xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Vale Gough Whitlam: The Legacy, the Dismissal and the CIA.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Vale Gough Whitlam: The Legacy, the Dismissal and the CIA.

Gough Whitlam, Australia’s great reforming Prime Minister has died, aged 98.

He came to power on December 2, 1972, in a wave of national enthusiasm for change after 23 years of what some have called the “Laissez Faire” era of Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies. Whitlam’s 1972 “It’s Time!” election campaign grabbed the imagination of voters seeking some action after 23 years of Menzies’ “steady as we go” governments.

After a frenetic three year reign as Prime Minister, Whitlam was dismissed in dramatic circumstances by Governor General, Sir John Kerr, on November 11, 1975, Remembrance Day. As with the moon landings in July, 1969, and the JFK assassination on November, 22nd, 1963, every Australian alive at the time can remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard that Gough Whitlam had been sacked. I was teaching the year seven class at Donnybrook District High School when a colleague rushed into the room at about 10-00am to give me the news. He was ecstatic. I was dumbfounded, heartbroken and very soon filled with rage that such a coup could have occurred. That afternoon I drove 40kms into Bunbury and joined the Labor Party.

Whitlam’s death has rekindled flames lit by journalists such as Troy Bramston and John Pilger, both of whom earlier this year, claimed that the CIA was involved in Whitlam’s removal. Troy Bramston, of The Australian newspaper, wrote in The Australian on February 18, 2014, that Christopher Boyce, a former CIA agent, gaoled for twenty five years for selling secrets to the Russians, had recently appeared on the CBS Dateline programme and told journalist, Mark Davis, that the Whitlam dismissal was “a coup” executed by the U.S. and tantamount to the “velvet glove version of the government overthrow in Chile.”

The CIA had form in this regard. It is almost universally accepted that the CIA was deeply involved in the removal of Indonesian President Sukarno in 1965 and the bloody coup in 1971 by Chile’s General Pinochet that ended in the death of another reforming socialist leader, President Salvador Allende.

Christopher Boyce, whose life story was told in the motion picture, “The Falcon and the Snowman”, starring Sean Penn, first made known his belief of CIA interference in Australian politics and the trade unions in a 1982 interview with Ray Martin on Channel Nine’s Sixty Minutes. He expounded on his views in the SBS Dateline interview in 2014.
Troy Bramston quotes Boyce in the SBS interview as saying, “Whitlam was viewed as an Australian Ho Chi Minh.  He was taking Australia into Socialism. You could not mention Whitlam’s name without the spooks in there (Pine Gap) just looking nauseated. He was a threat to the programme.”
When Kerr dismissed Whitlam, Boyce claimed that there was “jubilation” and “relief” within the CIA.             

Boyce said, “To me that was a coup. You Australians can call it whatever you want. I cannot sit here and prove it. But I believe it.” As a CIA insider, Boyce’s views and opinions must carry some weight.
John Pilger does offer some proof. On his website on March 16, 2014, and again in the Guardian newspaper on October 23, Pilger referred to the connection that Sir John Kerr had to the CIA. Sir John was an intelligence officer during World War 2. Pilger says that Kerr received money from the CIA and had in fact met with CIA agents two days before he dismissed Whitlam.

As a lead in to his story, re- printed in The Guardian  two days after Whitlam’s death, John Pilger wrote, “In 1975 Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, who has died this week, dared to try and assert his country’s autonomy. The CIA and MI6 made sure he paid the price.”

Pilger notes that during the Whitlam years, 1972-75, an American commentator wrote that no other country “had reversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolution.”

Whitlam ended his nation’s colonial servility. He abolished royal patronage, moved Australia toward an unaligned movement, supported ‘Zones of Peace’ and opposed nuclear weapons testing. Whitlam was not happy that the United States controlled Pine Gap, a spy facility on Australian soil.

Whitlam knew that many in the conservative ranks were beholden to British and US intelligence and US foreign policy. Days after his election, says Pilger, Whitlam ordered that his staff not be vetted or harassed by ASIO, clearly believing it would be leaked to the CIA. In 1973, Whitlam’s government further angered and alarmed the CIA when Attorney General, Senator Lionel Murphy, led a government raid on the ASIO offices in Melbourne.

Pilger also states that leaked WikiLeaks documents disclose the names of well-known politicians of both parties, including a foreign minister and future prime minister, who were Washington informants in the Whitlam years.
When Whitlam and his ministers publicly condemned Nixon’s bombing of Vietnam, Pilger says that a CIA Station Officer in Saigon said, “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”

Whitlam wanted to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap. When he did not receive satisfactory answers he threatened to close it down. This really shook the Americans. Pilger says that documents leaked by Edward Snowden now reveal Pine Gap to be “a giant vacuum cleaner which allows the US to spy on everyone.”
Pilger also says he was told by Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who helped set up Pine Gap, that “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White house…a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”         

In 1974 the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as US Ambassador.  Pilger claims Green was an “imperious and sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s ‘Deep State’.  Known as the Coup Master, he played an important role in the 1965 coup against Sukarno. One of his first speeches in Australia, to the Institute of Australian Directors, was described by an alarmed member of the audience as ‘an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise up against the government.’"

In 1975, according to John Pilger, Whitlam discovered that the Americans and the British were working together against him. Clyde Cameron, a Whitlam minister told Pilger, “We knew that MI6 was bugging cabinet meetings for the Americans.” Pilger adds that in the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that “the Whitlam problem” had been discussed with some urgency by CIA Director, William Colby and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy Director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he had to.”

In his article Pilger writes that on November 10, 1975, Whitlam was shown a telex from Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of CIA’s East Asia division. Shackley had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende. Shackley’s message, read to Whitlam, said that the Prime Minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country.

The day before, on December 9, Sir John Kerr, a former Australian intelligence officer with close links to the CIA, had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s national security authority, where Pilger says, he was briefed on the “security crisis.”

Pilger claims that on November 11, the day Gough Whitlam was going to inform parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia, he was summoned by Kerr and sacked. Pilger concludes his article, “invoking some archaic vice regal ‘reserve powers’, Kerr sacked the democratically elected Prime Minister. The “Whitlam Problem” had been solved and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence.”

During his long life Whitlam always dismissed any talk of the CIA being involved in his removal. He always blamed “the coup” on Sir John Kerr and the then Chief Justice and former Liberal Party cabinet minister, Sir Garfield Barwick, for their collusion and ill formed legal opinions. Most constitutional experts now tend to agree with Whitlam that Kerr and Barwick were in error. 

In essence, Whitlam’s dismissal occurred because the conservative forces of the Liberal Party and the Country Party  (now the National Party) so loathed the Labor party that they were prepared to trash well established parliamentary conventions in order to regain power.

Since Federation in 1901, the convention had always been observed that the Senate would never block Supply. That is, the Senate would never reject a government money bill put forward by the majority party in the House of Representatives. Whitlam came to power in December, 1992. The liberals blocked Supply twice, in mid-1994 and again in October, 1995.

In 1994 Supply was blocked by then Liberal leader, Sir Billy Snedden. Whitlam went to the polls for a half senate election and subsequently Supply was passed. In October, 1975 new Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser again blocked supply. Whitlam toughed it out. Then, as many Liberals were wavering, he sought a meeting with the Governor General for another half senate election. 

The reason that the Senate was able to block Supply was due to the fact that the Liberal/Country coalition had trashed another parliamentary convention regarding the replacement of senators who resign, retire or are deceased. Since Federation in 1901, every casual vacancy in the Senate was filled by the respective state government appointing a person from the same political party as the senator who had left position. 

When Gough Whitlam came to power this convention was blatantly discarded and the Queensland and NSW governments maliciously and gleefully filled casual Senate vacancies with people who would vote against Labor. By this means the Liberal/National parties gained control of the Senate and put in to effect their plan to block Supply. Of course, without Supply, the government can raise no money, no public servants, policemen or soldiers will be paid and the country will come to a standstill.

It may also be pointed out that Whitlam had always faced a hostile Senate. From Federation until 1972, during the lifetime of governments of various political hues, the Senate had blocked 63 pieces of government legislation. It had never blocked Supply. In the three years of the Whitlam government the Senate blocked 78 pieces of legislation, 15 more than in the entire history Federation up to that point. It also blocked Supply twice within twelve months. Clearly the conservatives did not like being in opposition and they definitely did not like Gough Whitlam. They were prepared to go against long established parliamentary conventions to get rid of him.

At the same time newspaper mogul, Rupert Murdoch, began an aggressive media campaign against Whitlam and Labor. Murdoch had backed Whitlam in 1972, but when Whitlam failed to do Murdoch’s bidding as Prime Minister, he turned against him. Every blemish of the labor government, real or imagined, was written up and treated maliciously by the Murdoch press. Any good that Labor did was largely ignored. Murdoch, with control of nearly 70% of Australian media, acted in a similar dishonest and unethical fashion to destabilise the government of Julia Giilard, another reforming PM, in 2010/2013.
Faced with a hostile Senate blocking Supply, Whitlam visited the Governor General on November 11th to ask for a half senate election. This would probably have given him a slight majority in the senate and so would have avoided any further Liberal/Country Party threats to Supply. Instead Kerr sacked him and appointed opposition leader, Malcolm Fraser, as a caretaker Prime Minister on condition that Fraser would pass supply and call an election. Who says extortion is only practised by fellows like Al Capone?
Many people are critical of Kerr’s unexpected act of dismissal. At the time, Whitlam had at least two weeks’ supply of money to run the country, quite a long time in politics. At the same time, the former Liberal leader, Sir Robert Menzies, was pleading with his party to accept long established convention and pass Supply. Many Liberal/Country Party members had heeded Menzies words and were wavering in support of the tactics adopted by Malcolm Fraser to turf Whitlam out.             

It has been said that Whitlam was ambushed by Kerr because of his strong belief in parliamentary conventions that the Supply Bill would eventually be passed. In some respects we can all be grateful that Whitlam did have such strong respect for parliamentary conventions. Upon hearing of her husband’s dismissal, Margaret Whitlam is said to have complained bitterly that her husband should have just torn up Kerr’s notice of dismissal and returned to parliament to get on with the business. If Whitlam had taken such action, then Kerr would have been forced to call in the army to remove him from the parliament.

The dismissal aroused tremendous feelings of rage in a large section of the Canberra community that day. Huge, angry crowd gathered on the steps of parliament, loudly voicing their outrage at the actions of the Governor General. The sight of their beloved leader being led away under armed escort could have quite conceivably resulted in some people taking matters into their own hands, with tragic and bloody consequences.

Although Whitlam was only Prime Minister for three years, he carried out a remarkable legislative programme and left a legacy that has lasted over forty years since his departure. Straight after his election victory in 1972, and before his new Ministry was sworn in, Whitlam formed a workable government with his Deputy Leader, Lance Barnard. 

Together, this energetic duo immediately withdrew the troops from Vietnam and abolished conscription. They issued a series of regulations and decrees that astonished everybody with their speedy and efficient efforts to get changes made. Bill Hayden, a very effective Health Minister and Treasurer in the Whitlam government and later a Labor Party leader, remarked on the occasion of Whitlam’s death that he had once confided to Hayden about this active and energetic government duopoly, “It was the best government that I ever led. Although it probably contained one man too many”, said the great man. Obviously spoken in jest, but a clear measure of how confident Whitlam was in his ability to lead and get things done.

Whitlam was a reforming leader who is sometimes criticised for trying to do too much too soon. But when these critics are asked what he should have left undone they are hard pressed to give an answer. Whitlam demonstrated that Leadership is not about knowing what are the right things to know and to say; it is about whether you have the courage to face the remorseless criticism and personal discomfort that will come when you actually say it and do it. Whitlam did it in spades!

It was almost as if he knew the conservative forces ranged against him would not grant him too much time to, as he said, “He would crash, or crash through.”

 In the end he crashed. But what a remarkable legacy he left in three exciting years. Here is a list of some of his achievements, many of which transformed Australian life forever after.
*Ended conscription and Australian involvement in the Vietnam War.
*Removed the tax on the birth control pill, making it readily available to all Australian women.
*First western leader to visit Communist China, for which he was pilloried mercilessly by his conservative critics and the then Prime Minister Billy McMahon. These critics soon had egg on their faces as it was revealed that US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was also in Beijing arranging for the upcoming visit of US President Nixon.
*As PM he formally recognised China in 1973.
*Established a National Health Scheme, Medibank, which later became Medicare.
*Initiated social welfare reforms, including the Supporting Mother’s benefits.
*Equal pay for women.
*Split the Post Master General’s Department into Telecom and Australia Post.
*Established the Australian Legal Office.
* Discarded the British Privy Council as the highest Court of Appeal. Replaced it with The High Court of Australia.
*Set up the Australian Law Reform Commission.
*Set up the Family Court.
*Abolished the death penalty.
*Introduced No Fault divorce.
*Set up the influential Karmel Report into Education.
*Established a Needs Based approach to education.
* By passed the states to pay money directly to local governments and to individual organisations to fund special programmes.
*First PM to federally fund state schools.
*Established free university education for all. Enrolments surged. Women were the main beneficiaries.
*Open the Australian economy by slashing tariffs by 25%.
*Established the Trade Practices Act, a forerunner to the Productivity Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumers Association.
*Provided funding for sewerage to all Australian capital cities.
*Reduced the voting age to 18 years.
*Replaced God Save the Queen with Advance Australia Fair as the Australian National Anthem.
*Replaced the British Imperial Honours List with the Order of Australia.
*Abolished the White Australia Policy and all forms of racial discrimination.
*Established the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
*Established Commonwealth legislation to grant Land Rights to aboriginal people.
*Handed Title Deeds to the Gurindji People in 1975. A touchstone for the Aboriginal Land Rights Movement.
*Established the National Gallery of Australia, The Australian Council for the Arts, The Australian Heritage Commission.
*Set up multi-cultural radio and FM radio. Issued Community Radio licences.
*Funded the creation of SBS Radio and TV.
*Opened the Australian Film and TV School and fostered Australian film and TV productions.
*Oversaw the independence of Papua and New Guinea.

One of Gough Whitlam's greatest legacies is that he reformed the Australian Labor Party and made it electible. Labor had  suffered the great DLP split of 1954 and then, led by the 36 Faceless Men, seemed to be quite happy to be forever losing election after election.  As Deputy Leader and then Leader he took on  the faceless men, returned the party to the elected politicians and produced policies that made the electorate enthusiastic. It was not an easy task. On  one occasion he resigned the leadership to make his point. He was re-elected, but only just, defeating Jim Cairns by a handful of votes.

 John Kennedy once said to group of prominent Americans attending a White House dinner that he was giving in their honour that it was undoubtedly the greatest gathering of American intelligentsia in the one room in the history of the country, except for those times when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Perhaps the same could be aid of Gough Whitlam. He was erudite, highly intelligent and articulate, a riveting orator with a great grasp and love of politics, history and the arts. Many critics say his major weakness was economics. That could be true, but Whitlam was unlucky in that he gained office as the post war boom, that benefitted Robert Menzies, was coming to a halt. From 1946 to 1970 each year was a year of greater growth and prosperity than the previous one. Australia was literally “living off the sheep’s’ back” and money kept flowing into government coffers. By 1972 this growth had slowed right down. Then came the oil embargo of 1973/4, imposed by the OPEC nations. This caused worldwide financial problems. 

Whitlam had some underperforming ministers. As a Labor Prime Minister, Whitlam had to accept ministers recommended to him by the cabinet. He was not served well be his Treasurers coming to grips with the global economic slowdown. However, after sacking the distracted and incompetent Dr Jim Cairns in 1975, Whitlam appointed the very capable Bill Hayden as his treasurer. It was Bill Hayden’s budget which the recalcitrant Liberal/Country Party blocked in the senate. Many economists believe that Hayden’s budget was a winner that would have seen the government sailing into more prosperous waters in the second half of the 1970s.

Whitlam’s wit, and temper were legendary. He once threw a glass of water over Sir Paul Hasluck as he sat across the table in parliament. Sir Paul Hasluck, in 1972 was the Governor General who swore in the new Whitlam government. Hasluck was a formidable intellect in his own right and also a stickler for parliamentary conventions. It would have been interesting to see how he would have handled the budget crisis of November, 1975.

Just a few examples of Whitlam’s wit:
When asked by a heckler if he favoured abortion, Gough replied, “Let me make it quite clear that I do and in your case, Sir, I would make it retrospective.”
On the Governor General appointing Malcolm Fraser as Caretaker Prime Minister: “It is the first time the burglar has been appointed as caretaker.”
Until Gough Whitlam came along most Australian capital cities were un-sewered and used septic tanks. Before implementing the massive national sewerage programme Whitlam said: “No other western nation has cities in which the incidence of urban sanitation is so primitive or so ludicrous as in the cities of Australia. We are the most effluent nation in what the liberals call the free world.”
In response to Sir Winston Turnbull, shouting out in parliament, I am a Country member.”
“I remember,” replied Whitlam instantly, to loud applause from both sides of the house.

Ah, yes, Gough Whitlam. A man for all seasons, who left an indelible mark on our country. On the day of his death parliament suspended business for the day and numerous speakers, from both sides of the house, rose to give tribute to Gough Whitlam’s great impact on politics and society. 

Bill Shorten, the current leader of the Labor Party, perhaps said it best when he said, “In Australia’s political history there are two major periods, Before Gough Whitlam and After Gough Whitlam.”

Gough would have liked that; being a defining presence, similar to the One who caused historical time to be divided into BC and AD. Once Malcolm Turnbull was showing Whitlam around his rural property and apologised because the fog was obscuring the picturesque Hunter Valley. Whitlam replied, ”Don’t be concerned, I am completely at home. It is just like Olympus.”

In response to being asked how he would eventually meet his maker, Gough replied, “You can be sure of one thing. I shall treat him as an equal.”

So forty years on, we can reflect on the fact that, as a result of the unconventional behaviour of some states in 1975, the parliament has since passed laws that oblige a state government to observe the convention of appointing replacement senators of the same political persuasion as those whose positions have been vacated.

On the other hand, it is sad to reflect that the Governor General of Australia can still dismiss a democratically elected Prime Minister who holds a majority in the House of Representatives. And no government has yet tried to make it unlawful for the Senate to block Supply. 

The Labor Party has said that it will never block Supply, but the opportunistic conservative parties still reserve the right to bock Supply if the political circumstances are blowing in their favour. Unless future leaders are prepared to do and say what is right, then 1975 could happen all over again. And of course, we still do not know for sure what impact the CIA now has on Australian politics. We do know that a former CIA agent who was there, has said that in the 1970s the CIA’s influence in Australian politics was quite palpable.

Vale Gough Whitlam. Whether you were sacked because of the unprecedented, unconventional actions of an unethical opposition, aided by an incompetent Governor General, or on the express command of a foreign power, is now largely immaterial.

You will be sadly missed by the many to whom you gave such great hope and vision. As Teddy Kennedy said of his murdered brother Robert, “Some men see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ You saw things as they might be and ask, ‘Why not?' "
Vale, Gough Whitlam. Thank you for your great and heroic efforts on behalf of our young country. You are so sadly missed and so fondly remembered.

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