March 4

Communism and republicanism

In “ Australian People's Republic “ (5/11) I returned to the subject of communist  influence in Australian politics, a matter of considerable interest to those defending the constitution.

The core part of the  agenda of the Communist Party was blind allegiance to the Soviet Union, and the plan to make Australia  a People’s Republic .


This was in the context of the broadcast by the ABC of a widely criticised docu-drama, “I Spry".

A retired ASIO officer responded to the programme in The Weekend Australian, (13-14/11) “Aunty's sneering aside, ASIO effectively kept communists in check.”  In the course of a detailed point by point response, he wrote on one aspect of the programme which would have been obvious to most informed viewers. This was that the there little there that would support Brigadier Sir Charles Spry.  So was it balanced?



…Dr Des Ball…

One person interviewed in the programme to support an adverse view of  Brigadier Spry was Des Ball. On that this ASIO officer responds:  

Given that Des Ball was interviewed on the docudrama, it would have been a fair and reasonable expectation that key aspects of his book Breaking the Codes, co-authored with senior fellow David Horner, both with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of the Australian National University, may have been discussed.

One revelation in the book that importantly shows the mindset of Australian communists of the period is that during World War II, Australian agents of the NKVD gave Allied war plans in the Pacific to their Soviet masters, who then allowed the Japanese to acquire them.

Whether the spies knew about this is unclear, but the authors quote CPA ( Communist Party of Australia) leaders as saying "we want a Russian victory, not necessarily an Allied victory" (page 350).

We should recall there were about 20,000 members of the CPA, dedicated to blind support of the Soviet Union and to the achievement here of a People’s Republic.

…Dr David McKnight…

 The other academic interviewed for comment regularly on the program was David McKnight, a research fellow at the University of NSW.

On this the ASIO officer says:

McKnight's criticism of ASIO's continued pursuit of the CPA into the 60s and 70s may be better understood when his past is known. McKnight is a former member of the CPA and an editor of its weekly newspaper Tribune. This would have been of interest to impartial viewers.

Of course it would have been.

The Australian (16/11) published a letter from Dr. McKnight saying he has never hidden this fact.  But should the ABC have pointed this out for the benefit of viewers who were unaware of this fact?

 …how our second republican movement was funded  …

I am not suggesting the third republican movement was funded by Moscow. Greg Barns was the ARM’ s national campign director and subsequently its chairman. He is critical of the celebrities who jumped onto  the republican bandwagon in the nineties. He says the greater part of the funding actually came from Malcolm Turnbull.

On the funding of the CPA, the former ASIO officer says:

 Perhaps the last word concerning ASIO's long-term interest in the CPA can be given to Mark Aarons of the Aarons' CPA dynasty. Mark's father Laurie was a full-time functionary and national secretary of the CPA for decades, and Mark was a full time-functionary and national officer.

In his 2010 book The Family File, he explains the numerous payments made to the CPA by Moscow. Of the many payments made, $US168,000 was given in 1961, $US80,000 in 1963, $US130,000 in 1965, $US130,000 in 1966 and an unnamed amount that Laurie Aarons organised in 1967.

So during all of the 1960s alone, a period for which the docudrama criticises ASIO for its continuing concentration on the CPA, that party received "Moscow Gold" in excess of $US508,000, a sum that 50 years later must be double in real terms.

Obsession? I don't think so.

Communist leaders used to travel often to the USSR, sometimes for "medical treatment". It was generally assumed this was to obtain instructions and funding.  it was of course crucial for ASIO to establish what was happening in order to counter this.

In the Second World War, and not only while Stalin and Hitler were allies, the communists actively undermined the war effort, as they did in the Korean War.  At other times they worked in the interests of a foreign power, and to undermine our constitutional system. 


…personal attack…

One of the features of the programme was the strong charge that Brigadier Spry was an alcoholic. No defence or balance seemed to be offered.  On this the ex ASIO officer says: ( continued below ) He was a genuine war hero, having served with the 7th Division in both the Middle East and New Guinea, including the Kokoda Track. He received the distinguished service order for his war service.

The unwarranted trashing of his reputation as being an alcoholic is both unjust, and indifferent or ignorant of the times. Very many areas of public life involved heavy drinking during the 50s and 60s, not just ASIO, and journalists are well reported to be among the greatest offenders. For an ex-ASIO officer to report that Spry was affected by alcohol in ASIO headquarters on some occasions is merely a gratuitous observation and something that was not common knowledge throughout the organisation.

That many officers of ASIO were heavy drinkers, like their counterparts in defence, foreign affairs, the police and so on, is a well known fact. They were also heavy smokers.

But this was the attitude of the times and it is pathetic and juvenile to try to anachronistically apply the values and health knowledge of 2010 to the 50s and 60s. Considering that so many of these men, including Spry, came almost directly from six years of hot world war into the stress and tension of a Cold War environment, then some of their eccentricities including alcohol may be understood.

When we correctly spend considerable effort today ensuring that we address any problems our service people may have after a one-year tour of duty, we may forget that those who spent six years in combat in World War II received no assistance whatever and post-combat stress syndrome was no doubt as alive then as now.My first boss in ASIO was a former RAAF pilot, the second a Z special forces veteran and the third a member of the wartime security service. These brave men were almost worn out before they began the battle of the Cold War.

The Australian (16/11) published a letter from the programme's director, Peter Butt, citing material showing that this was relevant. But was the charge balanced by the considerations the former aSIO officer raises? 

…communism and republicanism…

Our constitutional monarchy, our crowned republic, was and is completely incompatible with communism. It was among the first targets in countries taken over by the communists, invariably  replaced by a brutal and bloodthirsty dictatorship. 

Whenever I write about the previous republican movements in Australia, I seem to touch a raw nerve.

Republicans get excited and say I am suggesting they are racist, as the first republican movement was, or that they are communists as the second movement was. 

Not at all.

But as George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" 




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