John Wheeldon

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The Honourable
John Wheeldon
Senator for Western Australia
In office
1 July 1965 – 30 June 1981
Personal details
Born (1929-08-09)9 August 1929
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia
Died 24 May 2006(2006-05-24) (aged 76)
Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Judith
Alma mater University of Western Australia
Occupation Solicitor

John Murray Wheeldon (9 August 1929 – 24 May 2006) was an Australian federal politician and briefly a minister. He is mainly notable for his views on Australian foreign policy.

Early career[edit]

Wheeldon was born in Subiaco, Western Australia and educated at Perth Modern School and the University of Western Australia. He graduated in arts and law and then worked as a solicitor. He was later President of the Western Australian Young Liberals, but resigned in protest at Robert Menzies' attempt to ban the Communist Party of Australia,[1][2] declaring that it "seemed rather fatuous to call itself the Liberal Party and then introduce a bill like that."[3]

Political career[edit]

At the 1964 half-Senate election, Wheeldon was elected to the Australian Senate, representing the Australian Labor Party. His term commenced on 1 July 1965. He strongly opposed the Vietnam War and (though no supporter of Communism) visited North Vietnam at the invitation of the North Vietnam peace committee, while Australia was involved in fighting in South Vietnam. In 1967, he spoke against the war in the United States with Jim Cairns.[1][2] According to Senator John Faulkner, Wheeldon "... showed real passion for the causes he believed in: his opposition to the Vietnam War, his support for the independence of East Timor, his abhorrence of apartheid and his deep concern about Soviet imperialism."[4]

Wheeldon was appointed Minister for Repatriation and Compensation in June 1974 in Gough Whitlam's third ministry and was responsible for implementing Whitlam's ambitious plan to establish a national compensation scheme. In addition, he was appointed Minister for Social Security in June 1975 when Bill Hayden was appointed Treasurer. Both appointments were terminated by the dismissal of the Whitlam government in November 1975.[1] Wheeldon remained a senator until 30 June 1981, having chosen not to contest the 1980 election.[5]

In 1968, Wheeldon was suspected by Charles Spry, the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) of having been compromised by contact Wheeldon was alleged to have had with a female member of the staff of the French embassy in Canberra, who had what appeared to be a personal relationship with Soviet diplomatic staff who were suspected of being intelligence agents.[6] In a declassified top secret "Note to Prime Minister" in 1968 (apparently prepared for the benefit of Prime Minister John Gorton), Spry characterised Wheeldon's actions as "consistent with those of at least a collaborator with the RIS [Russian Intelligence Service]. He may be a recruited agent."[7] Wheeldon was never questioned about Spry's suspicions, and the young woman who was the sole source of the accusations against him left the country and admitted herself to the Horton Hospital at Surrey, a psychiatric institution formerly known as the London County Asylum.[6]

A declassified "top secret" ASIO Minute from 1974 indicates that ASIO officers had "considerable doubts" at the time about the truthfulness of the young woman who claimed to be the connection between Wheeldon and the suspected Soviet agents, and that these doubts were not reflected in the file specifying the young woman's accusations against Wheeldon. The note suggests that the file Spry used to brief Prime Minister's Holt and Gorton did not reflect these doubts, either.[8]

According to Ian Hancock's biography of John Gorton, in 1968 Spry sought to block Wheeldon's fiancée, Judith Werner (now Judith Wheeldon) from entering Australia on the grounds that her father was a member of the Communist Party, USA, but "Gorton would have none of it. He brusquely dismissed both Spry and his file... he had no time for public servants who behaved as a law unto themselves".[9]

In 1968, Wheeldon was one of the leading critics in the Australian parliament of the Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia.[10]

In 1978, Wheeldon was one of the primary authors of "Human Rights in the Soviet Union", a report of the Australian parliament's Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. The report was harshly critical of the Soviet Union.[11]

In 1980, Wheeldon served as a parliamentary adviser to Australia's permanent delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.[12]

After politics[edit]

In 1980, while serving as part of Australia's delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, Wheeldon rekindled an old friendship with Rupert Murdoch, who offered him a position as Associate Editor of The Australian newspaper.[12]

Wheeldon was chief editorial writer for The Australian from 1981 to 1995. In addition, he sometimes wrote articles for the monthly magazine Quadrant and other periodicals.[12]

He died at his house in Sydney, survived by his wife, Judith (headmistress of Abbotsleigh School for Girls, 1996–2005) and their son, and a daughter and a son from his first marriage.[1][2][13]


  1. ^ a b c d Minchin, Nick (13 June 2006). "Condolences: Hon. John Murray Wheeldon". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 8 January 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Chris, Evans (13 June 2006). "Condolences: Hon. John Murray Wheeldon". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 8 January 2008. 
  3. ^ Macklin, Jenny. "House of Representatives Debates". Parliament of Australia Hansard. Retrieved 1 May 2011. 
  4. ^ Faulkner, John (13 June 2006). "Condolences: Hon. John Murray Wheeldon". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 8 January 2008. 
  5. ^ Parliamentary Handbook
  6. ^ a b "Miscellaneous papers of Cecile ARLETTE HARTMANN". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 1 May 2011. 
  7. ^ "Sex, spies and Labor senator exposed in security files". The Sydney Morning Herald. 23 April 2011. 
  8. ^ "Minute Paper dated 24 June 1974". Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Retrieved 1 May 2011. 
  9. ^ Hancock, Ian. John Gorton: He Did It His Way. 191: Hodder. p. 446. ISBN 978-0-7336-1439-2. 
  10. ^ Beazley, Kim. "House of Representatives Hansard". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 1 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Human Rights in the Soviet Union: Report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. 1979. p. 211. 
  12. ^ a b c Stephens, Tony (29 May 2006). "Erudite Senator from the Whitlam days". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 1 May 2011. 
  13. ^ Beazley, Kim (30 May 2006). "Condolences: Hon. John Murray Wheeldon". Hansard. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 9 January 2008. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Reg Bishop
Minister for Repatriation and Compensation
Succeeded by
Don Chipp
Preceded by
Bill Hayden
Minister for Social Services