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Questions remain over U.S. and CIA role in Whitlam's dismissal

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Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and President Richard Nixon in the White House in 1973 (image by Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Archives via Wikimedia Commons)

Archives from the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would shed more light on Whitlam's dismissal than the "Palace Papers", says Bilal Cleland.

SIR JOHN Kerr, the Governor-General during Gough Whitlam's prime ministership, did not inform the Queen of his intention to dismiss Whitlam's Government in 1975, despite its majority in the House of Representatives.

Governor-General Kerr’s reason was that Whitlam’s ability to govern was blocked by the Liberal controlled-Senate and its refusal to pass supply bills.

Kerr admitted that he had to act before Whitlam could demand his dismissal from office by the Queen.

That a foreign aristocrat has the authority to appoint and dismiss the Australian governor-general appears to be an anachronism in our constitutional system of government.

A new beginning

The Liberal Party had been in office in Australia since the 1949 "bank nationalisation" election and Australia had become a conservative backwater, subservient to the demands of the U.S.

Under the Liberal Party, Australia enthusiastically supported the Vietnam War. Australian was happy to send troops there and conscripted young men for the conflict.

The December 1972 Labor victory sent shock waves through the establishment here and in Washington.

The Whitlam Government began to modernise the nation and open up certain locked cupboards to public gaze.

Some of its accomplishments were:

  • The imperial system of knights and dames was abolished and replaced by the Order of Australia;
  • The White Australia Policy was abolished;
  • The Australian Schools Commission was established to try to bring our whole education system to the level demanded by the times, with great emphasis upon establishing social equality; 
  • University fees were abolished;
  • "Advance Australia Fair" became the national anthem;
  • The "reds under the beds" discourse so abused by the Liberal Party and the Democratic Labor Party was ameliorated by Whitlam’s recognition of the Peoples’ Republic of China;
  • A universal health care system was established, in the face of strong opposition from the doctor lobby; and
  • Australian soldiers were withdrawn from Vietnam.

Washington felt threatened

Whitlam also considered taking steps against the American spy base at Pine Gap.

According to John Pilger in The Guardian:

'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.'

The American Embassy was in a state of panic. 

When Whitlam’s ministers publicly condemned the U.S. 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.'

In 1973, Marshall Green was appointed American Ambassador to Australia by President Richard Nixon. He was a very important diplomat.

President Nixon nominated Green as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in 1969 and Green held this office until May 10, 1973. He did most of the background work for President Nixon's visit to China in 1972 and he was one of thirteen State Department officials who accompanied Nixon during this trip.

Green was the senior American diplomat in South Korea at the time of the 1961 coup d'état that brought Major-General Park Chung-hee to power.

He was appointed as United States Ambassador to Indonesia and presented his credentials to the Indonesian Government on July 26, 1965.

He was met with an anti-Vietnam War protest organised by Sukarno, the President of Indonesia, under the slogan "Go Home, Green".

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Only weeks later, Green witnessed first hand the "Transition to the New Order", an anti-Communist purge in which Suharto led a coup against President Sukarno and in the course of which an estimated 500,000 Indonesians were killed.

Green remained the Ambassador to Indonesia until March 26, 1969.

In 1973, President Nixon then selected Green as United States Ambassador to Australia, a post he held until 1975.

As John Pilger wrote

'... 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.

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.

According to Pilger: 

'The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA, where he was briefed on the “security crisis”.'

A sideshow

The Palace Letters are largely a sideshow. The real history of the events of 1975 lies in the archives of the White House and the CIA.

Whitlam's dismissal was a travesty and the fact that the Prime Minister felt he could not rely on the military to protect democracy says volumes about the subservient colonial nature of our nation.

Since the overthrow of Whitlam and the clamour of the Murdoch-led media for the election of Malcolm Fraser, no Labor Government has dared stand up for an independent foreign policy.

Indeed, it was a Labor Government which invited the regular introduction of American marines into Darwin.

Regrettably, there has been silence about Pine Gap and its role in international affairs.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

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