June 1

Australia’s second republican movement defeated


In fact it was a renowned constitutional monarchist, Dr Frank McGrath ( formerly His Honour, Mr. Justice McGrath), who was instrumental in breaking the grip of the communists on the Federated Ironworkers Association. This seemed to contradict the story that the late Whitlam government minister, Jim McLelland had actually done this. According to Frank Rooney, a prominent anti-communist trade union leader, Jim McLelland was never part of the team and came into the picture only after the battle had been won.

Then a young articled clerk, Frank McGrath was working with a firm of solicitors in 1951 in a challenge to a recent union election. During the hearing, he signalled to the junior barrister, later Governor-General Sir John Kerr, that he had discovered something.

With the aid of the rays of the sun streaming into the court room, a number of impressions of “ticks” clearly came through on the disputed ballot papers tendered as evidence. Obviously stacks of blank ballot papers were being filled in by one person at a time. Frank McGrath spent days in the witness box, and on the strength of his evidence and that of handwriting experts Mr Justice Dunphy found that Laurie Short had actually been elected as general secretary, and that new elections for the other offices must be held. (This story is told in Frank Rooney, Dictators within the Labor Party of Australia, edited by Dr.Amy McGrath, Towerhouse Publications,Sydney, 2005 )

Unlike today’s republican movement, the communist republicans did not pretend they had no model. They wanted to turn Australia into a workers’ paradise – a people’s republic on the east European model. They never explained why people were always trying to escape from, and not into, their peoples’ republics.


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