Research by a reporter, Mr. Peter Lalor, published in The Australian on 12 March 2007, has revealed the hitherto unknown fact that the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the scene of a battle between republicans and monarchists. What is even more astounding is that neither the opponents of the Premier, Jack Lang, nor Mr. Lang himself, knew that their “battle” was one between republicans and monarchists.
Premier Lang was to open the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932. He had caused some controversy when he had insisted on officially opening the bridge himself, rather than allowing the Governor to do so. But just as the Premier was about to cut the ribbon, a mounted Captain Francis de Groot, a member of the right wing New Guard movement galloped up to the ribbon and slashed it with a sabre. The ribbon was reattached, or a new one found, and Mr. Lang duly opened the Bridge.
In the meantime Premier Lang had denounced the so called Premiers’ Plan to deal with the depression. He had his own plan which included the cancellation of all overseas debt. His Labor supporters in Canberra then crossed the floor and brought down the federal Labor government. Lang addressed a number of large public meetings, his followers using a slogan which horrified the conservatives, some of whom already thought he was a Bolshevik: "Lang is Greater than Lenin," as well as “Lang is Right.” But Jack Lang was certainly no communist, and was denounced as a fascist by the Communist Party.
When he moved to stop the payment of interest to bondholders, the new federal UAP (conservative) government, led by a former Labor now conservative politician, Joseph Lyons, paid the interest. Legislation to recover this from NSW was upheld as constitutionally valid by the High Court.
Lang responded with the surprising decision to withdraw all money from the banks and hold it at the Trades Hall – in cash.
The Governor, Sir Philip Game, informed him that this action was illegal and that the Premier should desist. He warned him that if he did not return the money to the accounts he would have to withdraw his commission. The Governor was patient, but finally, on 13 May 1932, withdrew the Premier’s commission and appointed the Opposition leader, Sir Bertram Stevens, as Premier. Stevens then advised the Governor that an election be called, which he won in a landslide.
Gerald Stone, in his book "1932", says Jack Lang actually considered arresting the Governor. In this context, readers may recall Paul Keating’s surprising statement, recorded in this column on 25 November, 2005, that if he had been Prime Minister in 1975, he would have put the Governor-General under house arrest. Paul Keating had developed a close relationship with the elderly Jack Lang who had been readmitted in to the ALP.
It is worth recalling that Mr Lang could not have gone to The King when he knew he would be dismissed – Sir Philip certainly gave him sufficient notice. At that time, a Premier had no standing to advise The King to recall the Governor. This was because the Balfour Declaration and subsequent Statute of Westminster did not apply to the states, a situation which lasted until 1986. The states did not trust the Federal Government to take the place of the British, and accordingly, they continued to advise the Sovereign on state matters.
Readers may also recall that when Bob Carr evicted the Governors from Government House in 1996, he quipped, “That one is for Jack Lang.” They have long memories inMacquarie Street