EJANZH: Brockett on the Rural Crisis

Richard Brockett, University of Queensland

I was drawn into the Country Party in my youth … In those days its principles, as expressed in its original policy booklet, coincided with the principles I had been brought up on. The infrastructure was basic and reflected the aspirations and needs of the rural community … one had an affinity with a Party that gave the rural community some hope.

Cedric Turner, a member of the Australian Country Party from the 1940s to the 1970s, writing in 1993.

From its emergence in the post World War One decade as a political force on the Federal and State scene, the Australian Country Party (A.C.P.) was committed to a series of policy initiatives aimed at ameliorating the social and economic condition of rural Australia. The policies were re-defined and re-affirmed at various points in the next forty years, but with enduring principles of commitment to the family farm and private enterprise, decentralisation of political power and infrastructure, and financial and economic support specifically designed for primary producers. However, changing global conditions affecting trade, and international and domestic economic downturn had, by the 1960’s, created a situation wherein traditional party supporters had become extremely critical of the Party’s commitment to these policies and to them. Into this situation stepped The Australian League of Rights (A.L.O.R.) whose spokespersons accused the A.C.P. of drifting away from their electoral commitments, an accusation countered by the A.C.P. which alleged that the A.L.O.R. had deliberately infiltrated their ranks with the specific objectives of destabilisation and manipulation.

The rural discontent which provided much of the impetus for formal political representation of primary producers and the inception and raison d’etre of the A.C.P. can broadly be defined as a perceived lack of understanding and sympathy for rural problems in an electoral system largely controlled by the major urban centres. These were problems of transport systems which severely restricted orderly and cheap marketing systems, and an ongoing rural-urban drift which threatened the traditional balance of population. This discontent had manifested itself around the time of the First World War, when rural producers had articulated the expense and inefficiency of the rail and port systems in New South Wales which added in some cases hundreds of extra miles to the carriage of produce to markets or to shipping outlets. Also official inquiries had revealed serious disadvantages in social educational and health issues associated with rural living.(1)

The existence of New States Movements in the Riverina and New England regions of New South Wales during the inter war years, and into the 1950s and 1960s, indicated rural antipathy to governments remotely exercised from Sydney or Canberra. Similar movements emerged in central and northern Queensland in the post war decades, as did like-minded interest groups in western Victoria, the southern region of Western Australia, and the Northern Territory (2). Common to all of these New State’s Movements were themes of resentment at urban political domination and a perceived lack of adequate rural parliamentary representation. With the universal franchise and “equal” electorates there were extreme difficulties confronting the rural politician in balancing his representative functions and maintaining his own affairs. That is, electoral boundaries were not “such as to enable representatives to keep in touch with their own constituents, their own business, and give proper attention to government” (3).

Both Royal commissions found that the creation of New States would be an administrative nightmare in terms of equity, finance, maintenance of transport infrastructure and overall capacity for self sufficiency (4). Nonetheless, decentralisation and creation of New States, together with the commitment to provide social, economic and financial support and incentive to primary producers remained the policy of the A.C.P. In the 1949 Federal election campaign, its written electoral policy provided for, inter alia, a firm commitment to private enterprise and anti-socialism; to the securing of a remunerative price to producers; extension of close settlement, credit policies to assist primary producers, consumer subsidies to increase production and consumption, progressive reduction of taxation, protection against inflation, decentralisation, including creation of new states and capital investment, and restoration of State taxing powers.

This policy was re-affirmed in a 1953 policy statement and again in that produced for the 1966 Federal election. This was also duly noted in the Editorial of the New Times, the principal press outlet of the A.L.O.R. in 1949 (5).

Electoral commitments not withstanding, primary producers, following a boom triggered by the global demand for produce and commodities in the post war period, experienced a slow decline in profitability in the 1950s and early 1960s. Whilst rural industries continued to provide eighty percent of export income and ninety percent of domestic consumption, with production levels increased by forty six percent over pre-war levels, farm incomes had dropped in both real terms and as a percentage of National Income. Concurrently export indices had declined whilst retail, wholesale, and import price indices rose, along with the National Weekly Wage Index.

In other words

Steeply rising costs in the 1950s have had a heavy impact on primary industries – which have produced more than ever and exported more, and yet rising local costs have denied them a return commensurate with this effort (6).

External factors were impacting on Australian primary production. The post war economies of Europe were recovering, accompanied by heavy subsidisation of farming industries, and the U.K. had commenced its moves to enter the Common Market. This action threatened to deprive Australian primary producers of much of their traditional export markets. These events contributed to the position described by Ellis in 1960, and the phenomenon of the ‘Cost Price Squeeze’ (C.P.S.) bore down harder on Australian primary producers.

One early sign of major discontent was the emergence in 1966 of the Basic Industries Group (B.I.G.) whose principle thrust was that Australia should not sacrifice the basic industries of wheat and wool by constantly raising their costs. This was caused by the imposition of tariff measures which protected certain (urban based) light industries, but which elevated primary producers’ costs by 3% each year (7). For McEwan, Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Parliamentary Leader of the it posed a serious conflict of interest. AS the leader of the party committed to the rural population and rural industries, he had to confront the reality that his electorate was dwindling. Rural dwellers comprised twenty percent of the population in 1954, dropping to sixteen percent in 1967, with no indication of any reversal of the trend. The A.C.P., in order to ensure its survival, had to become a ‘national’ party, which meant a move into urban electorates.

However, to accomplish this, he had to compromise in Cabinet, appearing to endorse the very same measures which were severely affecting the rural producers. That is, high tariffs and high wages for the industrial work force compounded the cost problem for the farmer, grazier and pastoralist. Nor, claimed the Federal Government, would the traditional means of redressing this, the payment of subsidies, be effective, since it would merely further fuel inflation (8).

In 1968-69 other problems began to emerge. Anthony, Minister for Primary Industry, warned of rising costs and the prospect of inflation to a meeting of the Graziers Association of N.S.W. Banks expressed concern at the decline of farm profitability, and McEwan also expressed concern at Britain’s reduction in the preference status for the Australian meat industry. In the House of Representatives evidence was given that the wheat industry had been encouraged to the extent of over production, as wheat farmers were advised on measures for the temporary storage of wheat on site since government silos were full.

Yet McEwan stated that the Country Party was the only party which had acted constructively over the “very serious problem for wheat”. Anthony was also on record as asserting that he was optimistic concerning the wheat quota plan, although some areas of difficulty were being experienced with the Australian Wheat Grower’s Federation. Further remarks by McEwan – that A.C.P. policies were set to create ‘tremendous’ increases in productivity, that the Cost Price Squeeze “had been going on for years”, and that his Party did not make policy for the rural industries, but rather, it tried to carry out the policies that the rural industry made – can only have served to heighten the anxiety, anger and confusion in the wheat industry, as well as wool growers, and other primary producers.(9)

In 1968, the Countryman had noted that the Country Party had to understand total Australian needs since it had grown into a ‘national’ party, specialising in the problems of the rural community, but also accepting the need for balanced growth nationally. However, “in recent times this national thinking had alienated some of the Country Party’s supporters’ (10).

Some evidence of this alienation can be discerned in the emergence, in 1970, breakaway farm groups. In N.S.W. there was the Rural Action Movement, with a membership of 20,000, in southern N.S.W. the Rural Survival Group, in Victoria the Edenhope Agricultural Bureau, and in Tasmania the formation of the Australian Farmers Union. There was a march by 10,000 farmers on Melbourne, and a similar exercise in Adelaide. Each of these organisations drew their strength from disaffected members of more traditional groups such as the Graziers Association or the United Farmers and Woolgrowers Association, whilst in Queensland it was reported that the Institute of Economic Democracy, a division of the A.L.O.R., had attracted members of the Queensland Grain Growers Association (11).

In addition to agrarian protest at inflation and the cost price squeeze, a more pervasive fear had permeated farmers’ ranks, that of farm aggregation, or farm amalgamation, under the general heading of ‘Reconstruction’. In 1968, Ralph Hunt, Chairman of the A.C.P. – N.S.W stated that he viewed “with apprehension any large scale move towards farm aggregation” which would be “highly undesirable … [if it were] … to benefit any large scale corporation farming enabling wholesale invasion of our farming industry by foreigners and local monopolies’ (12).

In 1969 Doug Anthony was the recipient of a letter from a Victorian farmer who wrote

The policy you are advocating to reduce the number of farmers by helping the small men to leave the industry seems an extraordinary one for a Country Party man to adopt…. The policy of the Country Party has always been one of decentralisation and, if I am not mistaken, you were elected to Parliament on this platform (13).

Anthony replied that no coercion would be applied, noting

I have been reluctantly forced to the conclusion that for the man on a farm which is just too small to bring him a reasonable income … the only practicable solution is for him to leave the farm, if he wants to, or make it bigger if he would rather do that (14).

In 1971, Ralph Hunt wrote to John Smith, a Wellington grazier

The Rural Reconstruction proposals are not designed to satisfy that repugnant slogan ‘Get Big or Get Out’ …It is not fair to suggest that either Mr Sinclair or the Government is attempting to bring about a situation whereby there will only by 178 graziers in Australia at the end of the tenth year of the program. The scheme is designed to try and assist many graziers who have no other means of support available to them (l5).

Smith responded tersely,

To use your words, ‘it is not fair’ to suggest that the scheme, with its amalgamation clauses, does not mean getting bigger, and if some get bigger then surely some get out, to me it really is the most basic sort of answer to a basic question (16).>

Although the A.C.P. elected representatives might have protested their good intentions, there are reasonable grounds for the fear and apprehensions of the smaller farmers and graziers. Smith’s logic alone is without fault, and as the farmer in Victoria pointed out, it was diametrically opposed to traditional party policy. In a conference in Sydney, Sinclair stated flatly that “the small person is a burden on everybody in the community and must be eliminated. He has the same voice and voting power as every other pastoralist (17).”

By about 1970, rural Australia was beset by problems of over production, shrinking markets, cost price squeeze and inflation, and the perceived major thrust of the response from the A.C.P. was reconstruction, or ‘get big or get out’. It was perhaps understandable that anger, protest, and frustration would rise from within the ranks of the Party.

A report on the 1971 A.C.P. Victoria State Conference by a branch secretary noted

To report on the Conference … The Party is united … there is a good atmosphere … it is marching on from strength to strength, mostly in the wrong direction. Any contentious issues were quickly killed off by either a Politician or a Central Councillor. Most of last Years (1970) angry delegates were too poor to come this Year…(18).

Peter Allen, of the Dirranbandi Branch of the A.C.P. Queensland criticised both Governments, Federal and State (Coalition) suggesting they pool resources and come up with a solution, demanding a change in financial policies to end inflation, and the removal of protective tariffs. The Polwarth District Council of the A.C.P. Victoria moved and carried a motion calling on the Federal Country Party to implement previous promises, or get out of the Coalition, and the Nalangil Branch Secretary, a member of the Country Party for over twenty years, asserted that the Federal representatives were ignoring the principles on which the Party had been formed:

We will not be betrayed any more … We have had enough get a genuine financial policy which will reverse the present disastrous trend or out you go at the next election (l9).

One prominent Queensland A.C.P. member, Bob (later Sir Robert) Sparkes, wrote

…[a] lot of the present [economic ] troubles stem from the [Federal] Liberal – Country Party Government pursuing the wrong economic policies, because they are being advised or rather misguided – by Fabian Socialists whose ulterior aim is the establishment of a socialist state … If we cannot get our Parliamentary representatives to do what we are convinced, after long and careful study, is necessary for our best interests, then in the final analysis the right, the wise procedure is not to leave the Party [i.e. vote for the A.L.P.] but rather to stay in the Party organisation and try to replace erring parliamentary representatives with men who will do the right thing. (20)

On 6 June 1970 the Walcha Branch of the A.C.P. – N.S.W. wrote to McEwan with a resolution drawing his attention to the debt, inflation, and probate. These and other loss of incentives were eroding the independence of the family grazing unit and causing rural-urban drift. The branch demanded a policy of decentralisation of political and economic power back to the states. Sinclair’s response was that he and his colleagues were most concerned with the rural urban drift, but decentralisation, especially of industry, was a State function. He added that the Commonwealth was a participant on a Joint Commonwealth/State Committee of Officials [i.e. public servants], which had sat since 1964. [It still had not handed down its findings in 1971]. The reply evidently did not mollify the branch, which wrote to the Prime Minister, J. G. Gorton, enclosing a petition signed by 109 Walcha electors.

At the A.C.P. N.S.W. 1971 Annual Conference one resolution called on the A.C.P. to quit the Coalition if a 40 cent national average price per pound for wool was not introduced. One delegate after another referred to farmers and graziers in their respective districts who were on the verge of ruin and who would be voting for the A.L.P. at the next election (22). At the Annual General Meeting of the Kingaroy A.C.P. Queensland Branch, the Branch criticised the Party’s elected representatives who had failed to implement its policies. It expressed “concern in particular at non-implementation of adherence to the Federal system, a balance of economic and social opportunities, prevention of socialisation of industry, and failure to eliminate death duties (23).

By about the end of 1970 there would appear to have been much discontent, approaching open revolt or desertion by many rank and file members of the A.C.P., from a wide range of areas and in most states where the Party had a significant presence and infrastructure. The question is was this spontaneous, or was it orchestrated?

At the N.S.W. Annual Conference in 1971, P. E. Lucock, a Federal M.H.R. from New England stated “the radical Right has made significant gains in some Country Party branches in the New England, and were in larger numbers in Queensland” (24). In early 1972 it was alleged that members of the A.L.O.R. had infiltrated Country Party Branches in the federal electorates of Maranoa, Kennedy, Fisher and McPherson in Queensland, Gwydir, Calare and Hume in N.S.W. and Gippsland and Wimmera in Victoria (25).

For some two years up to March 1971 Jeremy Lee, National Secretary of the Institute of Economic Democracy, had toured all states of the Commonwealth addressing primary producers, branches of the Country Party, graziers and primary producers’ associations, Country Women’s Association meetings, and local government councils and shires. In August 1970 both he and Eric Butler, National Director, had conducted a seven day a week lecture program, from Hughenden through to northern N.S.W., as a follow up to previous campaigns by Lee.

They conducted training schools of five to six hours each, one of them being attended by 500 persons, to equip those attending for “constructive electoral action against financial policies which are rapidly destroying the basis of rural independence”.(26)

On 4 September 1970 Lee presented a paper on ‘The Role of Finance in Government’ at an A.C.P. Seminar organised by the Dalby Branch. At the same seminar, Keith Fuss, who was Chairman of the Branch, presented one on ‘Decentralised or Centralised Government’, and on 19 February 1971 Eric Butler presented a paper on ‘Reversing Inflation’ at a Country Party seminar held at St. George (27).

Earlier, on 14 July 1970 Lee had been the guest speaker at the Annual State Conference of the Queensland Dairymen’s Organisation in Brisbane. Also in early 1970 Lee had undertaken a lecture tour of Western Australia. South Australia and Victoria. In each case he was followed up by Butler and Edward Rock, Assistant National Director of the A.L.O.R., who conducted the basic training courses which the League called ‘Social Dynamics” (28).

The theme of the League’s message was contained in a booklet published around 1969, They Want Your Land, which advanced the view that inflation was a strategy of Fabian Socialist cum Marxists to wipe out the individual farmer. The counter strategy advocated by the League was an Electors Policy Statement which asserted the vital need for a stable, independent rural community, including its service towns. This called for decentralisation of political, financial and economic power, elimination of inflationary trends and financial strictures forcing farmers off their land. It also demanded the removal of ‘experts’ who were unable to eliminate inflation, renegotiation of primary producer’s debts via long term low interest loan arrangements, and a freeze of parliamentary salaries until all this was achieved. These strategies were incorporated in a brochure issued under the title Can We Save the Country Party, which listed a number of objectives contained in its 1966 National Policy.

Specifically, these were those relating to Federalism, decentralisation, balance of economic and social opportunities and community services in city and country areas, New States, and encouragement and fostering of free enterprise and private ownership etc All of these policies were, according to the A.L.O.R., demonstrably being ignored. Promises had also been broken in relation to abolition of death duties and the reduction in taxation and freight costs; compromise and appeasement were the Party’s new modus operandi (29). The message of the brochure was that all this notwithstanding,

… (s)trangely, we believe the Country Party can still provide the leadership and fighting spirit to reverse the situation … The National Policy is still the right one. All it needs is implementation. There have been great statesmen and leaders in the early years of the Country Party. We anticipate that from the present crisis such leadership can be reborn. (30)

In order that the Country Party elected representatives would get the message, the campaign brochure instructed electors to extract promises of performance standards and commitment to specific issues from their representatives. This notion can be detected in various highly charged meetings in Armidale, Uralla and Walcha in New South Wales, Kalannie and Bridgetown in Western Australia, Gippsland in Victoria, and on the Darling Downs and Kingaroy in Queensland. The brochure enjoined the reader to

Help us save the Country Party … Help us to ensure that Service, rather than Power becomes the motive of our representatives … Help us to ensure that the Country Party does not go down into oblivion. but moves on to take the initiative on the road back to stability and responsible government. (31)

‘Sponsors’ of the Campaign included members of branch executives and conference delegates of the Country Party, in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. Guidelines for the campaign indicate an assumption of prior membership of the A.C.P., with reference to each sponsor to “get his own branch behind him if he can”, and to “refrain from making comments outside the party”, an inference of “undoubted reaction in some quarters”, i.e. the party hierarchy, and anticipating accusations of “disrupting and destroying the party”. Accusations of “infiltration” were anticipated and instructions and briefings, to preclude this, were formulated (32).

What perhaps gave the League’s rhetoric added credibility and acceptance with Country Party rank and file was the great similarity in stated objectives between the two organisations. Both held firm convictions on loyalty to God, the Crown and to Australia as part of the British Commonwealth. Both were also firmly anti-socialist, anti-totalitarian, with strongly held beliefs in individual determinism and the benefits of free enterprise, and both were committed to Federalism and decentralisation of political, economic and financial power.

Ralph Hunt declared that he found Eric Butler and the League’s philosophy “appealing”, and that there were some positive aspects of Social Credit, although there were practical difficulties in implementation. Don Maisey, a Country Party M.H.R. in W.A., wrote that he had no problems with the League’s proposals as contained in the ‘Can We Save The Country Party’ brochure. Jim Corbett, A.C.P. M.L.A. for Maranoa in Queensland conceded that many of his supporters were also League supporters, and they were very genuine people. Mike Evans wrote that the “League’s anti socialist objectives are acceptable and … we recognise some facets of the economic arguments” e.g. long term, low interest (loans). Ian Sinclair informed Jeremy Lee that he and others in the A.C.P. subscribed to A.L.O.R. journals since ninety percent of the information they needed to keep abreast of Government business came from those sources.

If the Country Party had any wish or need to disassociate itself from the League, or to demonstrate that the Party and the League were total and discrete entities, or that the Party was not the League’s creature, it could well experience problems. In some perceptions the differences were very blurred, if for some members they existed at all (33).

In July 1971, Clyde Cameron, M.H.R. for Hindmarsh, claimed that the League had been in control of the A.C.P-N.S.W. State Conference at Port Macquarie, and the State General Secretary moved to distance the Party from the League. Anthony publicly denied any link with the League, asserting that it was not the “League’s creature”, however that denial had been preceded by accusations that the A.L.O.R. had also infiltrated the South Australian Liberal Country League. Anthony replied that “The League is trying to horn in on some of the Country Party’s own objectives”. and dismissed the League’s economics, i.e. Social Credit, as being “inflationary” and a “chimera”. He concluded that the A.L.O.R. was “anti semitic” and “pro Nazi”, a charge he later had to withdraw, but

… (w)hile some Country Party people might find themselves in agreement with some of the League’s more reasonable objectives, I would hope that they would not become associated with the organisation, or allow themselves to be used by it. (34)

P> What is of interest here is that Anthony had tacitly conceded that generally the League’s philosophy was compatible with that of the Country Party, and also that members of the Party were being attracted to the League, rather than the latter “infiltrating” the Party. There is further evidence of this in the proceedings of the A.C.P-W.A. 1971 Annual Conference proceedings

I am deeply concerned that a number of keen Country Party members have been so influenced by the League that they are trying to impose its fanciful theories. I believe these members are sincere but do not realise that they are being used by a subversive and sinister organisation. (35)

Adrian Solomon, President of the N.S.W. State Branch of the Party publicly attacked the League, accusing it of antisemitism and being pro Nazi, although his credibility in party circles was lessened by covert allegations that he too had deployed the odd joke at the expense of Jews. (36) The National Secretariat of the Country Party had done some hurried research and compiled a paper on the A.L.O.R., based on a 1965 publication Voices of Hate by Ken Gott. Gott was a former member of the Communist Party and he had drawn heavily on Eric Butler’s book The International Jew published circa 1946, plus articles in the Melbourne based Social Credit paper, New Times.

Anthony and Sinclair publicly denounced the League, mainly for its infiltration, as did some State Country Party leaders, but broad circulation of the paper proved to be problematic, as the League was able to point to its left wing sources, to the embarrassment of the Party (37). Elphick, the A.C.P. W.A. General President, agreed not to circulate the document, if, in return, the League ceased to circulate its Can We Save The Country Party pamphlet:

In the circumstances I can quite readily assure you that the document will not be circulated by our office. In return I ask you for your assurance that the League of Rights and the Institute of Economic Democracy will cease their interference in the affairs of the Country Party… Will you also advise your supporters who are members of the Country Party to cease putting forward League inspired motions at Country Party meetings (38).

In Queensland, a meeting at Dalby with an attendance of some 300 “voted overwhelmingly” to disassociate from the “scurrilous attacks” on the A.L.O.R., and called on the A.C.P-Queensland to do likewise. At a subsequent meeting the State Management Committee spent much time discussing the influence of the A.L.O.R. on the Country Party, but Bob Sparkes “moved successfully for … disassociation from the [National Secretariat] allegations”. He nonetheless expressed concerns that the League was dividing the rural community because of its “unwarranted” attacks on the Party “when it should be pursuing strongly united political action through the Country Party” (39).

Sparkes could not do other than pressure the A.C.P. Queensland to disassociate from attacks on the League. At an A.C.P. Queensland Central Council Meeting on 15 October 1970 Sparkes had moved a resolution for an investigation of the I.O.E.D. to determine if it was subversive. In speaking to the motion, Evans, the State Secretary, advised that he was compiling a dossier on Eric Butler, and hoped before long to have proof that Butler had been goaled for pro-nazi activities in 1944, an assertion which would not be sustainable (40). Unfortunately for Sparkes, one of the delegates to the meeting passed to Eric Butler a detailed record of the meeting and in a letter to Sparkes Butler said “I will tolerate being called a ratbag, an anti-Semite, even a secret Communist, but I will not tolerate having my patriotism impugned.” He insisted that Evans make a formal statement, repudiating those allegations to all delegates, with a copy to himself, together with an assurance in writing from Sparkes that he also repudiated any such suggestion. He assured Sparkes that he would not use it except to defend himself in Country Party circles, but if these statements and assurances were not forthcoming he would seek legal advice.(41)

In the main, opposition to the A.L.O.R. and the allegations came from top level A.C.P. parliamentary and extra parliamentary leadership, not from Party branch level and grass roots membership.

The ‘slanging match’ continued throughout 1972, including a major public confrontation between Butler and Sinclair at Uralla in November, and the unedifying spectacle of Ralph Hunt confessing to the House of Representatives that he had subscribed to the New Times from 1951 to 1965, but that he was misrepresented when quoted in On Target as saying the League was ‘doing a good job’ and in stating that Sinclair, in opposing the League, had been ‘brainwashed’. Through all this the League continued with its campaign, providing support for meetings of electors and candidates, but there is no evidence that their activities affected the outcome of the elections of December 1972. (42) Speaking about what the League had been striving to do, Eric Butler stated that

…[o]ne of the Leagues concerns was to generate sufficient public opinion to force the [Country Party] back to the principles on which [it] had been established. And if this had to be achieved in opposition, that will be a good thing for [it] and a good thing for Australia. (43)

It is fairly evident that the Country Party had, in the perception of many of its traditional supporters, lost its way somewhere in the 1960s. It did campaign in 1966 and 1969 on policies and principles which had first been put to the electorate in 1949, and by about 1970 these were perceived as ‘slogans’ or vote catchers only.

Certainly, international events had dramatically altered the post war scene causing contraction of traditional overseas markets for Australian primary produce. This, coupled with the slow decline of the boom period to the ‘bust’ of the early 1970s, was impacting hard on primary producers, especially small holders. What is equally certain is that the Country Party, in its moves to become a ‘national’ party had alienated and disenchanted many of its traditional constituents, and it seemed unable to exert itself to address what was a social as well as an economic issue. It probably could have well done without the Australian League of Rights and its ‘Save The Country Party Campaign’, although it is doubtful that its electoral defeat in 1972 would have been averted if the League had not existed. As Butler said to Sparkes

I well understand your concern about the present difficulties of the Country Party. But if the League of Rights did not exist, the present electoral dissatisfaction with the Federal Government would still exist. I do not think it is fair to blame the League for an electoral reaction resulting from the Government’s own policies. (44)

With one exception, the League cannot claim any successful outcomes, that exception being that Queensland did ultimately abolish death duties, and this eventually flowed on to the other states. Finally, the charge of infiltration seems dubious and unproven, although perhaps it could be said that the League’s actions in saving the Country Party were more in the nature of a ‘Trojan Horse’. Jeremy Lee, speaking in 1993, stated

The infiltration (accusations) came because we had attracted people who were also members (of the Country Party) …. The infiltration thing was a convenient whip that had no reality at all … There was really very little difference philosophically to the stated objectives of the Country Party, much of what appears [in them] the League would agree with. [But] they paid lip service to the monarchy, the flag, decentralisation …. What became quite obvious [was] that those were simply slogans that had been abandoned and were used merely to attract votes … The issue which finally caused [the upheaval] was that of the family farm and money and banking e.g. long term, low interest finances … the get big or get out, that was the real issue. (45)


1. Report of Royal Commission as to Decentralisation in Railway Transit, NSW PP 1911 (2), evidence e.g. pp 129-130 re rail systems in New England region for primary producers, pp 167-168 for similar problems for mining operations, and p 368 for problems of South Western NSW primary producers for whom Melbourne was a more natural centre, but lack of compatible connecting rail links denied them this shorter, cheaper outlet. For social, educational and health issues affecting rural life see Royal Commission of Inquiry on Rural, Pastoral, Agricultural and Dairying Interests (with Particular Reference to Share Farming), NSW PP 1917/18 (1), which noted that the population had increased in the area of the County of Cumberland (greater Sydney region), and the Riverina, but all other districts in the State had recorded population decreases. The Commissioner recommended various measures to improve living standards in rural regions, with particular emphasis on subsidies and concessions on rail, post and telegraph services, better dwellings, sanitation and health, extension of education services, raising industrial conditions for rural workers and in particular “That effect be given to a policy of decentralisation”. p cx. 2. Report of the Royal Commission into Proposals for the Establishment of a New State or New States, NSW PP 1925 (2), passim; NSW PP 1934/35 (3), passim ; Courier Mail, 30 September 1957; New States and the Decentralisation of Industry, an Address by Ulrich Ellis, Campaign Director of the New England New State Movement at a Public Convention organised by the Albury Branch of the A.C.P., Albury 8 May 1964; Ellis was also the Director, Office of Research for the A.C.P. The Chairman of the Central Queensland New State Movement was George Gray, Federal Member (A.L.P.) for Capricornia. Gray, a Social Crediter, had been State Secretary of the Social Credit Party of Australia (Queensland Branch) in the 1930s, and in 1939 he was the leader of the ‘Raid’ on Parliament House in Brisbane, see R. Brockett, ‘Douglas Social Credit in Queensland 1929-1939’, unpublished Post Graduate Diploma in Arts Thesis, 1993, Department of History, University of Queensland. See also personal communication Peter Wright, New State Movement of Northern N.S.W. to John Brett, Manilla, N.S.W., dated 5 April 1969, which reveals that the New State Movement was still active at the end of the 1960s.

3. NSW PP 1934/35 p 1210 and p 1223.

4. NSW PP 1934/5 p 1209 and pp 1216-1217.

5. A.C.P. (Federal) Platform and Policy, Reaffirmed and Amended, January 1949; ditto 1953, and A.C.P. National Policy 1966, Basic Objectives of the A.C.P.; New Times 11 February 1949, “The Country Party and Subsidies”. Consumer subsidies were an element of the Douglas (Social) Credit proposals, and had been used by the Curtin and Chifley Governments to curb war-time inflation. Curtin was involved with the Douglas Social Credit Movement in Western Australia in the early 1930s. New Economics, 2 July and 28 October 1932.

6. Ulrich Ellis, Director, Office of Research, A.C.P., The Crises in Farm Costs and Incomes, A.C.P., March 1960; also New Times, June 1969.

7. See for example, News Weekly, 5 July 1967.

8. Bulletin, 22 July 1967. The inappropriateness of subsidies was challenged by the A.L.O.R., when it reminded the A.C.P. of its electoral promises, and demonstrated the viability of consumer subsidies, alleging they were not inflationary, Enterprise, March 1970.

9. Countryman, June 1968, July 1968, June 1969, September 1969.

10. Countryman, July 1968.

11. Australian, 23 October 1970.

12. Countryman (N.S.W.) July 1968.

13. Countryman, July, 1969; this theme is also defined by Cedric Turner A.C.P. member for 25 years, in a personal communication with the author, dated 27 April 1993. Mr Turner asserts that he heard Anthony use the words “Get big or get out” in Warrnambool, around 1970; also personal communication, John Brett to J. D. Anthony, dated 13 June 1969 “I have just read your statement ‘Marginal Farm Plan Not a Betrayal of C. P. Policy” … which has stung me into action … For a long time we have been inching towards the condition of the state owning all means of production and exchange, i.e. away from C. P. philosophy, but your amalgamation policy not only accelerates this condition, it seems to perpetrate it.” Brett had been a member of the A.C.P. for many years prior to his involvement with the A.L.O.R. which was from about 1965. In 1969 Sinclair had been asked “If your (C.P.) colleagues can find $25M to helP people off the land, why cannot that same sort of money be used to lower costs, and so keep him on the land, where he wants to be and his nation needs him? It worked before, why not now? This question can be avoided and ignored for so long … I do hope between now and the next election your genuine interest and concern in your electorates plight will be sufficient to restore our confidence in you”, personal communication, John Brett to Ian Sinclair, dated 6 November 1969. In a reply dated 28 November 1969, Sinclair evaded the question, concentrating on berating Brett for deserting the A.C.P., and voting for the D.L.P.

14. Countryman, July 1969.

15. Personal communication, R. Hunt, to J. Smith Bulbudgerie, Wellington, N.S.W., 13 July 1971.

16. Personal communication, John Smith to Hunt, 26 July 1971.

17. Report of Conference with Ian Sinclair, Sydney 26 April 1973, in possession of Jeremy Lee, former National Secretary, Institute of Economic Democracy, (I.O.E.D.), and Assistant National Director, A.L.O.R.

18. Personal Communication D. J. Auchterlonie, Secretary, Narracan Thorpedale/Branch, A.C.P. Victoria, to J. Lee, 25 April 1971.

19. Toowoomba Chronicle, 13 November 1970; Colac Herald, 19 February 1971. The Branch Secretary, Nalangil, Cedric Turner, writing in 1993, said “some pretty good motions were carried, and technically … became C.P. policy. But political expediency was always number 1 and policy principles went down the memory hole.” *Personal communication*, Cedric Turner to author, 27 April 1993.

20. Personal Communication, R. Sparkes to George Wilson, Warra, 7 May 1970. The emphasis is in the original. Cedric Turner was of the opinion that once in office, C.P. elected members, by the 1960’s, were more concerned with their own advancement, “To sit on the front bench was always paramount.” Personal communication, Cedric Turner to the author, 27 April 1993.

21. Personal communication, Walcha Branch, A.C.P. to J. McEwan, 6 June 1970; personal communication Ian Sinclair to Branch Secretary, Walcha Branch 18 August 1970; personal communication J. G. Gorton to P. E. Lucock, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees, 23 November 1970; Queensland Country Life, 4 November 1971. A subsequent attempt by the Walcha Branch of the A.C.P. to have Lucock initiate a private members Bill along the lines of the Electors Policy Statement (Annexe A) was unsuccessful, Walcha News, 3 June 1971.

22. Australian, 26 June 1971.

23. South Burnett Times, 30 June 1971.

24. Australian, 26 June 1971. Lucock should have been well aware of the A.L.O.R. presence in New England, since in 1969 he had written to John Brett, Manilla N.S.W. “I would be happy to come to your League of Rights Dinner as your guest speaker”, personal communication dated 15 September 1969.

25. Age, 29 February 1972.

26. Personal communication J. Lee to editor *Kalcha News* (N.S.W.) 18 March 1971; Enterprise, September 1970 (Enterprise was the quarterly news-sheet of the I.O.E.D.); Interview Chas Pinwill 10 March 1993.

27. Enterprise, September 1970; copies of all three papers are in the possession of the author.

28. Enterprise; Interview J. Lee, 14 March 1993; interview Chas. Pinwill, 10 March 1993. A copy of the Social Dynamics lectures is in the possession of the author.

29. Enterprise; ‘Can We Save The Country Party’ Brochure, March 1971; ‘They Want Your Land’, A.L.O.R., 1969; also New Times June, September and November 1969 make early reference to the deepening crises of rural costs and inflation. The ‘Electors Policy Statement’ simply incorporated the demands carried by the farmers march on Adelaide in 1970. See also note 11.

30. Can We Save The Country Party.

31. See, for example, report of a meeting of the Wellington Branch of Country Party in Wellington, N.S.W. in June 1971, when Ralph Hunt and John England were quizzed as to past performances, future intentions, rural reconstruction, finance and economics; the representatives were given 20 minutes and 10 minutes each to state their case, and two minutes for each question, Wellington Times, 4 and 7 June 1971; or the meeting of the Uralla Branch of the United Farmers and Woolgrowers Association when Davis Hughes was put through a similar process; (Armidale Express 7 June 1971>; a meeting in Polworth (Colac Herald 19 February 1971); also a meeting at Dalby in July 1971, (Toowoomba Chronicle, 20 July 1971); at Walcha, N.S.W., (Walcha News, 3 June 1971), at Kingaroy (South Burnett Times, 30 June 1971); a ‘candidate’ meeting at Koorda, Western Australia, in personal communication Robert Nixon to J. Lee, 16 February 1971. There were also similar events on the Darling Downs, in the Condamine and Maranoa electorates in May and November 1972 (Toowoomba Chronicle, 2 May and 13 November 1972).

32. Notes for Sponsors of the ‘Can We Save The Country Party Campaign’, dated 23 May 1971, signed by Jeremy Lee. The sponsors were as listed in the brochure at Annex A and with two exceptions, were long serving A.C.P. members well before any involvement with the A.L.O.R. Personal Communication J. Lee, to author, dated 6 April 1993.
In a briefing for League ‘actionists’ in Brisbane in May 1969, supporters were strictly instructed not to ‘infiltrate’ other organisations. No prohibition on membership of other bodies and associations was intended, but if supporters did enter another organisation they were to make no secret of their League affiliations, they had to be in agreement with the stated aims, objectives and policies of the other organisation, and they were not to destroy or subvert them. They were permitted to “improve and further” that organisation’s objectives, and take the “initiative” to effect such action if circumstances permitted; Briefing Paper, League Activity Within Political, Economic or Cultural Organisations, May 1969, in possession of the author (from J. Lee).

33. Personal communication, Ralph Hunt to Bill O’Donnell, Coonabarabran, 12 November 1971; personal communication Don Maisey to Robert Nixon, Kalannie, W.A., 22 July 1979; personal communication Jim Corbett, Maranoa, to Athol Madden, Warra, 18 September 1970; personal communication M. G. Evans, State Secretary, A.C.P. – Q. to Mrs Dulci Willacy, Brigalow, 2 August 1971; personal communication E. Rock, Assistant National Director, A.L.O.R. to Don Martin, Queensland State Director, 25 February 1966; Objectives, History, Organisation, Australian League of Rights, 1966, in possession of the author. 34. Countryman (N.S.W.) August 1971; Northern Daily Leader 7 August 1971; Adelaide Advertiser 9 July 1971; personal communication J. D. Anthony to John Brett, Manilla N.S.W., 9 September 1971, “As strong exception seems to be taken to the use of the phrase … pro Nazi, I have no wish to persist in its use” Northern Daily Leader 6 January 1972; Australian 9 February 1972; Toowoomba Chronicle 6 January 1972. The A.L.O.R. did advocate Social Credit, but in this campaign they were simply advocating long term, low interest loans as per orthodox economics, plus consumer subsidies, a stated A.C.P. policy. The A.L.O.R., as a Social Credit organisation, is totally opposed to highly centralised government, and to totalitarianism in its many forms, including socialism, communism, fascism and national socialism.

35. Country News Bulletin (W.A.) September 1971.

36. Summary of A.C.P. W.A. State Conference 1971, personal communication R. Nixon to J. Lee, n.d. 1971.

37. Age 24 September 1971; Melbourne Herald 23 September 1971; Interview Chas Pinwill, 10 March 1993; Personal communication R. J. Elphick to Robert Nixon, 8 October 1971, in response to Nixon personal communication, 24 September 1971; K. Gott, Voices of Hate 1965; E. Butler The International Jew 1946.

38. Personal Communication, R. J. Elphick, to Eric Butler, 1 November 1971, in response to Butler’s personal communication dated 18 October 1971.

39. Toowoomba Chronicle 20 July 1971, Courier Mail 8 August 1971. Keith Fuss stated that the attendance at this meeting was well in excess of 300, personal communication with the author, 14 June 1993.

40. In 1944 Butler, along with several dozen other Social Crediters, had been called before a Board of Inquiry presided over by Justice G. S. Reid. Its objective was to determine if certain agitation by some Social Crediters was bona fide or otherwise. No prosecution or incarceration occurred as a result of the inquiry. The Board concluded that no subversive activity had occurred, and the Social Credit supporters subpoenaed were totally loyal to Australia. See Report by Mr. Justice Reid and Mr. J. A. Grey M.H.R., Who Vere Constituted on Board of Inquiry on 28 January 1944, under the National Security (Inquiries) Regulations. Butler was out of Australia on active duty with the A.I.F. for the most of the time covered by the Inquiry and was on leave following his return to Australia when his subpoena was served.

41. Copy of proceedings Queensland Country Party Central Council Meeting, 15 October 1970; personal communication Eric Butler to R. Sparks, 10 November 1970. During World War II Butler served in the A.M.F. and then the A.I.F., including overseas service for twenty months. The contact at the C. C. Meeting passed the copy of proceedings to Keith Fuss, Chairman, Dalby Branch, personal communication Keith Fuss, Toowoomba, to the author, 14 June 1993.

42. Northern Downs News, 7 December 1972; Armidale Express , 15 November 1972; Sydney Morning Herald, 9 November 1972.

43. Toowoomba Chronicle, 4 December 1972.

44. Personal communication, E. Butler to R. Sparkes, 11 November 1970.

45. Interview, Jeremy Lee, 14 March 1993. Lee had been a member of the A.C.P. since his arrival in Australia in 1961. Eric Butler stated the situation in somewhat similar terms in Interview, dated 2 February 1993, as did Charles Pinwill (now State Director, A.L.O.R., Queensland) in an Interview of 10 March 1993.


  • Report of Royal Commission as to Decentralisation in Railway Transit, NSW PP 1911 (2).
  • Report of Royal Commission of Inquiry on Rural, Pastoral, Agricultural and Dairying Interests (With Particular Reference to Share Farming), NSW PP 1917/18 (1).
  • Report of Royal Commission into Proposals for the Establishment of a New State, or New States, NSW PP (2), 1925; and ditto NSW PP 1934/35 (2).
  • Address by the Campaign Director of the New England New State Movement (U. R. Ellis), at a Public Convention organised by the Albury Branch, A.C.P. N.S.W., 8 May 1964 (Fryer Library University of Queensland).
  • A.C.P. (Federal) Platform and Policy, Re-affirmed and Amended, January 1949; A.C.P. National Policy 1966, Basic Objectives of the A.C.P., (in Fryer); A.C.P. (Federal) Platform and Policy (Amended) 1953, in possession of Mr Jeremy Lee, Ravensbourne.
  • U. R. Ellis, Director, Office of Research, A.C.P., The Crisis in Farm Costs and Incomes, A.C.P., March 1960, in Fryer.
  • Objectives, History, Organisation, of Australian League of Rights, 1966, in possession of the author.


  • Countryman (NSW)
  • Country News Bulletin
  • Australian
  • Adelaide Advertiser
  • Toowoomba Chronicle
  • Courier Mail
  • South Burnett Times
  • Age
  • Melbourne Herald
  • Enterprise
  • Armidale Express
  • Walcha News
  • Wellington Times
  • New Times
  • Northern Daily Leader
  • New Economics


  • E.D. Butler, Goodna, 2 February 1993.
  • Charles Pinwill, Rosewood, 10 March 1993.
  • Jeremy Lee, Ravensbourne, 14 March 1993.


Personal communications, that is letters cited in this paper, except that from Cedric Turner, are in the possession of J. Lee and J. Brett, with copies held by the author, as are the report summaries of briefings, meetings, conferences etc, e.g. Sinclair; A.C.P. W.A. State Conference; A.C.P. Victoria State Conference.