Every so often the series The Dismissal is screened on television in this column. (We reported the last screening in this column on 4 December, 2006.) And the events of 1975 keep coming up in news and commentary.
Earlier this year, in “Santamaria’s secret Dismissal role”, Dennis Shanahan, reported that B.A. Santamaria may have played a significant role in advising Malcolm Fraser, “to block supply and force an election in 1975.” (The Weekend Australian, 6-7 January, 2007.) Mr. Santamaria led the struggle against communist control of key trade unions. The communists wished to turn Australia into a Peoples’ Republic along East European lines (“Australia’s second republican movement,” 29 May 2006.) The report says that Mr. Santamaria sent Mr. Fraser a draft parliamentary speech justifying the blocking of supply in the Senate on constitutional grounds. A copy of the speech, “ Govern or Get Out” was uncovered by The Australian, among Mr. Santamaria’s papers now in the State Library of Victoria. The newspaper also published “exclusive extracts of the collected letters of Santamaria, revealing how the leader of the anti-communist movement wanted to establish a "third party" using Robert Menzies’ influence with the Liberal and Country parties.”
In late 2006, Dr. Stephen Matchett wrote about “a self-defeating love of myth in the telling of the Labor Party’s history.” (“ALP needs more than storytellers”, The Weekend Australian 25-26 November 2006 ) He says that for generations Labor historians and hagiographers have “outgunned” their opponents. With “spin and substance” they have held the high ground of Australia’s story. He says this is about the party’s heroes “standing up against local lackeys of first the Brits and then the Yanks.” He believes that the conservatives have “ Buckley’s of breaking Labor’s hold on history.”
Reviewing the stage show “Keating!”, he mentions that pay television had just shown The Dismissal (On 19 December 2006, in “Republicans in Love” , we reported Philip Adams’s reaction to seeing the musical in the presence of Paul Keating). He says “Keating!” is excellent entertainment, but, with other examples, the musical demonstrates why control of the political past does not translate into power today, at least federally. While many of the ideas and some of the ideals, expressed in them still appeal to the “true believers,” they will not mean much in the marginal electorates where the next election will be won. Just as republicanism means nothing there.
The Dismissal he says shows none of its 20 years. But, he says, there is no doubt who are the heroes and villains in the series. Gough Whitlam is a “heroic figure” brought down by the “errors” of his supporters, the “vanity” of John Kerr and the machinations of an unpleasant opportunistic opposition. As such, he believes it to be a classic of the “Labor legend”. The party is denied its right to govern. What is ignored is the quality of the job the Whitlam government was doing. He finds the “economic illiteracy” of The Dismissal to be extraordinary. “There is no attempt to explain the idiocy of the actions of ministers Rex Connor and Jim Cairns in trying to raise money to fund their plans for huge state-supported energy and manufacturing economies… one of the few heroes is Treasury chief Frederick Wheeler, who tried to restrain ministers who wanted to bet the farm on mad plans for an Australia where the state controlled the economy’s commanding heights.”
Dr Matchett concludes that the true believers still don’t care about economics. This is because this version of Paul Keating presents him only “as a social reformer, interested in the arts, focused on the republic, respectful of the rights of Aborigines”, rather than an economic reformer. He says that even “rusted-on” conservatives will enjoy the show. He says they will know that the ALP has “Buckley’s of connecting with voters who have not canonised Keating in their hearts and are not all that interested in the three Rs of inner-city Left politics: symbolic rights for indigenous Australians, refugees and the republic.”