Embassies and protest

New article in Journal of Australian Studies: Policing Protest in the Australian Capital Territory

Canberra Times on the first use of the Public Order Act

Just a quick post to let you all know that the latest issue of Journal of Australian Studies features my long awaited article on policing protest in the ACT in the early 1970s. The full title of the paper is ‘Policing Protest in the Australian Capital Territory: The Introduction and Use of the Public Order Act 1971’. The abstract is below:

This article examines the reaction by the Australian Federal Government to the protest movements of the 1960s–1970s and their attempts to use public order legislation to thwart radical discontent in Australia. It argues that the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 was aimed at the threat of “violent” protests, particularly the tactic of the “sit-in”, and that to this end, the legislation was an overreaction to the actual threat posed by the protest movements at the time. It also shows that after a long gestation period, the Act was ill-equipped to deal with the changing nature of demonstrations in the 1970s, such as the problems caused by the erection of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Thus, after an initial flurry of use in mid-1971, the law has been seldom used since.

You can find the article here. If you use academia.edu, you can access the article here.

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CFP FOR EDITED VOLUME ON HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN FAR LEFT

CPA pamphlet

Evan Smith (Flinders University), Matthew Worley (University of Reading) and Jon Piccini (University of Queensland) are calling for chapter proposals for an edited volume on the Australian far left in the post-war era (1945 to the present). Expanding on our work looking at the history of the British far left, we believe that a survey of the exciting new work being done of the far left in Australia and its influence on wider Australian political history is due.

We are currently seeking chapter proposals on the following topics:

  • The CPA and Cold War espionage
  • 1956 for the Australian left
  • The peace/nuclear disarmament movement
  • The student left and the anti-Vietnam War movement
  • Radical Marxism since the 1960s (Trotskyism, Maoism, anti-revisionism)
  • Anarchism in Australia
  • ASIO and the new left
  • The left and Indigenous rights
  • The left and the women’s movement
  • The left and gay rights
  • The anti-apartheid movement in Australia
  • Nationalism and internationalism on the far left
  • Trade unionism, the ALP and the left
  • The Green Bans
  • Environmentalism and the Greens as a ‘left’ party
  • Or any other aspect of the Australian far left if suitably interesting.

We welcome proposals from both scholars and activists, but emphasise that chapters must be presented in an academic format, written ‘objectively’ and with references to primary source materials.

An internationally recognised publisher has already shown interest in publishing the collection.

300 word abstracts and a short bio should be sent to: evan.smith@flinders.edu.au (Please CC in m.worley@reading.ac.uk and Jon.Piccini@uqconnect.edu.au into all emails)

Please email any editor with any further questions.

DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS – 4 APRIL, 2016

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Removing the barriers to deportation from the UK: Lord Carrington and counter-terrorist efforts in the early 1980s

A story has appeared in The Guardian today that the UK Appeals Court has ruled that it is legal for foreign convicted criminals to be deported without their chance to appeal from the United Kingdom. The right to appeal before deportation was originally enshrined in the Immigrants Appeals Act 1969 and was long considered a problem by the Conservatives to an effective border control system. The following post is based on my research into the UK border control system and counter-terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s and the efforts by Lord Carrington in 1980 to speed up the deportation process for those suspected on being involved in terrorist activities.

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

The Iranian Embassy Siege on May 1980, which caused Lord Carrington to enquire about tighter border controls to prevent further terrorist acts in the UK.

In 1980, the Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington requested, upon the urging of the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, that the FCO explore measures using the border control system to prevent Middle Eastern and North African terrorism in the UK and the possibility of expanding the widespread interviewing and security checks to a greater number of countries known to be involved in terrorist activities. The catalyst for this request was the siege at the Iranian Embassy by dissident Iranians (who entered the UK on false Iraqi passports) and explosion at the Queens Garden Hotel in Bayswater (near the Iranian Embassy) which killed one Iranian, both occurring in May 1980. The request by the Foreign Secretary asked the following questions:

in what ways can we tighten up on the issue of visas; how can better checks be made; what categories of people should be most closely examined? Can controls at the ports in Great Britain be effectively tightened to improve screening?… What of conducive leave to enter and deportation?[1]

One of the questions that arose out of this discussion of monitoring potential terrorists in the UK concerned what could be done to visitors from the Middle East and North Africa who had been granted leave, but were considered ‘undesirable’ to remain in the country. In several internal documents, FCO and Home Office staff voiced their frustration with the delays involved in deporting someone from the UK, as the Immigrants Appeals Act 1969 allowed the deportee to appeal the decision to deport them. As one report explained:

The power to deport on security grounds has been used very rarely and has proved cumbersome and difficult to operate… The Security Service have gained the impression that Ministers would be reluctant to utilize this procedure.[2]

Douglas Hurd wrote to the Minister for Immigration, Timothy Raisom that it was ‘desirable… to try to limit the extent to which foreign officials, who are found to be using this country as a base for involvement with terrorist activities, are able to exploit legal procedures to delay their deportation’.[3] Hurd warned that ‘[a]ny delay in removing them increases the risk that their government may take action harmful to UK interests or UK citizens as a way of putting pressure on HM Government’ not to deport them, and identified the ‘advisory procedure’ rule (‘whereby a person may make representations against his deportation in a case where he has no statutory right of appeal’) as a significant cause for this delay.[4] Hurd suggested to Raisom that a way around this delay was to make an amendment to the Immigration Rules that only allowed non-patrials to make representations against deportation ‘after they had been removed from this country’.[5] In an earlier draft of the same letter to Raisom, Hurd noted that changing the Immigration Rules would not ‘be too controversially received in this country’ if it was to be ‘restricted to those cases in which the deportations were ordered on grounds of national security’, but did note that any further amendments to right of appeal against deportation would require a legislative change to the Immigration Act 1971, nor could the government ‘prevent such people resorting to Habeas Corpus and the Prerogative Orders.’[6]

Another report reiterated the thinking that the public would be more willing to accept the deportation of foreign nationals and limitations put on appealing these deportations if it was emphasised that they were in the name of national security and focused on a minority national group. The report stated:

It may be that difficulties [with the deportation process] have been over-emphasised and that where intelligence suspicions concern terrorism, particularly by Arab nationals, public opinion would be less critical of the exercise of the security provisions and Ministers would readily consider exercising them. The real constraint however seems likely to remain the availability of intelligence about an individual to justify action.[7]

A similar report enthused that the authorities could deport foreign officials from countries such as Iraq, Iran and Libya (including diplomats) by declaring them persona non grata if there was a suspicion that they would be involved in terrorist activities. The report advised the government ‘could declare a person p n g if we found out that he had links with organs of state terrorism and… [it] would be a punishment to those concerned and would also have a deterrent effect.’[8] The benefit of this, the report continued, was that ‘[n]o reason need be given for declaring a person p n g so the risk of compromising our sources of information would be lessened.’[9] A letter to Hurd’s Chief Clerk from the Maritime, Aviation and Environment Department claimed that the power to declare a foreign official or diplomat persona non grata was ‘clear, straightforward and unilateral’ and was granted under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, but warned that this might result in retaliatory actions against UK representatives in other countries.[10]

This discussion reached the top levels of the government, with Peter Carrington imploring Willie Whitelaw to ‘consider more extensive use of your existing powers under section 15(3) of the Immigration Act 1971’, and argued that the it was view of the FCI that ‘these powers could be a useful weapon against suspected terrorists as well as other undesirables’. Carrington also suggested that Whitelaw proceed with limiting the legal procedures that can delay the deportation of a foreign national, ‘once this has been ordered in the interests of national security as conducive to the public good.’[11] This was tied to Carrington’s private concerns that the ‘entry clearance system cannot be a fully effective barrier’, particularly if the sponsors of state terrorism were ‘intent on getting a terrorist into this country… or chooses to employ someone already here’.[12] A letter from the FCO to Gerald Hayden Phillips, Assistant Secretary in the Home Office, stated that Carrington was ‘inclined to think there would be more substance in changing the immigration rules so that the Home Secretary could swiftly deport suspected terrorists without running into the Agee/Hosenball difficulties[13] and in extending the Prevention of Terrorism Act.’[14] Whitelaw’s response was that for the Immigration Act to be effective in deporting suspected terrorists without appeal, ‘the legislation would have to be in sweeping terms, giving the Home Secretary the right to deport instantly without right to appeal’ – a legislative move that he described as ‘highly controversial’.[15]

The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 only covered terrorism offences related to the political situation in Northern Ireland, and there was discussion, prompted by Carrington, into whether the Act could be extended to cover all forms of terrorism – particularly the powers of detention and exclusion. A report outlined that the advantage of the exclusion orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act was that they ‘were quick and it obviates the necessity for going through the appeals procedure which accompanies deportation under the Immigration Act’, but warned that these orders were of ‘little practical use… unless the power under the Act to make an exclusion order from this country on the authority of the Home Secretary is extended to cover any terrorist.’[16] This, the report noted, would need legislation to amend the Act, which would be a difficult task for the government. Willie Whitelaw, in a letter to Carrington, made a similar claim, stating that amending the Act ‘would be a focus for criticism unless this was done in the context of a dramatic increase in the level of international terrorist incidents in Great Britain.’[17] Whitelaw suggested that the only change ‘which might be made overnight’ related to the ‘extension of the power to arrest and detain suspect terrorists’, but cautioned that ‘[a]ny extension of the power to exclude… would require amending legislation.’[18]

In 1983, a report by Lord Jellicoe into the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 recognised that Middle Eastern terrorism was an increasing threat to the UK, writing ‘[m]any fear that London… could become a battleground for warring Middle East terrorist factions’, and recommended extending the powers of arrest and detention at ports under the Prevention of Terrorism Act to ‘suspected international terrorists of any group, cause or nationality’.[19] The subsequent amendments in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) 1984 was the first legislative step for the UK authorities to create a generalised counter-terrorist response, rather than a focus on Irish terrorism with other forms of terrorism as a side concern.

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

Lord Carrington, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1981

[1] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, 4 July, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[2] ‘Near East, North African Terrorism in Great Britain: Possibilities for Preventive Action’, n.d., p. 5, FCO 50/685, NA.

[3] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version], n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[4] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version].

[5] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [second version].

[6] Draft letter from Douglas Hurd to Timothy Raisom [first version], n.d., FCO 50/685, NA.

[7] ‘Near East, North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 5.

[8] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 6.

[9] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 6.

[10] Letter from M St E Burton to Mr Adams, 20 November, 1980, p. 5, FCO 50/686, NA.

[11] Letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Home Secretary, 5 December 1980, p. 4, FCO 50/686, NA.

[12] Letter from the Foreign Secretary to the Home Secretary, 5 December 1980, p. 4.

[13] Philip Agee and Mark Hosenball were two American nationals who were deported after a very lengthy process from the UK in the mid-1970s. Philip Agee was a CIA officer based in the UK, who was suspected by the US authorities (who allegedly put pressure on Merlyn Rees and James Callaghan to deport Agee) of exposing CIA activities in the Caribbean. Hosenball was a journalist who had written a piece for Time Out magazine on the UK security services. There was considerable public support for both men to remain in the country, but were eventually deported in 1977. See: R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Hosenball [1977] 1 W.L.R. 766; [1977] 3 All E.R. 452; Duncan Campbell, ‘Official Secrecy and British Libertarianism’, Socialist Register (1979) pp. 75-88; Duncan Campbell, ‘The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold’, The Guardian (10 January, 2007),

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/jan/10/usa.duncancampbell (accessed 17 April, 2013)

[14] Letter from M St E Burton to G.H. Phillips, 26 August, 1980, FCO 50/685, NA.

[15] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington, 6 November, 1980, FCO 50/686, NA.

[16] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain’, p. 7.

[17] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington.

[18] Letter from Willie Whitelaw to Peter Carrington.

[19] Rt. Hon. Earl Jellicoe, Review of the Operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (London: HMSO, 1983) p. 27.

How the Aboriginal Tent Embassy challenged the government’s protest laws

Tomorrow is the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy outside (Old) Parliament House in Canberra. This post is about how the Tent Embassy challenged the protest laws enacted by the McMahon government the previous year, which sought to quash dissent outside the house of Federal Parliament. The McMahon government believed it had the necessary powers to deal with the protest movement that had developed since the late 1960s, but the Tent Embassy demonstrated that political protest was a much more fluid concept and one that puzzled the Liberal-Country government.

Part of this post will be in a forthcoming article on the Public Order Act 1971 and the policing of protest in Canberra in the 1970s (which should be available later this year).

Tent Embassy

In May 1971, the McMahon government introduced the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth) to police the growing protest movement in the nation’s capital and to prevent ‘violent’ demonstrations outside (Old) Parliament House, as well as outside the US, South Vietnamese and South African embassies. A week after the Act was introduced, it was used against an Anti-Apartheid and an anti-Vietnam War demonstration, and then in July 1971, when people protested against the Springbok rugby tour coming to Manuka Oval. At these three demonstrations, hundreds of people were arrested for violating the new Act. Despite this seemingly successful application of the Public Order Act in 1971, the McMahon Government soon found that itself debating whether it had the necessary legislation to combat other forms of protest.

On Australia Day 1972, a group of Aboriginal activists, having travelled from Redfern in Sydney to Canberra, erected a camping site on the lawns outside (Old) Parliament House and established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. The purpose of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was to advocate for land rights against the limited measures introduced by the Liberals since the 1967 referendum[i] and to protest against remarks made by the Prime Minister concerning the ‘assimilation’ of Australia’s Aboriginal people on Australia Day.[ii] As Scott Robinson wrote, the Embassy protestors ‘demanded retraction of the Australia Day statement [by McMahon] and compensation for stolen lands, and warned the government that the embassy would stay until these demands were met.’[iii] As the Embassy gained attention from the media, other protest groups and even the diplomatic staff on some Soviet Bloc and non-aligned countries, the Government debated over what action to take to remove the protestors from their site.

On 23 February, 1972, former Prime Minister John Gorton asked the Minister for the Interior, Ralph Hunt, what the Government intended to do with the Embassy protest, to which Hunt replied,

I am, of course, well aware that a number of tents have been pitched outside the national Parliament in Parliament Place. The people concerned are Aborigines who are demonstrating in a peaceful way for a case in which they believe. I must say that they have been quiet and they have behaved and cooperated with the police extremely well… But I think that in the future we will have to look at an ordinance to ensure that Parliament Place is reserved for its purpose – a place for orderly and peaceful demonstration, but not a place upon which people can camp indefinitely thereby perhaps preventing other people from using it from day to day… The Australian Capital Territory police have been in constant contact with them. They have observed every request that the police have made of them, and up to date they have not disobeyed any request. But the question of reserving Parliament Place for its proper intention and proper requirement is under consideration.[iv]

It was believed by the Government and the police that there were no laws to prevent the Aboriginal activists from erecting a camping site on the lawns of Parliament House as the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1932 (Cth) excluded Aboriginals from being prosecuted under this Act. Roberta Sykes, one of the activists at the Embassy, wrote in her biography (and cited by Andrew Schaap and Paul Muldoon):

At the time, the Northern Territory was just that, a territory, administered by the politicians and public servants in Canberra, and containing quite large sections of Crown land. The government had framed a law that there was to be no camping on Crown land. However, because Crown land in the Northern Territory was home to dispossessed Aboriginal people who had nowhere else to live, this law specifically excluded Aborigines. The expanse of Crown land in front of Parliament House was also Crown land, but it had obviously never entered the minds of the politicians that Aboriginals would set up camp there.[v]

Scott Robinson, in his 1994 article, wrote that ‘the only applicable legislation… was the Gaming and Betting Ordinance, s.19(a), which imposed a forty dollar fine for loitering in a public place’, but this was not used.[vi] Roger Brown has demonstrated that this Ordinance was used in January 1972 to ‘move on’ a demonstrator conducting a ‘solitary picked outside the Israeli Embassy’, but an internal government document suggested that this provision ‘should not be used in view of public criticism of its use in the [Police v] Merhav case’.[vii] The ‘often-repeated story of the legal loophole’, as described by Schaap and Muldoon, does not mention whether the Public Order Act was considered by the Government, and discussion of this new legislation is conspicuously absent from Government documents and Parliamentary debates as well. However if Ralph Hunt’s description of the Embassy, taken from the above quote as ‘preventing other people from using it from day to day’, was used, it might have been possible – at a stretch – to view the Embassy as creating an ‘unreasonable obstruction’ to access to the Parliament House lawns and thus a violation of Section 9 of the Public Order Act.[viii] Simon Bronitt and George Williams have suggested that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was a protest that formed a political discussion with the institution of Parliament and that the Government’s powers to restrict this discussion, due to its proximity to Parliament House, were symbolically weakened by the 1912 High Court decision in R v Smithers; Ex parte Benson, which ‘recognised an implied right of access to government and to the seat of government.’[ix]

In March 1972, the McMahon Government started drafting amendments to the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1932 that would remove the exception of Aboriginal camps from the legislation and by the end of June, the Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1972 was created that made it illegal for a person to camp or erect a structure on unleased land, owned by the Commonwealth.[x] Believing that this Ordinance was now in effect, on 20 July, 1972, the police removed the structures of the Embassy and eight protestors were arrested. Scott Robinson claims that Police Inspector Osborne ‘made several announcements over the megaphone, warning the protestors to move away from the tents, and advising them that “if you fail to move you may be arrested for obstructing police”’,[xi] but does not say whether this was an invocation of the Public Order Act.

An application was made by some of the Embassy protestors and fellow-travellers to the ACT Supreme Court that the Ordinance had not been in effect (it had not been given notice in the Commonwealth Gazette) when the police dismantled the Embassy’s structures. In September 1972, Justices Fox, Blackburn and Connor delivered the verdict in the case of Golden-Brown and others v Hunt and another that the Ordinance has not been given the sufficient Gazette notice before the removal of the Embassy and its protestors and the use of the Ordinance was not lawful at that moment.[xii] In the ensuing debacle, Parliament debated whether the Ordinance should be re-instated and in the final weeks before the dissolution of Parliament before the 1972 election, ‘former government minister Jim Killen crossed the floor to vote with the opposition over the re-gazettal of the ordinance’[xiii] and when Whitlam won the election in December 1972, Labor decided not to re-introduce the Ordinance. As Schaap and Muldoon have argued, ‘having first acknowledged that the Aboriginal demonstrators were technically permitted to camp in front if Parliament House, it proved difficult for the government to recharacterize the Embassy as an act of trespass.’[xiv]

On 17 October, 1973, the Embassy was re-erected on the lawns outside (Old) Parliament House and lasted at this spot until 13 February, 1975, then established at several different sites around Canberra until 26 January, 1992, when the Embassy was re-built on its original site and remains there until the present day.[xv] Since the mid-1990s, the Embassy has been recognised as ‘a site representing political struggle for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ and a place of ‘significance for the local Aboriginal community’ as a traditional ‘meeting and gathering ground’.[xvi]

aboriginal_tent_embassy_1972_2

[i] Much has been written about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, but some of the best articles are: Scott Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy: An Account of the Protests of 1972’, Aboriginal History, 18/1, 1994, pp. 49-63; Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1996, pp. 335-351; Kathy Lothian, ‘Moving Blackwards: Black Power and the Aboriginal Embassy’, in Ingereth Macfarlane & Mark Hannah (eds), Transgressions: Critical Australian Indigenous Histories, ANU E-Press, Canberra, 2007, pp. 19-34; Paul Muldoon & Andrew Schaap, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation: The Constituent Power of the Aboriginal Embassy in Australia’, Environment and Planning D; Society and Space, 30, 2012, pp. 534-550

[ii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 49

[iii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 51

[iv] Hansard, House of Representatives Parliamentary Debates, 23 February, 1972, p. 108

[v] Roberta Sykes, cited in Schaap & Muldoon, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation’, p. 546

[vi] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 52

[vii] Brown, ‘“And Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock?”’, p. 116; Department of the Interior, ‘Campers on Parliament House Lawns’, Aide Memoire, 27 June, 1972, reproduced at: http://www.reasoninrevolt.net.au/pdf/d0635.pdf (accessed on 16 August, 2012). See also: ‘New Israeli Protest Called Off’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January, 1972

[viii] Under the Public Order Act, ‘unreasonable obstruction’ means ‘an act or thing done by a person that constitutes, or contributes to, an obstruction of, or interference with, the exercise or enjoyment by other persons of their lawful rights or privileges (including rights of passage along the public streets) where, having regard to all the circumstances of the obstruction or interference, including its place, time, duration and nature’. Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth) s.4.(1)

[ix] Simon Bronitt & George Williams, ‘Political Freedom as an Outlaw: Republican Theory and Political Protest’, Adelaide Law Review, 18, 1996, p. 302

[x] Trespass on Commonwealth Lands Ordinance 1972 s. 3

[xi] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 55

[xii] Golden-Brown and others v Hunt and another, 12 September, 1972, Federal Law Reports, 19, 1972, pp. 438-451

[xiii] Robinson, ‘The Aboriginal Embassy’, p. 62

[xiv] Schaap & Muldoon, ‘Aboriginal Sovereignty and the Politics of Reconciliation’, p. 547

[xv] Coral Dow, ‘Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Icon or Eyesore?’, Parliamentary Library Paper, 4 April, 2000, http://www.aph.gov.au/library/Pubs/chron/1999-2000chr03.htm (accessed 13 January, 2010)

[xvi] Australian Heritage Council, ‘Aboriginal Embassy Site’, Australian Heritage Places Inventory, http://www.heritage.gov.au/cgi-bin/aphi/record.pl?RNE18843 (accessed 13 January, 2010)

UK High Commissioner Morrice James on the Whitlam Dismissal 1975

pm-Whitlam-art-20120824195920831536-620x349

I have blogged in the past about the files at the National Archives in London revealing the British attitudes towards the ‘constitutional crisis’ of 1975, when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr after the Liberals, under the leadership of Malcolm Fraser, refused to pass supply bills in the Senate. When I was last in the UK, I photographed the three files that I had previously mentioned and am finally getting the chance to have a look at the documents, which seems timely with the recent death of Whitlam and the 39th anniversary of ‘The Dismissal’. The document I have decided to blog about is a report for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the crisis by the UK High Commissioner in Australia at the time, Morrice James. Written in late November 1975 under the title, ‘The Australian Constitutional Crisis, 1975’, James outlined the events leading up to the dismissal and wrote about the possible implications it would have for the future. He concluded his report with this paragraph:

It helps to illuminate, I think, the real responsibility for the lamentable dramas of the past few weeks in Canberra. Certainly the naked ambition for power of Mr. Fraser, and the obduracy of Mr. Whitlam, have contributed to the crisis; and it is impossible to dismiss completely the suspicion that Sir John Kerr’s judgment has been open to question. But the real villain, if there is a villain at all, has been the inherent contradictions of the Australian Constitution… Was it ever really a practical possibility to combine an Upper House on the American model, in which all the states are represented equally irrespective of population, and having a broadly the same powers as those of the Lower House, with a Westminster style of relationship between the executive and legislative branches, in which by convention the possession of a majority in the Lower House confers the right to form the Government and to govern as long as the majority lasts? It is this attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable which the Australian Constitution enshrines. If the contradiction has only now led to a major political upheaval , the reason is that hitherto Australian leaders have respected , not just the letter of the Constitution, but also the spirit of the unwritten conventions concerning the exercise of power which breathe vitality into written documents… The moral is that sooner or later a reliance on the discreetness of members of the Chamber, and on their willingness to refrain from exercising their normal rights in the pursuit of power, is likely to come unstuck. I suppose it is a moral which those who depend more on unwritten convention than on written Constitutions ought, in their own interests, to ponder. 

James, earlier in the report, suggested that Senate needed to be seriously reformed or abolished and highlighted a potential problem that Australian governments have avoided for the last four decades, unwilling to indulge in the brinkmanship that Fraser did in 1975. But he also seemed to be suggesting that the Westminster system did not need an elected house of review, in line with conservative thinking in the UK at the time, alluding to the problems that might be faced if there was electoral reform in Britain.

Labour politicians feared that the dismissal of Whitlam gave the right ideas about how to subvert parliamentary democracy in the UK, with Tony Benn writing in Marxism Today in 1982:

If there were ever to be a right wing coup in Britain it would not be carried out by paratroopers landing in central London, as it once seemed they would land in Paris just before de Gaulle came to power, but by an attempt to repeat what happened to Gough Whitlam when the Governor-General dismissed him as Prime Minister.

But it would be interesting to see if conservatives in the UK saw the events of 1975 in Australia as a demonstration of why an elected (and more powerful) upper house was undesirable.

New post at The Conversation: ‘Student Protests Won’t Be The Last’

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane yesterday

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane yesterday

The Conversation has just published this piece by myself on yesterday’s demonstrations across Australia against the Liberals’ cuts to higher education and the introduction of higher fees, arguing that the Liberals have been fearful of student radicalism since the late 1960s.

Incidentally, I am giving a paper tomorrow at Flinders University on the same topic. See details here.

Research seminar, Friday May 23 – ‘Policing Protest in the Nation’s Capital’

 

seminarPOA

This Friday morning I am presenting a paper at the Flinders University History Research Seminar Series. The paper is based on an article currently under review. Here is the abstract:

This paper examines the reaction by the Australian Federal Government to the protest movements of the 1960-70s and their attempts to use public order legislation to thwart radical discontent in Australia. It argues that the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 was aimed at the threat of ‘violent’ protests, particularly the tactic of the ‘sit-in’, and that to this end, the legislation was an over-reaction to the actual threat posed by the protest movements at the time. It also shows that after a long gestation period, the Act was ill-equipped to deal with the changing nature of demonstrations in the 1970s, such as the problems caused by the erection of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Thus, after an initial flurry of use in mid-1971, the law has been seldom used since. 

If you can make it, it would be awesome to see you there. If not and you’re interested in the paper, email me.