Australian coup in 1975? (was Re: The CPA and Aboriginal Activismwas RE: Scholarship and politics (was Re: Proyect v Woods)

Greg Schofield gschofield at
Wed May 23 10:04:30 MDT 2001

Nestor I can only give a rough thumb sketch of the events of 1975 (please
do not hold me to every detail - Alan seems far more knowledgable and I
hope he will correct any blunders). I cannot give a full class analysis so
if you don't mind a fairly haphzard introduction I will try and set the scene.

I find I can only place the whole lot in an overall picture which goes back
to the Great Depression. I will mention the CPA a bit in this, but let us
forget all the oddities of Stalinism and just think of it as partially
expressing the interests of the working class, while the ALP can be thought
of as stretching between it to the conservatives and beyond (that is parts
of the ALP are far more right-wing than substantial sections of the
conservative party if this picture is not too hard to imagine).

The CPA emerged as the largest party in the post war period but had only
one member elected to Parliament (Fred Patterson) and him not for long. The
Labor party had a large majority and the conservatives were in disarray.
Labor became split due to anti-communist machinations and would not again
hold a majority until 1972 - the conservatives more or less installed
themselves as the ruling party in those years (I actually forget whether
the ALP lost in 1948 or a little later).

To get the picture in terms of parliament, our system then and now relied
on one representative for each electorate (where the borders are placed
determines the majority in the lower house), we now elect an upper house,
state by state, before 1972 it was nominated by each state government as
you can imagine the upper house was stuffed with lifetime conservative
members, likewise the high court judges who rule (give advice) on
constitutional matters.

Sorry about this boring stuff but it all came into play in 1975.

In the post-war period the American alliance (only established in 1942)
demanded a number of concessions, hence they demanded we had a CIA-like
intelligence service (ASIO), various military expeditions - notably Korea
and Vietnam, facilities (Pin Gap spy satellite system) etc etc. The whole
lot roughly bundled up is the ANZUS treaty (Australia, New Zealand and the
US - this is of course is a gross simplification).

Now the next part grows out of the experience of the Great Depression, and
what I choose to call the CPA platform, basically I mean by this that out
of the depression and out of the war a whole number of things were seen as
not only achievable but part of the social deal struck publicly by the
ruling class and the working class (this is not formal but a general social
expectation). It included a social health system, universal pensions,
unemployment support, universalised free education, and just generally
better living conditions etc (a better deal for aboriginals, child support,
ie lots of stuff that could be seen as attached to worker's interests and
part of both ALP official policy and CPA demands).

Some of these things were granted by the Labor just after the war, some
even by the conservatives in their usual backhanded way, but the biggies ,
real health care, free education, some aboriginal land rights, the
beginnings of childcare, the invention of multiculturalism (in recognition
of the post war immigrants needs), the last bits of the white Australia
policy were jettisoned and much more waited until 1972 and the Labor
party's victory in that year was something of a cleaning out of the stables.

The reason I have put it this way is to try in place things within an
overall perspective of aspirations, generational experience and desires and
just the plain impact of having a lot of reforms (not always good ones,
some like Timor a disgrace) rushed through in one short period - it was
like a damn bursting, the arts kicked off for the first time, film making
began to blossom, censorship got buried, it for once felt good to be in
this country (it was not to last long - but the ALPs slogan said it all,
after so long having the dead hand of our most unimaginative conservatives
it simply was - "It's Time").

Now one of the major reasons the ALP was elected was because of the massive
struggle against the war in Vietnam. The ALP made withdrawal its policy and
when elected it did just that - withdrew Australian troops unilaterally
from the war,  much to US annoyance (it lead directly to their
withdrawal  - though I don't think you would find too many history books
saying it - but the loss of a major ally really put the writing on the wall
as far as I can see).

On a personal note, at the time I was young and not only swallowed the
anti-communism of the Vietnam crusade, to my mind it was simply World War
III, as a 16 year old I was preparing myself for the draft (not bravely but
resignedly). Understandably much of the youth of the period were as
everyone knows anti-war including a good many of my school friends.

The 1972 withdrawal was my radical experience, you see the idea that you
could get out of WWIII in such a way proved that it was a lie - imagine
telling Hitler that you had made a mistake and would like to go home - the
truth therefore dawned on me like a bolt of lightening and I joined the ALP
the same month. But enough of that, I mention in passing a visit by LB
Johnson as a measure of just how bad our conservatives are, that is lacking
both spine and imagination, the official slogan for the visit was "All the
way with LBJ!", despite my delusions at the time it made my flesh crawl and
probably did more for the anti-war movement than any other single event.

As you know 1972 was the year of the coup in Chile. Green or Greenwood was
one of the major CIA players in this, he would become the ambassador to
Australia in 1974-75 - he was an important factor but I don't think anybody
has been able to track down what he actually did. But the Government was
lead into one massive scandal to do with borrowing Middle Eastern Oil money
in order to "buy back the farm" that is nationalise the mining industry -
the whole thing was a set up and I think the star performer was much latter
on found to have been working for the CIA, it became the club to hit the
Government over head through the media, I don't think anyone could actually
explain what was suppose to be so wrong with idea, but by then what the
media said did not have to have very much reality involved.

The American's were ropable about Whitlam's government, as a measure of
this the man who was at the center of the Falcon and the Snowman spy
scandal, was working in the CIA decoding room when all this was happening
(before 1975), the reason he gives for giving the USSR state secrets was
the shock at decoding messages about what was being said of America's ally
Australia by the CIA.

The ALP introduced half-senate (upper house) elections won a second
election but the conservatives still held a majority in the upper house.
 From here they denied supply (refused to grant bills of revenue) to the
elected government - Australia does not have a full constitution as such
but procedures are governed by convention - one convention is that the
senate should not block supply bills (but what the hey, the Senate majority
was only sustained by replacing a dead labor senator by a conservative
which is not conventional either).

The result was soon everybody payed by Governement including the army was
looking at pay stoppages. A very important thing is pay to the Australian
army - rumours of a strike were about - that is the army would refuse to
obey their officers, knowing a little about the army this was extremely
likely. They had gone on strike during WWI while in the trenches - and I
think they were the only army that actually voted while engaged with the
enemy in both WWI and WWII - they are a strange lot, they also cast a
majority vote against conscription during WWI as they took some pride in
their volunteer status. But this is just an aside.

The conservative leader was about to cave in (grant the money bills)
various reasons were given why he persisted, in the end he had a vital
meeting with the elder statesman of the conservatives and also present was
the chief of the high court - who told them that he would advise the
Governor General to dismiss the government (all of this is a big no-no, as
the Governor General must obey such advice and consult the Chief Justice on
constitutional matters - none of this was conveyed to the actual
Government, which legally is conspiracy but seeing the meeting was
published in the Chief Justice's autobiography I don't think any charges
will be brought forward).

At the same time the army was mobilised (as I was travelling by train I saw
long convoys of trucks and tanks heading for the national capital) - there
is some dispute as to level of alert it was put on and a complete mystery
who mobilised them ;  ) - in effect it was a mutiny but it did not have to
go that far (I may have my dates screwed however).

The Governor General dismissed the ALP government and placed the
conservative leader in as "caretaker" until an election in two months time
(which is a bit odd because there was never a suggestion that the ALP would
not hold fair elections ;  ).

Meanwhile, the left went through a period of minor discomforts of police
raids, the ALP damned any rebellious spirits, the hopeless CPA leadership
did some piss-ant ALP support (that's where I had my run in with military
types putting up a CP poster calling for the re-election of the ALP! as if
that was at all likely). The electoral boundaries were changed in the most
remarkable ways in order to guarantee a conservative win and it was all
over bar the shouting.

Afterwards the Queen's representative was hounded from the country, the
conservative leader did not institute any reprisals, ASIO was given rights
to do whatever it liked (it is a criminal offence to identify an ASIO agent
in Australia) the US alliance was pandered to, and good old Rupert Murdock,
estwhile friend of Labor in 1972 turned outrageous anti-labor propagandist
during 1975, got his invitation to buy into US media (the US laws on media
ownership were specifically changed for him).

It is of course not referred to as a coup in Australia but as a
Constitutional crisis, obviously Green(wood) had learned his lesson in
Chile and went for a more subtle approach, but as I said before, the Brits
were pissed off by this interference in their patch, although popular
imagination blames the Queen (even though I helped hound the GG out, I
think in retrospect he was trying to avoid bloodshed, we couldn't have won,
anyhow he died of drink in the UK which has a certain poetic justice to it).

1975 forever changed the political landscape here, the CPA had not noticed
that much of its platform of reform had in fact been instituted by Labor
and the conservatives, so was gradually left with not much else but a
feeble call for socialism and justice (that is between 1945-1975). Its
numbers falling predictably until when I joined there was a mere 4,000,
then for while 2,000 and then 1,000 and suddenly gone altogether
(1975-1991) getting the real figures was impossible, I struggled for years
on the Sydney District Committee for something like a real estimate and
never got anything close - assets worth well over $8 million simply
vanished - could never get a straight financial report either, but even the
minutes of committee meetings were fudged on a regular basis so you get the
picture of what they were like.

The ALP never recovered, it simply became the softer conservative, while
even the conservatives lost most of their reason for being and will be
wiped out like the UK Tories in the next election (depends on the amount of
changes made to the borders though). I forget the dates but the
conservatives were in until the mid 80s, then a lackluster ALP and now we
have suffered two terms of the conservatives rolling back the gains of the
post-war period for the first time and by the end of the year the ALP will
be back promising nothing much at all except more of the same.

I have great faith in the Australian working class, and none of for the
"left" organisations as they now exist (I would love to be surprised).

Such is the state of Australian politics even our coups are stage farces
and from an international perspective don't really deserve much attention.

Nestor I hope this is useful, and I rely on better informed comrades to
correct my blunders, it is a shoddy rendition of events.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

At 09:46  23/05/01 -0400, you wrote:
>En relación a Re: The CPA and Aboriginal Activismwas RE: Schola,
>el 23 May 01, a las 12:20, Greg Schofield dijo:
> > Whitlam (ousted from Federal Government in 1975)
> >
> > I mentioned this because I was in the Labor party at the time (having
> > joined when I was 16). When the coup happened, the Labor machine went into
> > action to quieten the workers,
>Excuse me, but I had no idea of a coup in Australia in 1975. This has
>already been repeated along these threads, and I guess I am not the
>only one in this case. Could you expand, please?
>And don't think your local issues boring at all. They are very
>interesting, and much to the contrary all of you are offering the
>first 3D picture I ever had of Australian politics. Which, by the way,
>is not a minor politics with mounting tensions in the world and
>Australia at one of the angles of the polygon of the Pacific (Japan,
>USA, Australia). As an Argentinean, on the other hand, I am very
>interested in the history of Australia and of New Zealand,
>particularly in the period that ends in the 1960s.
>Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
>gorojovsky at

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