|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: April 24, 1997
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
Once the DLP was up and running as an organisation, you were saying that one of the major concerns that you had was whether or not it was possible to organise it in every state, and you eventually achieved that. Can we talk now a little philosophically? What was the central purpose of the DLP?
The central purpose of the DLP was to use the weapon of electoral attrition, since we could no longer fight within the party without having the conference rigged against us. ... To use the weapon of electoral attrition to force the ALP to come to a discussion and to arrange terms, so that the developments that had more or less accidentally developed with Evatt would be undone. That was the central purpose. It was not to form a third party like the Social Democrats in England. I never had any belief in third parties. And here I was different from Stan Keon, who ... Stan Keon was the most gifted of the federal parliamentarians, and as Evatt had said, he was capable of being a prime minister. But he believed that you could ... there was room for a third party. Now there's always room for a third party in the sense in which the Democrats have become a party, but not a third party that does anything. The only sort of party that is of any value in a country facing the vicissitudes that I knew that Australia was going to face, was a party that could govern.
So given that your idea was that if you kept the ALP out of office that they would in fact realise that they had to come to terms ...
Yes, that's right.
... How long did you think it was going to take?
I had no idea about that. You can't predict that. First of all I had no idea that we could get to that situation. The idea that you could keep them out of office was completely gratuitous. It had to be proved. Lang had not proved it. But in fact, we kept it going and they did set out to come to terms in 1965, when I received an approach from the leader and the deputy leader of the Labor Party in the Senate - the leader was Senator McKenna of Tasmania, and the deputy leader was Senator Kennelly of Victoria - to see whether we would be interested in discussing coming to terms. The approach was made indirectly, strangely enough by a newsagent whom I didn't know in Yarraville, a suburb here in Melbourne, named Sheehan, who was a friend of Kennelly's. And so I simply mentioned the matter to the DLP leadership, because I respected their autonomy as a political party. Did they want that to be explored? They discussed it and they said, 'Yes, you explore it, unofficially for us, but if you get to the point that you can come to an agreement, it's got to be handed back to us and we'll make the final arrangements'. I said, 'That's all right'. So the result of that was that - I think it was in the second part of 1965, that's subject to recollection - there were six meetings on six consecutive Saturday nights, between McKenna and Kennelly, and between ... I took another person with me, the secretary of the Movement, Norm Lauritz and myself, so that I'd have a witness. And in these six Saturday nights at this newsagent's house in Yarraville, we discussed the whole possibility. And finally on the fifth Saturday night, it was completely possible. We could come to terms. We'd agreed on the terms and the terms did no injury to them or to us.
What were they?
The terms were quite simple. We had established a certain date in each state, and they had established a certain date. We would take those votes which gave them a majority arbitrarily, and the state executives would be reconstituted in that exact proportion. And the federal executive and the federal conference would too. And after that, each side would take pot luck. So they agreed to that, but of course, they said to me, 'Do you believe that the DLP will accept those terms?' and I said, 'I've got to refer it back, but I'm quite sure that they will'. I said. 'What about you?' and they said, 'Well, the only way ...' - this was going to mean another split in the Labor Party, the left will break away - '... the only way in which we can get through with this is if we can give the four leaders of the Labor Party, the four parliamentary leaders to support it publicly'. They were two of them, and the other two were Whitlam and Calwell. Well, Calwell was leader in those days. So they said they'd go back and sound it out. So that when we came together on the following Saturday night I said to them that the DLP would meet them, they would come to terms along those lines, but they would have to discuss it with them. So they said unfortunately there'd been a jam. They said Whitlam would accept it. And since then, that has been carefully investigated by Norman Abjorensen of the Canberra Times, and there's no doubt at all that Whitlam did say that. although Whitlam indicates that he wasn't quite sure. But Calwell would not accept. So I said, 'Why wouldn't he accept it?' I said, 'It'll make him Prime Minster. He's leader of the Labor Party. If he gets the DLP vote he'll be Prime Minister', and he said, 'He will never come to terms with you on any terms whatsoever'. And that's how it blew through. Later on, although I wasn't present at this, I understand - and Jack Cain tells it in his memoirs - that they - Kennelly and McKenna - did raise the matter again with them. But in '69 - I think it was. but it didn't get very far. And in any case, in '69, you couldn't have done it, because Whitlam had gone to the Left by that time. But in '65 they were perfectly ready to do that, and it was only Calwell's veto that stopped it.
Why in '65 were you doing the negotiations with the ALP?
Well, I wasn't negotiating, I was engaged in informal discussions. The negotiations would be carried out by the DLP, but all the terms would have been agreed to because I'd kept them abreast all the time. I knew the limitations of my authority in the matter.
I suppose the reason I was asking that was that ...
Given that this was a question of repairing the breach between the ALP and the DLP, why was it that you were conducting the negotiations? Isn't this a sort of indication of what was said, that you were the real force behind the whole thing?
It doesn't really indicate that. I wasn't technically in negotiations at all. I was in exploratory discussions. I think it's very important to maintain the distinctions in these matters because people's personal pride and prestige are involved. The reason that I was in it at all, at that stage, was that the original sounding out approach had been made to me, and I reported it to the DLP leadership right away and they authorised only exploratory discussions. And I knew very well that I had to go back to them if there was anything to discuss at the end of it, which I did do. And simply before they would have entered into final discussions, I got the answer that it wasn't on anyway.
How did you deal with the fact that you were confronted in Calwell's decision with the fact that he really must have had a very intense feeling of animosity towards you? It's always an odd feeling to be the subject of that kind of ... the object of that kind of animosity. How did you deal with it?
Well, it was pretty well par for the course by that time. It wasn't only Calwell who experienced that feeling. If you read the press at the time you'll find that it was a fairly general feeling. I had no illusions about the fact that many people have written about since, that I was pretty well the most hated man in the country so it didn't worry me that much. It worried me personally because I really liked him and we had worked together years before and I was just sorry that he felt like that, because I knew, on that incident that I have described of his son, the pain that his son's death must have caused him, that it caused him that much pain that he would give me that answer. But beyond that, as far as it affected me, well, [it was] just part of the game.
Now, in relation to the DLP and its position that it needed to keep the ALP out of office, in the event that was very effective, and the ALP was kept out of office for twenty years, and the coalition remained in office. Given that you were essentially, and have always maintained that you're essentially, a Labor man, how did you feel about that effect?
Oh, it didn't worry me a bit. What I was concerned about was the intrinsic nature of the Labor Party and there never was any problem about coming to terms with something which was the Labor Party and there was never any problem about opposing something which my colleagues and I both believed had gone over to the pro-Communist side.
And you really believed that during those years, under Calwell and then subsequently under Whitlam and so on, that it had gone over to the pro-Communist side?
Calwell would not have wanted that. But in fact, that's what they were doing in union elections. Labor Party candidates and Communist Party candidates stood on the same ticket against those who still called themselves Industrial Group candidates. They did that in election after election. If you looked at the total revision of foreign policy that they undertook after the expulsion of the Industrial Group people, there was no question at all that in relation to China, where the Communists had come to power in '49, that their general position was ... I suppose technically you could call it a neutralist position - somewhere between the Communists and the United States and Britain. But in fact, they were doing, at that time, what the Communists International would have wanted them to do. So I had no particular problem about that. I didn't know any of the ... I think it's true to say I didn't know any of the Liberals at that time. I certainly didn't know Menzies. But when I look back today, in 1997, and I look back at the accidental consequences of doing whatever we did to keep Menzies in power, and I look at the degree of economic progress, I look at the rate of employment and unemployment, I look at the rate of the interest rates, of gross domestic product, and compare that with what an alleged Labor government under Keating did, and there is no doubt at all the better Labor government was Menzies because he maintained full employment, he kept interest rates low. There is no question at all of the advantage. But it was an accidental advantage. We weren't concerned with that.
But at the time, as a Labor person, keeping the coalition in power meant that programmes - leaving aside the foreign policy issues - that social programmes that presumably you would have endorsed, were prevented also from happening.
Well, the social programmes were adopted by Whitlam in 1972-73. The result was sixteen per cent unemployment and a twenty-one per cent rate of inflation. I naturally of course wouldn't have looked at it like that at the time, but in fact we sacrificed nothing. There is no doubt at all that Menzies Government was a better Labor government than any Labor government since. I don't know, there's quite a funny story about that, if you like. There was a Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time, his name was Archie Cameron. Archie Cameron was a member of the Country Party. He was a Scot who talked with a broad Scot accent. And I had met him, I forget how. Anyway, I went to see him in hospital in Canberra. He was actually dying, although I didn't know it at the time, and the discussion got around to Menzies. This is in this period that we're talking about. And he didn't like Menzies at all. So when I happened to mention Menzies' name, who'd done some good thing, I forget what it was, he said, 'Oh of course', he said, 'Menzies'. He said, 'Menzies is a bloody socialist'. He said, 'Only he's too much of a snob to belong to the Labor Party'. So I think that's rather important.
And in what respect did you see him as a socialist?
Who, Menzies? No, Cameron saw him as a socialist. I didn't.
You didn't, but you said he had a better Labor government.
I believe that Menzies did what Hawke and Keating never did. Menzies always believed in what the Labor Party believed in, which was interventionism, that the government should maintain control of the economy in the last analysis. Menzies would never have accepted the deregulation of the financial system, any more than Fraser did, you know. So that to me is the vital difference. And if the Labor Party was formed to intervene in the economy, not to allow the financial interests to run it, then he was a better Labor man than his Labor successors.
While we're speaking about socialism, socialisation, and all those distinctions, I wonder if you could just explain exactly what your views were about this, particularly vis a vis, Australian government policies during that long period from, I think, where you wrote a paper on socialisation, way back at the beginning, through that period.
It was about 1949 I think. It was before the split. Again, don't hold me to the exact year, but I think it was about '49. The issue was this: a certain group of people headed by the editor of the Catholic Weekly in Sydney, Brian Doyle, began a campaign - again I think it was '49 - in which they were saying that Labor's socialisation objective was opposed to the social teachings of Pope Pius the XI and so on, against the social teaching of the Catholic Church. And this was persisted in. Now, it was perfectly [obvious] to me at the time that if they were allowed to persist in that, the drive of that policy was to break away Catholic votes from the Labor Party. And I regarded that as nonsense in '49. There was no reason for that to happen, and that had been their traditional home. So I suggested to the bishops - I've mentioned the social justice statements - that a social justice statement should be written, authorised by the bishops which would point out the difference between socialisation and total socialism, that total socialism meant the complete nationalisation of all property. Socialisation simply meant what we were traditionally accustomed to in Australia, [which] was the control of national monopolies like gas and water and so on, by the government, and that while total socialism was inimical to the Catholic social programme, socialisation was not, and Catholics had lived with that in the Labor Party always. So the bishops accepted this and authorised me to proceed with drafting a pamphlet called Socialisation. We did that, and it was issued I think in the year that I've mentioned. It adopted that interventionist thing that Catholics need have no problem about the traditional policy of the Labor Party, which was limited in its application. It sold 200,000 copies. It is the most successful of all of the social justice statements, and I think it killed that move thoroughly. Accordingly, it seemed to me quite absurd when, many years later, Clyde Cameron wrote that the real reason why he'd opposed us at the split was that we had been against socialisation. This was fairly recently that he said that, so I sent him a copy of the pamphlet.
And that's a position that you've held fairly consistently.
I hold it today. And I am flatly opposed to the policies of privatisation that both the Labor and the Liberal parties of today proceed with.
Talking too of foreign policy and your differences with the Labor Party over foreign policy, you nevertheless had a ... an attitude to Asia and to Australia's independence in the region that was ahead of its time. Could you tell me a little bit about your views about Asia and what you actually did about links with Asia?
Well, of course, I was in no position to do anything about links with Asia, I couldn't strut the platform and say, 'We're part of Asia', which I think is garbage anyway. No, my view was that with the end of the Second World War and the breaking up of the colonial regimes in east and south-east Asia, and particularly with Communism's victory in China in December '49, that what we were going to face in the Pacific was the rise of powers of enormous population. I had very grave doubts that the Americans would enter another Pacific conflict, certainly not in the south-west Pacific, because they had no strategic interest down here. And therefore it became clear that we had to define our position in relation to the emerging nation powers, and without making all the hoo-ha that Keating has made about it, I tried to do the little that I could to set the attitude of the church along this line, and whatever we could through the DLP, the attitude of the country. The DLP was the party which first urged the modification of the White Australia Policy. Neither of the major parties did. It believed originally in a quota system, and then gradually that was adopted by other parties but the issue arose strangely enough in that conversation with Evatt that I've spoken about. Evatt, in that conversation at the Hotel Windsor, asked me as we were getting to the end of it, 'What are your views on foreign policy?' and I just laughed at him. I said, 'You've been president of the United Nations. You've forgotten more about foreign policy than I'll ever learn'. 'No, no, no', he said, 'I'd like to know'. So I said, 'Oh well, in the broadest definition, we are against Asian Communism, but in favour of Asian nationalism'. And he said, 'I'd be very careful of that. I would be very careful about Asian nationalism', and of course he was quite right. It's not only Asian Communism, but Asian nationalism that can spread, [and] cause us a lot of difficulties in the future. But that's certainly what happened.
And so, what did you do with the Catholic Church in Asia at the time?
Well I didn't do ... Well, yes, a couple of things. First of all, the important thing was to try to influence the thinking in so far as I could, of the Catholic bishops in this country, and they very quickly bought the idea that, you know, on the White Australia Policy and so on. And in fact, I ... the years defeat me a bit - I think it was in '51 or '52 - we were the first organisation to bring out a Japanese bishop to Australia. That caused a great deal of perturbation. And he spoke at the Rural Movement conference. Then the bishops originally came out with the modification of the White Australia Policy. The DLP did the same then. And at that stage things were moving on to a different base. But what was coming to a head in south-east Asia at the time, especially after the Communist victory in China, was a drive by the Communists International in Asia, and they brought about revolutions in Malaysia, you know, the Emergency. In Singapore, there was the Madayung [?] Rebellion in Indonesia. Then there was the Korean war in 1951. And the danger was that Asian nationalism would be overwhelmed by Asian Communism. Now, I knew that these issues were far beyond us but nevertheless, you did your little bit if you could and my view was that in every one of these countries there were infinitesimal Catholic populations, but they were well educated and they could have some political influence in their countries and so I took up again the issue with Archbishop Mannix. And the result of that was that at the beginning of the fifties we called together a conference of representatives of the Catholic Church from India and Ceylon over there, to Japan and Taiwan over there. And even to the United States, an American bishop came to it. But by the time that that conference met, of course, we were involved in all of the troubles about the split, and I wished that it'd been in Hades by that time. But we did bring together a thing that rather ambitiously called the Pan-Pacific Catholic Conference and the purpose of that was to see if we could get a uniform set of proposals, on the one hand to fighting Communism in each country, and on the other hand to propose programmes of social reform along particular lines. And it had made a little, a little gain, certain little gains when the split in Australia, of course, simply overwhelmed us.
Subsequently, of course, in Asia, your position on the Vietnam War was another area in which you entered the arena of public controversy. What was your position on that?
Well, my position in relation to the Vietnam War was twofold. On the one hand, I did regard South Vietnam as, in a sense, pivotal to the Communist position in Asia. In other words, in 1954 as a result of the - was it the Paris Peace Conference in '54? There had been a division, a line of division drawn in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese had gained their freedom from the French and were trying to take South Vietnam, but the line was drawn just north of the city of Hue, and in a sense it was exactly the same as had happened in Korea. Korea was divided into North and South. Germany was divided into East and West. And my view was, let it stop there. There are insoluble problems in each of those countries. Let every side freely stick to what it's got. But of course, the North Vietnamese tried to overthrow that and to grab South Vietnam. Now, my view was that when the Americans engaged in that, it was always going to be very difficult for us to keep the Americans in south-east Asia and if we allowed the Americans to be done over in South Vietnam, the chances of keeping them in south-east Asia were negligible. So not only as a result of the fate of the South Vietnamese, which has now been seen - everybody knows how many people died after the successful takeover - but also in order to keep the Americans anchored in this region, which Indonesia now wants, every south-east Asian power wants, we should help the Americans to win. And I regarded that as a perfectly logical position. Of course, not everybody accepted that. I think that they could have won as a matter of fact, but they mucked it up themselves. The American method of warfare is not a very pretty - no warfare is pretty - but theirs is a very unpretty method, because they believe in saving as many lives of their own men as possible, and therefore, they believe, as a method of war, in using overwhelming air power and artillery power. Now at the battlefield of South Vietnam, which was their own ally, they were destroying the battlefield of their - and the villages - of their own ally, and I thought in the end, this will be self-defeating. But nevertheless, we were committed and I think the commitment was correct.
And you felt that right the way through?
Right through. I never changed on that.
Now, in relation to things back at home with the position of the DLP, one of the Movement still, one of the things that you had done very successfully was to publish a newspaper, and a very important aspect of everything you did was the dissemination of information. By 1956 television had arrived in Australia. Did you see that as a very useful outlet for what you were about?
No, I didn't, because I didn't see any way at all in which we could use television. I mean television was either the ABC, which wasn't very favourable to our viewpoint, or belonged to private proprietors, who had no reason to be interested in us even. Nevertheless, I was able to get some use out of television by pure accident, like so many other things. In the middle - I think it was, of 1960 - the Catholic Church had a session on Channel 7 in Victoria, which was called The Catholic Hour
But what was your particular reason for accepting?
My particular reason for accepting it was this: with the press opposed to what we were doing, and very strongly opposed, there was no way of getting our story out to the mass of people, and this was just a little thing. But I felt that if you established a position of some regard by dealing with internal matters and foreign affairs and so on, you were likely to be ... more likely to be accepted in the issue which was at stake, which was the split. And that went not badly. The limiting factor was it was a Catholic session. In 1963 Dr. Mannix died. He died on the 6 November and the priest who had done the first part of the session was a Father John Carr, who was a friend of mine, and I took a bet with him on one occasion. I said in the make-up room - he was a close friend of Archbishop Simmons, who succeeded Dr. Mannix - and I said, 'Look, when Dr. Mannix dies and Archbishop Simmons comes to power in Melbourne, I won't be on this session within twenty-four hours'. And he said, 'Oh, you misunderstand the man completely. He's not like that'. I said, 'I've got two quid that says he will', and we had two quid on that. Well when Dr. Simmons came to power I was off that session in sixteen hours, not twenty-four hours and I collected the two quid. Then this caused a great deal of hoo-ha, you know. This was meant to be the end of DLP and so on. And I got a phone call from Sir Frank Packer, whom I'd never met, who asked me if, on the following Sunday night, I would like to tell my part of the story, he said, on Channel 9. And I said, 'No, I wouldn't tell my part of the story, but I have something that I would like to say, that while I thoroughly acknowledge Archbishop Simmons right to exclude me from this ...'. - and I do. It was his session - '... it will have no effect whatsoever on the DLP vote'. I wasn't too darn sure that it wouldn't, but nevertheless, he said, 'That's all right'. He said, 'We'll put you on at six-thirty', which was prime time. So I went on the following Sunday night. I wondered why he did it and as soon as I finished, Menzies came on and I could see that he was trying to link the DLP and the Liberals together. So that was all that he'd promised to do. But then he said would I like to continue for the next few weeks, because there was still a few weeks to go to the election. I said, 'No'. I said, 'Only if you'll let me continue for three months', and he said, 'Yes', and three months extended to thirty years. So that's ... and my aim there was - because we had an Australia wide distribution network, and actually it used to go to the Sepik River in New Guinea - that this gave me an opportunity of presenting our side of affairs in general, to people, the Catholics in New South Wales, who had been told that we were villains unhung. And so it went into New South Wales for all of that time. That's a rather long way of going about it.
[end of tape]