Politician targets Catholic school over Menzies "tyrant" book

Queensland Liberal Senator George Brandis has attacked a Mt Isa Catholic high school for stocking a book in its library that describes former Australian prime minister Robert Menzies as a "tyrant".

The principal of Good Shepherd College, Mt Isa, Mr Bernard Durie, is resisting calls from Senator Brandis to remove the book, 100 Greatest Tyrants by British author Andrew Langley, from the school library shelves, various news reports say.

The book places Menzies, sometimes labelled Ming the Merciless after the evil emperor from Flash Gordon comics, alongside Adolf Hitler, Cambodian dictator Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein.

However, Senator Brandis said the inclusion of Australia's longest-serving prime minister in the book was disgraceful and inaccurate.

"The leader of a democratic country like Australia simply has no place in that company, it is an appalling message to be sending to school children," he told ABC radio.

Senator Brandis said the book was an example of the "faddish and trendy" educational tools federal Education Minister Julie Bishop wanted to stamp out.

"The suggestion that communist dictatorships, Nazi dictatorships and liberal democracies are merely different systems of government but one is not morally superior to the others is, I think, a disgraceful notion.

"It comes from faddish, trendy, educationalised ideas that have affected certain elements of the teaching profession in recent years and are something we ought to eliminate root and branch."

The book came to Senator Brandis' attention while recently visiting the Good Shepherd Catholic College in Mt Isa in north-west Queensland.

He demanded the high school pull the book from its library shelf.

But school principal Bernard Durie has refused to remove the book, which he says generates debate and critical thinking skills among school children.

"It's just another book in the library which is there to generate discussion and critical thinking among students," Mr Durie told the Age.

Removing the book "would be censoring, we're not into censoring in a big way yet," Mr Durie also told the ABC.

"But all the author says about Robert Menzies is that perhaps his most tyrannical act was to try and suppress the Australian Communist Party in 1951.

"It mentions a number of proposed tyrants including a number of saints, popes, politicians, kings and our own Sir Robert Menzies."

Durie agreed Menzies did not rank alongside the likes of Attila the Hun, but said the book also included the likes of former FBI chief J Edgar Hoover and American senator Joe McCarthy who lead the US government's internal crusade against communism.

The book defines a tyrant as men or women whose ambition or discontent has driven them to desperate and often evil deeds.

"The tyrants who feature in this book help us appreciate how one strong-willed person can change the course of history and impact on the lives of millions," it reads.

According to the author, Menzies "most tyrannical act" was his attempts to suppress the Communist party within Australia in 1951.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie labelled Menzies inclusion "outrageous" but said he believed in free speech and accused Senator Brandis of over-reacting.

"George has always been a bit of a drama queen about these things. The reality is ... I don't think anyone could view Robert Menzies in that way."

However, the Gold Coast Bulletin backed Senator Brandis demand, saying that "it is possible school administrators had no idea Menzies was lumped among some of history's most notorious criminal dictators within the covers of the 110-page book when it was first bought".

"But they certainly know now and have made a sorry mistake in trying to defend the book, reportedly describing it as a useful resource for generating debate and critical thinking skills among students," the paper concluded.

Row over 'tyrant' Menzies library book (The Age, 25/10/06)
School refuses to 'censor' Menzies book (ABC News, 24/10/06)
Clearly it's the wrong message (Gold Coast Bulletin, 25/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Good Shepherd Catholic College, Mt Isa
Senator George Brandis
Senator George Brandis (Wikipedia)

25 Oct 2006