In defence of Dr Herbert Vere Evatt

A great Australian


Arthur Gietzelt

It is just fifty years, the October Labor Day weekend of 1954, since the Honourable Dr H V Evatt put the spotlight on an incubus, obnoxious and underground group that had for many years white-anted and weakened the labour movement. He put the searchlight on an 'outside organisation' that was using the trade union movement as the means of weakening federal Labor. He 'outed' an organisation that, with the blessing of the Catholic hierarchy and led by Mr B A Santamaria, was using the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as a means to fight the 'socialist' aspirations of the Australian labour movement. As the Communist Party was prominent in many unions, this led to the formation of 'Industrial Groups' to fight them. In this process, the hierarchy used the Catholic Social Studies Movement and other church bodies to enter the party-political arena, contrary to Vatican policy. By 1953 these Catholic groups were within an ace of capturing Australia's oldest political party. It is clear they used the 'communist bogey' to achieve a much wider perspective.


Various commentators suggest that the statement by the leader of the ALP, Dr Evatt, was a personal aberration, unnecessary, and should have been avoided. Some sources have even suggested he was eccentric and misguided, and, given a different leadership role, the later events could have been avoided. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is this historically incorrect, it masks a major contradiction within the labour movement that remains unresolved.


Dr Evatt was an eminent jurist, an independent thinker and writer, a courageous man who perceived the danger from fascism and militarism. From the moment he stood down from the High Court in the early days of World War II, he became an outstanding crusader for defending Australia from invasion and for Labor principles. His later role was positive on international co-operation, on the rights of people and for a better social order. He was in my early years an icon, a defender of democracy and the rule of law. He deserves a better place not only in Labor history but also in society in general. In the early days of the Cold war he was a beacon against the conservative Right. Essentially he was a centrist, leaning sometimes to orthodoxy, other times to non-conformist policies. In this latter role, he suffered much from the 'slings' of the Catholic hierarchy, and their appointee, Mr B A Santamaria.


In defending Dr Evatt from the paranoia of the Bishops, I quote only from those historians and participants, many of a Catholic background, who tell an incredible story of how a good man has been historically 'crucified' at the bar of history. He needs to be rehabilitated and defended from the calumny, back-handers and smears by knockers. Hence my contribution. I hope it will be seen through historical eyes and not as an attack upon the religious faith of many citizens who were misled.


Too many people have unwittingly contributed to a process that suggested Dr Evatt was a failure. He was not. Some examples of Labor history suffice. Graham Freudenberg claims, "all attempts to explain the 1955 Split have concentrated on the personal and political aspects", and he uses Robert Murray to say there was no real necessity... except the chief actors lacked the will to prevent it". Years later, even the eminent Neville Wran, in a forward to a recent reprint of Dr Evatt's celebrated biography of William Holman, made the suggestion the Doc's behaviour was a factor in the 1950s. Wran wrote "... it is difficult to see that there was any inevitability about the Split of 1955. Much more than 1916, the spirit of disinterestness was absent. In other words, splits may be inevitable and may even be necessary if deep and insoluble issues of principle arise, although skilful leadership always strive to the limit to avoid the final tragedy. But splits which involve no fundamental issue of principle, but merely reflect an excess of factionalism, can never be condoned or justified".


This generalisation led people like Michael Eason (former NSW Labor Council leader) to say "Evatt's leadership not only contributed to the final tragedy but also initiated and worsened the disaster". Not only is that wrong, it is slanderous. Former ALP leader Bill Hayden on three occasions muddied the waters, firstly in News-Weekly, writing a forward to a Gavan Duffy's history of the 'Movement' in which he 'attacked Evatt's reputation on free expression. "Evatt's record as a civil libertarian is very spotty", claiming elsewhere in his comments that "Evatt's reputation was energetically burnished as a defender of free expression, a slayer of intolerant Catholic sectarianism and a demolisher of secret and sinister Catholic conspiracies to seize control of the Labor Party...".


In 1997 in Santamaria's own Memoir, Hayden is quoted as saying: "He (Evatt) made it without consultation in a desperate and inexcusably selfish effort to save his sagging leadership. Not for the first time in his career Evatt put his personal ambitions ahead of any other interests, such as those of the Labor Party. He might have saved his leadership... but he bequeathed Labor a legacy of more than two decades of internal division and self-evisceration, keeping it trapped in Opposition...". Earlier at the national press club in Canberra in April 1996, shortly after he retired as Governor-General, Bill Hayden is quoted as saying: "I am inexcusably in the ranks of the Labor Party, generous to Bob Santamaria. Santamaria we used to treat as a reactionary and worse, a devil with two heads and four tails. But if you read Santamaria's columns these days (1996), he is more radical than the Labor Party. Much, much more and always has been...".


Praise indeed

The attacks on Dr Evatt and his moral reputation about civil liberties was unjustified, as the Sunday Sun & Guardian of 11 March 1951 said in an article commenting on the High Court decision which in a 6 to l majority declared invalid the Menzies government's anti-communist legislation. "Whatever you think about this, it must be said that, for Evatt, the High Court's judgment on the Communist Party Dissolution Act is a great political and legal triumph... Evatt took the brief because he thought the anti-communist legislation would make tyrannous government possible, violate fundamental principles of British justice and that it was opposed to a principle the Australian Constitution itself sought to protect...if the executive government can do this to communists, all minority groups will be in danger...."

Later in the September 1951 referenda on changing the constitution (Powers to deal with Communists and Communism) he played an outstanding role, against the odds, to have the Australian people endorse his stand. For the second time he clipped the wings of the Menzies government. He became a hero in the community in defence of democracy. Even Dr Mannnix in a rare break with 'the Bishops', advocated 'No' as did sections of the popular press in that famous campaign to defend basic rights of minorities. He was able to prove that the net against communists could include anyone who dissented from the executive government. A few years later when Evatt 'outed' the secretive 'Movement' for interfering in the internal affairs of the ALP, he garnished much support initially, and many people supported him by joining the ALP. Regretfully, many highly placed Catholic leaders were persuaded to slander him and his reputation. In so doing they aided and assisted the long-time plan that weakened federal Labor and put it at the electoral mercy of the Democratic Labor Party. That strategy used blackmail tactics denying Labor preferences for decades unless it backtracked on the policies determined at the 1955 Hobart conference of the Australian Labor Party.


Rectification essential

The comments referred to earlier by those who do not know the facts were simplistic, historically wrong, inadequate and an injustice to an eminent jurist. They suggest all that happened at the famous Hobart conference of the ALP was also wrong; that all the state branches which endorsed the decisions of a properly constituted federal ALP conference were wrong. It is absurd. They ignore the fact that Dr Evatt was persuaded by Australian Workers Union (AWU) chieftain Tom Dougherty and Jim Ormonde, as well as numerous important NSW Labor union officials, to take the action he did, and that he had no alternative. My refutation is designed to show that such comments are a shallow misrepresentation of the factual circumstances that had their genesis years earlier in the Curtin-Chifey-Evatt wartime government. The so-called 'split' emanated from a deep-seated contradiction within the body-politic that exists to this very day. It needs to be examined from its origins, well before Dr Evatt's celebrated entry into Australian parliamentary politics in 1940 when he resigned from the High Court to play a key part in the defence of Australia.

As the facts emerge they will speak for themselves. The problem is people tend to ignore or face the historical events in favour of their own subjective and simplistic viewpoints. My aim is to present a ball-by-ball representation of what actually happened over decades, and show that it is totally wrong and unfair to blame the 'Split' upon Dr Evatt. I have drawn my analysis from several quarters. My experiences arise from my close personal friendship with the late Senator Jim Ormonde, who convinced me to go down the social-democratic path and fight Catholic Action. My close associations with union officials like Tom Dougherty (AWU), Barney Platt (Transport Workers' Union), Bob Erskine (Textile Clothing And Footwear Union), Jack Williams (Builders Labourers Federation), Fred Campbell (Electrical Trades Union) and John Garland (Australian Education Union), as well as such important Catholic parliamentarians as Eddie Ward, Les Haylen and Gertrude Melville and the representative NSW steering committee of which I was a member and later its secretary helped me to understand the evil. I have drawn conclusions from books written by Father Duncan, Gerard Henderson, Bob Santamaria, Ross Fitzgerald, John Faulkner, Paul Ormonde and others like Robert Murray and Ross McMullin.


Pattern of wholesale deceit

Hundreds of examples exist that show a pattern of deception and intrigue which plagued Labor for decades. A secretive 'Movement' led by non and anti-Labor persons actually worked against many federal Labor leaders not just Dr Evatt. Curtin, Chifley, Calwell and Whitlam all felt their sting. This secretive cabal had the support of top business personalities as well as the Catholic bishops. The Movement divided Labor, the Church and the community. Due to many circumstances on the world scene and the demand for social justice and a better social order, a conflict between capital and labour led inevitably to a schism that engulfed social democracy. In the process the politicisation of the Catholic religion led to the Church entering the sphere of party politics with disastrous effects on Labor, the trade union movement, Catholicism and parliamentary democracy. Australian Catholicism saw itself on a holy mission against communism and decided to use the labour movement as its principal instrument to combat the ALP socialist objective of the 1920s; the socialisation movements after the first World War and during the world depression years and the socialist dream of the communists.


In this entry into Australian Labor, Santamaria claims credit for the formation of the ALP Industrial Groups. In his book Australia at the Crossroads he says: "The Industrial Groups were indisputably the major influence in the ALP in 1953 and in a position, if their influence had been permitted to consolidate itself to shape an entirely different Labor Party..." In his position as the spokesman for the Catholic Social Studies Movement and other Catholic bodies, he indicated the tactic of permeation (to) be used within the labour movement. "Our attitude to political parties is very clear. We try to influence both sides as best we can. We are neutral between them. But ... facts have driven us deeper into the labour movement than into the other side". (Gerard Henderson p.173).


For those who believe in democracy, fair play and the rule of law, especially against any form of discrimination, they should know what was in the pipeline of the Movement prior to that October 1954 weekend. At the end of the Second World War, the ALP Groups were established in the eastern states and over a few years 'captured' many unions. They had other perspectives than removing communists from union leadership.


The Industrial Groups, following such successes aimed to set up at the NSW ALP state executive level a 'fighting fund' to finance all trade union elections. Late in 1953 at a NSW ALP central executive meeting Jack Kane (officer-in-charge of the Industrial Groups) presented a series of rule amendments that showed conclusively how the Labor Party was to be manipulated by the 'Groups'. Charlie Oliver (AWU) asked the then state president Bill Colbourne the intent of the rule changes; stating that he Oliver would never become a Grouper. President Colbourne (then a Movement member) replied, "Every good ALP member knows the rules and he knows the consequences if he disobeys them. It is very obvious that the Groups in the AWU will choose the candidates, but Charlie Oliver who will never be a Grouper will be expelled from the ALP if he opposes the Grouper candidates" (in his union ballot). These rules were to be dealt with prior to October 1954. Dr Evatt's statement killed this preposterous idea.


The next step, which was outlined at Industrial Group conferences and proclaimed by none other than John Kerr (of Governor-General fame) was to have compulsory unionism; the Labor Party Groups to select the candidates for union office and for all union elections to be held on the same day. It was to be 'corporatism' applied to the trade union movement. The 'machine' was to become the powerhouse; the power point; the 'feudal centre' and apply tyrannical control of unionism.


The Australian Workers' Union was the largest trade union in Australia and because it covered both rural and urban workers it had a large presence in the ALP. At the 1954 NSW Labor conference the tensions had heightened. It was the report dealing with the ALP Industrial Groups that showed 'their strength' and how they were departing from the original NSW charter, and interfering in all unions' affairs. Tom Liston (AWU) and Jim Hamling (Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union) opposed the adoption of the 'Groups' report. An amendment from Fred Campbell (Electrical Trades) and Charlie Oliver (AWU) suggesting that the NSW ALP executive confer with the Transport Workers' Union to achieve their re-affiliation and the 'Grouper Charter' in that Labor union be withdrawn was lost by 76 to 348 on Sunday 13 June 1954. It was a hot bed of totalitarianism. Fred Campbell told the Labor conference "there was a great story to be told about union and party affairs". It was a move from the centre forces in NSW for more balance, and for the independence of the trade union movement.


This one-sided vote was the last straw to those who knew a little, but only a little about the clandestine activities of the hierarchical-backed Catholic Studies Social Movement. The AWU general secretary Tom Dougherty knew about Santamaria's plan that by capturing the AWU the Movement would be able to have absolute control of the ALP. He was beside himself with rage but controlled it for the moment, letting others move. In 1952 Joe Bukowski, the Queensland AWU president had confided to Dougherty about the widespread machinations of Mr Santamaria. "Back in 1949", Bukowski told delegates to the 69th AWU national convention, "he had been approached to work with others from interstate who were fighting communism. They took me to the Catholic Institute for Seamen in Brisbane... 'put the tape over me'. Ultimately he was involved with Mr Lauritz (National Civic Council, News-Weekly), Mr Poulgrain who worked out of an office in the (Catholic) Hibernian Society, Jack Kane and Frank McManus, both of whom were to become ALP officials in NSW and Victoria and later Democratic Labor Party (DLP) senators). They pledged me to secrecy".


At that time the AWU supremo Dougherty suggested Bukowski 'go along' with them and keep him informed. The AWU Queensland president told the union convention, "that late on Sunday night, Mr Kane came to me and said 'of course, you do not want to mention anything to Dougherty of what is going on'..." It was stupid as AWU loyalty always came first in that union. It was just another example of how 'outsiders' knew so little about labour movement ethos and culture.


While all this underhand interference was taking place in the trade union movement, a quiet takeover of ALP branches was proceeding in NSW and Victoria as Catholic parish lists were used to recruit all and sundry. Parishioners were told to join the ALP to fight communism. The international Cold War was raging, adding fuel to these political moves. Liberal anti-communist legislation, the 1952 referendum, the Korean War and the Petrov defection raised the temperature in the labour movement and the Catholic Church. The tactics of communists per se gave credence to these intrigues.


Misuse of Catholic workers

The roots of this great philosophical struggle and contradiction within Labor lay not so much about the ideological issues between capital and labour for a better society, but in the composition of the Australian workforce. As distinct from other countries, our workforce came not from the breakdown of feudalism but from convictism and unskilled migrant workers, especially from Ireland. Moving out from their religious and economic ghetto the working class Irish Catholic saw the unions and Labor as a means of extending their influence and improving working conditions. Some success came from intense class struggles against capital and later from the parliamentary path. Many of the leading trade union militants in the various tendencies came from the Irish Catholics in both the extra-parliamentary activities in unions as well as the parliaments. Life was dreadful for most workers both in the factories and in their rented homes. Many lived in slums and working conditions were deplorable. Before the Second World War, annual holidays did not exist for most and such things as 'safety' at work were unthinkable. In this process the move towards some form of socialism emerged, following the two world wars and the privations of the depression. As communism posed itself as an alternative after 1917, so did the prospects of democratic socialism arrive. These contending forces manifested themselves in the labour movement, and in this conflict the role of the Catholic hierarchy became apparent.


As a certain brand of popular communism developed in the aftermath of the First World War so did Catholicism in Australia respond, taking advantage of the special relationship between the trade unions and their particular 'vehicle the ALP' and parliament. In 1938, following a mild excursion in the internal affairs of a particular union in Victoria, Mr Santamaria claims the Movement was born. It was the forerunner of decades of clandestine activities inside the independent trade union movement. The world depression saw the popularisation of Labor's socialisation units. In Victoria, at the 1940 Labor Conference one of the leaders of this 'socialist tendency', Don MacSween (Clothing Trades Union leader), lost his ballot against Pat Kennelly - 119 to 104. The Santamaria Movement was to claim (falsely) that 'communists' were planning to take over the Victorian ALP. The fact that quite a number of the communist-led unions were ideologically and specifically not affiliated to the ALP was ignored. The communists had an entirely different agenda.


In NSW the Left, including the communists, had cleansed the ALP from the nepotic and disruptive influence of the 'Lang machine', to the extent that the Left won both the 1939 and 1940 NSW ALP conferences. When the famous 'Peace' resolution offended the federal ALP executive in 1940 the 'Left walked' out of the ALP, finally merging in 1944 with the Communist Party. Many unions led by communist officials disaffiliated from the now official ALP in the late 1940s - quite the opposite to the Santamarian polemics and the hierarchy. Years later I had the task as a member of the NSW steering committee of getting these unions to re-affiliate to the NSW ALP to keep the 'Group' elements at bay.


While it was said Justice Evatt agreed with the 1940 Easter NSW Labor conference sentiments about the Soviet-Finnish war, he held a wider view about Germany and Japan. John Curtin was hobbled with a divided labour movement (three Labor parties in NSW) and the left-right struggles inside the ALP for the 'socialist objective', and was thus reluctant to challenge the disintegrating flotsam and jetsam in the conservative side of politics in Canberra. It was left to the new Barton parliamentarian Evatt (September 1940) to stiffen Curtin. Arthur Calwell MHR said "Herbert Vere Evatt more than any other man, more than Curtin himself, was responsible for the first Curtin Ministry coming into power when it did in the way it did. Curtin was hesitant on the question of whether the Menzies government should be destroyed. Evatt was not... He had a will to power that was absent in Curtin at that time. He earnestly desired power because he believed he, and the Labor Party, should take and wield the power of government as soon as possible in the nation's interest. Curtin, more sensitive to the dangers and difficulties did not seek power".


Evatt did, and he became a linch pin in the new Labor administration which took office on October 7, 1941. Without Evatt the Curtin government might not have survived. It was Evatt who persuaded the two independents as well as the former Lang members who had been re-elected as federal members of the Anti-Communist Lang Labor Party to rejoin the official party late in 1941, thus shoring up the essential majority Labor needed to govern in the House of Representatives, during Australia's most difficult hour, when Japan came into the Second World War on December 7th 1941.


The early stirrings

While these vital issues were being resolved in the parliament by Curtin and Evatt, the hierarchy was backing the efforts of Mr Santamaria who in August 1941 while Hitler was marching on Moscow, claims Stan Keon, Frank Hannan, John Cremean met in his home and formed the first 'Movement meeting'. Next year in January, Santamaria and Cremean met again with Archbishop Manni,x who agreed to help finance their 'Movement' as well as asking Melbourne's parish priests to nominate two reliable men to assist in forming an anti-communist organisation in the trade unions. 300 Catholic unionists attended a meeting on l4 August 1942 at the very time 18 year-old Australian militiamen were to battle the Japanese invaders at Kokoda. This 'Movement' grew, especially as the hierarchy actually gave considerable sums of money to it over the years. It was finally given official Church blessing in September 1945 with the bishops in charge, immediately the Second World War ended.


This 'official endorsement' led Jim Ormonde to attack the Industrial Groups in 1951 and years later in letters to the Sydney Morning Herald, in December 1964, Senator Jim Ormonde wrote, "Most people would agree that the Curtin government and the Labor Party needed no aid from Mr Santamaria or his Movement in those years. Which brings me to the point that in my view Mr Santamaria even in those days and earlier had very much wider horizons than the mere defeat of communists in a few unions. The labour movement had to fight the Santamaria movement not only in the interests of Labor but also in the interests of democracy in Australia. It is Labor's misfortune that certain sections of the electors have never appreciated the implication of the division in the Labor Party or its fundamental seriousness".


"The Santamaria movement was a 'secret society'", the senator said. "It established 'cells' within unions and ALP branches. Its mode of communications was by 'code word'. Entrance was by password. Youths, organised in semi-military style, operated in the suburbs; each district had its commanders, etc. A particularly dishonest stratagem used by the Movement was the issuing of counterfeit union tickets for entry to union meetings. The Movement was linked with security (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) and character assassination was a major part of its armoury", said Jim Ormonde. "No one was safe, cleric or non-cleric. To be dubbed a communist one had only to disagree with the methods of the Santamaria movement. Fortunately...the labour movement and a great section of the leadership of the Catholic Church and laity became aware of the methods and intentions of the Santamaria movement... I lose patience with (those) who write of Santamaria ... as just another political dispute... such simplification is unfair to Labor and is not true history", he concluded.


The Honourable Xavier Connor AO, QC and a former supreme court justice and member of the Campion Society expressed it well too: "From about 1945 to 1957 an organisation known as the Movement operated in Australia within the trade unions and the Australian Labor Party. It was effectively under the control of the Catholic hierarchy of Australia. It was a secret organisation. It was run by Bob Santamaria. Part of its activity was to select policies which it considered suitable for the ALP and to select men to implement those policies". In Victoria a Movement document, which later surfaced, "directed its members in 1952 to give full attention... to federal and state pre-selections with the view (they agree) with the Movement's industrial (and) economic policies".


Wartime paranoia

Creating a false sense of fear in the early years of the Curtin-Evatt Labor government, foreboding and thus confusion in the minds of its faithful, a sign of Catholic paranoia in those earlier formative years of the 'Movement' was expressed by Archbishop Gilroy, one of the patrons of the Australian national secretariat of Catholic Action, when he said in two issues of the NSW Catholic Weekly on the 10th and 17th September 1942, that the communists were preparing for "armed insurrection" in Australia. The fact that General Douglas MacArthur had arrived in Australia six months earlier with thousands of American troops was ignored. His fellow archbishops were on the same wavelength sowing doubts and confusion. Archbishop Duhig was to say the following year, "Mussolini is like Napoleon with few, if any, of his faults". Not to be outdone was Archbishop Mannix who said, "Mussolini, the greatest man living today" in 1943. The fact that Mussolini was part of the Anti-Comintern Axis and our enemy, was not accepted by these important religious opinion-makers. Some might say these statements bordered on alienation, apostasy and disloyalty.

They were never brought to account for their statements and actions. In fact they helped their own church-backed cabal during the difficult war years on every occasion by hypnotising their parishioners about 'reds' and thus give credence to the Santamaria 'push'. The arch-conservative Archbishop Duhig was to write to his senior Archbishop Gilroy on 19th November 1942, saying he regarded Evatt "as the most dangerous man in Australia... Evatt is an out-and-out Communist in sympathy... anti-religious and particularly anti-Catholic".


On the world scene the Vatican had been ambivalent to both Hitler and Mussolini and in the countries now occupied by Nazism the Catholic prelates were collaborating with the enemy. It started in Spain during the civil war and continued in much of Eastern Europe during 1939/45. When the collaborative forces of the extreme Right were defeated in the Second World War, it was to have major repercussions in post-war Europe and was to spill over even in Australia where many church figures had got themselves in a political movement that was almost out of control for years.


A great Labor government

The Curtin Labor government played a masterful role during the 1940s. It organised our war effort by establishing government enterprise in many areas and found a ready ally in the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) who, speaking on behalf of the workers, acted as one to support the Labor government. Ideology was put on standby. In August 1945, at war's end, (ACTU) Secretary Charlie Crofts was to say, "... the unions have temporarily conceded (during the war) many things that for years they had fought against. They have accepted heavy dilution of labour, suspended overtime bans, agreed to the admission of female labour to industries for which it was previously excluded, accepted altered shift arrangements, and abrogated many other pleasures that they would never have given up in peacetime, including the pegging of all wage rates". This unity of purpose was the working-class' contribution to the war effort. The employees on the other hand worked on a system of costs plus, with a 10 per cent profit margin. The more the cost, the more their profit.


This wartime unity put on hold much of the conflict between at least two of the major tendencies, the Left and the church. In Melbourne in 1943, conscious of how society saw life in Australia, two wars and an economic crisis, a group of Christians embracing the Anglican Social Questions Committee, the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action and the Christian Social Order Council (the non-conformist churches) adopted a twenty point 'CHRISTIAN PROGRAMME FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE'. Their statement called for public control of monopolies and credit; industrial councils (representing employer, employee and the public); part ownership of industry by workers; co-operatives - producers, consumers, marketing, insurance and credit; adequate income for all families; equal pay for equal work; special financial assistance to families, decentralisation; family land settlement; national system of education, adequate wages to be paid before dividends and profit, religion to be the basis of education and so on.


The Catholic Social Studies Movement, in general, embraced most of these policies, making the point the recommendations need to be confined "to those which could be based on the principles of Christian social doctrine". Catholic social thought at this time seemed to be expressed in their "Statement on Reconstruction and Pattern for Peace". From the Curtin government's standpoint, they saw these moves as a vindication of public support for tackling poverty, hardships, and a better social order in the post-war era. So having won a decisive victory of 48 seats to 23 UAP and the two independents in the mid-war August 1943 federal elections, Curtin, Evatt and Chifley proceeded to put some energy into post-war planning believing they had some Christian support. On the eastern front the Russians had defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad and in Italy the Allies were winning too. The Labor cabinet decided it needed more power to plan for the peacetime economy and ex-service rehabilitation. The Curtin Labor government felt is had sufficient community support so it authorised Dr Evatt to prepare proposals for changes to the Constitution in pursuit of social justice policies. Initially the Sydney Catholic Weekly realised that increased Commonwealth powers were necessary to implement the program of the ecumenical bishops 1943 social justice statement. Regretfully, they were to later argue "the (14-point referenda) proposals should be rejected".


Preparing for peace and development

Gough Whitlam was to twice argue the merit of Curtin-Evatt's 1944 Powers Referendum. In his Curtin memorial lecture in 1961 he said: "My interest in constitutional matters stem from the time John Curtin was prime minister. The Commonwealth parliament's powers were then at their most ample and it was constitutionally if not always politically more open to a Labor government to carry out its policies than it is in peace time. John Curtin however, saw that he was presiding over a passing phase. He was not content with the paradox that the Labor Party was free to enact its policies in times of war alone. Accordingly, in 1944 he sponsored a referendum to give the federal parliament post-war powers. His motives...were based on patriotism and experience. He argued the case with his full logic and eloquence. The opposition to the referendum was spurious and selfish. The arguments were false..."

Years later at the federal ALP Executive "Foundation-stone" ceremony on the site of John Curtin House in Canberra in 1974, now as prime minister, he declared again: "If ever a man was born to lead this nation in times of peace and in the paths of peace, he was John Curtin. If ever a man was born to apply his vision of what Australia at peace could be, his vision of what Australia at peace should become in his time, he was John Curtin. And yet his place in history is as our wartime leader. He did not choose his time. He was enslaved by the times and for him time was a cruel master. He was slave to his own destiny. He was a pacifist who had to lead his country in war. He was called upon to make decisions which sent men to die".


"There was above all that terrible time in 1942. More than half our army, our only battle-tried and battle-trained, our best and bravest, were in unescorted transports in the Indian Ocean - then a deadly ocean - coming home from the Middle-East to form our only defence in the Pacific War. It was his decision, his responsibility. With all the weight of this fearful knowledge upon him, unable to tell his colleagues, even though of them (Chifley and Evatt) who were mates, he was alone... Even so, he never forgot his real aims and ideals. He never lost his vision for Australia. As soon as the moment of highest danger passed, he turned to the task of building a new Australia, an Australia he wanted it to be after the war. He wanted to turn the prodigious energies of the Australian people had shown in war to the task of rebuilding, remodelling and reforming this country in peace. He expressed those ideals and that vision in the great referendum campaign thirty years ago. So far as the dry and confining language of constitutional and legal statements can convey John Curtin's vision is expressed in the 1944 referendum proposals. He won the war but he lost that battle. "I invite you", Gough said, "to reflect how different, how better, this nation would now be if those proposals had carried. They were proposals for unity, for equality, for human dignity".


This referendum was to give temporary powers to the Commonwealth and to use the special authority of a wartime government to make those essential changes to the Australian Constitution to more adequately govern in the national interest. Despite massive enthusiasm in the ALP, the party conferences and in all sectors of the trade union movement, the result was disappointing. The Government and the Labor Party had a year earlier won its greatest and largest victory and majority. It expected to win in the face of such unity.


What happened? The well-endowed Catholic hierarchy did not support Labor's proposals. Was it just plain ambivalence, contrariness or sabotage? There was some confusion no doubt in the ranks of Catholicism but the three principal Archbishops overall linked the referendum to the fear it would lead to socialisation, with some sort of threat to the Catholic faith. They saw socialisation, socialism and/or communism as having a theistic or agnostic imperative. This caused a panic in their thinking. Arthur Calwell approached Bob Santamaria to tone down the opposition coming from Catholic laypersons. Santamaria said he could not, because he was not in favour of the proposals, to change the strident nature of the Victorian Catholic paper Freedom (later the News-Weekly), which put qualifications on the proposals. Archbishop Duhig (Queensland) was 'strongly opposed (to) the constitutional changes' saying he had been advised that the changes in the Constitution might leave the way open for the spread of communism. He also claimed the Chief Justice of Queensland too supported that view.


The Catholic Worker also considered the Evatt's proposals would make for 'dictatorship' and enable 'an agnostic' socialist or capitalist regime to persecute Christians. On another occasion the same paper saw 'its task being to vanquish Capitalism and to defeat Communism'. In a period where the Government had used its manpower regulations to put people in factories during the threat of a Japanese invasion,