usually ignore their party’s history. Laborites use their history as a
source of strength. It should come as no surprise then that figures
from Paul Keating down have launched ferocious attacks on Alexander
Downer’s historical tour d’horizon: his speech at Earle Page College’s Annual Politics Dinner at the University of New England on Tuesday.

Kevin Rudd has a great go in The Australian’s
opinion pages: “Somewhere deep in the Adelaide Hills on Saturday night,
Alexander Downer must have been playing battleships in his bathtub when
he suddenly came up with a seriously cunning plan. Namely, to reinvent
Australian post-war political history and argue that Labor under John
Curtin was not the real defender of Australian liberty.

“Lo and behold, it was the conservatives all along, including decent
chaps such as Alex, who did the hard yards on this score. The really
dastardly thing was that it has all been kept a secret during the past
half century or so. And it has taken until now for Alexander, all by
himself, to reveal this to the Australian public…”

Rudd knows
what was behind Downer’s speech: “The reality is Downer is driven by
the political ambition to become treasurer and deputy leader of the
Liberal Party as soon as possible. He has decided to add to his
political repertoire by creating what he would regard as a really big
new idea to launch a pathetic, foreign policy equivalent to John
Howard’s culture wars.” Yeah, well, Rudd must know all about ambition
for a leadership role.

Some of the usual suspects from the long list of Labor historians got trotted out in The Age.
“David Day, a biographer of Curtin and honorary associate at La Trobe
University, said many of the [Downer] claims were ‘simplistic and
ahistorical’,” its report said. “ ‘It just ignores the history,’ he
said. ‘If he is going to take a stick to anyone, he should take it to
Bob Menzies. It was Menzies who was backing strongly the appeasement
policies of Neville Chamberlain ” and he kept up the support even after
the Nazis rolled into Poland’.”

Which leads up to one point
about Country Party leader Earle Page and Downer’s dad’s old boss, Bob
Menzies, that the foreign minister didn’t amplify in his speech. Downer
referred to how Page “reached a political impasse over forming a
wartime coalition with Menzies, who wouldn’t accept him in Cabinet.”
Er, yes. And what about the events of April 1939? Page refused to
accept Menzies as prime minister – because Menzies had not served in
the Great War, amongs other reasons.

A curious omission in a speech on appeasement, hey Alex?