A WAR of words has erupted over a controversial opinion piece in last week’s AJN (“Labor’s abstention explained” 18/01), in which Labor MP Mike Kelly slated the Liberal Party’s record on Israel and inferred that former prime minister Sir Robert Menzies was a Nazi sympathiser.
In the article, Kelly attempted to explain Labor’s abstention from last year’s UN vote on Palestinian observer status, and mitigate the widely held perception that Prime Minister Julia Gillard kowtowed to Caucus over the vote.
Kelly wrote that Menzies was suspected of having “Nazi sympathies” during his time as attorney-general and accused him directly of having a “great deal of sympathy for Nazi ‘achievements’”.
“Menzies’ view was that Hitler was a patriot and he was not concerned for the fate of the Jews of Germany or what awaited the peoples of Eastern Europe under the Nazi domination he was prepared to concede,” Kelly wrote.
“Menzies spent several weeks in Nazi Germany and was extremely impressed with the abolition of trades unions, suppression of the right of collective bargaining and the outlawing of the right to strike.
“In October 1938, after five years of increasing violence against the Jews and others, he made a speech in Sydney where he contrasted the quality of the leadership of Lyons as PM unfavourably with Hitler,” he wrote.
The article drew the ire of Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and shadow minister for foreign affairs Julie Bishop, who slammed Kelly for “a deeply partisan attack on the Coalition in a highly selective, misleading and in parts downright dishonest article (AJN 18/01).
“The most obvious conclusion is that Mr Kelly is attempting to cover up the embarrassing disarray that is currently occurring within the Gillard government over its recent stance on Israel,” Bishop wrote in an op-ed in this week’s AJN.
Coalition backbencher Josh Frydenberg, along with former Howard government minister David Kemp responded angrily to Kelly’s article in a piece – also in this week’s AJN – attacking Kelly’s claims about Menzies as “not only patently false but intellectually dishonest”.
“His portrayal of Sir Robert Menzies as a Nazi sympathiser and appeaser ‘not concerned for the fate of the Jews of Germany’ is a despicable slur,” Frydenberg and Kemp wrote.
Frydenberg is the Federal Member for Kooyong, the seat Menzies held from 1934-66. Kelly, who is in New York, could not be reached for comment.
Labor MP Dr Mike Kelly.