
That’s why when we were told that 18C wasn’t a priority, we launched the Save Free Speech campaign, which helped to convince the Parliamentary Party of the urgent need for reform.
That’s why we are continuing to run our campaign to stop the ticking debt bomb, because it’s unfair that our generation will have to pay back $600 billion in debt, with interest, to fund today’s excesses.
Just as all wisdom doesn’t reside in Canberra, the heart and soul of the Liberal Party lives in the hearts and minds of our members and supporters. For our part, we believe the best days of our party are ahead of us, not behind us, but only if we take up Menzies’ challenge to be robust and shameless in championing what we believe in and why.
As Young Liberals, the strength of our party and its future is entirely in our hands. In order for our cause to continue its proud tradition of success and delivering good government, we must use this important day to reaffirm our values, to commit to be their strongest defenders and advocates, lest the threat of a dogmatic socialist culture take hold.
Aiden Depiazzi is the Federal President and Josh Manuatu is the Federal Vice President of the Young Liberal Movement of Australia