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National Observer Home > No. 46 - Spring 2000 > Book Reviews

Lionel Murphy: A Political Biography

by Jenny Hocking

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 376 and index.

This is a republication, with additional material, of a biography first produced in 1997. The republication contains a new foreword, by Justice Michael Kirby, who has recently revealed himself formally as a homosexual, as noted in the July 2000 issue of National Observer. Ms. Hocking, the author, is now working on a biography of the well-known communist author, Frank Hardy.

In retrospect Lionel Murphy is seen to have been a corrosive accession to the Australian legal and political scenes. It emerged in the latter years of his life that he was an associate of criminals, and he was indeed himself prosecuted for serious criminal behaviour. (He escaped conviction only by refusing to give sworn evidence, and hence avoided having to explain dishonest conduct.) He also was strongly identified with the extreme left in Australian politics, and he provided tenacious support in Australia for the communist totalitarian regime in Yugoslavia. There is a widespread belief that he was an active agent of influence on behalf of foreign communist regimes. His appointment to the High Court represented the most sordid event in the history of that Court: he was appointed by Whitlam to remove him from the Senate, where he had become an embarrassment and a political liability. He died before a judicial committee set up by the Senate was able to complete an investigation into further criminal activities and improper conduct on his part.

This biography describes the support that, despite his dishonesty and sinister political position, he received from members of the Labor Party and their fellow travellers. It is a very grave criticism that many such people supported Murphy obstinately and without integrity, regardless of his corruption, merely because he was a Party member and an adherent to the far left. It is revealing to note, in this biography, the names of his allies and supporters over his lifetime (and especially when his criminal behaviour was exposed), many of whom clearly lacked the honesty that was needed to dissociate themselves with one of their own.

At the instance of the Labor Party, the papers of the judicial committee into Murphy set up by the Senate will remain secret for a number of years yet. When they are released they will doubtless cast further light upon his corruption, although information as to his links to communist regimes abroad will require to be adduced from other sources.

The biography of Ms. Hocking is not satisfactory: it sets out to present Murphy in a favourable light, and, for example, there are many matters that she has not addressed sufficiently. In view of the controversies raised by Murphy in so many areas, a further biography is needed.

R.M. Pearce



National Observer No. 46 - Spring 2000