(Abridged and enlarged from articles by John Pilger)
Australia briefly followed an independent foreign policy between 1972-75 under Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Whitlam was elected as the leader of the sovereign western nation of Australia and he believed that a foreign power, even those such as Australia’s historic allies such as the USA and UK, should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies.
Prime Minister Whitlam was therefore keen to follow independent policies which would be in the best interests of the Australian people and quickly set his government in motion doing so.
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.
But 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 in Australia which, as Edward Snowden later revealed, “allows the USA to spy on everyone.“
The Australian Prime Minister, who had little idea of exactly what was going on at Pine Gap demanded to know the functions of the American base. The American government was reluctant to tell him. Whitlam threatened to close the base unless he was told of its work.
Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later said,
“This threat (by PM Whitlam) 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 decoded by a CIA contractor, one of whose employees was American 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 that the CIA referred to the governor-general of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”.
Sir John Kerr, supposedly a strictly apolitical and neutral figure, with little real power and appointed by the Queen, actually had longstanding ties to both American (CIA) and British (MI6) intelligence, and these ties were to come in handy in 1975.
When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Australia as US ambassador. Green was a 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 US backed coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia.
One of Green’s first speeches in Australia, to the Australian Institute of Directors, was described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government”.
In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain’s MI6 was operating against his government. “The British were actually decoding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,” he said later.
One of Whitlam’s ministers, Clyde Cameron, said,
“We knew MI6 was bugging (Australian) cabinet meetings for the Americans.”
In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed at the time “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield.
Whitlam was shown a top-secret message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the head of the CIA’s East Asia division, who had helped run the CIA coup against the democratically elected President Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier. Allende was a man who, like Whitlam, also believed in the independent and sovereign nature of elected governments. How wrong they both were.
Shackley’s CIA message was read to Whitlam.
The message said that the (CIA considered) the Prime Minister of Australia to be a security risk in his own country.
As it happened, the day before Whitlam was read Shackley’s CIA message, Queen’s representative Sir John Kerr had visited Australia’s National Security Agency – their CIA – where he was briefed on the “security crisis” surrounding PM Whitlam.
A deputy director of the CIA later revealed : “Kerr did what he was told to do…(remove PM Whitlam from power.)”
On 11 November – the day Gough Whitlam was to inform Parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australian society – the Prime Minister was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers”, controversial even at the time, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister.
The “Whitlam problem” was solved and Australian politics never recovered. Nor has the nation ever regained its true independence from American and British hegemony.
We know that America has toppled many governments and leaders around the world over the last century or two, both authoritarian and democratically elected ones, as in this case.
But there has surely never been such a shocking act by an American government as this one. I lived through this event as a young man in neighbouring New Zealand, and it was a big deal at the time.
Whitlam was portrayed in the media as a leader not in control of the government. Someone causing a crisis, not solving it. We all looked on eagerly waiting for new developments each day, totally unaware that the so called “crisis” was simply another hatchet job by Washington and London. It’s outcome already determined in advance. The rest was just for public and media fodder and amusement.
The crisis mounted in the public’s eyes…something had to give, and the leader of Australia was what gave. But not voluntarily. He was removed from his elected position by orders from foreign powers in broad daylight. No one had a clue. How naieve we all were. Many people still are.
When you see today just how far Australia has nestled cosily into the sweaty, dank underbelly of the United States, one can now appreciate how alarming a genuinely independent Australian nation would be to Washington. The same goes for New Zealand.
Independence isn’t something the United States does. It tightens the leash without mercy any time. No one is safe.