Gough Whitlam open thread

I’m hoping ot write an appreciation of Gough Whitlam’s contributions to Australian society soon. But in the meantime, I’ll open this thread for general discussion. I’m happy to entertain discussion of failures as well as successes, but I don’t welcome personal attacks on the recently departed in general, and certainly not in Gough’s case, so please keep discussion respectful.

118 thoughts on “Gough Whitlam open thread

  1. Not being alive at the time it is very interesting to read other people’s accounts.

    While being thankful for many of the Whitlam government’s reforms, some comments have made me wonder whether you should see the Whitlam government as the first “economic rationalist” or neo-liberal government in Australia, instead of the Hawke-Keating government.

    Both seem to have a goal to make Australia a high skill/knowledge economy for the future. Although there are advantages to having an educated and skilled population – it seems a bit inconsistent for a labour party to have an idea that Australia would like to be a middle class country and get most of our labouring done overseas by poorer people and import the products. I think this is more of a national party idea than a labour party idea, labour parties should surely care about labouring people all over the world.

    On the topic of the CIA influence on the dismissal – if this happened (you can never tell, the USA needs to un-classify all the CIA etc material so we can read what they have and have not done internationally [although they destroy documents so this wont be soon enough]) it is most irregular. I am quite sure this would be a grave breach of the Crown’s reserve powers, if the Governor General did this because of the CIA telling him too. the USA is not even part of the Royal Commonwealth, and it would still be improper even if it was another Commonwealth country making our governor-general abuse the Crown’s reserve powers in this way.

    ASIO and ASIS should conduct a thorough retrospective investigation into the matter, and if this CIA intrigue is found to have happened appropriate procedures should be put in place so it can’t happen again. Such USA intriguing and manipulating of our Parliament would bring the Crown’s reserve powers into great disrepute indeed. In fact, I am certain this would be treason or some similar crime , and any perpetrators still living should be brought to trial forthwith, including the USA federal government (I am not sure if you would bring them to court in Australia or in the international courts ?).

  2. @ZM
    If the establishment ever again uses the crown’s reserve powers while I and many others are alive then the response from progressive Australia would be of far greater vigour than the first time around. Misusing the mysterious reserve powers again should be a political no go zone for all peaceful people.

  3. jugney,
    Well, the lower house of parliament is consistently being very derelict in their duties on climate change. Therefore the Crown is duty bound to use the reserve powers to make the lower house of parliament commit to a proper plan to get down to zero then negative emissions within an appropriate time frame ~25 years. If you and your progressive friends are aghast then I think you are being very derelict too.

    Obviously – CIA intrigue to exploit the reserve powers would be very improper if true. As I said, this should be throughly investigated and taken to court if there is sufficient evidence for treason or other charges.

  4. @jungney

    Your first statement is inaccurate; at no point have I made an assertion describing anything as being inadmissible as evidence.

    If you want me to give a view on any specific piece of evidence that you consider points to CIA involvement in Whitlam’s dismissal, I am more than happy to do so as soon as you identify it for me. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect me to discuss ‘all that evidence that’s out there’ without identifying it; maybe you think that is a reasonable expectation, but even if you do think so I’m still not going to do it.

    You’ve identified two specific pieces of evidence, and, as I said, I’m happy to discuss either or both of them.

    Historians don’t generally proceed on the basis that people’s statements are always true; also, historians don’t generally proceed on the basis that statements made by people holding positions of authority on subjects within their area of authority are always true; and when they do, they shouldn’t. Historians need to consider whether the people who made statements were in a position to know whether those statements were true; they also need to consider possible motives which might affect veracity in one way or another. What motives might a deputy director of the CIA have for announcing that the CIA told Kerr to dismiss Whitlam? The obvious one that occurs to me is that he wanted people to believe in the power of the CIA and to be wary of it. If that was his motive, how would that affect the evaluation of the reliability of his statement? Is there some other possible motive? How would that affect the evaluation of the reliability of his statement?

    Another point relevant to this evaluation of reliability is that it’s a major part of the job of people in organisations like the CIA to distort and conceal information, or, if you prefer it put more crudely, they are trained professional liars. That’s good reason to be more hesitant about accepting at face value their statements on matters connected with their work.

    Your other piece of evidence comes from Gough Whitlam. I can’t think of any reason he’d misreport what Warren Christopher said to him (although the evidence would be stronger if it were corroborated by Christopher). But the report doesn’t state that Christopher specifically told Whitlam that the CIA instructed Kerr to dismiss Whitlam, or otherwise had a hand in the dismissal. It’s hard to read a statement like ‘the US will never again interfere with Australia’s democratic processes’ as anything other than a tacit admission that the US had in the past interfered with Australia’s democratic processes, but if there was interference with Australia’s democratic processes, how would Christopher have known about it and in particular how would he have known what form it took? He held no government position in 1975.

  5. @ZM

    I like the idea of John Kerr standing trial for treason. I don’t know about the chances of conviction, but just the trial would have been worth it.

    Bit tricky now, though, what with his having been dead for twenty-three years.

  6. J – D,

    there is also the longstanding evidence of the former CIA operative Christopher Boyce. As you say, the CIA are trained to be liars and criminal killers and drug runners etc, so it is very hard to know what is true and what is not (like whether or not the Bush family [George Sr and Jeb] killed that CIA drug runner whose name I have forgotten, maybe Barry someone?).

    But he has stood by his assertion even though it must be very scary to go against the CIA when you have worked for them , on Dateline Boyce remembered “I saw a lot of killings. I saw a lot of blood. I stepped in blood and tracked it around down the tiers. Escaped, shot at, chased, it’s a whole lot of bad memories to try to forget. I do see an occasional psychologist and they’re always trying to get you to plough that stuff back up. I rather just leave it buried, you know.”

    According to Dateline the government suppressed evidence of this treason by the CIA and Australian figures that Boyce gave during his trial. If so, this would be even more treason against the Crown by the 1977 government, so those people should be investigated and tried too. This would be a blot on Prime Minister Fraser’s Prime Ministership if he knew of it – but perhaps he was ignorant and other figures did the suppression…

    From the Dateline transcript:

    “When he joined the project, Chris Boyce was already developing a distaste for American intelligence agencies, but it was information he saw on Australia that turned him the most.

    REPORTER: But the trigger point seemed to be the Australian material?

    CHRIS BOYCE: Yes, one of the first things the project security director, Rick Smith, ex-CIA guy, told me that part of my job was going to be deceiving Australians in that there was an executive agreement between Australia and the United States to share all the information that was in Pine Gap but that we were not, in fact, doing that. We had stopped doing that.

    CHRIS BOYCE: We were actually operated the satellite from our facility. So my job would be to come in at the crack of dawn and open up the vault and go in and receive all the traffic from Langley from all the from around the hub, from Pine Gap, from Canberra. And I would decode it, print it up, and then I would distribute it to where it was supposed to go in the project, you know.

    But Boyce was instructed to send only selected material to Australian counterparts who were meant to be in the loop.

    CHRIS BOYCE: This is going to be my job? Deceiving Australia?

    Chris Boyce joined the Pine Gap surveillance programme in 1974, right in the middle of Gough Whitlam’s time in Government. Whitlam was decidedly cooler on the US alliance than his predecessors and was wary of the American spy base at Pine Gap.

    CHRIS BOYCE: Whitlam was viewed as an Australian Ho Chi Minh. He was taking Australia to socialism, you couldn’t say Whitlam’s name without the spooks in there looking nauseated. He was viewed as a threat to the project and when he started…

    REPORTER: Because he closed down Pine Gap – right?

    CHRIS BOYCE: Well, it hadn’t actually been that he would. That’s what was feared.

    REPORTER: So did they discuss that.

    CHRIS BOYCE: Yeah, that would be discussed at lunch in the Black Vault, the latest people coming back from Pine Gap, you know. We’d be sitting around shooting the breeze, and – but Whitlam was poking around Pine Gap, and he was even proposing not renewing the Pine Gap treaty, and if he had done that, if that had happened, then America’s eyes in a strategic sense would have been closed.

    What Boyce saw and heard at TRW monitoring the Pine Gap communications has never been fully explained. The gist of it became well-known from the movie’s account. But the details that came up in his 1977 trial were almost entirely suppressed. Government lawyers repeatedly and successfully objected whenever Boyce began to explain what he saw as CIA meddling in Australian affairs in 1974 and ’05. When the Whitlam Government was dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, at the end of 1975, the act confirmed to Boyce, all that he had been hearing about American infiltration of Australian politics.

    REPORTER: But is there anything to suggest that they were expressing more than mere opinion? Did you have suspicion that there was action being taken against his Government, you know, destabilising.

    CHRIS BOYCE: Yes, I thought your Governor-General when he finally pulled the plug on Whitlam, I thought he was a CIA flunky. I thought – he was greatly admired in the project. I mean, the CIA resident there, Joe Harrison, was walking around calling him “our man Kerr” and I’m like, great, you know. To me that was a coup, you Australians can call it whatever you want, but that’s – I cannot sit here and prove it, but I believe it.

    REPORTER: And who was saying that?

    CHRIS BOYCE: Joe Harrison, the CIA resident, agent for the project. He worked for the CIA in the project. I mean, half the people there for ex-CIA, he was actually the resident.”


  7. J-D,

    I think I remember reading Kerr had passed away. Nevertheless, if it was a CIA intrigue then other people would have been involved and this would come out in a thorough investigation. Maybe this Joe Harrison figure (mentioned above) is still alive and can be extradited and tried. The US can’t make excuses for not extraditing him to Australia because they are always trying to extradite people for treason themselves.

  8. @J-D

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect me to discuss ‘all that evidence that’s out there’ without identifying it; maybe you think that is a reasonable expectation, but even if you do think so I’m still not going to do it.

    Now, I know a dummy spit when I see one. The only fault with JQ’s blog is that it seems that any more than one link puts you in moderation. I did point towards the wiki site as a kind of bare bones account but I don’t sufficient interest in educating you on alternative accounts that give due weight to CIA ‘involvement’ to provide individual links to available online sources.

    Besides, according to your account it seems that unless the evidence matches your increasingly mysterious criteria for veracity no hypothesis can be advanced. One of things that historians do is to take at face value what is said or written within the context. Within the context, which includes records of Kerr making phone calls the US statement to not meddle again is certainly direct evidence of CIA involvement.

    Here’s a chunk of context you have over looked:

    On 10 November, 1975, Whitlam was shown a top secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIA’s East Asia Division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier.

    Shackley’s message was read to Whitlam. It said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA where he was briefed on the “security crisis”.

  9. @ZM

    Christopher Boyce reports CIA people expressing distrust of and hostility towards Whitlam and a desire to see his government out. But evidence that people wanted something to happen does not equate to evidence that they made it happen. I could give you a list of governments I would like to see ousted, but my feelings would not provide evidential support for my complicity in the ouster of one of them at some future time.

    A CIA agent describing Kerr as ‘our man Kerr’ shows approval of Kerr, but that doesn’t equate to evidence that Kerr was acting on CIA instructions. If it was said after the dismissal, it would be natural for people who wanted Whitlam ousted to have positive feelings towards Kerr afterwards; if it was said before the dismissal, it may have expressed hopes that Kerr would act as he did, hopes which were felt in advance not just by CIA people but by some Australians too.

  10. @ZM

    I don’t know how often the USA tries to extradite people for treason — perhaps you have more information on that point — but there’s a standard clause in extradition treaties that gives blanket coverage for any government decision not to allow one of their own citizens to be extradited. If the US-Australia extradition treaty follows the usual pattern, then it allows the US to refuse to extradite any US citizen to Australia purely at US discretion (and, conversely, Australia to refuse to extradite any Australian citizen to the US purely at Australian discretion).

  11. @jungney

    Historians don’t always automatically take everything at face value, and nor should they.

    The evidence satisfies me that the CIA was antagonistic to Whitlam and his government but, as I wrote just now, evidence that people wanted something to happen doesn’t equate to evidence that they made it happen.

  12. J-D,

    Well the problem with covert government agencies is that they are covert in their doings, so you can’t go and read the records of all their activities , and the CIA are known to destroy records even if you put in a FOI request to them. That is why I said ASIO and ASIS should conduct the investigation because they can get material that we can’t.

    Apparently Kerr had already been in a CIA front organisation, so maybe he was willingly involved in treason?

    Here is another former CIA operative on the matter:

    “Tony Douglas: Over the years there have been many reports linking CIA activities with the downfall of the Whitlam government. Does Ralph McGehee think they were involved?

    Ralph McGehee: Well, my views are as though what’s the problem? I mean, we had a whole series of Agency spokesmen said, `oh, yes, there was an Agency role in the overthrow of the Whitlam government’. I just don’t know why Australians can’t accept that. I did just a little bit of research before I came out and you had Ray Cline, a former Deputy Director of the CIA, saying `when Whitlam came to power there was a period of turbulence and the CIA will go so far as to provide information to people who will bring it to the surface in Australia, say a Whitlam error which they were willing to pump into the system so it may be to his damage and we may provide a particular piece of information to the Australian intelligence services so that they make use of it’. And then the CIA National Intelligence Daily said, `some of the most incriminating evidence in that period against the ministers in the Whitlam government may have been fabricated.’ This is about as strong as you get them to say so. It is quite obvious that information was being leaked about ministers Rex O’Connor and Jim Cairns and some of it was being forged which is a standard CIA process. Jim Flynn, who was associated with elements who were involved with the Nugan-Hand bank, he said that he was involved in manufacturing the cables and leaking them to the press. Now he would not be a very credible source except that he worked for Nugan-Hand. Admiral Bobby Inman, former Deputy Director of the National Security Agency and Deputy Director of the CIA, said on two occasions that he expressed deep concern that investigations of Nugan-Hand would lead to disclosure of a range of dirty tricks played against the Whitlam government. You have the statements by Christopher Boyce who was in a relay point for information from the CIA and in his trial he said that `if you think what the Agency did in Chile was bad, in which they spent 80 million dollars overturning the government of Chile there, the Allende government, you should see what they are doing in Australia’. On the Shackley Cable, which was a virtual ultimatum to the head of ASIO to do something about the Whitlam government, it is sort of prima facie evidence of CIA interference in the Whitlam government. This was on November 10. On November 11, Governor-General John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government on a parliamentary technicality. John Kerr earlier had been the founder of Law Asia, a CIA-front organisation.

    Tony Douglas: The question in most Australians’ minds is why would the CIA want to bring down the government of a loyal ally, after all it was the wartime Labour administrations who build up the special relationship with America. Jerry Aaron, co-author of Rooted in Secrecy, a book that examines the clandestine element in Australian politics looks back at the early days of the Whitlam government.

    Jerry Aaron: There was immediately a reaction about a Labour government coming to power and the initial acts of Whitlam in the first few weeks did probably fuel their worst fears that here was a government dedicated to social reform and, of course, from then on they would have looked for further evidence of misdemeanour against the right-wing ethics of the CIA and of the U.S. administration. And those were of course coming because it was quite clear that certain ministers, and you had to remember that ministers in the Whitlam government had some stature, contrary to those of Labour governments, and certain ministers particularly Connor was obviously out to as he called it, to `buy back the farm for Australia’. In other words, to get back some of the resources which were dominated by the overseas companies which had purchased them earlier. And no doubt they got even more worried when a person like as Jim Cairns was made Treasurer — Jim Cairns was a very well known anti-Vietnam war activist. So there were probably a whole heap of things which the CIA could blow up to demonstrate that this was a raving red alert that had been projected into power in Australia and had to be get rid of at all costs.

    Tony Douglas: It would seem that a lot of the statements about the Vietnam war made by Labour ministers, particularly the bombing of Hanoi by the Nixon administration, and the well-known anti-Vietnam record of people like Jim Cairns specifically upset Henry Kissinger.

    Jerry Aaron: Yes, well, that’s very true. In fact, Kissinger had a personal hatred for Whitlam. Certainly, more than a political fear which sprang from the domino theory and similar nonsense and one must assume that the fact, for instance, Task Force 157 was set up separately from the CIA sprang from the fact that they didn’t even trust the CIA to do the right thing by Australia.

    Tony Douglas: What is Task Force 157?

    Jerry Aaron: The Task Force 157 was a group set up by Henry Kissinger and it was set up in a quite strange way. It was a mini-CIA which was actually separate from the CIA and probably was set up by Kissinger so he could deny any connection between what the Task Force 157 was doing and the CIA. Nevertheless, the personnel of Task Force 157 included Ted Shackley, who was one of the head of sabotage operations against Cuba, he was Station Chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War, and he was the Chief of the CIA Western Hemisphere Division, so with an impeccable CIA record like that it would be very difficult to disassociate him from what the CIA was doing. The concept of Task Force 157 seems to have been two-fold: firstly, to set up operations against the Whitlam government. And secondly, to go ahead with using Australia as a base for certain clandestine U.S. operations such as arms dealing and smuggling of contraband goods”


  13. @ZM

    I can’t help wondering what makes you think ASIO and ASIS would be competent to carry out an investigation, and I also can’t help wondering what makes you think you could trust their report. ASIO people and ASIS people, like CIA people, are trained professional liars.

    The proposition

    ‘John Kerr was influenced in his decision to dismiss the Whitlam government by a combination of factors, including the stories which had damaged the reputation of the government, some of which stories were disseminated and possibly in some cases even fabricated by the CIA’

    is not equivalent to the proposition

    ‘John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government because he was instructed by the CIA to do so’.

    Evidence for the first of those propositions does not automatically equate to evidence for the second of them.

  14. J-D,

    I had not thought about it that maybe ASIO and ASIS since they could have been involved in the 1970s they now might not carry out their investigation properly.

    Then maybe there is a federal corruption body who might investigate? They could get records from ASIO and ASIS turned over to them. And then there could be a Royal Commission like the one looking at union corruption now.

    Since Kerr has passed away perhaps we will never know the truth of the matter. I really don’t know. But there does seem to have been some sort of intriguing by the CIA ,its just hard to discern exactly what was done and the extent.

  15. I think the ALP could have knocked over by the CWA given how poorly they governed not the CIA!

  16. That’s what it boils down to Nottrampis.
    Despite whatever desires/urges others may have had (justifiable or no) to remove Whitlam, there was no need for outside intervention.

    He was unable to pass supply (rightly or wrongly) this situation was at an impasse. He refused to go to the people to resolve it, thus the Governor-General forced the issue. (In a democracy it is never wrong to have an election).

    On the 11th of November the matter was forced, on the 13th of December the people spoke.

  17. Some lesser known things about Gough:- he was patron of the Fabian Society and he signed Australia on to the Lima Declaration. For the love of Gough, you owe it to yourself to exercise due diligence and research the mission statement of the Fabians and to seek details of the ramifications of the Lima Declaration(not too much information around on it.) To put things in to proper perspective, we should all investigate the link between the Fabian Society and the UN.

    Knowledge is power. Power is freedom.

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