John Kerr’s hunger for history was his undoing — and Australia’s

John Kerr was far more than a best-hatted buffoon — he represented all the absurdity and squalor of Australia and the 20th century.

John Kerr (Impression: National Archives of Australia)

Sometime I will tell you about my previous involvements in the two sides, Sir John Kerr writes of remaining and proper politics in a single of his absurd, toe-curling letters to a Buckingham Palace non-public secretary who could not treatment significantly less.

It was a weird put for a bizarre guy to wind up. From the start, he had been found by his close friends as a person who may well do excellent items. John Robert Kerr had been born in Balmain, his father a employee and radical unionist at the Eveleigh railways works (now a unsuccessful arts location — symbolism will in no way be much absent in this tale).

He acquired a scholarship to Fort Street Substantial, the Sydney selective high college, and then a further 1 to Sydney University in 1932, acquiring topped the calendar year. There he impressed everybody with his intellect, his generate, his force of character. He was the man who had read through everything, especially in sociology and history Marx, Lenin, Nietzsche, Spengler, Sorel, Hegel, Pareto, the is effective.

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Palace Letters help flesh out mystery of John Kerr’s true mission

The Palace Letters fill out flawlessly the ongoing thriller of John Kerr’s true mission: the preservation of the US intelligence apparatus in Australia

John Kerr and Pine Hole surveillance foundation (Picture: National Archives of Australia Wikimedia)

It was Monday November 3, 1975, and on a practice monitor someplace in Melbourne, champion horse Feel Large was remaining taken for a gentle canter.

It was the day ahead of the Melbourne Cup, and the 1974 winner was extensively tipped to get the double. Assume Massive — she was a crowd favorite and the identify was a lot in the air. Was it on the minds of the nation’s leaders that morning, as they descended on Melbourne for the race that stops a nation?

Sir John Kerr and Gough Whitlam would all be in city that momentous working day, as Sir John would inform the palace in his letter about that day. With the Palace Letters now obtainable, we can see clearly what a momentous working day this was — measured not only by what John Kerr told the Palace, but by what he did not. 

Monday November 3 was the commence of the previous full week that the offer crisis could play out, without the need of a choice owning to be built as to whether a pre-Xmas election could be known as — possibly a 50 %-Senate or a double dissolution. That would have to be carried out by Tuesday November 11, for a December 13 poll (December 20 was out of the dilemma).

Opposition chief Malcolm Fraser had declared his intent to block offer on Oct 15. But his early self confidence was presently slipping. Whitlam experienced turned the crisis into what each Kerr and the Queen’s secretary Martin Charteris would contact a 1909/1910 minute — referring to Uk primary minister H. H. Asquith’s breaking of the power of the Home of Lords. 

Therefore, Kerr notes that Fraser experienced come to see him with a compromise — if Whitlam agreed to a Residence of Representatives election by mid-1976 (a yr early), then Fraser would accept a 50 percent-Senate election right before Christmas. At a Melbourne Cup eve operate, Kerr passed on the provide to Whitlam and Whitlam instructed him there would be no offer whatsoever

But it is what Kerr did not mention that is of interest. For the working day just before, Sunday November 2, in a speech at Port Augusta, Whitlam had introduced that Nationwide Place Occasion leader Doug Anthony was tied up with a CIA agent running clandestinely in Australia, and accused the NCP of getting CIA funding.

Whitlam hadn’t named him, but on the early morning of Monday November 3, in the AFR, Brian Toohey had. He was Richard Stallings, very first director of the Pine Hole spy facility in the 1960s, who experienced returned to Australia in the ’70s as a covert operative. 

That 7 days, the revelation of Stallings (and some others) would deliver the nationwide security establishment into uproar. Why? Very well, for the reason that the US govt routinely gave the Australian governing administration a checklist of CIA agents operating in Australia.

Stallings wasn’t on that checklist, but he was on a 2nd record which incorporated deep include brokers, and which was offered only to ASIO, ASIS and everlasting defence head Arthur Tange. Whitlam’s intention to, as prime minister, title Stallings in parliament as an unlisted agent would throw the intelligence connection into uproar.

For the nationwide security establishment, Whitlam’s punchy mindset was a clear indication that he experienced absent rogue. By 1975, US-Australia relations had been at a low ebb. The US nationwide secretary establishment had been gunning for the Whitlam government due to the fact lawyer-basic Lionel Murphy’s raid on ASIO HQ in 1973.

ASIO experienced been permitting violent, fascist Croatian Ustashe groups operate wild in Australia, as a way of protecting against a go to by the Yugoslavia president Josip Broz Tito, the vital player in the Non-Aligned Movement team of nations.

This was noticed as unforgivable, in accordance to CIA counter-intelligence expert James Jesus Angleton a government raid on the “crown jewels” of inter-agency shared intelligence. 

Likely for broke

Through 1975 issues had been heating up. In December 1974, Whitlam experienced endorsed Labor MP Rex Connor’s look for for billions in petro-dollars financial loans, to bypass the precedence hold British banks experienced on Australian funds elevating the ASIO head had been changed by a non-spy and the ASIS head had been sacked for operating an off-the-publications mission in recently impartial East Timor.

The nat sec establishment had presumed Whitlam to be a pro-US centrist figure. It now looked like he experienced been captured by the party’s anti-US still left.

By far the most alarming gesture was Whitlam’s raising of the leases on US bases, specially Pine Hole. These have been owing for renewal on December 9, and it was hitherto thought to be a formality. But in early 1973, Whitlam had explained to US ambassador Walter Rice that the bases would come to be an concern if the US continued to major Australia on security or slice it out of export marketplaces.

The revival of that menace so close to lease renewal was a nightmare. In his Port Augusta speech, Whitlam experienced asserted that the Countrywide Place Party was funded by the CIA. He was likely for broke.

Now here’s what is important in the Kerr letter of November 3: he will make no point out of any of this at all. Possessing saved the palace up-to-date on the political scenario at a stage of this sort of detail that he questioned regardless of whether it was possibly much too significantly for Her Majesty, he entirely leaves out matters pertaining to national protection — and to the unity of the Commonwealth.

Why would that be? The plain actuality is that Sir John Kerr was now the servant of two masters. He was a former CIA asset who experienced become a British high-Tory variety. He was determined to provide each, while retaining them aside.

The actual John Kerr

History has bequeathed us the leading-hatted drunk. But the real John Kerr was an solely distinctive guy, about which I’ll say much more next 7 days.

The brief get is that Kerr was a Marxist radical in the 1930s who acquired taken up by potent forces in Planet War II and turned, in the late 1940s, both equally an anti-communist and a shopper of CIA front groups, this sort of as the Australian Association of Cultural Freedom, of which he manufactured a unsuccessful tilt to be president.

The British bling and fawning came later, and very a great deal as a consolation prize. Kerr noticed himself as a gentleman in historical past, part of the double movement — people today named to the radical left by the squalor of the ’30s, and then referred to as to US aid by the squalor of Stalinism. 

So I do not believe for a second that he was unaware of the again-and-forth above US bases and CIA sleeper agents. We know that he quizzed Whitlam at size about the sacking of the head of ASIS — but that does not show up in the letters either. 

We know that Kerr experienced an formal, calendared meeting with chief defence scientist John Farrands on Oct 28. A week previously, Whitlam’s team experienced asked Tange for the checklist of CIA agents in Australia — with Tange providing the “outer” listing which experienced not included Stallings. Tange had not, at that stage, regarded that Whitlam’s office environment had Stallings identify. 

Farrands was one of the handful of Australians who knew how Pine Gap actually labored and its enormous importance to the US empire — that it not only gave the US an edge on the USSR in monitoring (in breach of treaties), but was a pioneer in mass surveillance of common communications, hoovering up telephone phone calls and telexes.

Farrands’ meet up with with Kerr would show up to be aspect of a final decision by Tange and others to do an “end run” all-around Whitlam. Did Kerr elevate these matters with Whitlam at the November 3 Cup Working day eve conference? It would seem to be unlikely he did not, given that there is no indicator that Kerr noticed any propriety boundaries in normal discussion of politics.

Matters had been relocating quick now, as Brian Toohey related. On Tuesday November 4 Whitlam’s defence minister Invoice Morrison went to see NCP leader Anthony on Tange’s request (Tange, now Morrison’s servant, experienced been Morrison’s boss) to check out and discuss him out of tough Whitlam on Stallings CIA membership (Anthony experienced not regarded Stallings was CIA). Anthony refused, and on Thursday November 6 tabled a dilemma on notice for Tuesday 11 November regarding the issue.

Keeping in line

On Saturday November 8 points kicked up a notch, with the arrival of a telex from Ted Shackley, head of the CIA’s East Asia desk, to his ASIO opposite quantity stating that intelligence sharing would stop if ASIO, generally, couldn’t maintain its very own government in line.

The telex went to Tange on Sunday November 9, and to Whitlam’s workplace on Monday November 10 (an sign of where by the ability lay). 

Farrands would afterwards explain to Toohey that he experienced briefed Kerr by telephone that weekend concerning the Shackley telex — the scientist’s involvement in this lobbying can only have been since of the significance of the bases.

Farrands would later on deny he had said these types of (however Toohey experienced recurring Farrands assertion to Whitlam the similar afternoon as he spoke to Farrands – the situation was a Canberra backyard garden bash).

Tange would deny that Farrands had briefed Kerr at all, save for the calendared Oct 28 meeting which was listed as a “get to know the general public servants” fulfill.

But Tange would later slip up.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, he documents a “November meeting” concerning Kerr and Farrands. Was this the mobile phone briefing of November 8-9? Or was it a November 3 conference at the Watsonia, Melbourne army base, which Farrands somtimes worked out of for the reason that it was the foundation for the Defence Alerts Directorate, the Australian liaison with the US operators of Pine Hole?

On Monday November 10, Tange and Farrands tried to persuade Whitlam, by means of a briefing note, to solution Anthony’s question the following working day by using the official US line that Stallings was just a US defence division ex-staff.

Whitlam refused to mislead parliament. He hardly ever got the likelihood Kerr sacked him ahead of Issue Time was owing to start.

Wondering significant

This sequence of activities has been regarded for some time (although beforehand no one appears to have twigged that Tange inadvertently owned up a November Farrands-Kerr conference), but the revelation of the Palace Letters fills it out unquestionably.

Why? Simply because at the commencing of the week Sir John Kerr is continue to referring to the Senate votes on offer as “deferrals”, remarking that the govt has money until the finish of November — and dealing with the make any difference, in dialogue, as if it was however a celebration political stoush. 

But as a result of that week of November 3 to November 10, he is trying to find more urgent advice on the use of “reserve powers”. Importantly, he asks not only whether or not they even now exist in a usable type (which was a actual concern at the time) but, crucially, whether or not they would have experienced to be exercised the initially time the Senate blocked provide. 

In other terms, Kerr is asking regardless of whether reserve powers are somehow tied to the events of parliament, or no matter if they retain an complete and arbitrary character.

He receives the remedy that they do from two quarters: from appropriate-wing superior court docket main justice Garfield Barwick who reaffirms their independent character and from the palace, which materials the argument from Canada’s King-Byng affair of the 1920s.

But Barwick’s prepared advice, which arrived on November 10, is perfunctory — it only asserted that the powers continue on to exist. And the palace affirms the governor-common as the people’s agent in the older framework of dominion standing. 

That interpretation is anti-democratic and potential customers to absurdity — as it did on November 11, when the Property instantly passed a no self confidence vote in Malcolm Fraser and a assurance vote in the “member for Werriwa”.

How did Kerr deal with that? He explained to the Palace on November 20 that he presumed the reserve powers to carry over over and above the crisis, and to give him the authority to prorogue parliament till the election, refusing any conversation from the Residence of Reps speaker, with Fraser’s commission as caretaker PM nevertheless in tact.

What was one particular of the obligations that befell him as caretaker? The renewal of the Pine Gap lease slipping owing on December 9, four times right before the election. Which of system Fraser duly did.

As Barwick claimed afterwards, “Sir John did his duty”. So did Farrands. Soon after denying he had reported he experienced briefed Kerr, he finished his profession being designed a Companion of the Purchase of the Bathtub, a scarce honour in truth.

Just after the Dismissal, Kerr would involve a clipping of an posting by Brian Toohey outlining the Stallings affair — which would appear to be to be incredibly considerably arse-masking. The Palace Letters give solid weight to the proof that Kerr was crucially motivated by the US-alliance crisis to make a selection for an arbitrary dismissal at a day and in a manner that, two weeks before, he does not surface to have been contemplating. 

Fairly a lot happened on Monday November 3, 1975. The subsequent day Think Large thundered house to get the Melbourne Cup double. And Sir John Kerr began thinking massive himself.

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