The forgotten coup – how America and Britain crushed the government of their ‘ally’, Australia

Prime minister Gough Whitlam watches ACTU president Bob Hawke drink beer from a yard glass Melbourne, Australia, 1972. Photograph: News Ltd/Newspix/REX

Prime minister Gough Whitlam watches ACTU president Bob Hawke drink beer from a yard glass Melbourne, Australia, 1972. Photograph: News Ltd/Newspix/REX

John Pilger 23.10.14

Across the political and media elite in Australia, a silence has descended on the memory of the great, reforming prime minister Gough Whitlam, who has died. His achievements are recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. But a critical reason for his extraordinary political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.

Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American commentator wrote that no 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 towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported “zones of peace” and opposed nuclear weapons testing.

Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor Party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm”. In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britain’s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continent’s vast natural wealth.

Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this “breaking free” in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the US in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided “black teams” to be run by the CIA. US diplomatic cables published last year by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washington’s informants during the Whitlam years.

Whitlam knew the risk he was taking. The day after his election, he ordered that his staff should not be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian security organisation, ASIO – then, as now, tied to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the US bombing of Vietnam as “corrupt and barbaric”, a CIA station officer in Saigon said: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”

Whitlam demanded to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, a giant vacuum cleaner which, as Edward Snowden revealed recently, allows the US to spy on everyone. “Try to screw us or bounce us,” the prime minister warned the US ambassador, “[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention”.

Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House… a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”

Pine Gap’s top-secret messages were de-coded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the de-coders was Christopher Boyce, a young man troubled by the “deception and betrayal of an ally”. Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”.

Kerr was not only the Queen’s man, he had long-standing ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall Street Journal in his book, ‘The Crimes of Patriots’, as, “an elite, invitation-only group… exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA”. The CIA “paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige… Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money”.

When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state”. Known as the “coupmaster”, he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia – which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia was to the Australian Institute of Directors – described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government”.

The Americans and British worked together. In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain’s MI6 was operating against his government. “The Brits were actually decoding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,” he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, “We knew MI6 was bugging Cabinet meetings for the Americans.” In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he was told to do.”

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”.

On 11 November – the day Whitlam was to inform Parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia – he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers”, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The “Whitlam problem” was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence.

Article/Image sources

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‘Home on the Range’ – documentary on the 1975 coup in Australia:

From blurb: ‘About this episode –

Celebrated filmmaker Gil Scrine’s highly revealing 1982 documentary on the sacking of Gough Whitlam. The film examines the establishment of Pine Gap and the Governor General’s decision to sack Whitlam based on a variety of advice – not least from sources at the CIA.’

http://www.smh.com.au/tv/Politics/Home-On-The-Range-5000641.html

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/tv/Politics/Home-On-The-Range-5000641.html

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The coup is also discussed in an excellent five-part American series on their state within a state –  ‘Counter-intelligence’ – from thirty minutes into Part 1.

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/counter-intelligence/

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The Lucky Country – Part Five: The Luck of a Laid-back, Happy People is Getting Squeezed

Peter Hartcher, ‘China vents its anger at Australia’s stand on airspace rights’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 03.12.13

China is angry at Australia, and when the doors closed on the meeting room in Canberra on Friday, its delegates let the anger show. The third annual Australia-China Forum was designed to strengthen the relationship. Instead, the Chinese used it to pressure Australia.

They had a specific grievance: the government’s rejection of Beijing’s announcement that it was asserting new rights over airspace in the East China Sea.

But they quickly turned the specific into the general, a full-court fusillade of complaints and urgings.

It was an illustration, a case study and a premonition of the difficulty at the heart of Australia’s relationship with its biggest trading partner.

What started the ructions was Beijing’s abrupt announcement on November 23 that all aircraft flying over the islands subject to its dispute with Japan needed to give prior notice to authorities or risk “emergency defensive measures”.

The new air defence identification zone not only covered the disputed islands that the Japanese call the Senkaku and the Chinese call the Diaoyu, it also overlapped the existing air defence identification zones of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

These three last week rejected Beijing’s authority to make such a declaration without consultation.

So did the US. Flouting China’s claim, it immediately flew two B-52 bombers unhindered through the zone without notifying Beijing.

China had committed a “destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

It was now in an invidious position – it was taking criticism from the rest of world for being provocative, and from its citizens at home for being impotent.

Australia objected to China’s declaration of the zone too, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said, because Canberra was opposed to “any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea”.

China’s foreign affairs ministry countered by urging “the Australian side to immediately correct its mistakes so as to avoid hurting the co-operative relationship between China and Australia”.

Rather than correct its position, Australia reaffirmed it. Asked for his view by a reporter, Tony Abbott said: “We are a strong ally of the US, we are a strong ally of Japan, we have a very strong view that international disputes should be settled peacefully.”

Chinese officials believed the Prime Minister had escalated the disagreement merely by restating the government’s position.

The opening session of the Australia-China Forum took place the next morning at the Australian National University.

Ostensibly, it was devoted to “advancing the strategic partnership” struck between Julia Gillard and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April. Instead, the Chinese delegates used it to challenge the value of the partnership.

The forum is a so-called “one-and-a-half track” initiative. This means it’s a meeting between the two governments – the one track – but broadened to include non-officials such as business people, retired officials, academics and journalists, comprising the half-track.

China sent 19 delegates; four were serving or former ambassadors, one of whom was also a retiree at the vice-premier level. They wield little direct power in Beijing, yet all are influential.

Australia’s 31 delegates included two serving cabinet ministers, three former cabinet ministers, and three serving senior officials.

Six of the Chinese spoke in the first session; of these, five challenged Australia’s strategic stance. The sixth emphasised the strength of the trade link: the two economies were “cut out for each other”.

As a participant, I’m permitted to report what was said but not to identify who said it, the Chatham House rule.

The first Chinese strike was directed at Australia’s alliance with the US: “The Sino-American relationship has many high and lows but you may not be clear on just how good it is.

“The Americans sometimes want to put pressure on us so they ask their friends to put pressure on us. When they do, you should sit down and think about it.” The US, the Chinese speaker said, frequently changed its approach to Asia policy, and “Australians need to realise the Americans change what they say without thinking about other people’s interests.”

In other words, if it were merely an American lapdog, Australia could end up alienating China only to be abandoned by its US master.

The second Chinese speaker said the relationship with Australia hinged on strategic trust; with it, there would be a cinematic ending of the Crocodile Dundee type, with two loving partners living happily ever after. Without it, there would be a Thorn Birds-style outcome, ending in tears.

The third said the conception of America as the strategic ally and China as the primary economic partner was wrong-headed; China and the US were both important to regional security. If Australia wanted a strategic partnership with China, it had to include both security and economic aspects.

The fourth called on Australia to beware a growing bellicosity in Japan, and urged Canberra to persuade Tokyo to change its position.

The fifth sought to relegate Australia’s US alliance to history. It was “a product of the Cold War,” he said. And although China would not normally offer its view on Australia’s alliances, it now was affecting China’s “core interests, its sovereignty and its territorial interests”.

This is a tough critique, claiming that Australia’s US alliance infringes on China’s sovereignty.

This speaker went on to hold out a “dream” of China’s relations with Australia, with trade trebling, tourism booming, young people moving freely between the two countries. But he said the dream had a long way to go.

And the responses? The Australians were on the defensive. Some firmly defended the US alliance. Some assured that Australia acted in its own interests, not America’s. One challenged the Chinese to explain what they were doing to ease the tensions. Some tried to change the subject.

But the Chinese were single-minded. And their plans to ease the escalations in their border disputes? They had nothing to say.

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