McMANUS, Francis Patrick Vincent (1905–1983)
Senator for Victoria, 1956–62, 1965–74 (Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist); Democratic Labor Party)

Francis Patrick Vincent (Frank) McManus, civilised Cold War warrior and founding member of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), was born on 27 February 1905 at North Melbourne, a suburb he would come to describe as his native land. He was the son of Patrick McManus, born in Roscommon, Ireland, and Gertrude, née Beal, who was born in West Melbourne, and who changed her name to Dorothy Alice Marsden. Patrick was a cartage contractor who had arrived in Brisbane on the Dunbar Castle in 1878 with his father John, and four siblings, John’s first and second wives having died in Ireland. When John died shortly after arriving in Brisbane, the young McManus family went to live with relatives near Shepparton in Victoria, Patrick moving to North Melbourne as a young man.

Frank’s life would prove as tough as that of his Irish forebears, but in a somewhat different way. A gifted scholar, he was educated at schools run by the Christian Brothers, attending St Mary’s, West Melbourne, before joining a one-room scholarship class at St Colman’s Central Class, Fitzroy. From 1918 to 1922 he attended St Joseph’s, North Melbourne, of which he became dux in his final year. Entering St Kevin’s College, he won scholarships to Newman College at the University of Melbourne, graduating in April 1926 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in English and Latin, and a DipEd. At the end of 1926, he had received his Trained Secondary Teacher’s Certificate from Melbourne Teachers’ College, Carlton. Between 1928 and 1930 he studied for a law degree, but did not complete the course.

Active in the Catholic Young Men’s Society, McManus became state president in 1929. He was active too in Melbourne’s model parliament, which drew large audiences to its meeting place at the Theosophical Society, next to the Regent Theatre in Collins Street. Here he became a successful debater, winning state and interstate debating competitions. On two occasions McManus’ winning partner in debate was the ALP’s Arthur Calwell, later to become a political ally within the labour movement, and later still a political opponent. Beginning a teaching career, McManus taught at Essendon High School (1927–36), Bairnsdale High School (1937–40) and Essendon Technical School. In 1946 he resigned from the Victorian Education Department, to take up a post as inspector and examiner in the Catholic school system. From 1947 until 1973 he was a member of the board of the Council for Adult Education in Victoria.[1]

McManus had joined the Flemington branch of the ALP in 1925, becoming branch president in 1932. By 1947 he was vice-president of the Victorian Central Executive (VCE), and from 1949 to 1955 assistant secretary of the Victorian branch. As assistant secretary, he was the ALP’s official representative to the media, providing regular commentary on radio station 3KZ. Deeply committed to his church, the ALP and anti-communism, from 1949 McManus was a member of the anti-communist Industrial Groups that had developed in Victoria from 1946, and which gained the support of B. A. Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement (known as the Movement). As ALP assistant secretary in Victoria, McManus worked closely with the secretary, Dinny Lovegrove. According to Robert Murray, Lovegrove’s ‘erratic brilliance’, combined with ‘the more solid, better educated talents of McManus’, was ‘one of the best administrations … any Australian party had known’. Murray suggests that, as a result of their partnership, communist influence in the unions in Victoria virtually disappeared between 1949 and 1954. Simultaneously, the perception strengthened that the Movement was controlling the right wing of the ALP. This perception was not lessened by such activities as McManus and other Groupers meeting for lunch every Monday with Santamaria in Melbourne’s Latin Restaurant, and the fact that by July 1954 the anti-communist Groupers on the VCE numbered six members of the Movement, including McManus. In October 1954 the Leader of the Federal Opposition, H. V. Evatt, labelled McManus as one of the ‘conspirators’ seeking to undermine the Labor Party, along with Santamaria and Stan Keon (MHR 1949–55).

Towards the end of 1954, the ALP’s Federal Executive undertook an inquiry into the ALP’s Victorian branch, when it decided to hold a ‘Special Victorian Conference’, in the hope of sending an anti-Grouper delegation to the forthcoming ALP Federal Conference in Hobart. This caused McManus and the Groupers to discuss boycotting the Hobart conference. While McManus was in favour of this, Lovegrove was against it, on the grounds that such a move would precipitate a split—as it did. Murray has written that the ‘two broad views [that is whether or not to boycott] … hardened into rigid, mutually mistrusting factions’, and that even ‘the friendship and long working relationship of Lovegrove and McManus … broke down’. At the meeting of the central executive of the Victorian ALP on 11 February 1955, Lovegrove resigned as secretary, and McManus was appointed acting secretary in his place. By the time the Special Victorian Conference met on 26 and 27 February, a strong move to the left had diminished the power of the Groupers. McManus was out of office, now only part of what the Melbourne press dubbed ‘the old executive’.

The Victorian party was now split in two, both executives, the old and the new, arriving at the Hobart Trades Hall for the Federal Conference on 14 March, at which the ‘new’ was admitted, while the ‘old’, including McManus, was not. In its fury at being excluded the old executive banged the doors, demanded entry and obstructed the movement of other delegates. Then seventeen delegates from other states got into the act, boycotting the conference in sympathy with the ‘door-bangers’. This group included some then current and future senators: J. T. Kane, G. R. Cole, J. A. Cooke, and V. C. Gair. With conference delegates split into two groups, which now met in separate venues, the official conference passed a resolution endorsing the decision of the Federal Executive to remove the political recognition of the Industrial Groups in Victoria. The Groups were now all but finished, the ALP was split and McManus’ career as a Labor official was over. On Sunday 27 March, McManus joined Cole in addressing a crowd of 3000 at an ‘old executive’ rally at the Richmond Town Hall in Melbourne. On 7 April 1955 McManus was expelled from the ALP. Later that month a new party was born, calling itself the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist), of which McManus was a founding member.[2]

On 18 June, McManus stood for the seat of Melbourne in the Victorian Legislative Council, representing the ALP (Anti- Communist). He was unsuccessful, but won a Senate seat at the federal election of 10 December. From 1 July 1956, he and his leader, Senator Cole, held the balance of power in the Senate, and in August McManus became deputy leader. Following some hesitation by the Victorian party to affiliate nationally, McManus attended the first full conference of ‘the Australian Democratic Labor Party’ (DLP) on 25 August 1957, in Canberra’s Hotel Kingston, at which he retained his position as the party’s deputy leader. Narrowly defeated at the 1961 election, he became federal organising secretary of the DLP from 1962 to 1965. He stood, unsuccessfully, for the seat of Maribyrnong in the November 1963 House of Representatives election, but won a place in the Senate at the half-Senate election of December 1964. With Cole gone from mid-July 1965, there were again only two DLP senators, McManus and now Senator Gair, the overall balance of power favouring the DLP.

Since both wanted the leadership job, they decided to draw from a hat. Gair won, and McManus became deputy. Over the subsequent ten years of their partnership, McManus became restive, with Gair not resigning as leader until October 1973. The two men could hardly have been more dissimilar, McManus the epitome of a somewhat lugubrious dignity, Gair the ultimate larrikin. McManus’ subsequent elevation to the leadership was short-lived. At the controversial double dissolution election on 18 May 1974, McManus and his three remaining DLP senators were defeated, but not before McManus had made a swingeing attack in the Senate on Gair’s acceptance of Gough Whitlam’s offer of an ambassadorial post to Ireland. Later, he publicly accused the Whitlam Government of bribery, announcing he had been offered, but had declined, the position of Ambassador to the Vatican.[3]

Despite McManus’ experiences in the internecine politics of the Victorian Labor Party, in the Senate he was moderate in tone, an astute and, at times, wily politician, one who in many respects retained traditional ALP attitudes, as he regularly opposed the Liberal–Country Party governments’ budgets, demanding greater funding for social security measures such as widows’ pensions and child endowment. When the Menzies Government presented its package of fourteen banking bills in October and November 1957, McManus and his colleagues voted with the ALP, thus defeating the legislation. The Split was never far from his thoughts. For many years, he regularly described the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party as ‘the Evatt Labour Party’, though he had many good friends among Labor senators. On matters relating to defence and foreign affairs, he retained Cold War attitudes, usually supporting the conservative parties to the hilt, and making lengthy statements on the DLP’s policies on foreign affairs. He provided vehement support for the Vietnam War, and earned regard for his service on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and its 1973 replacement, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. In 1958 McManus was appointed a member of the Select Committee on Payments to Maritime Unions, probably as a result of his advocacy, in 1957, of the establishment of a committee to investigate the matter of ‘an extraordinary racket between some shipowners and the Seamen’s Union’. In 1969 he undertook a trip to Asia, visiting the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Guam and Rabaul. In 1971 he went to Paris to attend an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference, returning to entertain colleagues with droll stories.

His most powerful years were those between 1970 and the double dissolution of 1974, when the DLP held the balance of power in the Senate. On 10 April 1974, McManus voted against the Whitlam Government’s supply bill, for which he earned the Prime Minister’s eternal fury, but the support of the McManus-led DLP had previously enabled the ALP Government to get a great deal of its legislative program, including some ground-breaking social legislation, through the Senate. In his policy speech on 28 April, McManus had accused the Whitlam Government of weakening Australia’s defences and of having a foreign policy that led Asian leaders to label Australia ‘the running dog of Chairman Mao’. Seeing his party under threat at the forthcoming 1974 election, McManus tried to have joint Liberal/CP/DLP Senate teams, but as Alan Barnes wrote in the Melbourne Age: ‘After nearly 20 years of exerting extraordinary rump influence on the Liberal and Country parties, the DLP reached its nadir’.[4]

Upon his defeat in 1974, McManus wrote to the Clerk of the Senate, J. R. Odgers, ‘I have bitten the dust, yet my head is bloodied but unbowed’. In his reply, Odgers referred to ‘losing the Senate’s best debater’. McManus’ speeches in Hansard were well-structured and well-reasoned, always moderate in tone, and courteous, especially in his frequent references to the Queen. McManus, whose name had become synonymous with the DLP, was ‘tall, lean, incisive’ and ‘totally logical’ in debate, sometimes displaying a sense of humour that surprised those accustomed to his solemn mien. He was a devoted family man, with a large circle of friends, who in retirement continued to enjoy his love of reading, of music and of walking, especially with his Labrador. In 1977 McManus wrote his autobiography: The Tumult and the Shouting. In 1978, at the North Melbourne Town Hall, he led an attempt to revive the DLP, six weeks after its disbandment in Victoria. He remained a keen supporter of Australian Rules football and was the No. 1 patron of the North Melbourne Football Club. He was a trustee of the Melbourne Cricket Ground from March 1975 to May 1983. In 1979 he was appointed a CMG.[5]

McManus did not cast off the memories and resentments of the Split, which, arguably, he had helped to create. Like so many others in the post-World War II environment, his motives had been based on fear of communism, and were largely well meaning, though the residue of that bitter period was such that, upon his death on 28 December 1983, the Premier of Victoria, John Cain junior, refused to offer a tribute, still blaming McManus and the DLP for the defeat of his father, John Cain senior, who had lost power in Victoria as a result of the Split nearly thirty years earlier.

On 9 January 1937 McManus had married Clare Mulvany at St Margaret Mary’s Catholic Church, North Brunswick. Clare survived him, as did their four children. A son, Paul, was president of the Victorian DLP from 1974 to 1975, contested the federal seat of Maribyrnong in 1972 and 1974, and was a Senate candidate in 1975, 1977 and 1980.

Requiem Mass for McManus was held on 3 January 1984 in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, the congregation including four bishops, as well as the principal concelebrant, Bishop Eric Perkins, forty-five priests and more than 1000 people. McManus was regarded by those who knew him as courageous for the causes he believed in. Stan Keon commented that the Labor Party ‘blew out its brains’ when it rid itself of men like McManus. Santamaria was quoted in the Canberra Times as saying: ‘I knew him for more than 50 years. He was one of the men I most admired’.[6]

John Warhurst

[1] Frank McManus, The Tumult & the Shouting, Rigby, Adelaide, 1977, pp. 13–19; Age (Melb.), 30 Dec. 1982, p. 5; The editor is indebted to Jolanta Kozlowski, St Joseph’s College, Melbourne, Noela Brierty, St Kevin’s College, Melbourne, Rita Vik, Newman College, Melbourne, Jason Benjamin, UMA, Catherine Herrick, Department of Education and Training, Victoria, and Bob Chalmers, Essendon Keilor College Ex-Students and Staff Association; Don Whitington, Ring the Bells: A Dictionary of Australian Federal Politics, Georgian House, Melbourne, 1956, p. 83; The editor is indebted to Suzanne Antonello, Centre for Adult Education, Melbourne.

[2] Robert Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 31–5, 58–60, 68, 136, 148, 199, 203, 205–6, 212–17, 221–4, 236–40, 253, 259, 266; Gerard Henderson, Mr Santamaria and the Bishops, St Patrick’s College, Manly, NSW, 1982, pp. 102, 165; Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 18911991, OUP, South Melbourne, 1991, pp. 190, 277–81, 285, 287–8, 296, 335.

[3] Murray, The Split, pp. 305, 334–5; Democrat (Melb.), Aug. 1962, p. 3; Press release, ‘DLP Leadership: Statement by Senator F. P. McManus, Parliamentary Leader, Australian Democratic Labor Party’, 10 Oct. 1973; Peter Blazey and Andrew Campbell, The Political Dice Men, Outback Press, Fitzroy, Vic., 1974, pp. 63–7, 72–4; Advertiser (Adel.), 11 Oct. 1979, p. 5; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 26 June 1974, p. 3.

[4] CPD, 12 Sept. 1956, pp. 259–63, 27 Mar. 1957, pp. 213–18, 15 Sept. 1966, pp. 488–92; Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1988, pp. 438–9; CPD, 1 May 1957, pp. 518–23, 14 Sept. 1966, pp. 392–6, 30 Mar. 1966, pp. 359–64, 7 Mar. 1962, pp. 382–8; McManus, The Tumult & the Shouting, p. 95; CPD, 9 Oct. 1957, pp. 429–33, 10 Apr. 1974, pp. 889–91; Age (Melb.), 29 Apr. 1974, p. 5, 20 Apr. 1974, p. 11.

[5] Senate Registry File, A8161, S175, NAA; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 30 Dec. 1983, p. 8; Age (Melb.), 8 May 1978, p. 5, 30 Dec. 1983, p. 5; The editor is indebted to Peter French, Melbourne Cricket Club; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 26 May 1983, p. 66.

[6] SMH, 30 Dec. 1983, p. 2; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 28 June 1984, p. 13, 30 Dec. 1983, p. 8; CT, 30 Dec. 1983, p. 7.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 46-51.

McMANUS, Francis Patrick Vincent (1905–1983)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Victoria, 1956–62, 1965–74

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on Payments to Maritime Unions, 1958

Library Committee, 1958–62

Select Committee on Road Safety, 1959–60

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, 1965–72

Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures, 1967–68

Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse in Australia, 1969–71

Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts, 1971, 1971–73

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1971–73

Estimates Committee B, 1973–74

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1973–74