Enemies and friends in the Labor Party and the unions
From 'Australia's Spies and Their Secrets' (David McKnight, Allen and Unwin, 1994)
A man is walking briskly down the footpath beside Goulburn Street in Sydney in 1964. A careful observer would notice that he walks with a slight limp, his finger are stained with nicotine and his hair is greying, parted in the middle. He turns abruptly into a side entrance of the Sydney Trades Hall, an architectural oddity being one of Sydney's few multi-story Victorian buildings built almost entirely of brick. As he walks familiarly down one of its ill-lit, high ceilinged corridors he acknowledges a brief, knowing nod from an official of a minor right wing union.
He moves on. Behind rimless glasses are a pair of intelligent and searching eyes. He walks past the the Pastrycooks and Felt Hatters unions, their names scrolled in faded gold on brown wood. He stops at one of the bare reception rooms and begins to help himself to several copies of the union journal, crudely printed copies of a strike bulletin with an appeal for funds and a copy of an forbidingly dull pro-Soviet peace journal. ASIO's foremost trade union and Labor Party expert, Jack Clowes, is on his rounds.
By 1964 Jack Clowes had been in ASIO for fifteen years and would remain in it untl 1971 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60. For much of that time, he had the closest possible relations with key figures in the NSW trade union movement and the NSW branch of the ALP. The image of ASIO has been that it was an enemy of Labor and clashed with it repeatedly. On the Labor side ASIO was the object of scorn and ridicule by such figures as Clyde Cameron and Eddie Ward. Between Evatt and Spry there was a gulf of hostility. Yet a key part of ASIO's war on subversion involved buildinga network of anti-communist allies wherever they were found, in academia, in business, in the press and also in the unions and the Labor Party.
The revelations of profound intelligence involvement in the internal struggles within the Labor Party came from a key Labor figure who formerely held office inthe NSW branch. He spoke at length to this writer of his own personal dealings with ASIO through Clowes which extended over 16 years. In the course of a long, unattributable interview he emphasised several times that the contact between ALP Right and ASIO was done to protect Australia. 'It was in Australia's national interest, because it was threatened by people whose first loyalty was to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.' He realised 'it all seems inexplicable now'.
The former Labor figure (whom I shall refer to as 'Smith' for convenience sake) held Clowes in very high personal regard and no doubt the feeling was mutual. According to him Clowes 'played an ambassadorial role both for ASIO in the labour movement, and for labour movement in ASIO.' It was certainly a two way process. To selected senior Labor figures over the years Clowes passed a stream of information gathered from surveillance and phone taps. He warned them of CPA dalliances with members of the ALP Left and of ALP members who had joined the CPA but kept their Labor tickets. While such contact may now be justified as 'in Australia's national interest', the effect of it was also to greatly strengthen Movement-based Right in the NSW branch and all the patronage and power which accompanied it. 'Smith' believed Clowes' assistance in defeating the Left also had national ramifications. 'The NSW ALP became a beacon for the rest of the ALP after the Whitlam defeat [in 1975] and if New South Wales had got it wrong in the 1960s and 1970s, then this would not have happened. [In this sequences of events] the influence of Jack Clowes was an indentifiable feature of the Right getting it right.' The much vaunted role of the NSW Right as an effective, shrewd and powerful force in Australian politics takes on a new dimension in the light of this revelation. We will return to Jack Clowes but first it is necessary to outline the roots of ASIO's long standing but little known connection with the people and events which shaped the Labor Party.
WHEN FORMER CIS officers were recruited to ASIO they brought with them their sources within the union movement, most of whom were from the Catholic Labor Right. The CIS had found that Catholic Action* [footnote for same page: I Early ASIO files use the generic term Catholic Action to refer to the Catholic based political forces which existed before and after the 1955 split] very useful as a source of intelligence on the Communist Party's struggles in the trade union movement. The zealously anti-communist Catholic Action was part of a worldwide lay movement which aimed to put Catholics imbued with the church's social teaching into influential positions which had been denied to them by religious (and anti-working class) prejudice. In 1947 the ALP had formed its own 'Industrial Groups' within unions, largely to combat the communist presence. Many Groups were soon dominated by the secretive Catholic Action and the seeds of the shattering 1955 ALP split were sewn. As well as the CIS contacts which filtered into ASIO, top level contact occurred between Santamaria and Spry through an introduction by Liberal External Affairs Minister Casey.
Problems began to emerge in ASIO's contact with Catholic Action which would dog the Organization for the next thirty years. Both organisations needed each other but the question was 'who was using whom'? The liaison was at times very close but it had a rocky beginning. Much of this emerged in the course of an internal investigation which ASIO carried out in 1953 to discover how ASIO information came to fall into the hands of Catholic Action. A memoranda from an officer in the NSW Special Services Section asking for guidance from the Regional Director noted that in 1950 an ASIO 'agent master', Norman Spry, was paying a Catholic Action officer 'a sum of money at regular intervals' for information gathered by Catholic Action. Relations were cautious on both sides. The Catholic Action liaison officer with ASIO made it clear that the two pounds a week he received was deducted from his salary fpaid by the group. What interested the liaison officer was not money but information. He persistently asked for Spry and other ASIO agent masters for a formal information exchange but they 'sidestepped' all requests. One ex-CIS officer in ASIO reported during the investigation how he came to be caution in this way. Once in CIS he had deliberately fed a CA agent 'some imaginary information'. 'I later found that identical information was received back at CIS having been channelled to it by [ blank]'. Nevertheless, the CA source was profitable. In 1952 he gave ASIO three shorthand notebooks recording 'high level party meetings'. But in September that year, the CA informer asked whether his organisation could receive information on CPA plans in the trade union movement on an 'unofficial' basis from ASIO. For example, he said, the Archibishop to know whether Johh Burton was a communist and had asked CAtholic Action to find out. When the ASIO officer demurred, the CA official complained and demanded to know if Government policy to CA had changed. His predecessor had 'an open slather with the Navy files and all the usual departments like Immigration'. The anonymous author of the memo warned of the 'penetration' of ASIO by Catholic Action 'which is in itself an intelligence agency' but on the other hand pointed out that it had supplied 'productive and worthwhile' information.
AT that stage ASIO decided that it would refuse to exchange information with Catholic Action. When told of this Catholic Action decided that it would downgrade ties with ASIO and 'would probably decide to trade information wherever the best exchange could be effected.' ASIO's reluctance at that stage to deal full bloodedly with Catholic Action stemmed partly from the fact that its infomration was of a very patchy quality and totally uncheckable, since they accepted whatever their sources told them. (Copying MI5, ASIO had an elaborate system of grading the reliability of sources). Another reason was that ASIO had its fingers burnt early in the piece. Because of what was later termed 'irregularities and improper agent control' a CA agent had been allowed to work out of an ASIO sub office at Edgecliff. This left the Organization 'open to grave repercussions'. If this became known to 'persons unkindly disposed' to ASIO' they could 'imply that ASIO and Catholic Action were 'hand in glove' and working in common to the point of sharing the same office. Further, some agents, it will be remembered, also visited and worked at that office.' The investigation appears to have concluded with denials all round and the disciplining of an officer.
The 1952-53 upset did not last long. As a new entrant to the intelligence field ASIO needed above all a network of agents and the most logical place to find them was among the members of Catholic Action. In February 1954 an officer from Special Services Section approached a CA representative to discuss 'the possibility of some of your people being prepared, as individuals, to infiltrate the Communist Party'. If a suitable Catholic was recruited as an ASIO agent on CA's nomination, his or her information would be passed on by ASIO to CA. The Sydney leadership of Catholic Action initially rejected the approach, largely because the ASIO officer reiterated the impossibility of handing over other information to CA. But this attitude soon changed and for several years ASIO and Catholic Action ran a number of joint agents which they debriefed separately. This arrangement whihc spanned the traumatic 1954-55 split in the ALP lasted until around 1957 when the National Civic Council was formed. In that year Spry, for example, found it necessary to order the cessation of the use of a Catholic Actionist in Ballarat as a 'talent spotter for ASIO agent running operations'. From around that time, at an official level anyway, the NCC-ASIO relationship seemed to be less close, though on the ground it was a different matter. While ASIO found the NCC an enormously valuable source of intelligence for many years, it greatly feared that it would be penetrated by the NCC,which was, after all, an intelligence agency itself. At least once this led ASIO to tap the phones of the NCC to ensure that it stayed on top in the relationship.
During the ealyr 1950s the liaison with 'Catholic Action' was just one of a number of relationships with anti-communist forces and individuals which ASIO forged. But events within the Labor Party in 1955 catapaulted Catholic Action to the centre of national politics and the significance of ASIO's liaison with it was similarly greatly magnified. At the March 1955 Federal Labor conference at Hobart, 17 of the 36 delegates -- the Victorian and NSW delegations -- walked out . The conference went on to disband and de-recognise the Industrial Groups. The response of those whom ASIO called Catholic Action (more correctly 'the Movement' or Industrial Group forces) was twofold. In Victoria, they chose to split from Labor. Departing Labor MPs withdrew their support for the Cain government and this ushered in the Bolte government which was to last 27 years. In NSW however, the Movement forces remained within the ALP where they faced a hostile alliance of left and centre determined to contest political power with them. For much of the remainder of the decade and for all of the 1960s a pattern was established. The Victorian Branch of the ALP was solidly left wing with a vociferous but weakened Right. The NSW Branch, after an initial period of centre control, reverted to control by ASIO's allies, the old 'stay put' Catholic Right.
THE VICTORIAN branch of the ALP was of great interest to ASIO. Melbourne was the home of the Catholic forces with whom ASIO officers dealt closely and ASIO agents within the unions and Labor Party provided a stream of reports thoughout the 1960s on the Labor Left, their contacts with the CPA and inner party battles. The surveillance also extended to formal 'vetting' of Labor election candidates. During both the 1958 and 1960 state elections, ASIO's Victorian office checked ALP candidates against its records, 'to ascertain those of interest'. One candidate in 1958 , a barrister, Alfred O'Connor, was noted because his name was forwarded by someone else to an East German magazine as someone who might be interested in receiving free copies. The candidate for Mornington, Gordon Anstee, had been a member of the Soviet Friendship League in Warrnambool in 1945, it was noted. Another barrisiter, Alan Brenton, was an associate of CPA lawyer and leader, Ted Hill, and 'would appear to have left wing sympathies.' Arthur Poyser, later a Labor Senator and ASIO critic, was 'assessed by contact of this Office as anti-Communist'.
In May 1960, a similar report was compiled for the Victorian state elections. The candidates for Balwyn was Edmund du Vergier, who had 'the reputation of being a 'red hot communist' and had also attended the 1959 peace conference. His wife was one of four women 'who talk at regular tea table conferences on current affairs, including Summit talks.' Geoffrey Blunden who standing for the seat of Brighton was the subject of a police report. The name of taxi-driver, Jack Kagan who stood for Ripponlea had been passed to ASIO by an overseas intelligence agency, probably MI 5. The report also detailed at length the record of an activist in the ALP womens' organisaiton, Gwen Noad, one of whose activities was to protest the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa. Jim Brebner, the secretary of the Pulp and Paper Workers Union, was 'a CPA sympathiser' although the bulk of his record was simply reports that CPA members regarded him favourably.
Shortly after the June 1960 Victorian ALP conference elected a new executive an ASIO officer ran a security check on its members, including its president, Albert McNolty and vice president Jim Brebner. Former Trades Hall president, Ron Alsop, was noted , as was a young plumber, George Crawford, whom the files showed had once been an official of the Eureka Youth League, a CPA dominated youth group. Though grouped around the 1958-60 period it is likely that ASIO interference and surveillance of the Victorian ALP continued into the 1960s, if not the early 1970s.
The ongoing struggle against the 'groupers' in Victoria also illustrated a classic case of the rule that in a dynamic political society any surveillance of one sector would invariably mean surveillance of other 'legitimate' forces. By 1958, the influential and long standing secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall, Vic Stout, was in regualr contact with communist leader and barrister Ted Hill. Stout was by no means a sympathiser with the CPA but saw the communists as useful allies in fighting the Groupers whose policies he did oppose. In April 1958 Spry authorised that a file be opened on Stout in reponse to a minute noting Stout's 'close association' with Hill and Stout's role as union leader and Labor spokesman on a daily session on Radio 3KZ. Nor was ASIO surveillance confined to the top level of the ALP. During the 1960 state elections, an ASIO field officer in Mildura debriefed an agent who had watched those handing out ALP how-to-votes. Some, the agent claimed, were CPA members who were also ALP members. But he saw fit to record several ALP members who were not CPA, such as Ted Innes (later federal parliamentarian) described as 'extreme left wing ALP' and Ivan Hodgson, later chief of the Transport Worker Union, of whom the agent said was 'strongly believed to be a communist'.
ASIO's INVOLVEMENT with the Labor Party also arose from its general brief to watch and to counter the activities of the Left in the trade unions. The formal brief of D desk in B1 branch was the surveillance of 'communist influence in the unions' but following the dictum that 'you follow the target wherever it leads' this automatically extended to surveillance of Labor Party affairs as well. '[E]very major operation mounted by the Communist Party,' said a 1960 analysis by Clowes '... has been based on the trade unions and it always became evident early in the operation that the ultimate aim of that Party was to involve the ALP, using the unions as the lever or springboard.'
The unions were simultaneously the numerical and financial base of the ALP as well as the vehicle for workers' struggles for better conditions. In the latter role the communists were strong and respected far beyond the limits of their own membership because they were a street wise, dedicated and collective force. CPA officials led over a dozen key blue collar unions and a host of smaller ones and many were affiliated to the ALP.
The communists were thus key allies to the ALP forces who opposed the Industrial Groups and their right wing policies. Prior to and just after the split a broad left and centre coalition, including the communists, fought the Industrial Groups. From 1956 to early 1960s this coalition gradually weakened especially after the old Movement consolidated its power within the NSW branch and the AWU resumed its anti-communist role. In 1956, anti-Grouper unions including the AWU, co-operated in key industrial disputes, such as the 1956 shearers' strike. Later, in 1959 the AWU joined the 'Groupers' and tried to split the ACTU and form an 'Australian Federation of Labour' after the ACTU levied unions to support the visit of Chinese trade unionists to Australia and made pro-peace gestures. The key bulwark against the Groupers in the unions was the practice of Labor Left and CPA members combining on a single united ticket in union elections. These 'unity tickets' were a prime target of the Liberal Government, the DLP and the NCC forces. The battle over them was partly a shadow play for several hidden attempts to re-unite the DLP and ALP. They were also a target of ASIO's B1 (d) desk which regarded them as a key method of communist subversion because they united the union Left and thereby strengthened the hand of the CPA. Similarly scandalised was the centre-right leadership of the ALP which nominally banned the practice of 'unity tickets', a move which only debilitated the whole party.
The unions which welcomed assistance from ASIO included at least the Clerks' Union and the Ironworkers' Association. In the case of the Clerks' Union a former official said he would have had contact with Clowes a dozen times over a seven year period from the late fifties to early sixties. Clowes was 'a marginal figure' but would provide information if it suited him. The Clerks' official nominated several other officials from his union who also knew Clowes. A former official of the Ironworkers also confirmed personal contact with Jack Clowes. When I requested an interview about Clowes with the key FIA leader of the period, Laurie Short, he declined in such a way as not acknowledge whether he had contact with Clowes. In any case ASIO files show that he was of some help to ASIO. When Laurie Short, applied for a US visa in 1953 the US asked ASIO for a security clearance of Short. This was given, although information about his previous activities as a leftwinger was also passed on, which caused some complications. In any case the US authorities were told by ASIO 'he is 'clear' with this Organization to which he has been of some assistance.'
So deep was the division in that period that the Clerks, Ironworkers, Shop Assistants, Engineers, the AWU and the NSW Labor Council refused to join the communists in a campaign against the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act, which could be used against all unions. Their logic was that penal clauses could be useful as a disciplining measure against the communists. Ultimately the penal clauses were used against many unions, including the Ironworkers' and a united campaign made them unworkable after 1969. The divisiveness over penal clauses and the Right's attempt to split the ACTU are indicative of the gulf which separated Right and Left in the late 1950s. In the eyes of the Right, CPA support for even the most sensible reforms tainted them. Similarly with ASIO. An analysis almost certainly written by Clowes of that period regarded all kinds of issues as having 'a CP of A flavour about them' They included 'proposals on [abolition of] Penal Clauses, Equal Pay, Automation, Leave, Daylight training forAppprentices, Day Labour, 35 hour week, [opposition to] Court Controlled Ballots, Interference in Union Ballots, Price Control, Coal Fields Industries, Socialisation, Peace, 10 per cent of National Revenue for Local Government and Bans on Nuclear Weapons.'
Little hard evidence exists of Spry's personal view on the Labor split and its aftermath although they can be imagined from his atttitude to Evatt and the activities of ASIO under his direction. One piece of hard evidence is an unsolicited letter he wrote to the Minister for Labour and National Services, Mr MacMahon, suggesting certain answers to a parliamentary question. The question, by Jim Cairns, tried to discover whether the government intended to outlaw the use of unity tickets in union elections. Spry's suggested answer was 'There is only one body that can prevent the use of unity tickets and that is the Australian Labor Party. Action by the Australian Labor Party to prevent such destructive collusion which can only harm our national security is sadly overdue.' Officially, of course, ASIO did not interest itself in trade union activities as such, as Spry said through Menzies in answer to a question from Clyde Cameron in 1960. He added a qualification however: 'The organization is, of course, vitally interested in Communist activities wherever they may be carried on, including in the trade union sphere, but this is entirely a different matter to the honourable member's suggestion.' Such a distinction was simply unworkable and false in practice.
JUST HOW far did ASIO's knowledge of the internal life of the ALP extend? More importantly, to what extent was this knowledge used in ASIO's operations ? The answer to the first question is that it was vast and intimate to a frightening degree. The answer to the second we shall probably never know. Even under liberalised rules covering the release of the hardest files to obtain concern what are coyly known as 'operations' and 'spoiling operations' on particular. I
The intimacy with which ASIO case officers knew the personal and political affairs can be seen from the surveilance on a leading left ALP politician, Les Haylen, who held the Sydney seat of Parkes between 1943 and 1963. Haylen was also an author and numbered among his friends, the communist writer Judah Waten; another associate was Evatt's secretary, Alan Dalziel. The telephones of both Dalziel and Waten were tapped and transcripts of all their conversations with Haylen were placed on Haylen's file . Labor contact with the young media baron, Rupert Murdoch is revealed:
Waten then asked when Haylen would be in Adelaide again. Haylen said he could go anytime. Waten asked if Haylen had had a personal talk with Roland Rivett (phon.) or with Murdock (f.n.u). Haylen said that Rivett had been sacked -- he had heard the news today -- he had been the victim of Playford (phon.) Waten thought that this would be the worse double cross in history, because Rivett was doing this for Murdock.
Tension between Dalziel and Haylen was also revealed. After Dalziel was dumped by the ALP when Evatt retired, he used Haylen's office. Haylen complained that Dalziel 'sits around my place like a migratory b------- flamingo -- nowhere to put his long legs.' Haylen's files also records that he took a woman who was high on ASIO's list of spy suspects, Lydia Janovski (Mokras), on a tour of parliament in December 1959. 'Janovski claims that Dr (HV) Evatt was very charming to her and was anxious to assist in any way hecould, including the offer of providing a car for her use. Others met by Janovski include Les Johnon, Fred (u.i.) from Victoria, Mr Cannes, [sic] Mr Crean, and Mr Morrison (u.i.) from South Australia.' (Attempts were made to restrict the access to such transcripts of phone taps on parliamentarians but security within ASIO was not tight when it came to trusted outsiders. Mr 'Smith' the Labor official interviewed for this book, knew the identity of two ASIO agents, a fact I was independently able to verify. )
IN NEW South Wales ASIO identified CPA leader Jack Hughes as a key figure in relations between the CPA and Labor Left. Hughes was a former leader of the NSW branch of the ALP who had led a breakaway party to join the CPA in 1944. Hughes was a guiding light and 'was regularly meeting with three members of the NSW state executive of the ALP for weekly discussions in regard to tactics to be employed at weekly meetings of the State executive of the ALP,' said one ASIO report. From an illegal phone tap it was deduced that Hughes was meeting with a member of the NSW ALP executive member, Norm Woodley, a waterside worker had been earlier been expelled from the ALP for taking part in 'unity tickets' with the CPA. . An analysis on Hughes file noted that 'With his background [a reference to his role as ALP leader in the late 1930s] Hughes is an ideal choice for any type of work associated with penetration of the ALP.' More generally ASIO rated Hughes as 'a key member of the communist hierarchy and 'undoubtedly a threat to ASIO, insofar as any one person can be, and as such must be a key target.' .
At least from the early 1950s the CPA had a highly secret fraction of members who had joined it while being members fo the ALP and remained publicly Labor ticket holders. As well, in outlying area isolated CPA members were sometimes advised to join the ALP. Such members worked to strengthen the Labor Left, defeat the resurgence of the Groups and have united CPA and Labor Left leadership. All of this, including the identities of many involved, was known to ASIO and most if not all was passed on to top Labor officials in the NSW branch. Surprisingly, the threat posed by the existence of 'dual ticket holders' in ALP branch membership was not considered significant. In an analysis in 1960 Jack Clowes noted that the ALP had 19,000 members and 521 branches and concluded that these figures 'indicate the practical impossibility of influencing to any great degree the ALP through the political wing'. He pointed out that bugged speeches by people like Jack Hughes welcomed the exodus of disillusioned members from the ALP to the CPA. The report went on to note that a 'survey recently completed by B1, NSW, indicates that penetration of the ALP by the CP of A in this State when compared with actual membership, is neglible. .
As we have already seen the central figure in the liaison between the NSW branch of the ALP and ASIO was Jack Clowes. Clowes first made contact with members of the industrial groups justbeforethe great LAbor split of 1955. His period of cloest liaison was from the late 1950s through the 1960s until 1971.
As part of the research for this book I interviewed two former officials of the NSW Right who held various senior positions, one in the union movement during the 1960s and 1970s, the other in the 1970s. The first, 'Mr Smith' explained that as a member of an Industrial Group and an up and coming trade unionist he had first met Clowes around 1954. In succeeding years a close relationship grew up between 'Smith' and other Labor and union officials and Clowes. The group, which included union leader John Ducker, shared all manner of information and gossip and often met for lunch at the Knights of the Southern Cross Club in central Sydney with Clowes.
The alliance between John Windsor Clowes and the anti-communists in the NSW branch was not that of puppeteer and puppets, but rather of people who shared the same ideological stance and who were useful for each other. Clowes' devotion to Labor politics, albeit of the Catholic Right, was genuine. It began as a young man in Queensland during the Depression after which Clowes became something of a protege of the Premier Ned Hanlon, according to an ASIO colleague. In the post war clash between East and West Clowes'anti-communism firmed, joining the CIS under Bob Wake in Brisbane. When ASIO was set up he moved initially to Sydney, then to the Perth office for a short period. After returning to Sydney around 1952 Clowes developed contacts in the union movement and gradually became the acknowledged expert on the byzantine complications of the left and right in trade unions. Recalled one ASIO officer, Clowes 'helped to build up a complete picture of Communist penetration of the union movement. His knowledge of personalities was unrivalled. He had an incredible card index system of his own. ...[with] hundreds and hundreds of names, and everything about each individual. It was almost his life's work. He was so dedicated, fanatical.'
Clowes' political sympathies lay with the leadership of the NSW branch of the ALP rather than that of the National Civic Council of BA Santamaria. 'But he didn't serve two masters. He was working for us, primarily. Any contact he had with the NCC would have been as ASIO officer, seeking information,' said a retired officer. Unlike their Melbourne co-thinkers, the NSW groupers, as we have seen, decided to 'stay in and fight' the Left within the NSW branch of the party. This combination of pragmatism and dedicated anti-communism had the approval of Clowes. Said 'Mr Smith': 'He did not agree with the fanatical part of the Movement. He disagreed with Santamaria's tactics of trying to destabilise the ALP, because he could see that the CPA might step in to fill in the vacuum. He also didn't agree with the anti-working class flavour of the Santamaria forces,' said one senior Labor figure. He had an 'instinctive recoiling from the excesses of Santamaria.'
'Smith' and other contacts in the Labor Party sing Clowes praises as a man who was on the side of 'legitimate unionism'. His reports which are now being released under the Archives Act confirm that his politics were pro-union and pro-Labor and have a decided touch of prosyletising fervour about them, urging readers to familiarise themselves with labour history and literature, such as Billy Hughes' classic Crusts and Crusades which one officer remembers Clowes urging him to read. His reports also indicate a rather proprietary attitude to the ALP, speaking about the 'audacity' of the CPA in trying to 'interfere in the affairs of that organisation.' Presumbly Clowes regarded the intense involvement of a government intelligence body in the ALP as perfectly legitimate.
Within ASIO some looked askance at his contact with right wing unionists, largely because the very labour movement itself was regarded as a subversive force, even when led by anti-communists. At one stage Clowes' career suffered because of his overt support for the labour movement. 'He believed unions and the ALP were legitimate, in contrast to some of the 'old school tie' people in ASIO, said 'Smith'. Clowes was thus regarded as 'our man' inside ASIO. 'He knew there was always a danger that the extreme Right in the Liberal Party ... would try to use ASIO to damage their political opponents.' Clowes evidently warned 'Smith' and his colleagues that some of his ASIO colleagues 'made no distinctions between traditional squeaky clean Laborites and others.... They saw someone like Cairns who was idealistic and intellectual and thought he was security risk -- which he was not. He was misused by CPA but he was not a real CP-oriented person.'
Yet it was Clowes' poltics that made him extraordinarily useful to ASIO and made him acceptable to the Labor Right. 'He could read the minds of the EV Elliotts and the Pat Clancys and the Jim Healys because he knew where they were coming from. He knew their phobias, he knew who who was a tippler and who was a rose gardener.'
Clowes' contacts with employers were also overt and known to 'Smith'. 'One of his main contributions was that he enabled employers and employers' organisations [to have] a more accurate insight into union affairs and industrial action.' He gave them 'an objective, impartial appreciation of a strike'. So that they 'were able to react in a balanced and effective way.' He knew in which strikes the Communist Party was involved and of the CPA's 'hidden agendas'. All of this was passed to employers.
THE RELATIONSHIP between Clowes and key individuals in the National Civic Council and the NSW Labor Right was enormously useful two way street. From 'Smith' and others in the ALP he gathered up to date inside information on the union movement, the CPA and the State Government which was Labor controlled until 1965. Clowes happily shared information drawn from his access to telephone taps and physical surveillance. During the 1950s details of the CPA's group of 'dual ticket holders' in the ALP were largely known to ASIO and the basic facts were conveyed to 'Smith' and his ALP contacts. .By the early 1960s the CPA presence in the ALP through 'undercover' members had largely dissipated and instead it concentrated on working directly (but discreetly) with leaders of the Labor Left. While day to day contact often occurred in union offices, on special occasions senior CPA leaders would meet some leaders of the ALP Left at a discreet rendezvous outside of Sydney. When ASIO was able to find out in advance of such events, the particpants were bugged and photographed -- and Clowes' ALP and union contacts were often informed. Clowes sometimes alerted the right of the union movement that a particular CPA union official was disenchanted with the party. The union official would soon find a warmer than normal greeting when he met certain Right officials and would be cultivated. 'Knowledge is power,' 'Smith' commented drily to the writer.
'Smith' instanced a particular case in 1971 when Clowes' knowledge proved highly useful to the Right then under seige from the Left. That year the Left split a small group calling itself 'Socialist Objective' emerged. The information Clowes provided enabled the Right's John Ducker to 'deal with and share power' with these people knowing that they were genuine non communists.
Talking to 'Smith', one striking fact that became apparent was his knowledge of ASIO's internal workings and structure, the obvious result of a high degree of trust that existed between him and the ASIO officers. So close was the relationship that 'Smith' knew the identity of a key ASIO agent in the NSW union movement. Several retired officers as well as 'Smith' and anotehr former Right union official alluded to the agent who was described to the writer as 'an industrial link man between the CPA and the Labor Left.' 'Smith' said the agent was one of a group of people who 'were loyal to the left Labor point of view but who did not believe that this meant advancing the interests of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union'. This man (in a nursing home at the time of writing) was an official of a Left union and played an important role in a successful spoiling operation run by ASIO and key NSW branch figures in the early 1970s.
Another instance of 'Smith''s closenes to operational activity concerned ASIO's counter-espionage branch. In the early 1970s 'Smith' was told of ASIO's interest in a particular female member of the ALP Left who had been sent a dozen red roses on May Day by an official of the Cuban consulate, an event interpreted as the start of a cultivation by the Cuban who was believed to be an intelligence officer. (By this time Clowes had retired and this gossip came through another ASIO officer who was also a 'Labor man'.)
Another field where intelligence co-operation with the NSW Labor was apparent concerned the peace movement. It was an article of faith shared by ASIO and the men who ran NSW Labor that the peace movement was a communist controlled entity with no redeeming feature. When Australia sent troops to the Vietnam war NSW Labor decided to ban its members from participation in the anti-war movement on the excuse that anti-war candidates had stood in the disastrous 1966 federal election. Ultimately the move came to nothing.
According to 'Smith', anti-Labor conservatives in ASIO and the wider intelligence world had their own contacts with senior Liberal politicians who urged them to leak information derived from unwaranted phone taps. Through Clowes and other contacts in ASIO 'Smith' believes he stymied several such moves by tipping off certain ALP leaders 'At different times it was suggested to me that different people [in the ALP] should be very careful with their phones because of unauthorised taps being put on,' he said. .
Just how co-operative was Clowes? 'Smith' described it simply. 'If you asked Clowes what he thought about X, he would tell you.' It is clear that this co-operation extended passing on ASIO research, the results of surveillance or the vetting a potential members of the ALP. So close were the links between Clowes and leaders of the NSW Right that when he retired from ASIO in late 1971, he was employed for two years as a research officer in the NSW Labor Council library.
Fol = page ;
Catholic Action Part 2 CRS A6122 item 1222
W.J. Hudson Casey OUP Melbourne 1986 pp 257-58
This statement and the subsequent ones are from two short ASIO files titled 'Catholic Action', CRS A6122 items 1198 and 1222. The most interesting file was released only after a major legal battle undertaken by its requestor, Mark Aarons, in 1992-93.
Memo to Acting Director, NSW of 19 September 1952
Memo to Director, NSW 'Irregularities and improper control of Q Sources' 15 October 1953
Memo to Senior Section Officer, S branch 10 February 1954
Spry memo to RD Victoria 25 November 1957
This point was stated by an interviewee who had personal knowledge of the situation which he said lasted until 1957 or thereabouts.
Minute for PSO B1, 26th May 1958 in CPA Interest in ALP Vol 1 (refernce ) fol 119
Memo of 6th May 1960 to Headquarters from Regional Director, Victoria. Vol 8 CPA interest in ALP (reference ?)
JV Stout personal file (reference )
Report from agent dated 11 September 1961. Vol 2 CPA interest in ALP
Folio 118 of CP of A Interest and Influence in Trade Unions Affiliated to the ALP (NSW) dated 23 August 1960 in CP A Interest in ALP Vol 8 [Citation number needed]
Laurence Elwyn Short CRS A6119 item 386 fol 28
Report of 23 August, op cit fol 102
Report of 23 August, fol 104
Leslie Haylen CRS A6119 item 501.
Ibid folio 96
Ibid Folio 94
Ibid fol 88
Vol 9 of personal file M J R Hughes, (referecne )
Report of 23 August 1960, fol 134, 110,106 CPA Interest in ALP Vol 8 op cit
Report of 23 August op cit fol 93
This description was confirmed by two interviewees both of whom held official positions in the NSW ALP
'The Communist role in the anti-Vietnam war and anti-conscription protest movements' (ASIO analysis in author's possession). p. 25.
Such warnings (which covered taps by intelligence agencies other than ASIO) continued until the mid 1980s, 'Smith' claimed.