Students, staff campaign against Robert Menzies Institute

August 11, 2021
Students and staff disagree with management's attempts to turn Robert Menzies into a hero. Photo: Stop the Liberals - Menzies Institute off our campus/Facebook

Students and staff are organising against the University of Melbourne’s plan to establish a Robert Menzies Institute, slated to open in November.

An open letter, “Stop the Robert Menzies Institute”, signed by many, describes management’s plan as “an attempt by the right wing of the Liberal Party and their supporters to purchase a space of public and scholarly influence in Australian universities”. 

“This project aims to uncritically venerate [Menzies] legacy" as well as "creating a 'statue' to Menzies” the letter states. It calls on the university to sever its contract with the Robert Menzies Centre.

The Menzies Research Centre, in partnership with the university, has been given more than $7 million from the federal government to create the new institute. The centre is affiliated to the Liberal Party.

At the same time, management is pushing ahead with staff cuts despite an $8 million surplus last year.

The university says the institute will commemorate Robert Menzies’ legacy. Menzies was Australia’s longest serving conservative Prime Minister.

As the open letter points out, Menzies was no hero. He was a staunch supporter of the White Australia policy and apartheid rule in South Africa. He allowed First Nations land to become the test site for atomic bombs. He authorised troops to join imperialist wars on the Korean peninsula, against rebels in the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War.

The Menzies Research Centre think-tank will house a library dedicated to Menzies, organise public lectures and promote “liberal principles”. However, its board of directors is made up of hard right figures, including Sky News Australia presenter and advisor to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin, and Geoffrey Hone, chair of right-wing think-tank The Institute of Public Affairs.

Annette Herrera, University of Melbourne National Tertiary Education Union President, told the July 22 Age that “universities should be a space for the contest of ideas, not public institutions bought by special interests.”

Graduate Student Association (GSA) post-graduate education (research) officer Monica Sestito told Green Left that the campaign against the Menzies Institute is important given the federal government and university managements’ continuing attacks on the tertiary sector.

“It can help embolden further fights for the education we deserve, over and above the education the profiteers are willing to concede,” Sestito said.

The campaign group is being supported by the education departments of GSA and the University of Melbourne Student Union, along with the National Union of Students.

A rally has been called for August 18 at the South Lawn at University Melbourne.

[Campaign updates are being posted at the Stop the Liberals — Menzies Institute off our campus Facebook page.]

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