March 26

Night of the long prawns

“I will not make a 72 year old drunk an ambassador,” Foreign Minister Willessee told Prime Minister Whitlam in 1973, as he tried to engineer an additional senate vacancy and thus control the senate in the coming election. 

According to “The Memoirs of Kim C Beazley “Mr. Whitlam waited until the Foreign Minister was overseas to make Senator Vince Gair Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See.


The plan backfired when Country Party members entertained Gair with beer and prawns and he delayed putting in his resignation, an event thereafter referred to as “The night of the long prawns”.

This delay allowed Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen to advise the Governor of Queensland to issue writs for the half Senate election without including Gair’s place.

That place could then be filled by the Queensland Parliament as a casual vacancy.

Although it failed, Whitlam’s manoeuvre outraged the Opposition and may well have encouraged them to threaten to delay supply in order to force general elections in 1973 and 1975. This incident is revealed in a review of the book by Ross Fitzgerald in the March 2009 issue of The Australian Literary Review.

Mr. Beazley also tells how he confronted Gough Whitlam over the authorisation to the mysterious Tirath Khemlani to secure through unorthodox channels a loan of Aus$ 4 billion from Arab sources, an extraordinary amount of money in those days.  

After likening himself to Disraeli, who secured the Suez Canal, Kim Beazley said “Gough, I have no fear of anything but your master strokes; they never work”

Beazley said he didn’t do such things easily, because opposing Whitlam would often mean “enduring a tirade of abuse”

We may wonder about the appointments politicians recommend. But who would have thought politicians would secure the appointment of a man who had lost his mind to the oldest judicial office in the nation, the position of Chief Justice New South Wales, merely to persuade him to relinquish the leadership of the Labor Party ?

Beazley says that when Dr HV Evatt was made leader of the ALP in 1951, he was even then showing signs of mental deterioration. He lingered on in that position until 1965, by which time the reviewer says Evatt was clearly mad.

Ross Fitzgerald does not mention it, but to move him out of the leadership, he was offered  the significant position of Chief Justice of New South Wales by the State Labor government over the objections of the  then Attorney General, although they would have known he was clearly incapable.

Beazley laments what he saw as Whitlam’ s betrayal of the people of East Timor by indicating in Parliament that East Timor  was “in many ways part if the Indonesian world.”  With this green light, Indonesia invaded the abandoned Portuguese colony.   

He also recalls the anger Whitlam caused when, alone in the Western world, he recognized the Soviet annexation of the Baltic States. Beazley says Whitlam “believed in a world uncluttered by minor powers.”

He left the front bench after the Iraqi breakfast scandal when Gough Whitlam as Leader of the Opposition was trying to negotiate a large loan from the Iraqi Baath Party.

….Moral Rearmament…

After attending the Coronation, Mr. Beazley had spent seven weeks at a Moral Rearmament retreat in Switzerland.

This gave him four tests against which any idea should be measured. Was it honest, pure, unselfish and loving – and therefore from God?  Hardly a recipe for success in the “brawling hate filled” Labor Party, as one observer puts it.   Indeed, Gough Whitlam says this was Beazley’s ruination. Otherwise he would have become leader, said Bob Hawke. According to AAP, Hawke said Beazley was a better orator and intellect than Whitlam.

Moral Rearmament encouraged his anti-communism. He was accused of privately warning Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies about communist influence in the ALP, and of being too sympathetic to the anti communist Industrial Groups at the time of the major Labor split. 

His guiding principle was:” The Thoughts of God, given primacy in the life of a man, bring to the innermost motives the virtue of mercy, and with it the cure of hatred that can turn the tide of history. This is the essence of intelligent statesmanship.”

Being very much a traditional Labor man, he was undoubtedly a strong constitutional monarchist – as were once all the great leaders of the Labor Party.

As he famously told the 1970 WA State Conference "When I joined the Labor Party, it contained the cream of the working class. But as I look about me now all I see are the dregs of the middle class.”

He added: “And what I want to know is when you middle class perverts are going to stop using the Labor Party as a spiritual spitoon."




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