McEwen sets an example

There have been too many statues torn down this year. So it was good to finish 2020 by unveiling a new statue of John "Black Jack" McEwen in Canberra last week.

There have been too many statues torn down this year. So it was good to finish 2020 by unveiling a new statue of John "Black Jack" McEwen in Canberra last week.

As Marc Antony said in Shakespeare's *Julius Caesar*, "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones." A statue helps preserve the good that a man or a woman has done. It does not mean that they did no evil. But a statue does serve as a physical reminder of the good someone has done. It serves as an example for us all to strive to do better in an imperfect world.

The good that has been done by leaders past also helps us deal with present challenges. John McEwen's example is a tutorial for us all on how to deal with a world beset with difficulty.

John was from a poor family. He saved money to buy a soldier settler block post World War I. He survived by eating the rabbits on his new property so he could put everything else in to developing his own block.

He rose to prominence representing farmers in rural Victoria eventually being elected to Parliament to represent them as a Country Party MP. He went on to serve in the War Cabinet during World War II, served as Trade Minister for over 15 years and as leader of the Country Party for 12 years. He became Prime Minister for a short period after the death of Harold Holt.

As veteran journalist Laurie Oakes said of McEwen a few years ago, "He is one of the few people I've met in 50 years in journalism who I think deserves the description 'great'".

What made McEwen great was his determination to build up what he called the "wealth producing industries" of farming, mining and manufacturing. To do this he bravely pursued trade deals with Asian countries and passionately fought for government assistance to help Australian farmers and industry compete in a global environment.

Working with one of Australia's best economists, Sir John Crawford, McEwen could see that our traditional trade partner of Great Britain was becoming closer to Europe than its former colonies. So, as he put it, we needed to find another nation off the coast of a major continent hungry for natural resources. Japan fit the bill and McEwen staked his political career on finalising a trade deal with Japan just 12 years after the end World War II.

As our now major trading partner in China threatens to cut off trade, we need McEwen's leadership again to strike new trading relationships.

John McEwen has been heavily criticised in recent years for his adoption of "protection all around" policies. He supported tariffs to protect Australian manufacturing jobs and floor prices to help Aussie farmers survive. McEwen's policies helped deliver a massive surge in Australian manufacturing of steel, cars and food products.

Much of McEwen's legacy has been dismantled in the push to free trade over the past 40 years.

But as a new book released this week by my National party colleague, Bridget McKenzie, argues we are all McEwenists now. The pandemic has highlighted the peril in relying too much on overseas manufacturing. We need to study McEwen's legacy to learn what we must do to fix this vulnerability and rebuild Australian manufacturing again.

Bridget's book, and the McEwen statue, have been released to mark 100 years since the Country Party (now the Nationals party) was formed. The Nationals party is the second longest serving political party (after Labor) in Australia. But its message of support for the industries that are the backbone of our great country is needed more than ever.

At the base of McEwen's new statue there is a mural representing all the industries he supported in his career. We need to once again steadfastly support these sectors so we can lay a strong foundation for an Australia that grows in strength through challenging times.

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