Press "Enter" to skip to content

Santamaria’s Role In The Dismissal

Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria wrote a speech justifying the blocking of Supply for then Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser in September 1975, according to The Australian newspaper.

B.A. SantamariaThe paper’s political editor, Dennis Shanahan, writes that the speech “is styled as if it were written by Mr. Fraser and says the Opposition should breach the conventions of the Constitution if not doing so “endangers the future of Australia”.

The speech, entitled “Govern or Get Out”, is contained in Santamaria’s papers, now held by the State Library of Victoria. The speech was sent to Fraser on September 18, 1975.

Santamaria died on February 25, 1998, aged 82. He founded the National Civic Council and ran its journal, News Weekly. He is regarded as an influntial figure in events which led to the Split in the Australian Labor Party in 1955. Santamaria’s followers in the Industrial Groups, known to this day as “Groupers”, were opposed to Communism and their alleged sympathisers in the ALP. Following the split, Santamaria was an important influence in the Democratic Labor Party.

A book of Santamaria’s letters, “Your Most Obedient Servant”, edited by Patrick Morgan, was published this week.

Text of the article published in The Australian on January 6, 2007.

Santamaria’s secret Dismissal role

by Dennis Shanahan

B.A. Santamaria, the man accused of splitting the Australian Labor Party in the 1950s, has been revealed as a backroom svengali to Malcolm Fraser, advising him to block supply and force an election in 1975.

Three months before the dismissal of prime minister Gough Whitlam’s government, Bob Santamaria sent the then Liberal opposition leader a draft parliamentary speech justifying the blocking of supply in the Senate on constitutional grounds to remedy the “gravity of the disaster” of the economy under Labor.

In the document, Santamaria, one of the most hated and influential figures in Australian politics, describes the dangers of the economic situation and suggests the government be given until March 1976 to show signs of improvement in employment and inflation before the blocking of supply to force an election.

Mr Fraser used many of the same arguments put forward in the draft speech when he addressed parliament in October and November after announcing on October 15 he would block the appropriation bills in the Senate.

A copy of the speech – entitled Govern or Get Out and uncovered by The Weekend Australian – is contained in Santamaria’s papers, which have been handed to the State Library of Victoria. The Weekend Australian today publishes 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.

Mr Fraser told The Weekend Australian that he often sought Santamaria’s counsel, which he respected, and the leader of the National Civic Council often sent him advice.

Mr Fraser said his views were the same as Santamaria’s but he did not recall receiving the specific draft or using it in parliament in the weeks before the dismissal of the Whitlam government. But he said he was not surprised he had sent it to him and that he had kept a copy of the draft speech.

Mr Fraser also said Santamaria, who died in 1998 at the age of 82, did write things in others’ names so they could see how it would sound.

“I’d regard him as a friend and somebody I respected,” Mr Fraser said.

The speech, written by Santamaria and sent to Mr Fraser on September 18, 1975 – a month before supply was blocked in the Senate and two months before governor-general John Kerr dismissed Mr Whitlam on November 11 – is styled as if it were written by Mr Fraser and says the Opposition should breach the conventions of the Constitution if not doing so “endangers the future of Australia”.

“The spirit of the Constitution – emphatically not the letter – regards a refusal of supply by the Senate as an extraordinary act, to be taken only in the last resort in a position of great emergency,” Santamaria wrote.

“Nevertheless, in such an emergency, the Senate has the legal right and the positive duty to act. Members of the Federal Labor Cabinet, and some of their journalistic apologists are transparently attempting to misrepresent the position of the Federal Opposition in relation to a possible election.

“If the Opposition refuse supply in the Senate at time before 1977, it will be charged with breaching the conventions of the constitution. If it does not refuse supply, it will not be praised for observing constitutional conventions. The same spokesman will simply turn round and accuse it of a lack of courage.”

The speech said that if the ALP “merely hangs on to office” the Opposition “will owe it to Australia to act”.

Santamaria, in various correspondence, expresses concern about the unemployment and inflation levels under the Whitlam government and says the Coalition Opposition should leave no one in any doubt about its intentions.

The disclosure will harden the ill-feeling within the ALP towards Santamaria.

He was intimately involved in the great split in the ALP in the 1950s. Santamaria was aligned to the Catholic wing of the ALP, which, alarmed at what it saw as the growing power of communists in the trade unions, broke away to form the Democratic Labor Party.

While disliked by many Labor supporters, he was admired by his backers and is one of the most influential Australian political thinkers of the 20th century.

Santamaria, who ran a long campaign to rid the unions of communists, operated secretly as a forceful and private influence on politicians and academics.

Through the anti-communist Movement organisation, his National Civic Council and the DLP, he sought to influence Australian politics, society and economic policy.

The correspondence of Santamaria between 1938 and 1996 is being made public with the publication of Your Most Obedient Servant, edited by Patrick Morgan in collaboration with the State Library of Victoria.

Mr Fraser said he had got to know Santamaria long before 1975, and “I used to call on him and talk with him”.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Malcolm Farnsworth
© 1995-2024