cameron tapes: governor general paul HASLUCK BLOCKED prime minister john GORTON FROM SENDING IN THE TROOPS IN RABAUL IN 1970.

armed pm Gorton was prepared to shoot 'howling Tolais'

Australian prime minister John Gorton carried a concealed pistol while touring Papua New Guinea and was prepared to shoot Tolai demonstrators at Rabaul if they attacked his American wife, Bettina. He also wanted to send the troops in to take charge in Rabaul on the Gazelle Peninsula, but was advised against it by Governor General Sir Paul Hasluck.

Sir John Gorton’s admissions, with additional commentary by Sir Paul Hasluck, came in a recorded interviews with oral historian Clyde Cameron held for 25 years at the National Library .

Gorton said he went to Rabaul in 1970 carrying a concealed and as Prime Minister wanted to placate the local people after an earlier visit there by Opposition leader Gough Whitlam:

“We got off the plane and the bloody mobs were all around screaming and yelling and howling.”

Cameron: Would you have used it?” Gorton: “If anyone attacked Betty I would have.”

Cameron: “You would actually have shot someone?”

Gorton: “Oh, sooner than stand there and see them hit Betty! Yes, I would!”

Gordon said riot police were on standby but weren’t needed.

Whitlam during his earlier visit had been sympathetic to local calls for independence for what was then known as Papua and New Guinea.

Gorton kept pistol in Geelong Grammar locker

 John Gorton’s liking pistols went back to his youth. In his interview with Cameron, he revealed that he kept an automatic pistol in his locker at his school, Geelong Grammar.

 “I took it down to shoot some rabbits and things like that. And they had a locker check. And they found it, just in the locker. And there was hell to pay. I didn’t know what it (the fuss) was all about. I was allowed at home to go shooting with it and anything else…

“I wasn’t marching around with it. I just had it in the locker and I used to take it out on the, you know, Saturday parties that we used to have. I still don’t understand why so much fuss was made about it … I think the headmaster wanted to expel me, or something like that.” I didn’t care whether he expelled me or not.”

Gorton not only managed to avoid expulsion; he later became Geelong Grammar school captain.

'Father-confessor' Hasluck stopped Gorton from calling out the troops in PNG

The Governor General can wield significant influence on Australian politics behind the scenes. Sir Paul Hasluck has indicated in the Cameron tapes that as Governor General he helped to block Prime Minister Gorton from sending in the troops in Rabaul, which could have had serious consequences.

The Queen’s representative in Australia acted almost like a father-confessor to prime ministers and ministers, Hasluck said.

In the tapes, embargoed until now, the former Governor General detailed a private conversation with Prime Minister John Gorton over a key political crisis in 1970.

Hasluck’s account of how he helped Gorton ‘save face’ from making a rash political blunder was revealed for the first time in the Cameron tapes released by the National Library at the start of 2010.Sir Paul Hasluck served as Governor-General for five years from 1969. He died in 1993.

Speaking 25 years ago, Hasluck revealed how he placed potential constitutional and political hurdles in the way when Prime Minister Gorton wanted to use the Australian Pacific Islands Regiment to control indigenous unrest on the Gazelle Peninsula of Papua New Guinea.

The detailed account of private goings-on at Government House helps clarify Hasluck’s admission in the Cameron tapes that he would have handled the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam very differently to his replacement as Governor General, Sir John Kerr, in 1975.

Hasluck said he made a habit of sitting down with political leaders over a cup of tea or coffee and having a private chat before going into the formal Executive Council. During the chats, he said, the Governor General usually did the listening and the prime minister did most of the talking. “And I found that, so long as you have a reputation for never revealing conversations, people like to talk to the Governor General, almost like a father-confessor, in a way."

But Sir Paul Hasluck made it clear that he didn’t hesitate to provide pointed but informal advice. He said that when Prime Minister Gorton arrived at Yarralumla for an urgent Executive Council meeting, seeking a signature on the order to call out the troops, Hasluck sent word that he wanted to speak with the Prime Minister alone, without his accompanying minister.

Calling action ‘rather precipitate action’ says Hasluck

In their chat in the Government House study, Gorton said he was concerned about escalating violence of Mataungan groups of Tolais on the Gazelle Peninsula in New Britain, based on Rabaul. But calling out the troops, Hasluck judged, seemed to him to be a sign of a ‘rather precipitate action’.

The Pacific Islands Regiment at the time was commanded by an Australian brigadier whose orders came from Canberra. Hasluck said on tape: “And of course, as I had been Minister for Territories at one time, I was thoroughly familiar with the background and the situation of the Mataungans in the Gazelle Peninsula.’

He said he probably knew a good deal more about the background on the Gazelle Peninsula than the Prime Minister.“What I said to the Prime Minister was something like this: ‘Have you really thought deeply about this? Calling out the troops for a civil disturbance is a rather serious matter. You know, you’re going to lay yourself open to charges from the Opposition that you might be the sort of person who would use troops to stop a strike in Australia.”

Hasluck said he told Gorton it was a serious thing to do and he’d expose himself to political criticism. “He hadn’t thought of that. And then I said ‘Have you received clear advice that the situation is one that the civil authority is unable to handle?’ He said ‘Oh, the Administrator agrees with me.’” But Gorton admitted that he had not received advice from the Commissioner of Police in Papua New Guinea.

Hasluck said he responded: “Well, I think in the Executive Council you would need to make a case that the situation is one that the civil authority can’t handle before you ask for troops.” The former Governor General said he wanted the advice of the Attorney General that calling out the troops was constitutionally proper. He added that the Defence chiefs of staff or the relevant service chief of staff should give an assurance that they could do what was asked of them.

He also said he wanted the Minister for Defence, Malcolm Fraser, present at any Executive Council meeting to answer questions. Fraser had defied Gorton by refusing to sign the authority to call out the Pacific Islands Regiment, which in time led to Fraser’s resignation as Gorton’s Defence Minister.

Possibility of Australians shooting PNG protestors.

Government members were alarmed at the possible spectre of Australian servicemen being involved in the shooting of Papua New Guinean protestors.

Hasluck said he told Gorton: “Now I’m not saying that I reject your advice; but I’m just saying that a hurried Executive Council is not on the cards.”

Hasluck, in his interview with Clyde Cameron, said “And the upshot of it was, he went out… and I walked out with him, and he said to (Charles) ‘Ceb’ Barnes (Territories Minister) ‘Well Ceb, it’s not on. We’ll have a meeting tomorrow morning."

Hasluck said that instead of endorsing the proposal to call out the troops, the Executive Council decided to send the Attorney General, Tom Hughes, to Port Moresby and bring back a report on the situation. “I can say at this time that was really a face-saving device. And it saved the Prime Minister’s face… Well Tom Hughes came back and said ‘Oh, we don’t need to call out troops.’ The Prime Minister’s face was saved, and nothing was done.”

Gorton eventually did get an order to call out troops, but it was a preliminary document and the order never got past the initial stages.

Prime Minister John Gorton created a major political upheaval in his government by refusing to take the issue of calling out the troops in Papua New Guinea before his Cabinet. Gorton made a revealing commentary about his style in Government when he spoke in a separate interview with Clyde Cameron. He said people were being killed around Rabaul.

‘What’s the point of having to go to the bloody Cabinet?’

“It didn’t matter what Fraser wanted, but Hasluck wouldn’t have it… We had agreed on what we should do about this sort of thing, and the steps we should take on it.“

Now, if you have a Minister in charge, (Territories Minister Barnes) and the bloke who knows it on the ground agreeing with you, and your thinking it’s the right thing to do, what’s the point of having to go to the bloody Cabinet about it?”

Gorton said Defence Minister Fraser wouldn’t sign the authority to call the troops out, so he signed it himself as Prime Minister.

Clyde Cameron: “I know you signed it. But, in my opinion, you had no right to sign it! You…assumed prerogatives that a Prime Minister doesn’t have constitutionally.”

Gorton: “No, he wouldn’t do it. And so I signed the order myself and took it up to the Governor General. And he wouldn’t send it on, he wouldn’t sign it himself.”

Cameron: “It may be that he looked at the Executive Council minute and said ‘Well…you haven’t got the authority.”

Gorton: “It might have been, but he didn’t say that. And you’ve got to remember that we were acting very fast, and very necessarily, because the Matongans (sic - Mataungans) were taking the warpath up round Rabaul. And we had to do it to get some action quickly, instead of waiting around and maybe having a few hundred people massacred.”

After a Liberal party revolt in 1971, John Gorton voted against himself in a tied vote of confidence and stood down.

Later in the interview Clyde Cameron asked John Gorton if it hurt having people like his ministers Malcolm Fraser and Dudley Erwin turn against him: “Well it did. It did hurt. But well (a little laugh), it just had to be taken, didn’t it. There wasn’t anything I could do about it.”Asked if he enjoyed politics, John Gorton responded: “Ten or 12 years, I don’t know; but I enjoyed it all. Except that I didn’t enjoy being the Prime Minister, but I enjoyed the things we did, but I didn’t enjoy being Prime Minister.”  #




Prime Minister John Gorton. Below, Tolais outside Rabaul in 1970.

John Gorton at the National Press Club. NAA photo.l