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Beyond the ‘Palace Letters’ (part 2)

By Dr George Venturini

Traveller had not heard much about Australia before deciding on his visit, but he remembered often about an Australian, whom Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt had mentioned, during a lecture at the University of Bologna (998 c.e.), as her partner in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It was a certain Dr. Evatt. It was, of course, Dr. Herbert Vere Evatt, distinguished jurist and the third President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1948 to 1949.

On the occasion of a visit to Sydney, Traveller took care of visiting the Evatt Foundation, appropriately named after the former judge, lawyer, parliamentarian, foreign minister and author. It was there that Traveller encountered per chance Ms. Faith Mussingkon Bandler, the daughter of Wacvie Mussingkon, blackbirded from Ambrym Island, Vanuatu, in 1883, at the age of about 13. He was then sent to Mackay, Queensland before being assigned to work on a sugar cane plantation. He later escaped and married Bandler’s mother, a Scottish-Indian woman from New South Wales.

In 1967, when Traveller visited Sydney, Faith was actively campaigning for the rights of the Indigenous People and the South Sea Islanders. She would become the more visible leader in the campaign for the 1967 referendum on Indigenous People in Australia. She introduced Traveller to her husband Hans Bandler, a fortunate Jew who, after the Anschluss, had been taken from Vienna to Dachau – fortunate because a corrupt guard at the ‘re-education college’ would accept a liberating bribe.

Faith and Hans remained close to Traveller for the rest of their life, and it is to them that Traveller owes the fortune of meeting other interesting Australians, particularly after he established himself for work in Sydney.

Traveller likes to say that almost everything he began to learn about Australian law he owes to people like Prof. Geoffrey Sawer, who would be the ideal teacher, despite – perhaps, because of – the murmuring of some pigmies in law circles and their considered view that Geoffrey was not really as good as claimed. Why, he would write a weekly column ‘Between the lines’ in The Canberra Times for over twenty years – but without footnotes!? What kind of real professor would do that?

Next would be curmudgeon Patrick White, whom Traveller first met through Faith, and whose writing he ‘attacked’ several times before he was able to appreciate the value of what was to become the first – and thus far only – Nobel Prize in Literature to an Australian in 1973. One could notice some lines in a piece he wrote about himself as ‘the prodigal son’ – obviously written in 1958 after his return to Australia from overseas: “In all directions stretched the Great Australian Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions, in which the rich man is the important man, in which the schoolmaster and the journalist rule what intellectual roost there is, in which beautiful youths and girls stare at life trough blind blue eyes, in which human teeth fall like autumn leaves, the buttocks of cars grow hourly glassier, food means cake and steak, muscles prevail, and the march of material ugliness does not raise a quiver from the average nerves.” (P. White, Patrick White speaks, Primavera Press, Sydney 1989 at 15). Correct, prophetic and actual, even though the food has now had the benefit of multiculturalism – as it were; no more ‘meat and three vegies’ – and car-buttocks are of necessity more parsimonious.

And then there was a chain of new friends and sources of information. Not in any order of ‘discovery’, here they come: Allan Campbell Ashbolt, was an Australian journalist, occasional actor who helped establish the Mercury Theatre with Peter Finch – also met through Allan – before Allan was hired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as a television producer. In 1959 Allan was appointed as the A.B.C.’s first North America correspondent, and during 1963 he served as a correspondent and executive producer of Four Corners, Australia’s longest-running investigative journalism/current affairs television programme Allan was known for his belief that the A.B.C. should promote free speech and controversial political content.

Over a very moderate drink at the famous Harold Park Hotel in Glebe, N.S.W. Allan introduced Traveller to the unforgettable Frederick Cossom ‘Fred’ Hollows who, much like a healing god of antiquity, would provide eyesight to more than one million people in the world.

There follows in that list of illustrious acquaintances: Jack Mundey of the original greens’ movement; Helen Caldicott the firebrand of the anti-nuclear movement; Barry Jones, too learned and civilised to be appreciated and respected by his ever-swilling ‘comrades’, who ended up disposing of him as Minister for Science; Charles ‘Manning’ Hope Clark, still “Australia’s most famous historian”; the absolutely magnificent Ted Wheelwright, whose economic advice was often asked, but hardly respected, or only too late or never; H. C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs, who won Traveller’s respect as a Keynesian rebel against the classical economics theory which had dominated the Anglophile Commonwealth Treasury; Russel Braddock Ward, who taught Traveller history as should be read and understood; James Ford ‘Jim’ Cairns, the conscience of the Labor Party; and Lionel Keith Murphy, the man who dragged Australian written law into the twentieth century, although the practitioners of that law, from corrupt Barwick on the High Court to the manufacturers of the tapes which sent Lionel to the grave, would finally show that – as Prof. Sawer had admonished in 1966 – when it comes to change “Australia’s movement is glacial.”

Traveller is proud to have learned from Henry Reynolds the only reliable history of the ‘relationship’ between the invaders and the original inhabitants of – should one call it Sahul? Most historians who have dealt with the scabrous subject turned out to be successful fabulists or hired-pen sycophants.

* * * * *

After the Royal Ambush, the usurper Malcolm Fraser led the anti-Labor Coalition to a landslide victory, which was easily repeated in 1977. The Coalition won a majority in its own right in both of these elections, something that Menzies and Holt had never achieved.

Fraser quickly dismantled some of the programmes of the Whitlam Government and made major changes to the universal health insurance system Medibank. The Fraser government practised Keynesian economics, in part demonstrated by running budget deficits throughout its term. Fraser was the Liberal Party’s last Keynesian prime minister of a kind. Though he had long been identified with the Liberal Party’s right wing, he did not carry out the radically conservative programme that his political enemies had predicted, and that some of his followers wanted. Fraser’s relatively moderate policies particularly disappointed the Treasurer, John Howard, as well as other ministers who were strong adherents of emerging free market neo-liberal economics, and therefore detractors of Keynesian economics. As will be seen, Howard thought that he had won special merit during the carrying-ons of the so-called Khemlani affair. Meanwhile the government’s economic record was marred by rising double-digit unemployment and double-digit inflation, creating ‘stagflation’, caused in part by the ongoing effects of the 1973 oil crisis.

By early 1982 Robert James ‘Bob’ Hawke, the popular former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, who had entered Parliament in 1980, was polling well ahead of both Fraser and the Labor Leader, Bill Hayden, on the question of who voters would rather see as prime minister. Fraser was well aware of the infighting this caused between Hayden and Hawke and had planned to call a snap election in autumn 1982, preventing the Labor Party changing leaders.

As leadership tensions began to grow in the Labor Party throughout January, Fraser subsequently resolved to call a double dissolution election at the earliest opportunity, hoping to capitalise on Labor’s disunity. He knew that if the writs were issued soon enough, Labor would essentially be frozen into going into the subsequent election with Hayden as leader.

On 3 February 1983 Fraser arranged to visit the Governor-General of Australia, intending to ask for a surprise election. However, Hayden resigned as Labor leader just two hours before Fraser travelled to Government House. This meant that the considerably more popular Hawke was able to replace him at almost exactly the same time that the writs were issued for the election. Labor immediately surged in the opinion polls.

At the election on 5 March the Coalition was heavily defeated, Fraser immediately announced his resignation as Liberal leader and formally resigned as prime minister on 11 March 1983; he retired from Parliament two months later.

In 1993 Fraser made an unsuccessful attempt to gain the Liberal Party presidency. In time he became quite critical of the Howard Coalition Government, particularly over foreign policy issues, such as Australia’s alignment with the foreign policy of the Bush administration, that Fraser saw as damaging Australian relationships in Asia. He opposed Howard’s policy on asylum-seekers, campaigned in support of an Australian Republic(!) and attacked what he perceived as a lack of integrity in Australian politics(!), considering himself in alignment both with his predecessor Whitlam and his successor Hawke. Of the latter it is said that he was a republican.

So here it was: a member of the squattocracy – people occupying Crown land in order to graze livestock, who regard themselves and are recognised as a social group or ‘of a better class’ – who had received any sort of concession and privilege from the monarchy, who had personally enjoyed the assistance of the representative of the Crown in climbing to power through the Royal Ambush, who had spoken with contemptuous disdain of the common people and their condition, who would say: “We used to have a view that to really be a good Australian, to love Australia, you almost had to cut your links with the country of origin (in his case, presumably England). But I don’t think that was right and it never was right.” – at the opening of the Special Broadcasting Service in 1980, and who would be remember for saying, during his Alfred Deakin Lecture speech in 1971: “Life wasn’t meant to be easy,” as a gloomy explanation to-and-for others of life’s relentless difficulties, while conveniently misquoting George Bernard Shaw, who actually had softened that pessimism with an expression of encouragement and hope by adding: … “but take courage: it can be delightful.”

After Sir John Kerr – Falstaff really, a tragic-comic figure of a fat, van, boastful, and cowardly knight, here comes John Malcolm Fraser, A.C. (Companion of the Order of Australia), C.H. (of the Order of the Companions of Honour), and G.C.L., holder of titles conferred by the grace of Queen Elizabeth II, and a newly mint republican.

Fraser was succeeded by another cheap republican, Bob Hawke, in 1983.

On 5 March 1983 Hawke led Labor to a landslide victory and was sworn in as prime minister.

He would lead Labor to victory three more times: in 1984, 1987 and 1990, making him the most electorally successful Labor Leader. The Hawke Government set up Medicare and Landcare, floated the Australian dollar, deregulated the financial sector, initiated superannuation pension schemes for all workers, introduced the Family Assistance Scheme, and oversaw passage of the Australia Act that removed all remaining jurisdiction by the United Kingdom from Australia, announced “Advance Australia Fair” as the official national anthem, and established the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

Hawke did two more things.

Firstly, he presided over the setting up of the John Curtin Foundation.

Formed in October 1984, the Foundation was a fundraising organisation for the Labor Party which attracted the sponsorship of a powerful group of wealthy businessmen, placing them in a privileged circle with direct access to both Prime Minister and the State Premier Brian Burke. It turned out to be a den of crooks and corporate criminals, it caused multiple financial disasters, leading to a royal commission which exposed and condemned the corruption. Many such criminals are captured in the following picture.

A John Curtin Foundation gathering Left to right, rear: Denis Cullity, John Horgan, Alan Bond, Laurie Connell, Ric Stowe, James McCusker, Rod Evans; Front: Kevin Parry, prime minister Bob Hawke, state premier Brian Burke, John Roberts and former Perth lord mayor Ernest Lee-Steere.

Messrs. Bond, Connell, Parry, and former State Premier Burke went to gaol as corporate criminals, while Mr. Stowe did not, but was in deep difficulties.

Secondly, Prime Minister Hawke was instrumental to the stipulation of the Prices and Incomes Accord, which muzzled and weakened the union movement and, in time, would preside over the decline of union membership.

Trends in level of union membership and union density—1976 to 2016

Sources: 1976–1993: ABS, Trade Union Members, cat. no. 6325.0; 1994–2013: ABS, Employee Earnings Benefits and Trade Union Membership, cat. no. 6310.0; 2014–2016: ABS, Characteristics of Employment, cat. no. 6333.01 (Trends in union membership in Australia – Parliament of Australia, G. Gilfillan and C. McGann, 15 October 2018).

Around 15 per cent of all full–time employees in August 2016 were union members.

This is unquestionably the ultimate result of a corporative policy.

When the Hawke Government implemented a comprehensive programme of financial deregulation and reform, it transformed economics and politics in Australia. The Australian economy became significantly more integrated with the global economy as a result, which completely transformed its relationship with Asia, Europe and the United States. Both Hawke and his Treasurer and successor at the end of 1991 Paul Keating would claim the credit for being the driving force behind the success of the Australian Dollar float. (J. Edwards, Keating, The Inside Story, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood, Victoria 1996, at 216-217).

Among other reforms, the Hawke-Keating Government dismantled the tariff system, privatised state sector industries, ended the subsidisation of loss-making industries, and sold off the state-owned Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Optus, Qantas Airways and Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Ltd. The tax system was reformed, with the introduction of a fringe benefits tax and a capital gains tax, reforms strongly opposed by the Coalition parties at the time, but not ones that they reversed when they eventually returned to office. Funding for schools was also considerably increased, while financial assistance was provided for students to enable them to stay at school longer. Considerable progress was also made in directing assistance to the most disadvantaged recipients over the whole range of welfare benefits.

The partnership between Hawke and Keating proved essential to Labor’s success in government. The two men proved a study in contrasts: Hawke had been a Rhodes Scholar, he was fond of cigars, horse racing and all forms of sport; Keating left high school early, nevertheless preferred classical architecture, Mahler symphonies and collecting British Regency and French Empire antiques. Hawke was consensus-driven; Keating revelled in aggressive debate. Hawke was a lapsed Protestant; Keating was a practising Catholic. These differences, however, seemed only to increase the effectiveness of their partnership, as they oversaw substantial economic and social changes throughout Australia.

The Keating Government focused mainly on economic issues in its first term, introducing compulsory superannuation, creating an infrastructure development programme.

In later years, Keating’s agenda centred more on social and cultural matters. He participated in the ‘history wars’, and helped make republicanism and the rights of Indigenous People the subject of national debates.

Keating led Labor to an unexpected and record-breaking fifth consecutive election victory on 13 March 1993.

Having secured a mandate in his own right as prime minister, Keating immediately set about implementing as much of what he called his ‘big picture’ as possible, leading the consultation and introducing legislation that would eventually lead to a 1999 referendum on Australia becoming a republic. His government established the Republic Advisory Committee and, after the victory at the Mabo case, enshrined native title in statute law.

Continued Wednesday – Beyond the ‘Palace Letters’ (part 3)

Previous instalment – Beyond the ‘Palace Letters’ (part 1)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at


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  1. Phil

    top stuff George – a reminder of so much I had put in the bottom drawer. I can’t see much that the political conservatives have ever done for Australia although Fraser does deserve some credit. Howard and those conservatives who followed him have done significant harm to the nation. As for the future, well, I can’t see a single shining light in the political class across the whole spectrum. I do think Penny Wong could shine but the ALP like the LP and Nats seem moribund and lost. Youth are screaming for change so perhaps there will emerge one of more from their ranks to break out of this malaise that has Australia looking and behaving like a third rate over-privileged brat in the region.

  2. Catriona Cecilia Thoolen

    “Landcare, born in Victoria in 1986, is a highly successful community-based volunteer movement that facilitates and coordinates actions to care for our environment. Landcare is about a simple idea; people organising to come together to discuss shared land management issues, and to design and implement practical solutions to take action to address these issues. People see results and want to be part of it. Landcare is community based leadership in action.

    Landcare began when farming neighbours recognised that they could be more effective and have a greater impact if they addressed common natural resource management concerns together.

    Since the first Landcare group was formed at Winjallok near St Arnaud in central Victoria, hundreds of Landcare groups have formed across Victoria. Landcare quickly became a national movement and in recent years it has expanded internationally to more than 20 countries.”

    Hawke ‘may’ have supported Landcare, but he did not set it up.

    I never liked Hawke/Keating. They were never a Labor Government (unlike Whitlam who changed Australia for the better) they just stole the place on the political spectrum that had previously belonged to the Liberals. No doubt that is why they stayed in government so long, but it left the LNP nowhere to go but further to the right, which has led us to where we are today.

    Labor’s Accord: How Hawke and Keating began a neo-liberal revolution

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