February 06, 2006 | Jeff Wall

Sir Reginald Swartz…perhaps the last link with the Menzies Liberal era

The Honourable Sir Reginald William Colin Swartz, who died last week at the grand age of 94 was perhaps the last link with the Liberal Ministers of the Menzies Government – 1949 to 1966.
I knew Sir Reginald Swartz from my first year of high school. He was our local Federal Member (Darling Downs, 1949-1972). I met him first when he turned up in our little town and stood outside the council chambers meeting anyone who wanted to talk to their local Federal MP.
Each year he visited every town and village in the electorate – probably 40 or so – at least once just to meet voters and residents generally. Before he did so, plain signs would go up on lamp posts simply saying “R.W. Swartz, MP will be here. Date…Time…”
At the age of 11, I turned up after school and introduced myself. It began an association that was to enhance my interest in politics as he studiously met my every request for Hansards, reports and so on. And each request was met with a personally signed note, and the accompanying reports no matter how bulky they were.
It may well be that he is the last surviving Liberal Minister, who was elected in 1949, from the Menzies era. His Ministerial career was long, distinguished and entirely without blemish.
He was a Parliamentary Secretary for Commerce and then Trade between 1952 to 1961, and then successively Minister for Repatriation, Health, Social Services, Civil Aviation and National Development between 1961 and his retirement in 1972. For the term of the McMahon Government he was Leader of the House.
But this record does not tell the real story of Reg Swartz. I asked my friend Sir James Killen over the weekend whether Reg Swartz was among the most genuinely liked Members he served with. He had no hesitation in saying he agreed completely.
He had no enemies, on his own side, or the other side of the political divide. I doubt if he made one personal attack on an opponent in his whole career. His Labor opponents universally respected him for his integrity and decency.
He was a competent Minister. There was not one hint of scandal, and none of significant maladministration in his Ministerial career.
His answers to questions were long, and painstaking for the Opposition. But they were delivered without reference to notes or briefs. They contained innumerable facts and no vitriol.
But throughout his Ministerial career he assiduously “worked” his electorate. He won election after election with large majorities.
His Press Secretary, my late friend Mort Nash, followed the dictum that his job was to keep his Minister out of the “Sydney Morning Herald”, and in the “Toowoomba Chronicle”.
And during World War he was a prisoner of the Japanese, but as Minister for National Development he promoted trade and investment links with Japan as enthusiastically as any of his colleagues.
His death marks the end of an era. He was one of the last, if not the last, Liberal Minister from the Menzies Governments – and he was almost certainly the last who was first elected when Menzies won office in 1949.
He will be given a State Funeral in Caloundra this Thursday.
His long and distinguished service to Australia – in war and peace – deserves nothing less.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 5:03 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

1 Comment

  1. WITH due rspect for your article ,about”the SIR let us now move on to the year two thousand and six,we have a man by name John Howard,the prime minister,who I think still governs australia in the menzies style,like Menzies in Australia,and if I may just mention Smuts in South Africa both, devouted more time to visits to the british monarch,and ignoring what their countries want,John Howard a thoroughbred monarchist,devouts his time in visits to the USA,but would very much like,to be a SIR,before he leaves politics,he has very little time left,as the writing is on the wall,his use by date,has long expired.

    Comment by Thomas Wertheim — February 8, 2006 @ 9:15 am

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