This is the second and concluding instalment of a detailed response by Bob Manser to Arthur Gietzelt’s account of events and personalities in the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union during the internal ructions of 1967 and afterwards. Part 1, which appeared on the previous issue of The Hummer (vol. 4, no. 4, Winter 2005), focused on developments within the union during 1967. Part 2 of Bob’s account addresses developments subsequent to the ‘1967 Dispute’.
Developments after the 1967 Dispute Gietzelt (p.118) dismisses Margo Beasley’s characterisation of the 1967 ‘attempted coup’ as a disagreement between the old left and the new. If one sees it in ALP terms, then he is correct. Those terms seemed to have gained currency in a succeeding generation of ALP politics which I associate with Frank Walker and Rod Cavalier. But if one sees it in the more general terms of what I would describe as a disagreement between a ‘hard line approach’ and an ‘inclusive approach’, a number of aspects become clearer. To begin with, the role of the Communist Party of Australian (CPA) becomes more interesting.
Using the jargon of the times, I would describe the differences as being between a ‘Stalinist approach’, on the one hand, and an ‘Aarons’ approach’, on the other. It should be remembered that this was not long after Khrushchev had denounced Stalin and Communist parties around the globe were attempting to determine a new direction. Many of those parties sought to distance themselves from the old ideas and to become more appealing to a broader range of people. The General Secretary of the CPA was one of the advocates of the new approach.
The Aarons’ approach, so far as I understood it at the time, involved a more liberal use of power; an involvement with other points of view, and co-operation with other elements in society to achieve a common goal – the ‘United Front’, of which Jack Mundey was the greatest exponent. This made sense to me, even though I was not a Communist and believed that the Soviet regime at the time had set the cause of Socialism back a hundred years. This was particularly so in relation to an organisation like the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union (FMWU), which had a membership so large that it, logically, would cover the whole spectrum of political opinion. Prior to 1967, I believed that the FMWU operated on such principles; after 1967 I was sure it did not.
But the Aarons’ approach was struggling to make headway against the entrenched attitudes of the Stalinists. For example, some time into my time at the FMWU, a dispute arose in the NSW Branch of the Liquor Trades Union between two organisers, John Morris and Bill Woods, and the hard line CPA leadership of Bill Roser. Morris and Woods were frequent visitors to our office, attempting to elicit our support and intercession on their behalf. I spoke to Roser a number of times and I believe that others did as well. No amount of reasoning could persuade Roser to accommodate the views of his Organisers or that his attitude was bound to alienate these young men – and so it proved to be. I am not surprised that Roser did not take any notice of me, but the others who claim to have spoken to him certainly should have commanded his respect.
Gietzelt’s attitude was the same as Roser’s. No different approach was to be tolerated, compliance was to be absolute, and there was to be no sharing of influence. This attitude was to lead to the same result in both cases – a serious challenge to the leadership of the union. In this respect, Gietzelt was luckier than Roser.
Gietzelt’s attitude towards dissent is further illustrated by his intervention in the Victorian Branch in 1983 (p.50). The attempt by the Organisers and the Research Officer, who were appointees – mere employees – to alter their working conditions (including a 19 day month!!) is characterised as ‘an attempt to usurp the government of the union’ by the Branch Secretary, Ray Hogan. Ray Hogan was, as I remember it, a member of the Socialist Left in Victoria. He was no novice in political matters, but he appears to have been incapable of dealing with what seems to have been an industrial dispute between the Union and its employees about a matter which I would have thought was high on the FMWU’s agenda for its own members. It must be remembered that this change in working conditions was flowing through to a host of industries after having been achieved in the Metal Trades Industry in 1981, or thereabouts.
Hogan and Gietzelt must surely have been able to negotiate some settlement; after all, Gietzelt, on his own admission, was a successful negotiator. But no; the solution was to call a State Council meeting to dismiss the employees.
If there is anyone around now who knew Ray Hogan in those days, they would have no difficulty in imagining the scene when the Organisers made their ‘demands’ on him. The paint would have peeled off the walls. It would have been hardly surprising that the dispute escalated in the hands of Hogan. One could not conceive of the dispute getting out of hand if Roy Cameron had still been Secretary. He would have sought a resolution, not a confrontation.
But this is not your common or garden industrial dispute: ‘it soon became clear’ that there was interference in the Union, but this time from ‘the extreme left’. No evidence is presented that this was so. Indeed, the evidence that is presented and, apparently not disputed, is the agenda of replacing Hogan with Edwards, the Research Officer. The only connection with the extreme left is the fact that Edwards later obtained employment with Norm Gallagher’s BLF. Now this might be sufficient in real political terms to categorise Edwards as a ‘Maoist’, or a Maoist sympathiser, but what of the others?
The treatment of the Victorian Branch Organisers and Research Officer follows a familiar pattern of vilification. They are lacking a commitment to basic democratic principles; feeding the media; commencing court proceedings; spreading rumours; disrupting the day-to-day activities of the Branch, and causing Ray Hogan distress. Worst of all, however, they were representatives of an external sinister force bent on interfering in the affairs of the FMWU.
We readers can never know the true background of this dispute without hearing from the other participants, but what does emerge from the 1967 ‘attempted coup’ in the NSW Branch and the 1983 dispute in the Victorian Branch, is the mind set of Gietzelt which can best be described in his own words:
I was not prepared to see the second biggest Branch of the union destroyed by misguided people who, in my opinion, were being misled by one ambitious research officer. (p. 51)
In both disputes, Gietzelt discerns both an attack on the Union and an attack on him personally. He is presented as the real target of the ‘rebel activity’ between 1967 and 1971, not Blackwell, because he polled less votes than Blackwell in the 1971 ballot (p.119). Because both of these ‘attacks’ evidently had the potential to ‘threaten or destabilise’ (Beasley, p.162), or ‘destroy’ (Gietzelt, p. 51), both had therefore to be prevented, and the attackers made to pay the ultimate price of dismissal.
Now, apart from appointing Warwick McDonald as a research officer with me in the Federal Office, which I saw, at the time, as a move to isolate me, I was not aware of any reprisals taken against me by Gietzelt. However I now find, after nearly 40 years, that he is prepared to discredit me and Doug Howitt by telescoping history and involving us in the challenge in 1971 by the right wing.
I left the FMWU in March 1969. In a move engineered by the late Jack Sweeney QC, I was offered employment by W.C. Taylor & Scott, Solicitors, as a replacement for Jack’s son Michael, who was, according to the NSW Bar Association, admitted to the Bar on the 14 March, 1969. Michael left Taylor & Scott at the end of the week before he was to be admitted and I started at the beginning of the next week. Consequently, I could not have been the ‘Federal Research Officer’ of the Union on the 3 November, 1970, when I am supposed to have been in a ‘planning committee meeting’ with Howitt.
From the time I left the FMWU in 1969, I took no further interest in the Union or its affairs. With the passage of time I became less active in the ALP. Although my new employers included a number of left wing unions in its list of clients, they were also the solicitors for the Labor Council of NSW, as well as for a number of right wing and politically non-aligned unions. My relationship with unions tended to become more professional than political.
The only person I had any contact with was Warwick McDonald, who has been friend since 1968. In the late 1970s Warwick asked me to visit Don Hancock, who was unwell. We visited Don at a unit in Dee Why. I was then a Barrister.
In 2003, long after I had retired as a Judge, I renewed my contact with Doug Howitt when I visited him and Yvonne near Grafton.
The attempt to involve me in the events of 1971 is scandalous. I was not even aware that there was a contest in the FMWU until I was contacted by somebody from the Union and told so. I cannot say with certainty who that was but it must have been Hancock. It was not Howitt, and Warwick McDonald had left the Union by then. It certainly was not Gietzelt. I was asked if I had been involved. I told him I had not. I was then told that Terry Ludeke QC was acting for Shanahan & co, instructed by a Melbourne solicitor, Macken.
Ludeke was well known to me; he was a prominent industrial Barrister. Macken was also known to me as acting for a number of right wing unions. To my knowledge I never met him. Although I had contact with Ludeke over a number of months in the Enquiry into the Electricity Industry in 1971, he never spoke to me about the Union. We would both have considered it improper to do so. I was pleased to see Gietzelt confirm my recollection of Ludeke’s involvement (p.120).
However, putting that aside, in disputing Beasley, Gietzelt has also seen fit to characterise both Howitt and me as part of ‘a disparate group of people who had axes to grind – identified as such by Don Hancock and forged into a loose coalition” (p. 118).
This statement is sheer nonsense, as is the suggestion that Hancock was, in effect, the driving force. In 1967 Don Hancock did not identify anybody. They came to him. They sought him out as an alternative to Blackwell. He was, after all, in Gietzelt’s own office and had been employed by him. He was, at least as far as we all knew, a left winger. What greater qualification could an alternative have?
Although I would not attempt to defend Hancock’s subsequent actions or associations, the facts of 1967 should be stated – and if his reputation benefits from them, so be it.
One could not exclude the possibility that Hancock was always a covert right winger and had been so from his days as President of Werriwa Federal Electoral Council, in Gough Whitlam’s electorate, or before. But to do so one would have to accept that Gietzelt’s brother Arthur was ignorant of Hancock’s apparent allegiance to the CPA when he introduced Don to Ray. Even though Arthur was very ecumenical in his dealings with people, I think it is far more likely that Arthur knew of Hancock’s allegiance to the CPA prior to the introduction being made. If that is so, then Gietzelt would have known that Hancock was or had been a member of the CPA and/or was under their influence or control.
So far as the 1967 dispute is concerned, even if one accepts that Hancock was not only a tool of the CPA, a spy for the right (Gietzelt makes out a strong case for this in his book) and a spy for ASIO, it is hard to see why he would have lied to me about the interest that the CPA was taking in the dispute, and its tacit encouragement, at first, for him to become Secretary. There were clear advantages to the CPA from extending its reach within the FMWU. Besides that, Nixon was also telling much the same story.
Neither the right nor ASIO would benefit by Hancock’s appointment as Secretary. As an informant, it did not matter what Hancock’s position was so long as he was getting useful information. As a covert right wing Secretary, Hancock would have had the life expectancy of an aristocrat in the French Revolution.
Gietzelt offers no evidence that either Howitt or I had any ‘axe to grind’, or of what the nature of such an axe might be. If one sees only my involvement in 1967, then I certainly admit to believing that decisions involving the filling of very important positions in the FMWU should have been a matter for collective decision by the leadership team rather than the province of one person who clearly believed that it was his sole prerogative. But after I left the Union, Gietzelt’s ‘benevolent dictatorship’ of the Union was someone else’s problem.
In the disclosures made by Shanahan, upon which Gietzelt relies so much for attacking Hancock, the right wing members of the ALP and, particularly, the National Civic Council (NCC), there is no suggestion that either Howitt or I was a participant in the events of 1970/71.
The only evidence that Gietzelt offers is the tip-off by Merv Nixon on the 3 November, 1970, that Howitt and myself – ‘the Federal Research Officer’ – were attending a ‘planning committee meeting’ (p.117). This cannot be mere error. The tip-off was given by Nixon a month before Shanahan publicly announced his intention to contest the 1971 ballot (on the 30 November, 1970) and at a time when Gietzelt was at the ACTU office. This is very precise timing by Gietzelt, obviously intended to lend authority to his assertions.
But look at this sensibly. If Shanahan or any of his team had been inclined to invite Nixon to a ‘planning committee meeting’ at this time it would have been more than ‘an error of judgement’; it would have an act of sheer lunacy, given Nixon’s performance in 1967. From what Gietzelt has written about the care and planning that Shanahan and his cohorts put into their preparations, it defies credulity that they would have invited a turncoat like Nixon.
For example, as late as August, 1970, Shanahan was not indicating to Gietzelt ‘any disaffection with the union leadership’ (p.117). Shanahan had driven some of the NSW delegates to the Union’s Federal Conference to the airport and wished them well for a successful conference. Shanahan clearly had his eyes firmly focussed on the main game and was prepared to deceive Gietzelt to the very end. Why would such a careful and obviously astute campaigner invite a known Communist and Gietzelt supporter to a clandestine meeting?
What Gietzelt has attempted to do is to telescope history so as to place Howitt and me at the very hub of a conspiracy to attack the Union in 1971. We are no longer mere opponents of Blackwell’s appointment in 1967, and of Gietzelt’s will in that respect; we had become part of the Shanahan team, sponsored by sinister outside forces interfering in the affairs of the Union. Not only that, but we were doing this, like Shanahan, from inside the Union.
There is no doubt that Howitt opposed Blackwell’s appointment as Secretary in 1967, and that he sided with the other officers. I think that his support for the officers was a real danger to Gietzelt‘s plans to appoint Blackwell, because if the officers had stayed together in their opposition, Howitt’s opposition could have made it difficult to carry the day before the State Council. After all, those State Councillors knew Blackwell. He had been President since 1962, and I do not think Gietzelt always got his way with them, particularly when Howitt opposed him. This had occurred a couple of times in the past.
But Gietzelt’s telescoping of history does not rest there. It reaches its zenith in footnote 9 on page 119. Here he positively links the ‘rebel activity’ of 1967 to the events of 1971 and dismisses Beasley’s assertion that the target of that activity was Keith Blackwell. Beasley never made the link between 1967 and 1971 that Gietzelt implies she did, certainly not in the reference he quotes. Indeed, he goes further and asserts that the real target of the ‘rebel activity’ between 1967 and 1971 was himself, the proof of which is the fact that he polled a lesser percentage of the vote in the 1971 ballot than did Blackwell.
This is yet another attempt to place himself at the centre of events; to avoid the truth of the dispute of 1967; to justify his actions against the dissenters and to avoid any suggestion of a connection between his own actions in 1967 and the subsequent challenges. He was never a target in 1967, and he knows it.
Given the course of events after the dispute fizzled out in 1967 it is hardly surprising that Shanahan, Grove and Moxon harboured continuing resentment towards Gietzelt. His treatment of them and his marshalling of his forces against them had all the characteristics of a self-fulfilling prophesy. It made them vulnerable to the blandishments of Gietzelt’s political enemies who made it possible for them to seek revenge. One only has to read some of the statements by Shanahan that Gietzelt quotes, to be struck by the antagonism that he felt towards Gietzelt. This was something very personal for Shanahan. Shanahan makes it clear that he ‘would have taken money from anybody’ (p.127) to roll Gietzelt in the 1974 election.
The political coincidence of the disputes in the FMWU and the Liquor Trades Union should have put Gietzelt on notice that things around him were volatile and that there was the potential for the contagion to spread. He either did not read the signs or, more likely, was convinced that his demotion of the Organisers to employees of the Union would be sufficient to remove them as potential threats. Whatever the explanation, it is very clear that there is no room in Gietzelt’s mind for considering his own actions to be in any way causative of the subsequent challenges in 1971 and 1974. It was all the bad guys’ fault.
It also seems fairly clear that Gietzelt and his regime were saved, in the end, by a change in the dynamics of the forces opposing them. If it is the case that after the near success in 1971, the NCC came to the fore, then John Ducker’s statement (Beasley, p.168), is, I think, the clearest explanation of why the right wing did not press their attack on the Union.
For the right wing elements within the ALP to be seen to be in harness with the NCC could have been an anathema to them, but would also have been fatal to their power base in the ALP in NSW. Even though the FMWU had a left wing leadership, it was, ostensibly, an ALP left wing leadership. To have been seen to be trying to oust that leadership with the assistance of the NCC could have led to expulsion from the ALP for those involved. This would have been much too high a price to pay for their continued attack on the Gietzelt forces. It would be far better to get out of the contest.
Of course, if the NCC had succeeded in 1974, this would have caused the right wing enormous difficulties in NSW. The delegates that the NSW Branch of the FMWU sent to ALP State Conference and the ACTU Congress would have been under orders from the NCC and their allegiance could have proved to be very costly. Better to stick to the devil you know and you can control (because the right wing had the numbers in both conferences) than have to deal with a devil who was controlled from outside your State. The NSW right wing was never renowned for sharing power – at this time at least.
But the master stroke in the right wing strategy was getting Shanahan to go to Gietzelt in March 1975, at the suggestion of Barry Egan, the Secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Union (SDA). Egan had been the main logistical support for Shanahan and company in the 1971 election with financial assistance from right wing unions which had ‘kicked the tin’ and, of course, the NCC. Egan had, it is said, broken with the Ducker machine, lost out in a power struggle in the SDA with the NCC, broken with the Tasmanian right wing union leader Brian Harradine, and seemed to be anxious to ‘get even’ (p.125).
I have no doubt that Egan had broken with the NCC because he was obviously in danger when he gave evidence in the subsequent hearing, before the National Executive of the ALP on 18 April, 1975, of charges made by Gietzelt against Harradine. The subsequent expulsion of Brian Harradine from the ALP, on 2 August, 1975, highlights the risk (p.125).
Of course, Harradine was in trouble with the ALP for other reasons and there could have been factors, other than Gietzelt’s complaints, which brought about the final result. For example, Harradine had denounced members of the Federal Executive of the ALP as ‘friends of communists’. Beasley is in no doubt that it was the evidence provided by Gietzelt that ‘gave the ALP Federal Executive ammunition for Harradine’s expulsion from the party, for being a member of a “proscribed organisation”, the National Civic Council’ (p.175).
I have attempted to confirm Beasley’s statement that the NCC was a proscribed organisation at that time, which coincides with my own recollection, but without success at this stage. Enquiries at the Federal Secretariat of the ALP, in Canberra, have so far only revealed that the NCC is proscribed under the rules of the Victorian Branch of the Party. But if the NCC was proscribed at the relevant time, between 1971 and 1975, then my explanation for the NSW right’s withdrawal from the attack, taken with Ducker’s statement, stands up.
Egan’s explanation – that his support for Shanahan’s cause, in 1971, was to cure some demarcation issues with the FMWU – seems a little strange because those disputes were a regular business of industrial tribunals at that time. Even if one accepts, for the moment, that Egan’s long-range plan was the ultimate amalgamation between the SDA and the FMWU, with the cooperation of a sympathetic leadership in the latter, the real danger for Egan was his use of the SDA’s offices for at least one meeting at which Harradine was in attendance. It must have been a bitter disappointment for the right when they just failed to win in the 1971 election and were faced with the prospect of having to saddle up again in 1974 without the combined clout of the NSW right wing and the NCC.
It did not matter to Gietzelt that this gift had suddenly and mysteriously fallen into his hands, because he used Shanahan precisely as the right wing strategists had intended.
If this scenario is not correct, then why would Shanahan come to Gietzelt, given his obvious hatred of the man? Beasley (p.175) refers to Shanahan’s illness and to Gietzeit’s compassion for him, which I would not deny. But Shanahan did not need the FMWU to support him in his claim for compensation. True it is that the Union probably had a scheme to provide initial medical evidence, but any of the ‘applicants firms’ of solicitors would have run a case for him. The Labor Council’s Compensation Officer could have sent him to a firm on his panel, perhaps to ‘Diamond Jim’ McClelland’s firm.
The NSW right at that time had really good political minds. All they needed to do was give Gietzelt the ammunition and they could rely on him to blaze away at the NCC. If Gietzelt shot down Brian Harradine as well, so much the better. Harradine’s total lack of political subtlety must have been a real problem for the likes of Ducker who would probably have agreed with Harradine on some issues but would be reluctant to do so because of the extremism of Harradine’s then posture.
What a strategy and it worked! They must have popped the champagne corks when Shanahan was accepted by Gietzelt.
But what about Don Hancock? He had already left the Union and was of no further use to the right, and besides, he was a spy and you would not know where his true allegiance lay, if he had any at all. Hancock was offered up to Gietzelt as evidence of Shanahan’s – and the right’s – bona fides.
Defending Doug Howitt
There is no gainsaying Gietzelt’s role in some of the events that he was involved in: for example Neville Wran’s election to the leadership of the NSW Parliamentary Labor Party, and Bob Hawke’s election to the Presidency of the ACTU, both of which I was aware of from one source or another. But to me his greatest contribution to the Australian industrial relations landscape was his participation in building up the FMWU from a tin-pot organisation into one which, in my time there, was an influence far beyond what one might expect from an organisation with a membership consisting, for the most part on the Federal stage, of ancillary workers.
The history of the Miscellaneous Workers Union is, undoubtedly, a fascinating one – and deserves close attention. There is no doubting Gietzelt’s place in that history between 1955 and 1984. But there were others who were involved in that history, particularly those who were in the leadership of the Union during my time there. Some of these have been acknowledged by Gietzelt, but Doug Howitt, who was the NSW Branch Secretary for eleven years, has been virtually written out of the history except to be referred to as a conspirator, with me, in the right wing plot to take over the Union in 1971. This process of writing people off – or out of history – is eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s hero Winston Smith’s role in 1984. Doug Howitt’s loyalty and devotion to the Union, to which he gave many years of his life and his health, deserves better treatment than he has received at the hands of Gietzelt.
If Gietzelt was satisfied, in November, 1970, that Howitt was attending a ‘planning committee meeting’ with a bunch of conspirators bent on challenging the leadership of the Union, why did not he do something about it immediately? Why wait nearly 40 years to make an allegation of treachery against a man who was, at the time of the alleged offence, a mere employee?
Howitt remained with the Union until February 1974, more than three years after his alleged crime was committed. Why was the State Council not called together by Gietzelt or the Secretary during that period to dismiss Howitt? Nixon was then alive and could have been called to give evidence against Howitt.
Fortunately there are people who do not share Gietzelt’s view of Howitt. Here are two examples.
Elizabeth Anne Rosemary Bishop was employed in the NSW Branch of the FMWU from 1975 as a Research Officer before becoming the Assistant Secretary of the Branch. She was sworn in as a Conciliation Commissioner on 5 May, 1997. In her reply to the speeches of welcome the Commission said (at p.17 of the transcript):
Blackey (Blackwell) was very much an early mentor who gave me very practical and very down-to-earth advice about negotiations. The past master at negotiations was, of course, the then General Secretary, Ray Gietzelt [my emphasis], and I learned very valuable lessons about professionalism, integrity and honesty, doing your homework, wearing down the opposition with facts and figures and, above all, striking a hard but honourable bargain in the interests of the members that would not be reneged on under any circumstances.
I have included this in the interests of balance and as an independent endorsement of Gietzelt’s abilities as a negotiator.
The Commissioner continued:
The legendary Doug Howitt, a former Branch Secretary and Research Officer who actually retired the year before I started, taught me the key skills of industrial advocacy and preparation of appropriate documentation. Whilst I was not to meet or even speak to him for some years, he kept the most amazing and meticulous files, hand written notes, transcript, corrected draft documents, and I would pour over these endlessly. I could not have had a better teacher. On 22 April, 1998, Frederick Lance Wright, of Queen’s Counsel, was appointed President of the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW. On the 27 April, 1998, in his reply to the speeches of welcome His Honour (at p.19) said:
As I said earlier, there are so many people that should be thanked. It is invidious to single out any individual. However, I must say something about Doug Howitt. I am the second member of this Commission who pays personal tribute to Doug. When I worked at the Miscellaneous Workers Union 27 years ago I had the rare privilege of working with a person who has earlier been described as “the legendary Doug Howitt”. I learnt a lot from Doug. He was in effect my first tutor in industrial relations and in industrial law. However, much more importantly, he drilled into me the pre-eminent importance of personal integrity in dealings between industrial relations practitioners. Although Doug was not a trained lawyer, he nevertheless had a formidable legal knowledge and was the creator of the most incredible index of industrial cases and decisions. He convinced me of the importance of the law to industrial relations, and of the importance of adequate legal knowledge in the protection of the rights of union members. I am convinced, of course, of the importance of that quality as to this office and the different role that I am to play here. I take on board Mr. Brack’s comments but those who know me, I think, whatever my failings, will know I am very much my own person.
Returning to Doug, it was his influence that led me to commence legal studies. He is a man of great practical wisdom, a profound sense of decency and fair play. He considered the industrial arbitration system as fundamental to the existence of Australia as a fair society. His influence on me is profound.
The telling of history should not be left to leaders, kings and generals. Ordinary men, subjects and troops have their own views of events which ought to be heard because it is often closer to the truth. It is also sometimes necessary for ordinary men to defend the honour and reputations of other ordinary men. This is one of those occasions. Douglas Charleson Howitt is an ordinary man. He was an ordinary man in Tasmania who worked as a watchman on the wharves. When he became an official of his union, he held Branch meetings in his living room while his wife, Yvonne, slept in the room next door.
Howitt came to Sydney. He was part of the Protest Committee; became an undercover member of the Industrial Groups and, eventually, Secretary of the NSW Branch of the FMWU. As part of the left‘s campaign against the NCC, and to establish its connection to certain unions, Doug and I attended a building in Sydney to photograph the tenants’ board which showed the NCC and a number of right wing unions. To take his photos Doug had to hang over the railing of the stairs whilst I kept watch and held on to him. I think the photo ended up in Socialist and Industrial Labour, the publication of the Left Wing Steering Committee. This is a man whom Gietzelt now accuses of being part of an NCC supported putsch.
Like so many accused persons, I have the perfect alibi: I was not there at the time of the alleged crime. When he wrote his memoirs, Gietzelt must, presumably, have believed that I was still in the FMWU in November 1970 and was part of the conspiracy to attack the Union in the 1971 election.
I wonder whether he believed it to be the case after the telephone call which I received from somebody in the Union in which I was told of the challenge that had nearly unseated his leadership. This phone call could only have been made on his instruction. If it was Don Hancock, as I am fairly confident it was, he would have had no reason to ring me if he was up to his eyeballs in the conspiracy himself, as Gietzelt claims, and he would have known that I was not. It is possible that Hancock merely went through the motions for Gietzelt’s benefit. In that case, either Gietzelt believed that I was innocent of involvement or not. If he believed that I was not innocent then how does one account for this?
During my time at the Bar, between 1974 and 1982, I knew Steve Masselos, the Union’s solicitor. Steve had a large workers compensation practice and I would occasionally see him at the Workers Compensation Commission, as it was then called. But Steve had a great mate, Justice Phillip Evatt of the Federal Court. I was having a drink with Steve on one occasion when he said to me, ‘Would you be prepared to do some work for the Missos?’ I said, ‘Of course I would.’ Steve then said, ‘It’s about time you settled your differences with Ray.’ I replied, ‘I don’t have any differences with Ray and I am happy to do work for the Union.’ So Steve said, ‘Ok, I will talk to Ray and I will see what I can do.’
Subsequently, I had a meeting with Gietzelt and Masselos. This was the first time I had been face to face with Gietzelt since I left the Union. I would not describe the meeting as friendly; formal would be the word that comes to mind. I subsequently received a brief to appear for the Union in an industrial case, I think involving an application by another union to change its rules to cover workers whom the FMWU had the right to enrol. Phillip Powell QC appeared for one of the objectors and covered all the points that I would have made, in the course of a very long submission. Because I could not see the value in incurring costs for the Union by protracting the proceedings for another two days to make the same submissions, I adopted the submissions of Powell QC, and sat down. It was the last brief I ever got from the FMWU. Perhaps I should have done a Garfield Barwick, of whom it was said, ‘He must be good because he charges so much.’
It is ironic that, by publishing his account, Ray Gietzelt has presented me with an opportunity to set history straight about the events of 1967 in the NSW Branch of the FMWU, and about subsequent events. I would have gone to my grave without telling Gietzelt what his comrades in the NSW Branch really thought about his mate Blackwell and his decision to appoint Blackwell Secretary of the Branch, whatever they said to him in the confines of his office.
When I read Gietzelt’s book and saw what he had written about me, but more particularly, what he had written about Doug Howitt, I recalled a chance meeting with Stan Taylor, who had been the President of the Industrial Commission of NSW, when I was with the FMWU. Stan had retired and although I hardly knew him, he put his arm around me and asked me how I was going in the Union. I told him that I was going all right and then he said to me, ‘You watch your back with those blokes’. I could not imagine what he meant at that time, but the memory of that meeting has stayed with me all these years.