THE DEATH of former Labor minister and long-time senator Arthur Gietzelt a fortnight ago was greeted in some media with much commentary on his links with the Communist Party of Australia.
The reports made little or no mention of 93-year-old Gietzelt's war service in New Guinea, or of his many years as a Sutherland Shire councillor, or of the bombing attempt on his life.
Instead, with little understanding of the times and a confused presentation of the facts, Gietzelt was portrayed as a Soviet sympathiser until well into the 1980s.
What needs to be remembered when looking at the life of a man of Gietzelt's era is that information about the Soviet Union and attitudes to it changed over the decades.
The Soviet Union and Germany negotiated a non-aggression pact in 1939, but after the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, the Soviet Union became a British and Commonwealth ally in the war.
Awareness of Soviet brutality grew after the war and sharp divisions emerged in the Communist Party of Australia (CPA).
In 1968, CPA leader Laurie Aarons denounced the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the party split, with a group forming the Moscow aligned Socialist Party of Australia. The CPA adopted a ''Eurocommunist'' line, with policies that did not look to Moscow for leadership.
In the 1960s and 1970s, opposition to the Vietnam War was one of the few things that brought together the various leftist parties - the pro-China Maoist Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), the pro-Moscow Socialist Party of Australia, the Trotskyist parties and the CPA.
CPA membership was not illegal, with the electorate voting down the 1951 referendum to make it so. Gietzelt always denied being a member of the CPA. If he had been, his only ''crime'' would have been a breach of ALP rules, which forbade membership of another party.
There is no dispute that he associated with members of the CPA.
But it is quite another matter to reach ASIO's 1983 conclusion that he could be ''under some form of control by the Soviets''.
This conclusion is either deliberately mischievous, or demonstrates an incredible level of ignorance. By 1983 the CPA was sharply at odds with the pro-Moscow communists and had been for years.
The ASIO covering note that makes this statement reveals more about spies' states of mind than anything else. It reads:
''It is of interest to note that Gietzelt, as a prominent figure on the left of the ALP, has had no contact with the Soviet Union. This possibly suggests:
a) The file is pruned;
b) Gietzelt is under some form of control by the Soviets. As a secret member of the CPA and a parliamentarian he would undoubtedly be of interest to the Soviets.
So ''no contact'' means you're ''under some form of control.''
Now I have had no recent contact with the North Koreans, but I wouldn't want ASIO to take this as evidence that I am under Kim Jong-un's control.
As a participant in anti-Vietnam War, anti-apartheid and pro-indigenous land rights campaigns - but never a member of any of the parties - I had occasion to observe the hostile relations between them. I well remember the conspiracy theories and the sometimes amusing exchanges.
There were sharp divisions over how to oppose the Vietnam War. At the one extreme the Melbourne Maoists were inspired by the Chinese Cultural Revolution and thought violent protests would win over the Australian masses.
They were always a tiny minority, as shown by their small vote for Moratorium Committee positions, but had the potential to damage the movement through their deranged behaviour. In contrast, the CPA increasingly developed an interest in sexual politics and the environment, with its union leaders such as Jack Mundey supporting Green bans on development projects.
In 1983, when Labor was elected to government, the CPA member and metalworkers union leader, Laurie Carmichael, played a key role supporting the government's economic accord. Many Labor ministers, including those from the right, had positive dealings with Carmichael. It would be ridiculous to suggest that Moscow played any part in such dealings.
Gietzelt required considerable courage to take the stand he did on many issues. He and his wife Dawn were lucky to escape injury in 1971 when sticks of gelignite were detonated next to their bedroom on the front porch of their home in Caringbah. The local paper, the Leader, reported the attack was suspected to be due to Gietzelt's leading role in Sutherland Shire Council's anti-apartheid ban on a South African team competing in a surf carnival at Cronulla.
But the mystery was never solved. Charges against a builder were dropped before he came to trial.
Gietzelt told the Leader in 2011 he believed the attack was motivated by the ban and the builder's anger at the council after he was forced to demolish a block of flats at Cronulla because they did not comply with requirements.
The Gietzelt ASIO file provides yet another example of the dangers that arise from a lack of scrutiny of secret intelligence organisations. Serious mistakes can be left uncorrected and wildly misleading conclusions can result. The victims have no redress.
We now have records showing people were denied jobs, or sacked, on the basis of security advice they were unaware of.
And the injustice continues. Today refugees get no explanation when they are denied visas because of an adverse ASIO assessment. People's lives should not be left hanging in the balance because of a secretive, non-reviewable assessment.
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