Election of the record length Menzies Government

December 07, 2018

On 10 December 1949, Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, leading his Liberal-Country Party Coalition, won the Federal election against Ben Chifley’s Labor government, beginning a record 23 year era of sensible, conservative government rule in Australia.

This also began Menzies’ second stint as Australian PM, which lasted over 16 years with seven consecutive election victories plus two half-Senate elections in 1953 and 1964, where the Coalition held their ground. Menzies' first stint as PM was for two early World War II years as head of the original United Australia Party – the Liberal Party’s predecessor.

At 16 consecutive years, Menzies remains Australia’s longest serving PM, with our last conservative PM, John Howard, in second place (nearly 12 years).

In the 10 December 1949 election, Menzies used the medium of radio to great effect to reach voters – a novel method of communication that other politicians quickly adopted and became mainstream. (See further details below.)

Menzies’ retirement as PM on 26 January 1966 was voluntary, entirely on his own terms – remarkably, making him the last Australian PM to do so (noting that more than a dozen PMs have succeeded him). His farewell press conference was telecast live in Australia – the first political press conference to be so.

Celebrate this anniversary of Menzies’ successful 1949 Federal election and subsequent long era of conservative government by:

Further details on the 1949 election and the Menzies Era

Menzies won government in his second attempt as Liberal/Coalition leader, achieving a 5.1% swing at the 1949 election for a two-party preferred vote of 51%, winning a Coalition total of 74 seats and a 13 seat majority in the 121 seat Lower House. Labor PM Chifley had increased the number of Lower House seats by 47 (from 74) and the number of Senate seats by 24 (from 36 to 60). In his following 1951 election win, he lost just five Lower House seats but attained a majority of seats in the Senate (something Labor would never again attain).

Menzies’ first stint as PM was as head of the original United Australia Party (UAP) – not the pale yellow 2018 imitation – and lasted a little over two years during the early part of WWII. The UAP was a smaller predecessor to the Liberal Party, the latter being founded by Menzies (then as UAP leader) after he arranged and held a conference of all then anti-Labor parties in 1944, which he convinced to merge and remain in coalition with the Country Party. At their first Federal election in 1946, the new Menzies-led Liberal-Country Party Coalition achieved a respectable 4.1% swing against the then Chifley Labor government, bringing them within striking distance at the next election.

The key conservative issues Menzies ran hard against Labor on in 1949 were:

  • Chifley’s mad-cap socialist plan to nationalise the banks – to bring all banking under government control (effectively expanding the then Commonwealth Bank to engulf all banking which, four decades later, was actually (and wisely) privatised by the Keating Labor government after the disastrous banking experiments in the 1980s of the then Labor State governments of Victoria, SA and WA)
  • ending unpopular war-time rationing that Chifley’s Labor and other socialist busy-bodies had grown to enjoy 
  • increasing strike action by Communist Party of Australia (CPA)-affiliated, influenced or inspired trade unions (eg the 1948 Queensland railway strike and the 1949 Australian coal strike, where our troops – a first in peace-time Australia – had to be sent in by Chifley to break the impasse and restore order in the mines), and
  • Chifley’s reluctance to tackle the realities of the developing Cold War and emerging, critical threat of communism, including within Labor’s own institutions and heartland (and eventually the party itself).

The long Menzies era was noted for its:

  • strong economic growth and development of Australia
  • low unemployment and inflation
  • rapidly rising incomes and prosperity
  • responsible budgets
  • significant post-WWII European migration for the manpower to develop Australia and build infrastructure like the Snowy Mountains (Hydro) Scheme
  • very little welfare (where personal responsibility and self-actualisation remained goals and extolled virtues)
  • freedom for and sanctity of the individual
  • governing for ordinary non-elite citizens – the “Forgotten People
  • successful introduction of our decimal currency (the month following Menzies’ retirement)
  • establishment of the ANZUS Treaty and our security alliance with the US
  • tackling head-on and unapologetically the existential scourge of communism (more economic than cultural Marxism back then)
  • pursuing unrelentingly the Petrov Affair, the associated rot and its implications, and
  • bringing rogue trade unions back under control.

In response to the Petrov Affair and the escalating Cold War, Menzies established a Royal Commission on Espionage to inquire into and report on Soviet espionage and the infiltration of communism into Australia.

In the spirit of Sir Robert Menzies, Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi has campaigned for a Menzies-style Royal Commission into Chinese communism (see and sign our petition here).

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