What Rupert Murdoch told the US Ambassador about the pending Whitlam dismissal – 12 months beforehand in November 1974? Yes 1974. John Menadue

May 21, 2013

More pieces are falling into place. Last year we learned from Jenny Hockey’s second biographic volume of Gough Whitlam that a serving High Court Judge Anthony Mason from August 1975 improperly briefed Sir John Kerr about the dismissal of the Whitlam Government.  He even drafted a dismissal letter, although it was never used. The legal, political and business establishment was closing ranks to get rid of the elected Whitlam Government.

Now Philip Dorling has written what Rupert Murdoch told the US Ambassador Marshal Green and other Embassy officers over lunch at the US Embassy in Canberra on 27 November 1974. According to the cable from the US embassy, Murdoch told the Ambassador

‘Australian elections are likely to take place in about one year, sparked by refusal of appropriations in the Senate’. (Published in the National Times, May 20, 2013)  http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/political-news/whitlam-radical-fraser-arrogant-hawke-moderate-secret-cables-reveal-murdoch-insights-20130520-2jvtl.html

Note that Murdoch’s prediction was made 12 months before the dismissal, not one month or even one week before hand.

This is the first time I have seen anything about the Embassy lunch. The record of these discussions was released by the US State Department on 20 June 2005. But the search engines had not found this record because Murdoch was misspelt with a ‘k’ rather than an ‘h’.

Murdoch got it right about the dismissal, although he expected that Bill Snedden would be the likely Liberal leader in twelve months. If not he suggested to the Ambassador it could possibly be Phillip Lynch. Murdoch discounted the possibility of Malcolm Fraser becoming leader.

But he got one thing absolutely correct. The Whitlam Government would be dismissed in twelve months’ time through refusal of Supply in the Senate. And so it happened.

How could Murdoch be so well informed a year in advance? I cannot prove it but I think I know the answer.  Sir John Kerr had made it clear that dismissal was one of the options at his disposal.

In my autobiography ‘Things you learn along the way’ (Go to: www.johnmenadue.com, then click on book.) I recounted a meeting between Rupert Murdoch and Sir John Kerr and others at Cavan, Murdoch’s country residence outside Yass in late 1974. On page 155 I wrote

‘George Munster in his book about Rupert Murdoch, ‘Paper Prince’ recalls a visit which Kerr made to Murdoch’s home at Cavan as far back as late 1974. … The account which George Munster gives of that meeting in Cavan in late 1974 is very similar to an account which Ian Fitchett, who was also present, gave to me. Fitchett was political correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and doyen of the Canberra Press Gallery. … [Kerr] had been invited by Murdoch to drop in at Cavan for a drink and perhaps a meal. Murdoch was holding one of his soirees with his editors from around the world. Kerr, over drinks, embarked on a very detailed and elaborate outline of the various possibilities that the Whitlam Government might face in the future if the Senate blocked or deferred supply. According to Fitchett and Munster, all the options were laid out in front of Murdoch. There was probably no-one in Australia better briefed than Murdoch as to how the Governor General might act.  He was very privileged; the Governor General never gave his Prime Minister such a briefing. Kerr was very indiscreet. That was a briefing that Murdoch tucked away for future reference, a year later. Just as importantly, Murdoch, who was always a great judge of people’s strengths and weaknesses knew how and when to apply pressure to Kerr.’

Note the critical dates. The briefing of Murdoch by the Governor General was “late 1974”.The briefing of the US Ambassador was on November 27 1974.

Further Murdoch told me over lunch in Canberra on 7 November 1975 what I now surmise he had learnt from the Governor General twelve months before and told within a few days to the US Ambassador about the imminent election. He told me on November 7 1975 that

‘He was quite certain there would be an election before Christmas and an election specifically for the House of Representatives.  I suggested to him that a half Senate election was the only possibility. He rejected this view and said that he believed that there would certainly be a House of Representatives election before Christmas and that he would be staying in Australia until this occurred. He was very confident of the outcome of any election and even mentioned to me the position to which I might be appointed in the event of the Liberal victory – Ambassador to Japan.’ See my autobiography p157

Murdoch denies my account of the lunch and our discussion. I stand by it. He was accurate about both the election and my appointment to Japan in 1977.

Rupert Murdoch has a pattern of memory loss in relation to the Whitlam Government. He denied that he asked me to negotiate with Whitlam after the 1972 election for his appointment as Australian High Commissioner to London. (See also my autobiography p113) I stand by my account of Murdoch’s request for the London appointment.

Murdoch was clearly a major player in the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. His newspapers could not have been more partisan in the lead-up to the dismissal and the subsequent election. Journalists at The Australian went on strike over the bias of the Murdoch campaign. Nothing much has changed.

Murdoch was determined to get rid of the Whitlam Government. The briefing he got from John Kerr in late 1974 was an enormous benefit. Confident from the Kerr briefing he boldly predicted to the US Ambassador the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in twelve months’ time. He told me very much the same story again in Canberra a few days before the dismissal.

How else could he have known so accurately what was in prospect from the Governor General?

Murdoch loves the exercise of power. He is addicted to it whether in business or politics.



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