News Corporation chief Rupert Murdoch directed his editors to "kill Whitlam" some 10 months before the downfall of Gough Whitlam's Labor government, according to a newly released United States diplomatic report.
The US National Archives has just declassified a secret diplomatic telegram dated January 20, 1975 that sheds new light on Murdoch's involvement in the tumultuous events of Australia's 1975 constitutional crisis.
Entitled "Australian publisher privately turns on Prime Minister," the telegram from US Consul-General in Melbourne, Robert Brand, reported to the State Department that "Rupert Murdoch has issued [a] confidential instruction to editors of newspapers he controls to 'Kill Whitlam' ".
Describing Mr Murdoch as "the l'enfant terrible of Australian journalism," Mr Brand noted that Mr Murdoch had been "the principal publisher supporting the Whitlam election effort in 1972 Labor victory".
With a publishing empire that included The Australian as well as daily or Sunday newspapers in every Australian capital, Mr Murdoch's new editorial direction was seen as a critical political development.
"If Murdoch attack directed against Whitlam personally this could presage hard times for Prime Minister; but if against Labor government would be dire news for party," Mr Brand telegraphed.
The consul-general's urgent report was prompted by US Labour Attache Edward Labatt who drew upon a range of confidential union and business sources, including people working for News Limited newspapers, to report on industrial relations and political developments.
Mr Brand's telegram makes it clear the words "kill Whitlam" were a political direction to News Limited newspapers and not a physical threat to the prime minister.
The consul-general's January, 1975 telegram has only been declassified this week after Fairfax Media applied for access 10 months ago. The identity of Labor Attache Labatt's confidential source of information has been redacted.
Other diplomatic cables previously released by the US National Archives and published by WikiLeaks in mid-2013 revealed that Mr Murdoch foresaw the downfall of Whitlam's Labor government a year before its dismissal.
In November, 1974, US Ambassador Marshall Green reported to Washington that Murdoch privately predicted that "Australian elections are likely to take place in about one year, sparked by refusal of appropriations in the Senate".
One year later, on November 11, 1975 Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed Mr Whitlam as the prime minister after the Liberal-Country Party opposition blocked the budget in the Senate.
Although Murdoch believed he played "a substantial role" in Labor's 1972 election victory, his enthusiasm for Whitlam had quickly waned.
"He expects to support the opposition in the next election," Ambassador Green reported in November, 1974.
The newly released US cable reveals Mr Murdoch's political shift was quickly confirmed, at least 10 months before Kerr's dismissal of the government.
News Limited newspapers savaged Whitlam and strongly backed opposition leader Malcolm Fraser, so much so that journalists at The Australian took industrial action in protest.
The Labor Party was crushed at the polls and did not return to power until 1983.
Mr Fraser acknowledged Murdoch's support but said the newspaper proprietor's political role is easily overstated given the collapse in public support for the scandal-ridden Whitlam government.
"Rupert had influential newspapers, certainly, but I don't think it affected the election outcome,'' Mr Fraser said.
John Menadue, News Limited general manager in the early 1970s, expressed surprise that Murdoch might have given an editorial direction as "blatant" as "kill Whitlam".
Mr Menadue, who was head of the prime minister's department from 1974-76, said Mr Murdoch's "modus operandi was more cautious, more subtle in those days, but I wouldn't dismiss it ... he's certainly more blatant now … more extreme right wing."
News Corporation did not respond to questions about Mr Murdoch's role in the political events of 1975. But on Friday Mr Murdoch visited the headquarters of his British newspaper division in London after his protege Rebekah Brooks was cleared of phone hacking at the most high-profile trial and biggest police investigation of recent times.
The 83-year-old US-based media mogul flew in to hold discussions with staff after the trial of former News of the World journalists concluded with a former editor of the tabloid New of the World Andy Coulson being convicted of hacking.
News UK is the parent company of The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times and the now-defunct News of the World.
Australian-born Murdoch was photographed being driven away from a property in Mayfair in central London on Thursday, reading a copy of The Sun, and then went to the offices in Wapping, east London. He has yet to comment on the outcome of the eight-month hacking trial.