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Gough Whitlam

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One of the most successful CIA covert operations concerns the removal of Gough Whitlam, the prime minister of Australia.

As leader of the Labour Party he advocated the abolition of conscription and Australian withdrawal from the Vietnam War, and in 1971 visited China, promising to establish diplomatic relations. This left-wing stance was popular with the Australian people and on 2 December 1972, Whitlam led the ALP to its first electoral victory since 1946.

After 23 years of continuous conservative rule, the bureaucracy was unhelpful, and the conservative state governments were implacably opposed to reform. Nevertheless, Whitlam embarked on a massive legislative reform program. In the space of a little less than three years, the Whitlam Government:

• established formal diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China[3];

• took responsibility for tertiary education over from the states and abolished tertiary fees[4];

• established the Schools Commission to distribute Federal funds to assist non-government schools on a needs basis;

• introduced a supporting benefit for single-parent families;

• abolished the death penalty for Federal crimes;

• reduced the voting age to 18 years;

• abolished the last vestiges of the White Australia Policy;

• mandated equal opportunities for women in Federal Government employment;

• appointed women to judicial and administrative positions;

• abolished conscription

• established the Order of Australia, Australia's own honours system.

The Senate managed to block some of Whitlam's legislation including:

• a universal, free health insurance system to be known as Medibank.

• Regulate the size of House of Representatives electorates to ensure one vote one value.

• Institute government overseeing of exploitation of minerals and oil.

Whitlam’s foreign policy upset the CIA and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). Whitlam became convinced that the ASIO was plotting against him and in March 1973, Attorney General Lionel Murphy ordered a raid on the ASIO offices.

According to Frank Snepp, his boss, Ted Shackley began to plot Whitlam’s removal. Ray Cline and William Colby have both admitted that the left-wing government in Australia caused a crisis for the CIA. James Angleton claimed that Whitlam was a Soviet agent (in Angleton’s world every left-winger was a KGB spy).

The situation got worse when the CIA discovered that Whitlam planned to close the American base, Pine Gap near Alice Springs. This was followed on 2 November, 1975, by Whitlam making a speech claiming that the CIA had been funding the National Country Party.

On 8th November, Ted Shackley sent a message of the ASIO, pointing out the dangers posed by Whitlam. Three days later, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, dismissed Whitlam and installed Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister until a federal election could be held.

The Murdoch press now launched a massive propaganda campaign against the Labour Party and with the two main opposition parties, the National Country/Liberal formed a coalition group and won the new election.

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Sorry John!

I don't really know enough about it to speak with any authority. I did, however, remember the "It's Time!" commercials (even though I was 10) and still remember his sacking.

It was a significant event in Australian history, and one that will not be forgotten for some time (even 30 years after the event). It is often brought up as a reason why Australia should become a republic.

I liked Gough; he had tremendous flair, a feel for the common person, and a rapier-like wit. One of my favourite books is THE WIT OF WHITLAM (I'll quote some of my favourite quips if anyone would care to see them).

Sir John Kerr generally incurred the wrath of the Australian people after the events of Remeberence Day 1975 - he was cast out and never to be forgiven, right or wrong.

Of course, the Whitlam government had its share of controversy - the Maroni affair with Jim Cairns, and Rex O'Conner & the Loans Affair. Then the hostile Senate blocked Supply. Gough had a solution, but Kerr chose The Dismissal rather than a half-Senate election. In the next Federal election, the Fraser government took office & Gough entered the political wilderness. Mind you, he appears in TV ads now - and he is the only Australian PM to appear in a feature film whilst in office. Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, IIRC. He greeted Edna Everage on arrival in Australia. He was meant to say something like "Welcome home, Mrs Everage" but instead said "Rise Dame Edna"; that's how "she" got the title.

Okay, more serious stuff. Do I think Kerr was a CIA plant or such? No. IMO he was certainly influenced by US wishes, wanted to see a strong alliance with the US, and may have thought that Whitlam threatened that alliance. I think CIA remarks about Kerr being "our man" were more related to persuasion rather than actual imperative.

Overall, I would have liked to see how Gough would have gone if given further chance. Hindsight discounted, Fraser was not a popular PM despite the Liberal party win.

To conclude, just one quote from The Great Man himself (sorry - I can't resist):

Well might he say 'God Save The Queen', because nothing will save the Governor General. The proclaimation you have just heard was countersigned 'Malcom Fraser' - who will go down in history as 'Kerr's Cur'

Later that day he said "It is the first time the burglar has been appointed as caretaker!"

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Sorry, I don't have anything useful to add to this topic except that I once sat behind Gough and his wife, Margaret (who is a truly amazing character in her own right) in the Sydney opera house and couldn't see anything for my very expensive tickets because they are both well over six feet tall.

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I am surprised that our Australian members have not added to this thread. Is it an issue that is ever discussed today? It seems strange that you allow your governments to slavishly follow US foreign policy.

Yes, I agree with Evan's opinion of Gough (pronounced Goff). He was a great PM. The introduction of universal health care was his greatest legacy, IMO, although he also did great things for indigenous Australians with the introduction of the Aboriginal Land Council and the handing back of much Commonwealth land to its traditional custodians.

A few things impacted adversely on his time in office, IMO. After 23 years in opposition, most of the incoming ministers had never been in Government and had sat on opposition benches for many years. Few were media savvy and Gough's time in office was peppered with scandals involving ministers. The OPEC oil shocks of the early seventies also caused high inflation which was exacerbated by Gough's loose fiscal policy. Australia had seldom seen such free spending Governments and the media fanned the flames of an electorate which was soon suffering from reform fatigue. One particularly bitter media criticism concerned the Government's purchase of Jackson Pollock's painting 'Blue Poles' for the National Gallery for $1 million. Of course, it turned out to be the Gallery's shrewdest investment (now valued at about $100 million, I think).

The ACTU, led by future PM Bob Hawke, also did Gough no favors. The militant fringe of the union movement called many strikes in support of pay claims considered unreasonable by those in the non union sector. With the backdrop of high inflation, a credit squeeze largely blamed on the Crean budget of '73 which caused high interest rates, Government scandals and a media driven perception of Gough as haughty and imperious, the last thing he needed was an overly militant union movement. Ironically, one of Hawke's first actions on becoming PM in '83 was to introduce Government mandated national wage accords between unions and employer groups, which minimised the potential of union militancy doing the same thing to him.

A great PM, who dragged Australia across 20 years of much needed change in just three. As with many reformist Governments, he exceeded the electoral 'speed limit' and paid the price exacted by a very conservative electorate.

I've got no doubt your research on the CIA's involvement in Gough's sacking by the Governor-General is close to the mark. The Pine Gap issue really rankled our American allies.

Edited by Mark Stapleton
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Mark's comments are on the money as far as I'm concerned.

There is an ironic twist to the saga, which will be a familiar story to those British lefties who reviled the name of Edward Heath in the 1970s.

Over time, Malcolm Fraser, the conservative politician who became Prime Minister following the constitutional coup of 1975, and who was perhaps the ultimate bete noir for Australian leftists at the time, has mellowed and become more liberal in the true sense.

Fraser, these days, is a thorn in the side of the Howard Government - playing a similar role to that of Heath during the Thatcher years. He often takes a more progressive position (on treatment of asylum seekers, for example) than contemporary Labor leaders.

Fraser was Defence Minister during the Vietnam War, and toed the pro-American line. Now he says he was misled into supporting Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War.

Whitlam is still an iconic figure in Australia, much revered by the left. He lost a little gloss in my eyes, however, when he angrily denied any responsibility for the ugly takeover of East Timor by the Indonesians during his term as Prime Minister - and chafed against Labor's evolving policy on East Timor in the late 90s when the ALP finally came round to supporting independence for its long-suffering people.

Edited by Sid Walker
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What about the strange disappearance of Harold Holt on 17 December 1967? Was he having doubts about Australia's role in the Vietnam War.

It is clearly possible that the CIA was involved in removing Australian politicians from power in order to shape the country's foreign policy. Is this an issue in Australia? Has the CIA and the Murdoch media been involved in a long-term conspiracy to make sure that Australia slavishly followed US foreign policy.


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What about the strange disappearance of Harold Holt on 17 December 1967? Was he having doubts about Australia's role in the Vietnam War.

It is clearly possible that the CIA was involved in removing Australian politicians from power in order to shape the country's foreign policy. Is this an issue in Australia? Has the CIA and the Murdoch media been involved in a long-term conspiracy to make sure that Australia slavishly followed US foreign policy.


I'm not certain but I think Holt drowned. The problem with a conspiracy scenario is that the conspirators would have had no certainty about who would succeed him. William McMahon was favored to win the subsequent leadership ballot but it was won by John Gorton, McMahon becoming PM three years later upon Gorton's resignation. Their policies differed, Gorton leaning more to the left.

The famous 'all the way with LBJ' tour of Australia in 1966 was organised by Holt and the US Ambassador. As for Holt having second thoughts about Vietnam, I don't know. I can't really see CIA complicity in Holt's death.

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