BOOKS: by John ElsegoodNews Weekly
FATHER OF THE HOUSE: The memoirs of Kim E. Beazley
, March 21, 2009
Kim Beazley Snr: a man of principleFATHER OF THE HOUSE:
The memoirs of Kim E. Beazley
(Perth: Fremantle Press/ Penguin Books)
Paperback: 336 pages
Rec. prices: $27.95These recently released posthumous memoirs of Kim Edward Beazley (1917-2007) detail not only his distinguished 32-year career in the Australian parliament, but also reflect the innate decency of the man and his strong Christian convictions - something that rarely, if ever, has been a plus in the federal caucus of the Australian Labor Party.
As a young federal MP, Beazley became involved with Moral Re-Armament, a movement started by a gifted small-town American Lutheran pastor, Frank Buchman. MRA's aim was to eliminate old hatreds by awakening people's consciences to strive for something better.
He had entered Parliament in 1945 as the member for Fremantle upon the death of wartime prime minister John Curtin who helped to forge the Australia's alliance with America in 1941 - an alliance that, 10 years later, would be formalised in the ANZUS treaty.
Unfortunately for Beazley's career prospects, in December 1949 the Chifley Labor Government lost the election and, for the next 23 years, the party remained in the political wilderness. During that time, Beazley went from being a novice MP to a seasoned Opposition front-bencher, so his years in opposition were not entirely wasted.
In 1946, two young RAAF pilots, Gordon Wise (son of the then WA Labor premier, Frank Wise) and Jim Coulter, had mentioned to Beazley that his late predecessor for the seat of Fremantle, John Curtin, had shown a keen interest in MRA.
As war-time prime minister, Curtin had been greatly impressed with the MRA's inspiring revue, presented at Canberra's Albert Hall in early 1943, Battle for Australia,
that focused on creating caring homes, teamwork in industry and national unity.
Wise and Coulter counselled Beazley to take a quiet time regularly to seek the will of God. He did, and he was subsequently inspired particularly to help people of neighbouring developing countries, even if this came at the expense of Australia.
In his early years on the government backbench after World War II, he learned that Australian war-time restrictions on rice had been lifted. But he was also aware that there was a severe shortage of rice in countries such as Fiji, New Guinea and the Solomons.
Beazley approached Agriculture Minister Reg Pollard and argued that the ban on rice should be re-imposed to help some of the island nations which had been so helpful to Australian troops in the recently concluded war. Pollard, in turn, told Chifley's Cabinet, "Beazley has been at my conscience." The ban on rice was reinstated.
Rare is the politician who will argue against gaining an advantage for his constituents.
Beazley's visit to the MRA headquarters in Caux, Switzerland, resulted in further enlightenment. The discussions in Caux were largely preoccupied with overcoming the hatreds among the nations which had recently fought each other in the war. The bitterness was palpable. Beazley observed that only if nations could replace these hatreds with forgiveness and trust could international cooperation become possible.
On his first night in the rarefied Swiss Alps, Beazley was approached by Bill Jaeger, a British expert on trade unionism. Jaeger urged Beazley to rise early and, before the distractions of the day, to ask God to speak to his thoughts, to write them down, and then to test them by Christ's standards of absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love, and finally to carry out those thoughts that met such standards.
Jaeger said, "Sit down with nothing to prove, nothing to justify and nothing to gain." Beazley recalled thinking what a subversive thing to say to a politician! He said: "At every election I had something to prove - how right I was. I had something to justify - everything I had ever done, except those blunders which had been tacitly forgotten."
He tried the experiment and found himself writing to his wife Betty about certain financial matters he had hitherto not disclosed, and, on the bigger picture, he observed a number of people at Caux undergoing remarkable transformations.War between good and evil
Ernest Cornet, a communist who had been sent by his Kremlin masters to assassinate social democratic leaders in Poland after the war, was then sent to Caux to subvert MRA, a movement Moscow deemed to be dangerous as it sought to replace class war with war between good and evil. However, Cornet's conscience was awakened, leading him back eventually to the Catholic Church.
Madame Irène Laure, a former French Résistance leader who was secretary-general of the Socialist Women of France, arrived in Caux with a hatred of all things German. She would never have come if she had known Germans would be present. In fact, when she heard the language being spoken, she went to her room to pack her bags.
Just as she was about to leave, Frank Buchman asked her: "How can you rebuild Europe if you reject the German people?" It was like a knife in her side. After retreating to her room for two days, she finally emerged to apologise, from the platform of the meeting hall, to all the Germans for her hate. The Germans, who had come armed with evidence of French atrocities, were stunned, and eventually they too dropped their defensiveness and looked at what their country had done.
It was the start, not only of Madame Laure receiving many invitations to Germany, but also of many French and German luminaries of politics and industry making the trek to Caux.
American historian Edward Luttwak considered that MRA was largely responsible for Franco-German reconciliation, and outstanding personalities, such as West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, French foreign minister Robert Schuman and a top public servant Jean Monnet, driving this development forward, often against the national mood.
Kim Beazley too lived out his MRA principles in so many ways. At Caux he had wept for his late father, unable to apologise to him face to face for personal arrogance. He returned to Australia without an edge and attitude - something that was quickly recognised, including by the legendary Canberra journalist Alan Reid, who was known as the Red Fox.
Beazley had always been impressed with Curtin's grace in never striking back, and now he too was of that calibre.
Bill Hayden, a parliamentary and ministerial colleague and one-time federal Labor leader, declared in his memoirs that absolute honesty is impossible, "but Kim had come closer to it than anyone I knew".
Just as Labor had suffered splits over conscription in World War I, over ways to tackle the 1930s Great Depression and later over the party's attitude to Communism, so once again the party tore itself to pieces over Commonwealth "state aid" to independent, non-government schools. The issue was a boon to the Liberal-Country Party Government. Labor suffered in the 1963 election (after it had come so close to winning in 1961), and the NSW state Labor government lost office in 1965.
In 1967, Gough Whitlam succeeded Arthur Calwell as federal Labor leader and, along with his education spokesman Kim Beazley, fought hard for a needs-based system of schools funding, regardless of whether it was for state or private schools. Opposed to this policy were party machine men like Joe Chamberlain (WA) and Bill Hartley (Victoria) and left-wing parliamentarians such as Senator Lionel Murphy (NSW).
By 1973 Beazley, as federal Education Minister in the Whitlam Government, was in a position to deliver on his pledge. He also presided over the abolition of university fees (a decision reversed over a decade later by the Hawke Labor Government), the expansion of technical education, and the teaching of Aboriginal children in their own language.
Labor Senator Robert Ray, during the parliamentary condolences on Beazley's death on October 12, 2007, said that his most important contribution in the field of education was helping end sectarianism in the country "almost overnight".
Education was to be Kim's only ministerial post. Labor went back into the wilderness at the end of 1975 and Beazley retired from parliament two years later. He was, in a political sense, almost a perennial opposition figure very much like the British statesman of two centuries ago, Charles James Fox, but without the latter's dissolute personal habits. Like Fox, Beazley also had a fine grasp of international affairs.
Yet two Labor prime ministers, Whitlam and Hawke, both said of the elder Beazley that he forfeited his leadership chances by his strong Christian faith. That, unfortunately, says much more about the Labor Party than it did about Kim Beazley.
Beazley would not be bullied on his core beliefs. Not for him the relaxation of divorce laws, the re-definition of marriage or easy abortion laws. He was at the time of his death a much-respected patron of the Australian Family Association.
About the Labor Party of which he had been a prominent figure for so long, he once famously said: "When I first went as a young man to the ALP forums, those present were the cream of the working class, while now, those there in many cases represent the dregs of the middle class."
While he lived to see his son lead the ALP twice (for some seven years in all), he also had the disappointment of seeing him dropped as leader a year out from the last election. On the day the Labor caucus dismissed Kim Jnr, the party was 12 percentage points ahead of the Howard Government in the polls - and Labor never surrendered the lead.
That devastating blow for the Beazley family came on the day Kim Snr's younger son, David, died, and was a poor reward for the two Labor stalwarts who had both served so well. Kim Jnr's political demise was doubtless a factor in the ALP vote declining in Western Australia in the 2007 poll.
Kim Snr's career epitomised the importance of conscience over the importance of power. In so many things he was a generation ahead of his time.
In 1949 he wrote to Prime Minister Chifley, arguing for a referendum to remove discrimination against Aboriginals. It came - but almost two decades later and then under a Coalition government, being carried by the largest margin ever.
He was also an advocate of reconciliation between black and white Australians. As for land rights, his 1951 arguments were also over two decades in advance of such land title being granted in the Northern Territory.
Ben Chifley once proclaimed that Labor should be "the light on the hill" for the betterment of mankind. But Kim Beazley had seen a far brighter light from another hill, at Calvary; and his strong Christian faith was something that governed this decent, uncommonly gifted man who had something of an Old Testament prophet about him.
His type has seldom been seen in Australian politics -and as a nation we have been the poorer for that.