1949 - 1966

The Menzies Government rebuilt Australian freedom and prosperity after the Second World War, and laid the economic and social foundations that have made Australia one of the most successful democracies in the world since that time.

The Menzies government also marked the beginning of one of the most successful periods for the Liberal Party at a federal level. Coming to power only a few years after the Liberal Party was formed, its founder – Sir Robert Menzies – led a government tasked with remaking Australia after the war.

Robert Menzies was deeply committed to principles of individual freedom and opportunity, and he was determined that Australia would not go down the damaging road that Labor was planning (and that Britain had embarked on) with nationalisation of all major industries and government attempts to centrally plan the economy.

In Britain that strategy produced a long period of slow decline, only reversed in the 1980s. Thanks to Robert Menzies, Australia avoided that. He believed that people had to be rewarded for their efforts, that taxes should be kept down, and that the creativity of the individual, expressed within a framework of just and fair laws, would secure Australia’s future strength and prosperity.

The prosperous and free Australia he left behind on his retirement proved that he was correct.The Liberal Party under Menzies also strongly resisted the efforts of the Communist Party of Australia (backed by the Soviet Union), with its base in the trade unions, to disrupt and weaken Australian industry and undermine Australia in the Cold War.

While Labor was consumed in its internal battles between the extreme Left and anti-communist elements, the Liberal Party stood firm in the defense of the democratic ideals on which Australia had been founded. The Labor Party split between the Left and anti-Communist elements in 1954, and the anti-communist Labor group became the Democratic Labor Party.

The Menzies period is often recognised as a golden era in Australia’s history with widespread prosperity, a flourishing economy and work for all.

Some features of Australia under the Menzies Government included:

  • High living standards for all Australians and the level of consumer goods per head (cars, radios, etc) rose dramatically

  • The ratio of home owners rose from a little over 50 per cent to around 75 per cent of the population

  • Great progress in industry, manufacturing output, primary industry production and mineral development

  • Australia achieved a position in the world’s top ten trading nations

  • Consistent spending on defence programs

  • The arrival of 1 million immigrants in just 10 years

  • The introduction of new social security measures such as creating the pensioner medical and free medicines service

  • A dramatic expansion in education, with new universities in most states and the ending of the discriminatory funding policies for non-government schools

  • The introduction of needed improvements in the national divorce laws.

Robert Menzies

Sir Robert Menzies

Prime Minister from 19 December 1949 - 26 January 1966

Robert Menzies succeeded Earle Page to become Australia's 12th prime minister when the United Australia Party elected a new leader following Joseph Lyons' death in 1939. Menzies returned to serve a second term in 1949 when the Liberal Country Coalition replaced the Labor government led by Ben Chifley.

Robert Menzies is Australia's longest serving prime minister, holding a record which is unlikely ever to be beaten. Menzies learnt from his difficult first term as prime minister to go on to achieve a sustained and strong hold on the leadership of his party, and the nation, for sixteen years. Menzies began his political career grappling with the consequences of depression and war, and ended it managing the challenges of rapid post-war prosperity and growth.

Learn More