John Howard’s biggest brother has always been Robert Gordon Menzies, founder of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister during the years, 1950-65, that Howard values as Australia’s golden age, before his own.

Howard can therefore take comfort that his intervention in the business affairs of his brother Stan as Chairman of National Textiles has a precedent in his mentor. On 21 December 1932, Menzies used his official stationery as Victorian Attorney-General to appeal to prime minister Joseph Lyons on behalf of the eldest Menzies brother, Les.  

The letter began: ‘During our very pleasant political association I have refrained from asking you for any favours because I know from my own experience that the asking of favours can be very embarrassing, but I hope that you will permit me to break the rule just once’.

The phrase ‘our very political association’ was code for how Lyons had got to be prime minister and why Menzies felt confident that his request would be met. During 1931, Lyons had been convinced to leave the Commonwealth Labor government to front an anti-Labor coalition. The transition was managed by six prominent Melburnians, who styled themselves the ‘group’. The points-man for their operation was Robert Gordon Menzies in alliance with the managing editor of the Melbourne Herald, Keith Murdoch (Rupert’s dad), and the stockbroker, Staniforth Ricketson.

On the principle that one good turn deserved another, Menzies continued his letter to Lyons: ‘There is now an opportunity of rectifying what I consider to have been a real injustice to my eldest brother, by appointing him to a classified position’.

On Les Menzies’ return from the Trade Commission in New York, he had been listed as an ‘“excess officer” … I have always felt very disturbed about this position, because in a period of retrenchment an “excess officer” may very well find himself an “ex” officer … I hope it would not be asking you too much to request that you should, if you can, further his claims at the present time. In the absence of some ministerial direction he may even now be overlooked, because, unlike myself, he possesses a decent and modest and retiring disposition’.

Menzies concluded by assuring Lyons that ‘You may, as usual, rely upon the wholehearted support of myself and those who are politically associated with me’. Was this a promise or a threat?

On Chrismas Eve, the prime minister replied that the request would be granted.