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The Forum > Article Comments > Rex Connor - the other dismissal > Comments

Rex Connor - the other dismissal : Comments

By David Smith, published 13/10/2006

Did Gough Whitlam deceive his party and Parliament, and sacrifice Rex Connor? Winkling out the truth.

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History should record 'Rex' Connor as a visionary whose timing was out by thirty years. The transcontinental gas pipeline is back on the agenda because of the changed economics of energy. Similarly the need for electrification of interstate railways. It seems prescient that these ideas were canvassed in the 1970s. If such projects do materialise the financing may well be unorthodox by the standards of the past.
Posted by Taswegian, Friday, 13 October 2006 1:00:57 PM
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I was working in the WA mineral sands industry at the time of the Whitlam government. My belief was that the money Rex Connor was trying to raise was to buy back the farm (or , in this case, the mine) by buying back or nationalising certain key mining industries in Australia. Thank god he failed to raise the money!

Shortly before he was justifiably sacked, Connor imposed price controls for many of Australia's mineral exports. This was another experiment by a socialist government to control Australia's leading export industry by stealth and fortunately it too failed. But enormous damage was done before the controls were removed. For example, Connor's price controls in rutile and zircon required sales of these minerals at prices well above ruling world prices. Sales by Australian companies slumped, allowing South Africa to develop new mines and supply over 60% of the world market in these two commodities. Australian companies took over a decade to recover from this loss of income and, in one case, an Australian mineral sand company was partially taken over by British interests to help it survive Connor's enforced market slump, exactly the reverse of the nationalisation that the Whitlam government had been hoping for.

Connor is dead; please let's leave him buried where he belongs.
Posted by Bernie Masters, Monday, 16 October 2006 10:20:50 AM
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Sir David Smith is rehabilitating the reputation of RFX Connor with this re-examination of the Loans Affair. If such a visionary was deliberately sacrificed, Australians have a right to ask why.

Note that, after the first authorisation of Connor to seek funds (at the meeting from which the Governor-General had been deliberately excluded) Connor's authority was completely revoked at a meeting at which the Governor-General was present. Authority was subsequently renewed for a reduced borrowing at a meeting attended by the Governor-General, but again completely revoked; only this time at a meeting held when the Governor-General was absent overseas.

Stewart's papers confirm that Connor had reason to believe immediately after the 20 May 1975 Executive Council meeting that formally revoked his authority he was nevertheless authorised by Whitlam to "keep contact" with respect to the loan negotiations. Whitlam chose to inform the Parliament that Connor's negotiations had terminated at a time when he (Whitlam) well knew they may have been continuing. If Whitlam wanted to maintain that everything was above board, all he had to do was be open about Connor's "keep contact" brief. He chose not to. By demanding Connor's resignation when it all became public, Whitlam only reinforced suspicions, suspicions he deliberately created in the first place, that there was something improper intended in the seeking of these loans.

Was Whitlam convinced, as early as the first week of December 1974, that the fate of his government was electorally irrecoverable? Did he set up the Loans Affair himself in order to provide for a grand exit? He was practically asking for dismissal!

It seems 'Rex' Connor was first deceived, then used, before being ultimately sacrificed in the interests of preserving his leader's place in history as some sort of heroic victim. Australia is well served by such meticulously researched and authoritative commentary. This is no dead letter from the past; Sir David's research is red hot stuff! Keep telling it like it was, Sir David.

PS Wonder why that Bulletin article was post-dated?
Posted by Forrest Gumpp, Monday, 16 October 2006 2:01:04 PM
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Whatever details are yet to be wrung out of The Loans Affair, they are less significant than the part the media played in providing information to the public regarding it.
It doesn't always happen that voters have access to even-handed reporting on matters that will influence voting choice. And The Loans Affair was a striking example.
The media made an issue of the size of the loan. Four billion, rather than its purpose, seemed to indicate fiscal incompetence. It raised enduring headlines and associated articles.
Strangely, size seemed not an issue later on: The Fraser Government, after a lull of a year or two, raised a loan of two billion, and in quick time after that, another of similar magnitude. Short paragraphs were devoted to these, mid-newspaper.
That the Whitlam loan attempt was not government to government, but brokered, seemed to be important to media. They gave prominience to, and alarm at, the broker - although he had no malfeasance reported against him. He was described as a peanut eating Arab - although we were not advised as to which of these characteristics was the most alarming.
In contrast, a few more years down the Fraser Governments' track, a short paragraph appeared - again snuggled mid-newspaper - in relation to Federal Government loans raising: British courts jailed some gentleman for gross fiscal malfeasance. Its relevance to Australian society was that he was said to have been the long-standing broker for Australian Government loan raising. I have seen no reference to Kemlani having had to have porridge with his peanuts.
Yes, Sir David, true records of events should be published. It should apply across political divides. And will Sir David concur with me that unbalanced reporting which influences voting patterns, as with The Loans Affair, is improper?
Posted by colinsett, Monday, 16 October 2006 5:45:14 PM
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Colinsett,

I don't fully agree with your opening assertion, but I'll run with it. Sir David remarked on 7 November 2004 that "the late Philip Graham, former publisher of Newsweek and the Washington Post, said that good journalism should aim to be the first rough draft of history. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson, a former US President, once said that " A man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors." When one looks at much of the reporting of the dismissal and the events surrounding it, one would have to conclude that Jefferson was closer to the mark than Graham."

The 'journalism' surrounding the Connor dismissal is in the same class. Reid did not claim in his interview that "It is understood that the Governor-General did take some action but at this stage it is not known what action he took. Reid quoted his sources throughout in the TV interview, but this claim in the Bulletin article, upon which not even the date was right, is inconsistently unattributed, and smacks of editorial doctoring. You will note that it is in relation to this claim that Sir David makes his only unattributed assertion, that is, that as to that part of the content of the conversation contributed by the Governor-General. Sir David must, therefore, have been there to hear it. Stewart corroborates its likely content with his correcting annotation of two crosses and 'short' on the copy of Reid's Bulletin article. "The Australian" hid behind the anonimity of "[their] political staff" in claiming Whitlam had refused to comment. Why?

It was Whitlam who first flagged to the G-G possible intended constitutional impropriety by twice branding the proposed borrowings as being for 'temporary' purposes. Whitlam ensured suspicion would be created at the outset by deliberately withholding knowledge of an Executive Council meeting from the G-G. The media were guilty of either complicity or cupidity, rather than imbalance.
Posted by Forrest Gumpp, Tuesday, 17 October 2006 3:50:52 PM
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Colinsett,

Many thanks, mate. Sleeping on things sometimes does wonders. That opening statement of yours served to really focus my thinking about media reporting subsequent to Alan Reid's TV interview with Michael Schildberger on "A Current Affair" on Tuesday 2 December 1975. Particularly about that post-dating of the Bulletin article that was dated 6 December 1975, but actually published on Wednesday 3 December 1975.

What really needs to be explained is how The Australian was able to have gone to print for Wednesday 3 December with a story about a claimed response of "no comment" from Whitlam to an enquiry about an allegation attributed to Alan Reid that itself was first published only on Wednesday 3 December, the same day that "[the] political staff" at The Australian were credited with having already sought Whitlam's response to the (perhaps editorially doctored) allegation attributed to Reid in the Bulletin article.

I don't know at what time the presses rolled for the Wednesday 3 December edition of The Australian, but I think the story claiming a (non)response from Whitlam had to have been written before rolling! How could a story have been written about a response previously obtained to an allegation contained in a story as yet unpublished?
Posted by Forrest Gumpp, Wednesday, 18 October 2006 12:19:13 PM
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