LEE RHIANNON’S (POLITICAL) PAST – A DOUBLE DENIAL
Lee Rhiannon (nee Brown) delivered her first speech, as a Greens senator for New South Wales, on Wednesday 24 August 2011. Soon after, on Sunday 28 August 2011, Senator Rhiannon was interviewed by Peter van Onselen, Paul Kelly and Michael Stutchbury for the Sky News Australian Agenda program. On both occasions, the Greens senator was in denial about her past as a left-wing extremist and supporter of repressive communist regimes. Senator Rhiannon is also in denial about the Stalinist past of her late parents who never renounced their support for the Red Army and the repressive regimes of Eastern Europe.
In her first speech, Rhiannon claimed success in achieving electoral reform while in the New South Wales Legislative Council and referred to her role in “exposing the influence of corporate donations on politics”. On Australian Agenda she also called for transparency with respect to “electoral funding and lobbyists”. So Senator Rhiannon believes in transparency for others – but not, it seems, for herself. She was anything but frank about her political past during her first speech and was quite evasive during her Australian Agenda interview. Also, despite a promise to the contrary, she has declined to answer questions put to her by The Australian’s Christian Kerr.
Let’s start with some facts. Lee Brown was born on 31 May 1951 to Wilton John Brown and Freda Yetta Brown (nee Lewis). Lee’s parents were commonly known as Bill Brown and Freda Brown. Lee Brown married Paddy O’Gorman – when the marriage dissolved in 1987 she changed her surname to Rhiannon. Lee Rhiannon joined the Socialist Party of Australia around 1971 and broke off her association with the SPA in 1990 – around the time she turned 39. In 1990 Lee Rhiannon joined the Greens. The SPA broke away from/was expelled by the Communist Party of Australia in 1971. The CPA, which was led by Laurie Aarons, became disillusioned with the communist rulers of the Soviet Union following Moscow’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The SPA group, which was led by Bill Brown, continued to support the communist rulers in Moscow until the Soviet Union collapsed around 1990.
Mark Aarons (born 1951) is the son of Laurie Aarons. He traced the history of the Communist Party of Australia in his important book The Family File (Black Inc, 2010). Mark Aarons documents that the CPA received financial support from the Soviet Union and that, after the split in the CPA, Moscow provided money to the SPA.
In an article in the May 2011 issue of The Monthly, Mark Aarons wrote about the split among Australian Communist Party members, which led to the formation of the SPA:
The August 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia precipitated a bitter struggle inside the CPA. The majority condemned Moscow but a vocal minority supported the invasion. Recently, Rhiannon has sparred with Gerard Henderson about her parents’ role in the pro-Soviet faction; her defence has largely obscured the truth.
Soon after the invasion, Lee’s parents formed a clandestine relationship with the Soviet embassy, which directed and financed those who opposed the CPA’s principled stand on Czechoslovakia. By late 1971, it was clear they could not seize back control of the CPA. So the dissidents formed a new, pro-Soviet communist party, the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA), which uncritically supported and promoted Soviet policies.
Lee Rhiannon has just turned 60 years of age. She was a committed communist from the time she became politically active at about age 16 until she left the SPA and joined the Greens in 1990 at about age 39. In other words, Lee Rhiannon spent over two decades of her near adult or adult life supporting the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. She now chooses to deny her political past – and declines to answer questions about her past political involvements.
Senator Rhiannon’s First Speech
In her first speech, Senator Rhiannon spoke about her parents whom she claimed were “deeply committed to making the world a fairer, more peaceful place for all”. And she referred to the fact that she went to Canberra in 1968, at age 16, along with one hundred high school students who were protesting against the Allied (including the Australian) commitment in Vietnam. So Senator Rhiannon will discuss the political beliefs of her parents and her early political involvement. But only to a certain extent.
In her first speech, Senator Rhiannon had this to say about her “political journey”:
On my political journey, I joined the Socialist Party and I am proud of the campaigns on unemployment, women’s rights and nuclear disarmament that I was involved in. Over recent months, there has been a revival of Cold War rhetoric and McCarthyism style politics with the intent to discredit my work and in turn that of the tens of thousands of Australians who have joined socialist and communist parties. By far the majority of these people were motivated by altruistic values and a desire to serve the best interests of Australia and all humanity.
Senator Rhiannon’s apologia for her one-time communist comrades was greeted with thunderous and prolonged comradely applause from her Greens supporters in the Senate chamber.
Senator Rhiannon on Australian Agenda
On Australian Agenda on 28 August 2011, the following exchange took place:
Michael Stutchbury: It is unusual to have a new senator, or new member of parliament, in Australia really singing the praises of socialists and communists in their maiden speech. And you spoke of a revival of McCarthyist rhetoric around the place. While talking about your own history and so forth, shouldn’t you have really got into the issue of why socialism and communism got it so badly wrong?
Lee Rhiannon : I think there has been a whole lot of really wrong things done and I have often acknowledged the mistakes and the crimes that have been committed by different socialist countries. I think probably what you are also referring there to is some of the comments from Michael Danby, Gerard Henderson sometimes comes into it, Paul Howes – all running their criticisms of me. I think there is an interesting point here, that I do actually acknowledge those crimes that have been committed. But I am not behoven to one regime or to one government. I have also been critical of the French when they were bombing, testing the nuclear weapons in the Pacific.
Paul Kelly : Surely there is no parallel here whatsoever between French tests on the one hand and the 20th Century history of what communists did in a range of countries? Surely that’s a completely false comparison?
Lee Rhiannon : I am not comparing one crime to the other. My point was is that how I live my life is that I will speak out against injustice, oppression and exploitation. I believe I have been consistent in doing that. I have been a member of the Greens for 20 years, I have stood up for our policies. If you look at my track record in parliament, you can see what I have worked for. So a lot of these attacks on the work that I did when I was very young, I think, has got a great deal to do with the fact that the Greens are in balance of power and it is an attempt to smear us. It’s not about actually engaging with the challenges that we have before us.
So, these are Lee Rhiannon’s two essential claims about such critics as Labor MP Michael Danby, Gerard Henderson and Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Paul Howes. Namely, that criticisms of her past political involvements are McCarthyist in nature and related to a period when she was “very young”.
Lee Rhiannon’s (Alleged) “McCarthyist” Critics
Senator Rhiannon believes that those who criticise her political past engage in “Cold War rhetoric” and practise a “McCarthyism style of politics”.
The essential criticism of Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) was that, when an influential Republican in the United States Senate in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he made false or unsubstantiated allegations that certain Americans were either members, or supporters, of the Communist Party. Clearly, the term “McCarthyist” does not apply to critics of the Brown family. For it is an undisputable fact that the Brown family were life-time barrackers of Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev and the other communists who resided in the Kremlin between the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the collapse of Soviet Communism some seven decades later.
Bill Brown and Freda Brown as Followers of Soviet Totalitarianism
Lee Rhiannon’s father Bill Brown (1917-1982) joined the Communist Party of Australia in 1940. In other words, Bill Brown became a Communist Party member during the mid-point of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Under the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union became formal allies and divided Eastern Europe between themselves. Bill Brown opposed the Allied War effort until June 1941 because Stalin had instructed Communist Party members the world over to support Hitler – since Germany was an ally of the Soviet Union. Bill Brown only commenced supporting the Allied war effort after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 and Stalin instructed Communist Party members to cease their support for Hitler’s Germany – because it had become an enemy of the Soviet Union.
Freda Brown (1919-2009) joined the CPA in 1936 and soon after supported the Nazi- Soviet Pact. In other words, between mid 1939 and mid 1941 the Browns wanted Nazi Germany to win the Second World War.
As virtually life-long communists, Bill Brown and Freda Brown supported the “glorious history” of the Bolshevik Revolution from 1917 on. This included (i) the military conquest of the nationalities during the formation of the Soviet Union at the time of the Civil War, (ii) the brutal suppression of the workers’ uprising at Kronstadt in 1921, (iii) the forced famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s in which millions died and (iv) Stalin’s purge trials of the late 1930s.
As active CPA members, Bill Brown and Fred Brown actively supported (i) the Nazi- Soviet Pact of 1939-1941 which saw Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania forcefully incorporated into the Soviet Union, (ii) the suppression of virtually all of Eastern Europe by the Red Army in the mid-1940s following the defeat of Nazi Germany, (iii) the creation of dictatorial communist regimes in such “satellite” nations as Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Romania after the end of the Second World War, (iv) the crushing of the East German workers’ uprising in 1953, (v) the savage extinguishment by the Red Army of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and (vi) the suppression of human rights and rampant anti-semitism of the Soviet regimes during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Then, in 1968, the Soviet Union crushed the “Prague Spring” in Czechoslovakia. At this time the CPA split. One faction – headed by Laurie Aarons – decided that enough was enough and broke with Moscow. The other faction – headed by Bill Brown – supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and remained friendly with the Brezhnev regime in Moscow.
Bill Brown died in 1992 – just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He remained a supporter of Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev and their political heirs up to the time of his death. Freda Brown died in 2009. She never renounced Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev or their political heirs up to the time of her death. Indeed, in Moscow in 1977, Freda Brown was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Brezhnev regime (see the obituary by Tony Stephens in the Sydney Morning Herald, 27 May 2009).
In her first speech in the Senate, Lee Rhiannon claimed that her late parents were “deeply committed to making the world a fairer, more peaceful place for all”. This claim is completely misleading – unless Senator Rhiannon seriously believes that supporting Soviet totalitarianism was consistent with working to achieve fairness and peace. If she does hold this view, Senator Rhiannon is seriously deluded.
In letters published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 July 2010 and The Australian on 12 April 2011, Lee Rhiannon wrote:
Neither my parents nor I were Stalinists.
Senator Rhiannon’s claim that Bill Brown and Freda Brown were not Stalinists is simply untrue. The fact is that all members of the Communist Party were Stalinists at least up to 1956 – when Nikita Khrushchev denounced some of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In 1986 Bill Brown wrote The Communist Movement and Australia: An historical outline – 1890s to 1980s (Australian Labour Movement History Publications). It was dedicated to his daughter Lee “without whom this project would not have been possible”. Bill Brown’s book does not contain any criticism of Lenin, Stalin or Brezhnev. None whatsoever.
Lee Rhiannon as a Follower of the Soviet Dictators
Lee Brown – who became Lee O’Gorman and then Lee Rhiannon – joined the Socialist Party of Australia in 1971. In other words, she joined a communist organisation which was both loyal to and funded by Moscow and which explicitly supported the invasion of Czechoslovakia. From the time Lee Rhiannon joined the SPA in 1971, until the time she left the party following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, she consistently supported the communist regimes in Eastern Europe.
In May 1972, when a university student, Lee Brown was challenged by a left-wing activist Brian Aarons to indicate whether “she supports the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the shooting of Polish workers and the suppression of socialist democracy in the Soviet Union”. (See Tharunka, 30 May 1972, Page 2). In her reply, Lee Brown specifically declined to criticise the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 or to condemn the shooting of Polish workers by the communist regime in Warsaw. (See Tharunka, 13 June 1972, Page 4). See generally MWD – particularly Issue 90.
In 1975 Bill Brown became editor of the SPA’s magazine Survey – which was substantially funded by the Soviet Union. In time, he handed over to Lee O’Gorman, who edited Survey until the magazine expired in July-August 1990. A read through Survey – when it was edited by Bill Brown or his daughter Lee – indicates that Survey praised all the regimes in Moscow from its first edition in 1975 to its last in 1990.
Writing in The Weekend Australian on 2-3 July 2011, Christian Kerr documented Lee Rhiannon’s role as editor of, and contributor to, Survey. On Sunday 3 July 2011, Senator Rhiannon was interviewed on Channel 10s Meet the Press program when the following exchange took place:
Hugh Riminton: Welcome back. This is Meet the Press. Our next guest is no stranger to politics, but she is new to the Senate. The former NSW State representative, now part of the Green tide to Canberra, Senator Lee Rhiannon. Welcome to the program.
Lee Rhiannon : Good morning.
Hugh Riminton : This wasn’t the reason that we asked you on to this program, but I want to clear it up and get it out of the way. Did you write for and edit a newspaper in the 1980s called Survey that was funded in whole, or in part, by the Soviet Union?
Lee Rhiannon : Yes, I assisted with it to some extent. You’re referring to the Christian Kerr article yesterday?
Hugh Riminton: There’ve been reports in the media that this was something you’ve not been entirely frank about?
Lee Rhiannon : I’ve always been frank about my work. Absolutely. What we’ve just seen here is another one of these articles. I mean, when you read it, it was a little bit hard to get to the end, but it was sort of like being hit with a wet sock. I’m quite proud of my history. I’ve always been very open about it.
Hugh Riminton : If you’re proud of it, why isn’t it part of your official Senate biography?
Lee Rhiannon : Not everything is part of my official Senate biography. When I was young, I also worked at Regent Park Zoo. I’ve travelled widely. I’ve done a whole range of jobs in different countries. [In fact, Lee Rhiannon’s official biography on the Greens’ website does refer to her having “worked at the Regent Park Zoo in London” – Ed].
Hugh Riminton: But the argument is that, for a number of years, you were working for an organisation that was being funded by the Soviet Union as a communist entity, and that’s not on your official Senate biography. And there is a view that perhaps people should be aware that that is part of your past.
Lee Rhiannon : Well, firstly, I’m quite proud of my past. I have no problems in discussing any aspect of it. I think we also need to see it in the context of why this carry-on is occurring. It’s because the Greens are in the balance of power – and that’s why I’m being targeted. We’ve also seen these comments from Tony Abbott this week where he made the extraordinary statement of likening the carbon tax to socialism masquerading as environmentalism. We’re back to Cold War rhetoric that is really out of place.
Senator Rhiannon’s statement that she merely “assisted” with the publication of Survey “to some extent” is wilfully misleading.
Survey commenced publication in March 1975 – the last issue was published in July-August 1990. Bill Brown was the inaugural editor of Survey and Lee O’Gorman (i.e. Lee Rhiannon) was a frequent contributor. She was also Survey’s last editor. The final Survey editorial, published over the name of Lee O’Gorman, read as follows:
In March 1975, a new magazine started circulation throughout Australia. Survey described as a monthly digest of trends in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, was established by Sydney journalist and peace activist, Bill Brown. With a readership that stretched far beyond the progressive movement, this small but very readable publication became well-known for printing the news that in the 1970s and early 1980s was still not accessible through the mainstream media in this country.
Bill Brown, who remained as editor until 1989, when ill-health forced his retirement, worked tirelessly writing and promoting this publication. Bill and the other people who worked on Survey over the years would like to thank its readers for their consistent support. Special thanks go to the many people, too numerous to mention by name, who have assisted with regular donations, on top of their annual subscriptions, and those supporters who arranged distributions, when each issue rolled off the presses.
The July-August 1990 issue will be the last Survey. This publication, small in size, but large in content, has appeared every month for 15 years. The workers on Survey are sad to see it come to an end – a decision that was unavoidable due to rising costs and increased competition. The changed political situation in the socialist world has resulted in many more publications in this country printing the news and features that once could only be read in Survey and a few other progressive magazines. With regret for Survey’s passing and thanks to all our readers.
Lee O’Gorman, Editor
Tony Smith MP On The Soviet Funded “Survey”
Speaking in the House of Representatives on 4 July 2011, Liberal MP Tony Smith commented:
…Senator Rhiannon was a Soviet Union propagandist, not just for a couple of years as a young student but over many, many years, until she was nearly 40 years of age. In fact, she was the editor of the magazine Survey, apparently funded from Moscow. Indeed, she was the editor at its demise in 1990, under her then married name Lee O’Gorman.
That was, as everyone in this House would appreciate, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Just imagine it, Mr Deputy Speaker: all of us here—Liberal, National, Labor—rejoicing that the Berlin Wall had come down and presumably Senator Lee Rhiannon, back then, crying tears of anguish at the collapse of communist rule. You can only imagine what she would have done had she been over there on the East German-West German border. Presumably she would have had a wheelbarrow full of mortar trying to rebuild the Berlin Wall brick by brick to preserve the awful communist experiment.
At the end of his speech, Tony Smith sought leave to table Lee O’Gorman’s editorial in the final issue Survey. Leave was refused by Labor MP Catherine King.
Lee Rhiannon’s Delegation to Brezhnev’s Moscow
In 1977 Lee Rhiannon (as Lee O’Gorman) led an SPA delegation to Moscow – at a time when the Soviet Union was under the brutal dictatorship of Leonid Brezhnev. Mark Aarons, in an article titled “The Greens and Fundamentalism” which was published in the May 2011 edition of The Monthly, had this to say about Lee Rhiannon’s early political involvements:
Lee joined the SPA, attending its founding congress. She became a senior office-bearer of the youth wing, serving on the central committee’s youth subcommittee; attended Australia–Soviet Friendship Society meetings; and developed close relations with Soviet, Czechoslovak and East German communist youth groups. In 1977, Rhiannon led an SPA delegation to Moscow at the invitation of Leonid Brezhnev’s neo-Stalinist regime. Persecution of Soviet dissidents was widespread in 1977, with psychiatry routinely used as an instrument of torture. Repression of Jews and the wider population was also endemic under the most pervasive secret police regime in history. All of this became even clearer after communism’s collapse but was apparent well before 1977.
“Survey” Under Mr Brown and His Radical Daughter
Here’s a snapshot of Survey during the time Lee Rhiannon contributed to the magazine.
▪ March 1979 Survey runs an article titled “Stalin – an historical materialist analysis” on the occasion of “the centenary of J.V. Stalin on December 21, 1979”. The fact that Stalin killed millions of Soviet citizens is not mentioned.
▪ April 1979. Lee O’Gorman writes an article about an International Year of the Child conference in Moscow. She comments:
Moscow has merit as a venue for this important conference. The delegates will be meeting in a land that has already implemented the ten principles of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
▪ Jan-Feb 1982. Survey publishes an article on communist Poland which criticises both the Catholic Church and the CIA but says nothing about the repression engaged in by the communist regime in Warsaw.
▪ June 1982. Survey publishes “Why socialism means real freedom” – which depicts Brezhnev’s Soviet Union as an example of “democracy or common rule by the people”.
▪ April 1985. Lee O’Gorman writes an article praising technology in the Soviet Union.
▪ July-August 1985. Lee O’Gorman writes an article defensive of Bulgaria and suggests that Ali Agca, who was convicted of attempting to murder Pope John Paul II, was framed in order to defame the communist regime in Bulgaria.
▪ August 1986. Survey runs a special (and favourable) feature titled “Soviet Life Today”.
▪ September 1987. Survey runs an article titled “West lags behind Soviets in human rights implementation”. The article contains no criticism of the repression of human rights in the Soviet Union.
▪ October 1987. Survey runs two views on Stalin. Ivan Karasev writes that “Stalin did a great deal for his people”. The alternative view by Alexander Samsonov, while critical of the Stalin’s personality cult, claims that “Stalin did make a contribution to the building of socialism” in the Soviet Union.
▪ December 1987. Lee O’Gorman writes an article entitled “Peer pressure helps youth give up smoking in the GDR”. She found time to praise East Germany’s anti-tobacco campaigns but not to condemn the brutality of the Stasi, East Germany’s dreaded secret police.
Lee Rhiannon’s Left-of-Centre Critics : Mark Aarons and Michael Danby MP
Most of Senator Rhiannon’s considered critics come from the left-of-centre in Australian politics – with the obvious exception of Liberal Party MP Tony Smith.
Michael Danby, the Labor MP for Melbourne Ports who is Jewish, has drawn attention to Lee Rhiannon’s support for the Soviet Union during Brezhnev’s time when the Communist Party leadership in Moscow was avowedly anti-semitic. Danby, who has a consistent record of opposing totalitarian regimes of both left and right – wrote an article on The Punch website on 26 August 2011 titled “Whether she likes it or nyet, Lee Rhiannon was a Stalinist”, in which he commented:
Now, some people will say that it’s hypocritical for me to criticise Senator Rhiannon when there are people in the Labor Party who have similar pasts. It’s true that many people who grew up in the Vietnam War era were radicalised as students and joined Maoist, Trotskyist or anarchist student groups. But most of them rapidly grew out this youthful phase and became moderate social democrats – some, such as Christopher Pearson, who supported the Khmer Rouge in his youth, have even become conservatives!
Senator Rhiannon’s case is different. She grew up not as a wild student radical, but as a dedicated member of a pro-Soviet Communist Party. When the CPA tried to free itself from Stalinism, she followed her parents into the breakaway pro-Soviet SPA. She loyally supported all the crimes of the Soviet Union during that time. And this was not a passing phase for her. She remained a senior and active member of the SPA until well into her 30s. She only abandoned communism when it had visibly failed as a useful vehicle for left-wing politics. She then joined the Greens, which is now the main vehicle for left-wing politics in Australia.
People should not be punished for the follies of their past. We should forgive and forget. But as Mark Aarons pointed out…forgiveness must be preceded by repentance. Christopher Pearson has expressed his shame over his support for the Khmer Rouge, and that should be accepted. Labor figures such as Michael Costa have made similar statements. But Senator Rhiannon has expressed no such regrets. She says she is no longer a communist, and I accept that. But she has not said that communism is and always was a false and pernicious doctrine which caused the deaths of tens of millions of people, and is still causing oppression and misery in China, Vietnam, North Korea and Cuba.
Australians would have liked to have known what Senator Rhiannon now thinks about certain events of the 1970s and ‘80s which took place while she was an enthusiastic supporter of the Soviet Union. What does she now think of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? What does she now think of the suppression of Solidarity and the imposition of martial law in Poland? What does she now think of the Berlin Wall, and the shooting of people trying to escape across it to freedom? What does she now think of the persecution of Andrei Sakharov, Nathan Sharansky and Yelena Bonner? What does she now think of the anti-Semitism of the Brezhnev regime? I’m sure I’m not the only person who’d like to know.
My challenge to Senator Rhiannon was to tell us clearly and honestly about her political past. This went unanswered. Her brief, emotional reference to all the criticism of her determination to tear out the pages of her history, like they used to from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia in the 1930s after Bukharin or Zinoviev were purged [was to accuse her critics of McCarthyism style politics]…
What Australians wanted to hear Senator Rhiannon say was that she had repudiated communism, not just as a tactical convenience but as a matter of conviction; and that she regretted the harm caused by her years of advocacy and activism for the Soviet Union. Senator Rhiannon did none of these things and the Australian people will judge her accordingly.
In her self-serving autobiographical note titled Responding To Attacks On My Family And Political Background – which Lee Rhiannon posted on her website – the point was made that “we all have a past”. This criticism was directed at AWU national secretary Paul Howes who, as a teenager was a self-declared Trotskyist and a contributor to Green Left Weekly.
On 11 July 2011, Paul Howes wrote to Lee Rhiannon in the following terms in response to Rhiannon’s criticism of him:
For your information I’m happy to outline my political background. At the age of 14 I joined the Resistance. I remained a member until the age of 16 when I decided that the ideology that I had rather foolishly subscribed to was (to borrow a phrase) dead, buried, cremated.
Unlike you I was never employed by any group receiving funding from dictatorships like the Soviet Union. I never supported nor defended the murderous regimes of the former Soviet Bloc and indeed for that brief period whilst I was a member of Resistance I then still opposed Stalinism and the representatives of that ideology in Australia; your alma mater the Socialist Party of Australia.
Senator, I am always happy for you to speak about my political background, after all I have come to terms with it and have written-off my brief flirtation with far-left politics as a folly of youth. I suggest if you were more open about your background you would too be more comfortable speaking about it, and wouldn’t have to resort to mistruths and lies to smear others, to cover up your own reluctance to finally admit that the ideology you followed for so many years is flawed and wrong.
In The Family File, Mark Aarons wrote how his friendship with Lee Brown did not survive their profound disagreement over her support for the Soviet Union in the late 1960s and early 1970s:
I could not conceive of someone of my age and experience supporting Moscow’s politics. Friendship persisted, however, and I continued to visit Lee’s home. This grew less frequent as I became more uncomfortable with the tenor of her politics. On a visit in early 1975 I mentioned that the ABC Radio National program Lateline, for which I worked as a producer, had interviewed Mick McGahey, a communist official of Britain’s miners’ union, about a strike that had brought down the Tory government. Lee’s response convinced me that our friendship was finished, as she aggressively praised McGahey’s endorsement of Moscow’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In his essay, in The Monthly, Mark Aarons depicted the essential problem with Lee Rhiannon’s present political predicament as turning on the denial of her past. He pointed out that her past could be dismissed as mere history “if Rhiannon had admitted her youthful errors and moved on”. However:
…nowhere does she acknowledge how dreadfully wrong she was about the Soviet Union, nor express regrets for her gullible admiration of this abominable system. In failing to deal with her history honestly, Rhiannon places a question mark over her suitability for any leadership role, especially in a party supposedly built on integrity.
Lee Rhiannon’s Human Rights Contradiction
These days Senator Rhiannon is perhaps best known for her leadership role in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. She maintains that her support for the BDS movement is indicative of her general support for human rights.
The problem with Senator Rhiannon’s human rights advocacy is that it is built on a double standard. She has never supported a BDS campaign against the former East Germany or such contemporary dictatorships as Cuba and Syria.
On 6 September 2011, following one of Senator Rhiannon’s regular litanies about human rights, Professor Douglas Kirsner wrote to The Australian in the following terms:
What are Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon’s credentials for her claim that she regularly speaks out against human rights abuses (Letters, 2/9)?
Did she boycott any communist countries when they were committing some of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century? When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring, did Rhiannon boycott the Soviets? No, she joined the Socialist Party of Australia, a pro-Soviet grouping that split from the Communist Party of Australia after the CPA abhorred the Soviet actions.
Did she boycott the Soviet Union when it was administering psychiatric abuse such as electro-shocks to its dissidents? No, she led a delegation to Moscow. She even made an appearance in Soviet Woman.
Not even in the dying days of the Soviet dictatorship did she protest about human rights abuses.
Rhiannon leads a movement that singles out Israel for boycott. Yet Rhiannon never boycotted or distanced herself from the communist regime she supported for decades.
- Douglas Kirsner, Caulfield North, Vic
That’s the problem with Senator Rhiannon’s political persona. Her contemporary advocacy of human rights in inconsistent with her two decades spent supporting communist regimes in Eastern Europe which repressed human rights. And she will not apologise for her communist past or even acknowledge that she was a barracker for Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet followers of Lenin and Stalin.
Put simply, Lee Rhiannon (nee Brown) advocates transparency for others – but not for herself or the Brown family. When it comes to Bill Brown, Freda Brown, Lee Rhiannon/O’Gorman/Brown is into serious denial.