No doubt about it, Guy Rundle told Phillip Adams.
However, that is a bit different from saying that there was direct CIA involvement.
In his Crikey account Rundle points out that in Kerr’s correspondence with the Palace he refers to the refusal of supply as a “deferral”, because supply until the end of November existed. There was no urgency to sack so early, except, as we shall see, supply was not the only story being played out.
Immediately after the sacking, as expected:
- on November 11, … the House immediately passed a no confidence vote in Malcolm Fraser and a confidence vote in the “member for Werriwa”.
How did Kerr deal with that? He told the Palace on November 20 that he presumed the reserve powers to carry over beyond the crisis, and to give him the authority to prorogue parliament until the election, refusing any communication from the House of Reps speaker, with Fraser’s commission as caretaker PM in tact.
One of the duties that befell Fraser was the renewal of the Pine Gap lease falling due on December 9, four days before the election. Which of course Fraser duly did.
The continuation of the reserve powers beyond the immediate crisis was supported by advice Kerr had received from Sir Garfield Barwick. That advice and the fact that Kerr had received it from someone other than the prime minister were both controversial. However, Kerr intended not only that an election was called, but that Fraser would be caretaker. His refusal to see the Speaker was extraordinary, without precedent and surely illegal.
While Rundle believes the Palace did have a role in dismissing Whitlam, the events can be explained by a story line which is not mentioned in Kerr’s reporting to the Queen.
There was controversy at the time over Pine Gap, because Whitlam was not a certainty to renew the lease. There was more than a suspicion that he favoured a non-aligned foreign policy in the Cold War. There was significant support for such a stance within the Labor Caucus.
In a related tangled web, there was a kerfuffle over the use of Pine Gap by the CIA for spying. Whitlam’s office were probing this and asked the head of the Defence, Sir Arthur Tange, for a list of CIA agents. They were given an “outer” list, which did not contain the names of deeper agents only known to Tange and the actual spy agencies.
The “outer” list did not include the name of Richard Stallings, inaugural head of Pine Gap, who was quietly living in Australia. What Tange did not know was that Whitlam’s office was already onto Stallings.
Former CIA official, Victor Marchetti, told journalists:
- Stallings joined the CIA’s covert action division after leaving Pine Gap and returned to Australia to try to influence politics. He had good contacts – a notation on his lapsed application for Australian citizenship read, “Mr Stallings is known to Mr Anthony and Mr Dunstan [the County Party leader and South Australian Labor Premier]”.
That was according to Brian Toohey’s 2015 article Arthur Tange and Gough Whitlam spy mystery: was there a crucial information gap?
Toohey’s article proceeds:
- The ‘gravest breach of security ever’
On November 2, Whitlam claimed the CIA had funded the Country Party, without giving evidence. He did not name Stallings. Anthony was the first politician to do so, telling journalists that Stallings was a friend who had rented his Canberra house. He said the two families holidayed together, but didn’t know that Stallings worked for the CIA. Tange apparently did not see any need to tell him.
On November 6, Anthony put a question on the parliamentary notice paper, challenging Whitlam to give evidence when Parliament resumed on November 11 that Stallings worked for the CIA.
- Whitlam prepared an answer on Anthony’s question on November 6. Later that day he read the proposed answer over the phone to a horrified Tange, making it clear Defence (i.e. Tange) had told him about Stallings. Tange then put an intense effort into trying to stop Whitlam giving that answer. He told Whitlam’s staff the PM would commit the “gravest breach of security ever” if he said the CIA ran Pine Gap, even though this fact was already public. He told Menadue, “The country will be cut adrift”.
Whitlam wanted the Australian people to know what was going on and fully intended to tell them. However, he never got to do it, because when parliament resumed on 11 November, he was the one cut adrift.
In November 1985, then Defence minister Kim Beazley said his department had studied issues raised by Toohey about events in 1975 and he would respond after discussions with his ministerial colleagues.
He then rang to say that several communications had been received from the US in early November, some of which were “suggestive” of an attempt to influence Australian politics, but there was “nothing conclusive”.
If the study is eventually released, it might throw more light on what ministers may not have been told because of Tange’s sometimes wildly ill-informed preoccupation with secrecy.
In Deborah Snow’s 2019 SMH article Tantalising secrets of Australia’s intelligence world revealed (about Toohey’s book Secret: The Making of Australia’s Security State) she says:
- Toohey stops short of saying that these behind-the-scenes dramas were a factor in the dismissal but he leaves the question hanging.
“I never at any stage say that the CIA overthrew the Whitlam government, what I’m trying to say is we don’t know, basically,” he tells the Herald and The Age. “There are lots of indications and lots of things that are suggestive but that’s not the same thing as being able to demonstrate it.”
However, we are effectively a client state of the US according to Toohey:
As well as canvassing what successive federal governments and their agencies have been keen to hide over the years, Toohey mounts a withering examination of Australia’s involvement in US-led combat missions in Vietnam, Korea and Iraq.
He is critical of the long-standing Australian government policy of striving for ever greater inter-operability with US military forces. Provocatively, he argues that the republican movement is “irrelevant” because the US “military-industrial-intelligence complex” has a “huge say” in whether Australian governments to go war, host bases, and what weapons they buy.
“The upshot is that Australia has surrendered much of its sovereignty to the US,” he claims. “The national security juggernaut has reached the point where Australia is now chained to the chariot wheels of the Pentagon.”
Rundle says that Kerr started life as “a working-class scholarship boy and a Stalinist sympathizer who became Trotskyist-aligned in the 1930s, but by the late 1940s, “he had become an anti-communist and a prominent member of CIA front group the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom.” Following the war he had a long association with US intelligence agencies, and without doubt became a CIA “asset”.
As such he did not have to be told what to do about the situation he faced with Whitlam in November 1975.
Still, in Rundle’s Arena article The Dismissal: The Beginning of the Era of Total Surveillance he stops short of certainty on the matter, but assigns greater significance to the dismissal as a world event:
The strong possibility remains that Kerr terminated the Whitlam government early, in part so that a caretaker Fraser government would be in power when the leases of US bases came up on 9 December, and so that a CIA agent would not be named in the Australian parliament. That would appear to be how to read the dismissal: not primarily as a conflict between British and Australian power in a Commonwealth state but as part of the three decades of US dominance of the West via the spy agencies in the wake of the Second World War. One of Whitlam’s acts that angered the United States was withdrawing Australian cooperation from the destabilising of Chile’s Allende government in 1973. The dismissal can be seen as a soft form of that hard coup.
But equally it can be seen as something pointing to what were then future forms of power. Pine Gap was a new type of facility, the first part of what would become the capacity for total world surveillance that Edward Snowden has revealed is being conducted by the NSA. Political formations within Australia had been fighting for their independence for decades, from British rule, from crude US dominance. Pine Gap was a new form of power that undermined the capacity for states to achieve any independence, because their borders could not be maintained against mass surveillance. After Pine Gap was re-authorised, the Fraser government went on to authorise the ECHELON program, which drew Australia deeper into global surveillance on behalf of the United States, using a larger network of spy stations. The bases used the remoteness of Australian locations to gain clear surveillance quality, and the Australian jurisdiction to keep them clear of US constitutional controls. The dismissal as the ‘Pine Gap’ moment was the point at which we radically lost our capacity, in the Cold War, to chart an independent foreign policy and military course. The dismissal was an event for both Australia and the world, of far greater significance than is widely supposed. A defender of Kerr’s would write a book about him entitled Sir John Did His Duty. Indeed he did. But to whom?
Rundle fingers Kerr as an American stooge rather than a British stooge.
It seems naive to rule out Sir Arthur Tange’s involvement with Kerr, as Peter Davies does in Arthur Tange, the CIA and the Dismissal or with the Americans. Toohey reports that Tange did brief Kerr and seemed to know what the Americans were going to say before they said it.
While it is unlikely that Whitlam would have cancelled the Pine Gap lease, he was not predictable. It is certain that he would have revealed Richard Stallings role.
Of course, Australia has depended on the American alliance for a lot longer than 1975. Rundle’s analysis raises the question as to whether hosting Pine Gap is compatible with having a truly independent foreign policy. I can’t imagine abandoning it.