Just A Few More Questions, Mr. Menzies
By Chris Oakley
Based on the "Red Dusk" trilogy by the same author
One of the most contentious chapters in Australia’s modern history is the legal clash that raged in the early 1950s between the Tasmanian state attorney general’s office and the administration of Australian prime minister Robert G. Menzies over the legitimacy of the June 1950 anti-Marxist amendment to Australia’s constitution. This epic battle began in July of 1950 when the Tasmanian state attorney general and the leaders of Australia’s two biggest labor unions filed a petition with the High Court of Australia to have the amendment revoked; in the fall of 1951 the battle escalated when the attorney general submitted an appeal to Great Britain’s Privy Council Judiciary Committee after the High Court ruled in favor of the Menzies government; it would end in October of 1953 when the Judiciary Committee decreed that the High Court’s original verdict had been in error and the amendment was in effect rendered null and void.
The High Court’s original verdict on the amendment was, in the immortal words of the Duke of Wellington, "a near-run thing"; it ran 4-3 in favor of the Menzies administration, a razor-thin edge by the standards of Western law. Now, for the sake of mental exercise, let’s imagine if the ruling had gone 4-3 the other way....
October 4th, 1951
The Lodge, Canberra, Australia
No sooner have the last echoes of the gavel faded from the chambers of the High Court of Australia than reporters from The Age, The Australian, and the Sydney Morning Herald begin rushing to the nearest available telephones to file their stories about the ruling just handed down in the case of the Tasmanian state attorney general’s plea to have the anti-Marxist amendment overtuned. In a sharp rebuke of Prime Minister Menzies’ paranoid attitudes about leftist political parties, the court has handed down a 4 to 3 verdict against him, ruling that the amendment is a violation of the right to free speech that is an implied part of the Australian constitution. As one might expect, Menzies is not taking the news very well. "It’s a bloody travesty!" he rages to his wife; Australia’s first lady wisely refrains from making any response, sensing that her husband’s frame of mind at the moment is not very sociable.
"Sir, The Age wants to know if we plan to take this matter before the Committee1." One of Prime Minister Menzies’ appears at his side, gesturing at a telephone in the next room.
"Too right we’re taking it before the Committee." Menzies growls, looking every bit as ferocious as the dingoes which inhabit Australia’s deserts. "I won’t let the Bolsheviks steal my own country out from under me." With a great effort the prime minister manages to compose himself, then picks up the phone and tells The Age: "This is Prime Minister Menzies speaking. To answer your question, we do intend to submit an appeal to the Judiciary Committee at the earliest possible moment...."
October 8th, 1951
BBC Radio broadcast headquarters, London, England
"This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the news....this afternoon representatives of the Australian High Commissioner in London filed a petition on behalf of the government of Prime Minister Robert Menzies with the Privy Council Judiciary Committee seeking to overturn the High Court of Australia’s verdict of four days ago which invalidates the anti- Marxist amendment to the Australian constitution enacted last June. In a brief statement, British prime minister Winston Churchill said the upcoming hearings constituted whatmay well be the most important case heard in a British courtroom for many years..."
April 10th, 1952
Government House, Sydney, Australia
The governor for New South Wales casts a wary eye at the throng of protestors gathered outside his house chanting anti-British slogans and waving Australian flags. It doesn’t comfort him much to know his colleagues in Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, and Yarralumla House up in Canberra are having to endure similar spectacles. The demonstration at Yarralumla is particularly boisterous, if one can believe the news reports being broadcast over the radio at that moment. For the thousandth time since the Menzies government filed its appeal with the Judiciary Committee, the governor wonders if it might not be possible to arrange a transfer to a more congenial climate-- like the South Pole.
He hears the shouts of "Down with Britain!" from just beyond his gardens and is thankful for the police cordon encircling the grounds of the governor’s residence. He’s a bit unnerved to think what might happen if those policemen weren’t there and the righteously outraged crowd tried to storm Government House. The heroic martyr’s role, he ruefully acknowledges, doesn’t exactly suit him…
August 16th, 1952
The office of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Washington, D.C., USA
America’s leading anti-Marxist crusader is in a state of high dudgeon-- not all that unusual for him. The source of his ire, however, is unusual: he’s just finished reading the transcript of a radio show that was broadcast in Australia the previous day, and much to his disgust most of it is devoted to attacking the Special Council on Anti-Subversion Affairs, a body McCarthy holds in great esteem. "These people are betraying their country!" he fumes to his secretary. "And the so-called High Court is even worse-- they’re selling Australia out to the Soviets!" The secretary flinches slightly at the fury in his voice.
Snatching up the phone, he barks to the operator: "Get me the Library of Congress on the double!" To be more precise, he wants the library’s main reference department so that he can look up the address of the ‘letters to the editor’ page for the Sydney Morning Herald; he has a few choice words for those who criticize the Special Council or agree with the High Court of Australia’s verdict invalidating the anti-Marxist amendment of the Australian constitution. As he’s jotting the address down, he makes a mental note to himself to bring up the Australian situation in his next speech...
March 20th, 1953
Office of federal MP Kim Beazley Sr., Fremantle, Australia
"Stephen Burke." says the whipcord-lean figure standing in front of the secretary’s desk.
"I’m here to see Mr. Beazley about joining the Labor Party because I’ve had it with that bloody Menzies trying to shove his idiotic so-called ‘security laws’ down my throat. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that he’d have gotten the hint when the High Court said no to his damned amendment? But he’s still at it!" If his voice didn’t already reflect his disgust with the Menzies government, the look of agitation on Stephen Burke’s face certainly would; he still recalls with revulsion the time less than three years ago when his neighbor was arrested under the anti-Marxist amendment.
The secretary makes a quick glance in her appointments book. "Burke....Burke...Oh yes, Mr. Beazley’s expecting you. If you’ll just take a seat, I’ll ring and tell him you’re here."
July 6th, 1953
Office of CPSU General Secretary Georgi Malenkov, The Kremlin, Moscow, USSR Georgi Malenkov sorts through dozens of reports from NKVD station chiefs and field operatives in the Pacific region and curses Joseph Stalin’s name under his breath. If his predecessorhad only done a better job of supporting Comrade Sharkey’s heroic fight to overthrow the decadent capitalist warmongers in Canberra, the Soviet Union’s position in the Far East now would be noticeably stronger. But Stalin and his little trained monkey Lavrenti Beria utterly botched the job; it served that bastard Beria right, Malenkov thinks, that he should have died a tubercular exile in the frozen wastes of Siberia. Frankly, if Malenkov had his way, Beria would have been put against a wall and shot right after the the September Revolt collapsed. Even though the Australian High Court has managed to do away with that idiotic anti-Communist amendment to their constitution, the cause of Marxism in Australasia is still badly wounded by the Revolt’s failure, making it that much more difficult for the USSR to promote its progressive agenda to the workers of Australia and New Zealand.
His bitter ruminations are interrupted by a knock on his office door from one of his aides. Yet another NKVD report has just come in, this time from one the few remaining agents still operating on Australian soil; when the September Revolt collapsed, so to a significant degree did Soviet espionage operations in Australia. Sure enough, the report is more bad news-- two field agents have had their cover blown and need to be pulled out of the country at once....
October 5th, 1953
The home of Edward Burke, Sydney, Australia
Normally Edward Burke would have gone straight to bed by this time-- he’s not as young as he used to be, after all --but tonight he’s making it a point to stay up as late as he can possibly manage. Word is the Judiciary Committee in London has finally made their decision about whether to uphold or overturn the High Court of Australia’s verdict against that absurd anti-Marxist law from 1950. He’s adjusting the dials on his radio set when the phone starts to ring.
Who the devil could be calling me this time of night? he wonders as he picks up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Dad, it’s Stephen." answers a familiar voice on the other end. "Have you got the radio on? Newsreader says they’re going to announce the Committee’s decision about the Menzies petition to bring back the anti-Red amendment."
Edward Burke grimaces in disgust. "Bugger Menzies." he growls. "That man’s not to fit to be a dogcatcher, let alone prime minis--" Just then he hears the Australian Broadcast Commission’s signature tune for incoming special bulletins. "You’d best hang up now, Stephen, they’re about to tell us the verdict." After hurried goodbyes, Edward puts down his receiver and rushes back into his living room to hear the announcement of the Judiciary Committee’s official ruling.
After a brief unwelcome burst of static, he hears the newsreader’s voice coming through the speakers: "The Judiciary Committee of Great Britain’s Privy Council has upheld the High Court of Australia’s ruling of October 4th, 1951 which decreed that the 1950 anti-Marxist amendment to Australia’s constitution was in violation of Australian citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and thought..."
Burke can barely contain his delight at this announcement. He pulls a bottle of his favorite beer from his refrigerator and, waving it like an orchestra conductor’s baton, spontaneously bursts into a rendition of "Waltzing Matilda"; at last that insufferable twit Menzies has been put in his place good and proper. An hour later, in a more reflective mood, he picks up the phone again and begins dialing the number for Stephen’s home in Fremantle. Stephen’s been fighting like the devil to keep Menzies from reviving the anti- Communist amendment; no doubt, his father thinks, he’ll have quite a bit to say about the Privy Council’s decision, and Edward for one would like very much to hear it.
June 23rd, 1957
Australian Broadcasting Commission headquarters, Sydney, Australia
"While there remain several hours to go before the complete election poll tallies are in, the results available thus far indicate that Prime Minister Menzies is headed for defeat in his bid to remain in office and Labor Party leader H.V. ‘Doc’ Evatt is his most likely successor...."
The home of Harold Holt, Higgins, Australia
Robert Menzies’ one-time chief political adversary-- and the man some thought might eventually replace Menzies as head of the Liberal Party --listens intently to the news reports describing Doc Evatt’s impending electoral victory against the PM. Some had expected Holt to one day occupy the Lodge himself, but his political fate was sealed the day he began criticizing Menzies’ decision to appeal the High Court of Australia’s verdict deeming the anti-Marxist amendment unconstitutional. The fact he challenged Menzies on it at all would have been offensive enough to the prime minister, but what truly enraged the PM was that Holt insisted on doing so in such a public and harsh manner; the already frosty relationship between Holt and Menzies became downright hostile after that, until in the spring of 1953 Menzies kicked Holt out of the Liberal Party bag and baggage.
He shakes his head in disappointment-- not at his own political misfortunes, but at the stubbornly self-destructive path Menzies has been taking the Liberal Party down from the day he first took office until now. In the years since he was thrown out of the party, Holt has sometimes wondered whether Menzies wasn’t secretly working for the ALP as a saboteur.…
June 24th, 1957
The CBS-TV News broadcast studios, New York City, New York, USA
"Good evening. This is John Cameron Swayze. Australian Labor Party leader H.V. ‘Doc’ Evatt has been officially declared the winner of yesterday’s general election in Australia for prime minister. Evatt, who is expected to formally assume his new office in a few days, has long been a severe critic of the internal security policies of his predecessor Robert G. Menzies and is also highly critical of the Eisenhower administration’s stance on the Soviet Union... "
May 2nd, 1961
CPC Central Committee Headquarters, Beijing, China
Mao Zedong and his foreign minister Zhou Enlai are listening intently to a report by one of Mao’s aides about some interesting developments that are currently transpiring in Australia. It seems that a group of ex-CPA cell leaders are gathering in Brisbane to discuss the idea of forming a new Marxist political party; there have been a few other such sporadic meetings ever since the anti-Communist amendment to the Australian constitution was abolished, but this is the first dedicated attempt to fill the political void left by the dissolution of the old CPA in 1949.
"What do you recommend, Comrade Zhou?" Mao asks in a deceptively casual tone when the report is finished. "Shall we intervene in this matter, or stand aside?"
"I believe we should intervene." Zhou says after a long silence. "If we take an active interest in our Australian comrades’ heroic struggle, it will be of great benefit to us in the future. This news represents a historic opportunity to expand our influence abroad and to correct the injustice done by the deviationists in Moscow in 1948 when they failed to give Comrade Sharkey adequate help in his glorious fight to overthrow the warmongers in the Canberra government…"
Mao nods in satisfaction. This is exactly the answer he was hoping for. Now he only needs to make the appropriate arrangements....
September 8th, 1963
Parliament House, Canberra, Australia
The chambers of the Australian Senate and House of Representatives, normally ringing with the shouts of MPs arguing with each other, is eerily quiet as church bells toll outside. Today is Remembrance Day, the annual memorial holiday to commemorate those killed in the September Revolt fifteen years earlier; ergo, a moment of silence is being observed in honor of the men who fell in defense of Australia against the CPA uprising. One man who’d never expected to be in this chamber under any circumstances is Stephen Burke; up until that blasted anti-Marxist amendment came along, he hadn’t cared one whit about politics. But those days are ancient history, gone along with the passenger pigeon and the Roman Empire. Now Burke’s an assistant to MP Kim Beazley Sr., and there’s talk that Burke might one day become an MP himself.
Glancing briefly in the direction of the spectators’ gallery, Stephen finds himself wistfully imagining his dad sitting in the front row. But Edward Burke is in hospital at the moment, recuperating from injuries sustained in a car crash a few weeks earlier while on his way home from a reunion with some of his old World War I comrades. Shame Dad couldn’t have come up to see me today, he thinks as the last peal of the church bells fades pit. He makes a mental note to himself to phone his father as soon as this ceremony is over....
August 14th, 1965
The NBC-TV News broadcast studios, New York, N.Y., USA
"Good evening. We begin tonight’s newscast with a stunning development out of Australia: former prime minister Robert Menzies, who was voted out of office eight years ago in a backlash against the stringent internal security laws his government enacted following the September Revolt, has been arrested on charges that he knowingly withheld information from the Australian federal attorney general’s office which proved that a majority of the arrests made under the terms of the now-defunct anti-Communist amendment to Australia’s constitution were made under false pretenses..."
1To be more specific, the Judiciary Committee of Great Britain’s Privy Council, whose main purpose is to review and rule on legal matters affecting British Commonwealth members.