||Issue No. 145||19 July 2002|
Two Wings Flapping
Interview: In The Tent
Bad Boss: The Desk Nazi
Media: Hold the Presses
Workplace: Putting Bullies In Their Place
Industrial: Women and Work
International: Whine and Dine
History: Black Adder
Review: Bad Movie
Poetry: I Remember
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Hooray for Frank!
Reform or Die
"We saw the car, we thought, parked opposite a few doors down for several days and nights before its occupants made formal contact - always an FJ Holden, cream one day and green or grey the next, drawn from the fleet of nondescript saloons Security deployed to advertise their anonymity...What they were hoping to observe we could not say - we automatically assumed the phone was tapped and mails intercepted, but such crude and obvious attentions were peculiar even for the bumbling bloodhounds of the state machine...
Two burly replicas of all the pork-pie hat and double-breasted suit brigade I'd seen for years at demonstrations or on the furtive fringes of the crowd in the Domain...We'd like to see a Mister Milliss - is he in? they asked, as if they did not know already...Yes, I'm Bruce Milliss, what can I do for you? They introduced themselves - one was from ASIO, the other from the Federal Police...They had a summons for him to appear before the Royal Commission on Espionage, when it resumed its hearings in a few days' time. He took the green wax-sealed subpoena from them with distaste and put it down unopened. I'm not a spy, he said in icy dignity.
Of course, of course, they hastened to assure him, there was nothing so they understood to draw that inference, but it would seem that he was ... mentioned somewhat: ...Then at the door he swung around and gazed at them directly. Why do you do these things? he asked. The ASIO man looked at him blankly for a moment, then at his colleague. It's our job he shrugged. We went back to the dining room where my mother waited, tense and nervous. What was it Bruce? she asked, the Petrov business? He nodded, and recounted what had happened.
She knew as well as he did that the poisoned atmosphere was bound to claim him with its farrago of concocted facts and falsity and filth, the web of innuendo, slander, smear and outright frame-up spun insidiously in the last eight months since the Russian renegade had fled to so-called freedom with his phoney files for an option on a chicken farm and pay-off of five thousand pounds, but when the blow at last descended all her old intrinsic sense of decency was once again outraged. The scoundrels! she exploded, with a spluttering echo of my father's own reproach, How can they do such things? ...
Only a week before the drama broke the Sydney Morning Herald, worried by the anti-Menzies drift, predicted with an ominous clairvoyance that he'd need to pull a pair of rabbits from his famed top hat to stay in power: now the magician took a curtain call with both bunnies safely in his hands ... I used to go along occasionally to watch proceddings from the crowded public gallery as Lockwood vehemently proclaimed his innocence, alleging forgery and frame-up - I want a trial by jury, not by inquisition! I have been smeared throughout the country as a man who'd sell his homeland for a gift of brandy: it's a dirty slander! - and as Evatt fought the greatest case of my career, capping a lifetime during which for all his twists and turns defence of democratic rights had always been his hallmark, grilling the shifty, mumbling turncoat and his nervous wife in his nasal monotone, probing the subtleties of typing and calligraphy on which the charge depended, then laying his counter-accusations of direct political conspiracy to damage both his party and himself, while the judges interrupted every second word more like protectors of the Petrovs or their advocates than sober and impartial arbiters of truth and when he was about to make his allegations stick peremptorily debarred him.
Free of his intimidating presence they resumed their hunt ... While the hue and cry continued the Commissioners directed their devout attention to what they called the small fry of their star performer's other documents, the Moscow letters, numbered A to F, and another series ciphered simply G. This latter was the set in which my father's name purportedly appeared. He was among the first of many minor witnesses arraigned in this switch of tack from deep concerns of state to settling old political scores. ... On the stroke of ten the three inquisitors themselves filed in, clad in a solemn extra-mural mufti of identikit black jacket, waistcoat and immaculate striped trousers. We rose in deferential silence as they took their seats to start - so they complacently informed their audience - the seven-fourth performance of their record-breaking show.
...Owen, the Chairman, bald and aseptic, with a pencil-lined moustache and ferret-faced behind his beady spectacles, precise and peppery of speech as he sorted out with Windeyer [chief prosecutor for hire] some problems of procedure caused by the lengthy illness of their alcoholic Russian star; on his left was Philp, from Queensland, pompous and verbose, sprawling back in supercilious detachment from such petty practicalities though never especially noted for his restraint in other circumstances, let alone impartiality - Even if Petrov said in court that he had lied and fabricated all these documents, I still would not believe him! he declared on one inglorious occasion - and on the other side the South Australian Ligertwood, a beetle-browed but dull and plodding beadle with an even stronger bent for hounding witnesses and bullying their counsel if the humour so engaged him."
Bruce Milliss was called to the Commission supposedly to help with the mystery of a document that someone called Sadovnikov, first secretary of the Soviet Embassy was supposed to have written. Pape, leading for the prosecution had some fairytale about the document going between various embassy staff over the years. The penny dropped for Bruce when Pape read out the instruction that was on the top of the document from the Moscow Centre -"Communicate the additional materials and well-founded conclusions in relation to the following ... with a list of names commencing with BRUCE MILIS - progressive labour supporter, secretly assisting the Communist Party. Enjoyed the confidence of Chifley. Resided and had a trading company in the town Katoomba.
My father's lip curled up in unconcealed contempt. So this was how they'd fitted him! Enjoyed the confidence, progressive labour, secretly assisted...Destroy the Chifley legend, he remembered, taint the Labor Party by association with the Reds through the memory of it's present leader's predecessor, even by using small fry like himself, the plot was so transparent, flimsy, obvious. And the deliberate faulty spelling of his name to lend the thing an air of clumsy authenticity, the past tense used in a missive written, it was claimed, while he was still living in Katoomba ...
Well, if the game was frame-up, falsity and forgery they'd get no satisfaction out of him, they'd find that two could paly the artful dodger trick. ...As we filed out through the doorway Richards [deputy director of security] - who had sat impassively throughout the morning following proceedings - pressed close behind us almost on my mother's heels, as if incredibly to pick up if he could some stray remark or casual indiscretion. My mother bridled. This was the final straw she could bear, the last indignity she'd suffer from such scoundrels. She turned on him in open fury. WOULD YOU STOP SHOVING ME? she thundered in her most imperious tones. He took a flustered step away and mumbled an apology. She swept out past him with her head held high. ...
Then suddenly my mother grasped my father's arm and kissed him quickly, shyly, but with a tender passion on the lips like a young adoring bride and they walked off hand in hand like lovers, out of the courtyard in the sunshine into Oxford Street; I strode along beside him on the other side, proud like her to know this man and claim my kinship with him.
The pantomime continued for some months more, though it was clear the judges would have liked it to go on for ever: as Christmas came around they even sent out greeting cards as if it was a lifetime institution and held a merry party where they fraternised with the prosecuting counsel, ASIO officers and none other than the Russian renegades themselves, as guests of honour, who were reported to enjoy themselves immensely with the lady radiant in her recently acquired Australian suntan. Between festivities they nabbed a bunch of journalists for having been a bit leftwing in former years, dragooned some writers and the odd aberrant academic for reluctance to conform and even served a warning to a few MPs that they were not immune. The wharfies stopped the port, marched up Taylor Square and staged a burlesque of the show inside and all but stormed the courtroom when a couple of their number were arraigned, and a seaman's union secretary abused them roundly for their ignorance of Marxist theory while his members cheered and whistled from the gallery till they were unceremoniously ejected."
Such were the joys I guess. Nowadays you'd bee hard pressed to find a journo who needed to be brought into line though, judging by the way the mainstream press is repeating verbatim what ever slander is told about the CFMEU.
Roger Milliss. Serpent's Tooth: an autobiographical novel. (Penguin, 1984)
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