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OPINION: Why students should protest the opening of the Menzies Institute on November 18

The grand opening of the Robert Menzies Institute will come to Parkville campus this November 18 in the form of a conference and gala dinner on campus. The Menzies Institute is a Liberal Party think-tank masquerading as a Prime Ministerial library being set up in the Old Quad by the Menzies Research Centre (MRC) and the University of Melbourne. The Institute will shape campus life...

(content warning: mentions of the Holocaust, anti-semitism, white supremacy, people in detention)

 

The grand opening of the Robert Menzies Institute will come to Parkville campus this November 18 in the form of a conference and gala dinner on campus. 

The Menzies Institute is a Liberal Party think-tank masquerading as a Prime Ministerial library being set up in the Old Quad by the Menzies Research Centre (MRC) and the University of Melbourne. The Institute will shape campus life by holding public forums, lectures, and exhibitions, hosting school visits, developing curricula, and generally cohering the Right on campus.

Students and staff will be protesting the grand opening of the Menzies Institute and the rich and powerful attending it. We think the Menzies Institute represents the Liberal Party and their wealthy conservative backers buying up space and influence on our campus. This should be opposed at every opportunity.

For the average Menzies fetishist, there will be plenty on offer at the grand opening. The daytime conference—the first of four annual conferences to be hosted by the Menzies Institute—will bring together a who’s who of conservative academics and ideologues to celebrate the legacy of Robert Menzies’ early years across a range of topics.

James Edelman, High Court Justice and private school debating buddy of disgraced Liberal MP Christian Porter, will be presenting on ‘Menzies and the Law’. He will be joined by David Kemp, a pillar of the modern Liberal Party and board member of the Institute, who will be speaking on the topic ‘Menzies: Time for a Reappraisal?’. We sure think so!

Conservative columnist and MRC Executive Director Nick Cater will draw comparisons between Menzies’ ‘forgotten people’ and Scott Morrison’s ‘quiet Australians’, playing on the Liberal fantasy that they represent some sort of ‘silent majority’ in Australian society—instead of just the ultra-wealthy. Cater himself was recently embroiled in a scandal after he and Paul Espie, chair of both the MRC and Empire Energy, helped broker $21 million in federal grants to Empire Energy to frack the NT Beetaloo Basin without the approval of the Northern Territory Government amidst protests from Traditional Owners.

Among the lesser-known ‘academics’, it’s hard to find one that hasn’t written for the far-right journals Quadrant or Spectator. Stephen Chavura, who can be heard in a recent Menzies Research Centre podcast with Nick Cater destroying the ‘intellectual virus’ of Critical Race Theory, will be speaking on Menzies’ elitist, ‘merit-based’ vision for higher-education and the overpopulation of universities today. And Deputy Director of conservative front The Sydney Institute Anne Henderson will explore how Menzies valiantly prepared for war with both Germany and the Australian trade union movement!

And in keeping with the Institute’s aim of celebrating Menzies’ legacy and upholding his vision in today’s political climate, it is unlikely the conference will explore the more ‘unsavoury’ aspects of Menzies’ early years. 

There will be no sessions discussing Menzies’ fascist sympathies in his early years, sparked by a visit to Nazi Germany in 1938. In 1938—when the anti-Semitic Nuremburg Laws had been in place for three years—Menzies wrote to his sister: “[the Germans] have erected the State, with Hitler at its head, into the sort of religion which produces a spiritual exaltation that one cannot but admire and some small portion of which would do no harm among our own somewhat irresponsible population”. In 1939, not even a year after the Kristallnacht pogroms, Menzies remarked: “History will label Hitler as one of the really great men of the century … a great man and a tireless worker”.

The sycophantic white-washing of history on display at the opening conference is emblematic of the entire project of the Menzies Institute—to celebrate and uphold Menzies’ legacy in the current political climate. The conference will give us a small taste of what’s in store once the Institute establishes itself on our campus—so we should take this opportunity to give the people behind the Institute a taste of what students think of them.

Come evening on November 18, the rows of conference chairs will be packed away, and our esteemed guests will be able to let their hair down and celebrate the grand opening of the Menzies Institute with a gala dinner. And who better to mark the occasion than one of Menzies’ conservative successors: the very Honorable Josh Frydenberg, Federal Liberal Treasurer, who will be delivering the keynote address.

Frydenberg hails from the same affluent seat of Kooyong that Menzies held for many years and, unsurprisingly, pursues the same project of screwing over the poor and marginalised in the interests of the rich and powerful. Over the course of the pandemic, he has repeatedly called for the repeal of life-saving lockdown restrictions in order to revive business profits. As Treasurer, he excluded university staff from the JobKeeper program, resulting in over 40,000 university staff losing their jobs throughout the pandemic. He was also responsible for the latest horror budget that slashed funding for universities across the board. One of his main ‘priorities’ in 2019 was scrapping the Medevac legislation, leaving hundreds of refugees stranded in hotel prisons such as the Park Hotel, literally a block away from our campus. 

Josh Frydenberg’s presence at this event on our campus should be a wake up call for anyone unsure of the real project of the Menzies Institute. Its interest in Menzies’ legacy has always been about propping up the Right of the Liberal Party today and furthering its pro-business, socially conservative vision in society.

So on November 18, the very people responsible for everything that is wrong with universities, and indeed society more broadly, will converge on our campus to discuss the legacy of Australia’s conservative poster boy and how his vision can be furthered today. This will be followed by a celebration of the grand opening of the Menzies Institute, this statue to conservatism, featuring the scumbag Josh Frydenberg. It is hard to imagine a more farcical affair. 

The Menzies Institute, and the collection of Liberals, climate criminals and conservative ideologues running it, should have no place on our campus. That is, at least, what the over one thousand University students and staff who have signed our open letter or attended our campaign events think. Yet, due to health restrictions, there have been few opportunities so far for the campaign to confront the rich and powerful behind the Institute. The grand opening on November 18 is a golden opportunity for students and staff to mobilise in a mass, in-person action to disrupt the Menzies Institute and its cronies. 

As students, we ought to protest the pro-business, socially conservative politics of the Menzies Institute and the powerful forces behind it every chance we get—and with this conference they’ve handed us a great one. 

Join the protest against the Menzies Institute grand opening on November 18, 5pm, South Lawn — Facebook event: https://fb.me/e/2cznRifcF

 
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