AUSTRALIAN HISTORY - CIA, KERR, BARWICK and 1975
Kerr, Barwick and 1975
A revival of interest in the dismissal of the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975 is focusing on who advised the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. The role of the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick, has been known almost from the start. Knowledge of a second counselor has been there for many years, with the near certainty that he was also a member of the High Court, and later Chief Justice, Sir Anthony Mason. The current discussion is part of a campaign to promote the second volume of Jenny Hocking’s life of Whitlam. Mason has released a statement to the Age. The media will go on debating the propriety of the two judges’ behaviour.
Mason was not a principal in this process. At the bar, he had been junior to Barwick and carried that deference into his first years on the bench, concurring with his Chief’s opinions. His advice to Kerr was more like that a judge’s associate than a second opinion in all but one respect. His experience as Commonwealth solicitor-general from 1964 to 1969 made him the ideal person to draft a letter of dismissal in terms most likely to survive judicial challenge.
As diverting as these details might be to legal eagles, two aspects of the dismissal are unlikely to get the scrutiny they deserve. The first is the role of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the dismissal. The second is the class nature of the legal system culminating in the High Court.
Kerr and Barwick were both deeply involved with the security police; that the High Court is one more state apparatus in a covert dictatorship of the bourgeoisie; the same goes for the office of Governor-General. One mark of the extent to which bourgeois ideology pervades even the broad Left here is that these facts of political life can appear extreme. This piece puts some flesh, no mater how putrid, on these bones.
The difference between Munro-Ferguson and Slim, on the one hand, and Kerr on the other, is that he was Washington’s man, not Whitehall’s, one of the President’s men, not the Queen’s man.
Continuing his interest in Papua-New Guinea, he was first principal of the School of Pacific Administration in 1946, and on the Council on New Guinea Affairs in the 1960s when the defence and intelligence hierarchs feared that calls for self-government would turn towards communism. [See below for my letter to Canberra Times, July 1975]
In 1950, Kerr joined forces with Santamaria’s Industrial Groups in legal work for another erstwhile Trotskyite, Laurie Short, to wrest control of the Ironworkers from the Communists. Kerr forged links with other right-wing NSW unions, including the gangsters at the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation who entertained him at Abe Saffron’s Roosevelt Club. [see attached photo with Kerr on the viewer’s right]
Around this time, he began his association with CIA fronts, never finding one he was too busy to join, from the Congress for Cultural Freedom to LawAsia. As a judge in the Commonwealth Industrial Court he sent Tramways Secretary Clarrie O’Shea to prison in 1969 for refusing to pay fines. Kerr later told intimates that ASIO had paid them to head the ensuing strike wave. Through ties to the Liberal Party, Kerr became NSW Chief Justice in 1972 before Whitlam picked him as Governor-General in September 1974.
The Labor government’s relations with the US had got off to a bad start in December 1972 with two senior ministers denouncing the Christmas Eve bombing of Haiphong Harbour in Vietnam. As a sign of Washington’s concern, it sent a career diplomat, and not some crony, as Ambassador. More tellingly, the choice was Marshall Green who had been in Jakarta orchestrating the massacre of over half-a-million leftists in 1965-66. Green calmed the State Department but not the CIA’s head of counter-intelligence, James Jesus Angleton, whose suspicions were fed by the ‘raid’ on Melbourne’s ASIO offices in March 1973 led by Labor’s attorney general Lionel Murphy. From that point on, the spooks convinced each other that the government had to go. Whitlam further enraged the crazies by setting up a Royal Commission into all the intelligence agencies.
By the end of October 1975, the Australian intelligence community was in chaos. Whitlam had sacked the heads of Australian Secret Intelligence Service and ASIO. One by-product of this lack of ‘safe’ leadership was that cables from the CIA found their way to the government and from there to journalists who published them. The prime concern of those communications was the CIA’s key communications base at Pine Gap. (The traffic is reprinted in Brian Toohey and Marian Wilkinson’s The Book of Leaks, 1987).
The crux of the matter was whether Whitlam’s loose talk portended a rupture in the Alliance. The Pine Gap terms were to be renegotiated in a month’s time. Head of the CIA’s East Asia division, Ted Shackley, sent an official demarche on a service-to-service basis, that is, not to be seen by politicians. The cables feared that Whitlam was about ‘to blow the lid off those installations in Australia … which are vital to both of our services and country, particularly the installation at Alice Springs’ and ‘if this problem cannot be solved they do not see how our mutually beneficial relations are going to continue.’
Those who seek to deny any link between protecting the CIA interests at Pine Gap and the dismissal have a load of evidence to sweep away. Kerr had resisted huge pressures, notably from the banks, to intervene. The alarms at Langley about what the hell was going on in Canberra and what Whitlam might be expose next would have been enough to trigger an action which Kerr had been contemplating on purely local grounds for more than a year. On the day he was sacked, Whitlam was to identify the previous boss at Pine Gap, Richard Stallings, as CIA.
The part played by the CIA in the downfall of the Whitlam government returned to the spotlight when a young US American claimed that he had decided to sell CIA secrets to the Soviet embassy in Mexico City because of his disgust at his employer’s dirty tricks against Australian Labor. Robert Lindsey told this story in The Falcon and the Snowman, which became the eponymous feature film in 1984. The other bunch of investigations to circle CIA doings down-under followed the apparent suicide, outside Lithgow (NSW) in 1980, of a co-founder of the Nugan-Hand Bank, an asset in CIA money-laundering, drug-trafficking and gun-running. (see Jonathan Kwitny, The Crimes of Patriots)
My letter published in the Canberra Times on 17 July 1975.
The point of this luncheon party was not the overthrow of Whitlam. Rather, it was to aid the establishment of an intelligence organisation in Papua-New Guinea as it approached self-government.
The simplest way to demonstrate the class nature of the High Court is to track the careers of its members. Striking as many of the justices are as embodiments of reactionary politics and even business interests, a head count proves little about the place of the Court in a class society. To establish that relationship requires penetrating to the biases embedded in bourgeois jurisprudence, an appellation which law students are trained to dismiss when they cannot ignore the charge of systemic class prejudice.
Nonetheless, one benefit from a biographical introduction is to show that Barwick’s and Mason’s engagements with Kerr were not unique, or even unusual. The Chief Justice had been far right-wing politicians for sixty-five of . the 109 years of the Court’s existence: Griffith from 1903-19; Latham from 1935 to 1951; Barwick from 1964 to 1981. When we speak of Lefties on the bench we are dealing with Deakinite liberals – Isaacs, Higgins, Evatt, McTiernan, Webb, Murphy, Gaudron and Kirby.
vires – beyond Powers
All these were very unpleasant duties but necessary in the interests of the Commonwealth. … Imagine for eleven years refusing requests to increase the basic wage … Where men have families of more than two it is hard work to insist of them getting only the basic wage. (National Library, MS 236/2/851-4)
He pleaded that such devotion to public service and the worry that it caused him, warranted the reward of an imperial gong; the Attorney-General treated this toady with the contempt he had earned, by making him wait until he retired in 1929.
with devils - Knox CJ 1919-30
The everyday workings of class dominance are nicely illustrated through an examination of the 1920 volume of the diary of the managing director of BHP, G.D. Delprat. (National Library, MS 1630/15) Because the diary was only an appointment book, it is necessary on occasion to identify from wider reading what was going on, though there is no need to invent anything. Those interpolations are given in square brackets:
Here are nine entries covering a year, and what do we find? First, the managing-director of BHP arranges for a policeman to be placed in his firm; has dinner twice with leading judges while BHP has a case before the Full High Court – a case which it wins; is involved in a restrictive trade practice against firms which negotiate separately with unions; gets advice on how to proceed in an industrial dispute from the Commonwealth solicitor-general, whom he had bumped into two days before on a train.
The daily functioning of capitalist domination is not a run of conspiracies, through there is need for organisation. Rather than needing to plot every step of the way, the paths and ideas of the rich and powerful cross naturally so that when they meet they do not conspire but go about their business of running the country.
As the Scullin Labor administration fell apart during 1931, Latham seemed assured of a smooth ride to the prime ministership. However, he stepped aside as leader of the opposition to make way for Labor rat Joe Lyons to head the United Australia Party. A conspiracy of Melbourne business and political figures managed those moves. One of those conspirators, R.G. Menzies, took over as Federal Attorney-General in 1934 and appointed his predecessor to the Chief Justiceship in 1935 as a consolation prize.
In 1951, Latham was the sole dissenter from the Court’s rejection of the Communist Party Dissolution Act as unconstitutional. His reasoning expressed his life-long conviction that the government should be allowed to do whatever it decided was necessary to combat subversion. In retirement he became president of the Congress for Cultural Freedom but only after checking with ASIO to make sure it was not a communist front, like the Council of Civil Liberties.
Barwick entered the federal parliament in 1958 on the assumption that he would take over as prime minister when Menzies retired. Instead, he retreated to the bench in 1964 after finding that his courtroom talents did not serve so well in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate, still less on the hustings. As Attorney-General, he rewrote the Latham’s Crimes Act to give ASIO all the powers it wanted to compensate for the defeat of the Red ban and the failure of the Petrov Commission to identify anyone new.
His two achievements as Chief Justice were the construction of the High Court building in Canberra – aka ‘the Gar Mahal’ - and to legitimise every form of tax avoidance, notably bottom-of-the harbour schemes. In retirement, he told an interviewer that Whitlam had to be sacked to protect Australia from ‘the jews’, meaning the oil-rich Arabs during the Loans Affair. He had established his credentials as the mouthpiece for big capital in representing the banks up to the Privy Council against Chifley’s Nationalisation Act in 1948.
On the basis of Barwick’s lifetime of service to the corporate state and of obliging security services, his fortifying Kerr is no surprise.
as agent of US influence
Capital commissions its lieutenants at every pressure point, from the High Court and Government House to the union movement.
The failed ban and the Petrov Commission were linked by ASIO’s
hunt for any unidentified person(s) involved in the wartime
informants to the Soviets who had been exposed by the partially
decoded Venona transcripts. The defection of Petrov answered none
the key questions that obsessed ASIO about what it called ‘the
case’. However, the Royal Commission into Espionage gave ASIO its
chance to go on a fishing expedition for more of the clues that
would point towards any unmasked ‘nest of traitors’, especially
a sleeper. So far, so good. The problem was that the existence of
the Venona material was itself a secret of the highest order. The
handful who knew of Venona pretended that their information came
from a mole inside the Soviet apparatus. The need-to-know principle
meant that even prime ministers Chifley and Menzies heard no more
than that there was hard evidence from that mole about enemy agents
inside the Canberra bureaucracy. That assurance in 1948 convinced
Labor prime Minister Chifley to set up ASIO and Menzies to drop his
opposition to a ban on the Communist Party. Washington handed to
ASIO only as much as it had gleaned from Venona; ASIO which then
told Barwick of the ‘mole’ but did not, to use the technical
term, ‘indoctrinate’ him into Venona.