The Murphy raid

As you can see, the blog’s title and header pictures have changed. I started blogging just under a year ago, and, having found that I enjoy it, decided to revamp the site.

The new title, “the Murphy raid” refers to a pivotal event in Australia’s security history. This post explains this bit of history, the pictures, how they relate to the blog, and reflects on my experience of blogging so far.


What was the Murphy raid?

On 16 March 1973, Attorney-General Lionel Murphy and senior Commonwealth Police officers forcibly entered ASIO’s headquarters in Melbourne. Murphy suspected ASIO was withholding information on terrorist threats and undermining the newly elected Whitlam government.

The Yugoslav Prime Minister was due to visit Australia and there were concerns that local Ustasha groups were planning to assassinate him. The Ustasha was a Croatian fascist movement that had been allied with Germany in World War Two and had active networks in Australia. Dreaming of overthrowing Tito’s communist regime, Ustasha supporters bombed Yugoslav diplomatic buildings and social clubs throughout Australia in the 1960s and 70s. In 1962 and 1973 they launched unsuccessful military raids into Yugoslavia.

But the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was relatively indifferent to this terrorist threat. ASIO was chiefly concerned with Soviet espionage and the perceived menace of the time, communist subversion. The NSW Police Force had uncovered evidence that a Ustasha group planned to assassinate the Yugoslav Prime Minister, which was passed through the Commonwealth Police to Murphy, but ASIO denied knowledge of these threats.

Not trusting ASIO’s assurances that they had no information to support these concerns about assassination threats, the Attorney-General entered their Melbourne headquarters on St. Kilda road. Murphy declared to the ASIO staff that “it is our policy to bring open government to Australia” and demanded to know if they had been hiding information from him. Murphy questioned the officers for hours while Commonwealth Police carted off documents.

It created a media storm, prompted a crisis in Australia-America intelligence relations, and became scandal for the Whitlam government (as the raid was accused of endangering security). Some ASIO officers were so outraged by the elected representative enforcing his authority that they speculated that Murphy was a KGB agent, and launched an investigation. Whitlam later described the raid as his government’s “greatest mistake”, but it marked the beginning of many positive changes.

The event, widely reported as “the Murphy raid”, is not widely known today. I wish it were better remembered, and so I’ve named my blog in honour of the event, which relates to the three key themes I blog about: security, terrorism, and human rights.



The Murphy raid was also a key event in making Australia’s security services more democratically accountable.

ASIO has had a shady history. Under the management of General Spry, a Cold War hardliner and partisan of Menzies, ASIO successfully foiled some Soviet espionage operations. However, it also carried out mass surveillance on political dissidents it considered “subversive”, usually on the left. The organisation also attacked perceived enemies by using intimidation, dirty tricks, selective leaks to friendly journalists, and damaged people’s careers.

For that reason, the newly elected Labor government was unable to trust ASIO’s judgements about the threat of Ustasha terrorism, believing that ASIO was in denial over a far-right terrorist threat.

The Murphy raid signified changing times for ASIO. From 1973 on, the Cold War hardliners were gradually purged and measure after measure was introduced to make ASIO and other agencies more accountable.

In 1974 Whitlam established the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, which dug up, examined and condemned many of ASIO’s activities, leading to reforms.

In 1979 a new ASIO Act was passed, which narrowed the scope of “subversion” as a security concern and requiring ASIO to focus more on tangible security risks like “politically motivated violence”, while maintaining its focus on espionage and other traditional threats.

In the same year a Security Appeals Tribunal was established for citizens who failed ASIO’s security assessments, and the organisation was required to report to Parliament annually.

In 1983 Prime Minister Hawke established the Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies (RCASIA). This was the second Royal Commission into ASIO, and the first one for the other agencies.

Following this second Royal Commission, Attorney-General Gareth Evans successfully pushed for amending the ASIO Act in 1986 to remove “subversion” as a security interest altogether.

In 1987 the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security was established, which has been described as “a standing Royal Commission on all Australian intelligence agencies”, and celebrated 25 years of existence in February 2012.

In 1988 the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD was created, providing further oversight, and after the Cold War ended the security agencies experienced further reviews and inquiries, though no subsequent Royal Commissions.

So from the Murphy raid onwards, the trend has been one of increasing accountability for Australia’s intelligence agencies, even when accompanied by expanded budgets and new powers.  Unfortunately, there are still some areas where accountability is lacking, and overall Australian intelligence agencies are less open and accountable than those in some other Western democracies.

This is an important but under-studied issue. Intelligence-gathering is a necessary function of the state, and is vital for tackling crime and national security threats. Intelligence-gathering helps protect citizens’ security, rights and ultimately democracy, but only if there is adequate democratic oversight and accountability mechanisms.

The appropriate role of security agencies in a democracy is a key theme of this blog. It’s represented by the first photo, which shows the Wireless Message Sender used by Ivan Fedorovich Skripov, Soviet spy caught by ASIO.



The Murphy raid also marked one of the first times an Australian government regarded terrorism as a major security issue. In one sense the Murphy raid was a failure, as he did not find evidence that ASIO had been hiding information from him. However, he did find something damning.

What he found was that ASIO had little information on the Ustasha threat at all. This confirmed public perceptions that ASIO was neglecting a key security issue. There had been a surge of Ustasha bombings in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane during 1972 (which injured people and damaged property but fortunately cause no deaths) and the authorities appeared helpless. An editorial in the Sydney Mirror asked:

“Just what does the Australian and [sic] Security Intelligence  Organisation actually do?… At enormous expense ASIO screens migrants. At enormous expense it operates a network of spies and informers from its ugly, but expensive, headquarters in one of the choice parts of Sydney, Kirribilli. They’re a dab hand at tagging woolly academics; they’re adept at keeping an ear to the nations campuses. But when terrorists explode bombs in Sydney, ASIO hasn’t a clue”

The raid and subsequent events prompted security services to focus more on terrorism than before. Before the end of the year, a meeting between all Police Commissioners and Commonwealth officials established the first National Anti-Terrorist Plan, and much of the counter-terrorism architecture that has lasted to today. Later legislative changes ensured that terrorism would become one of ASIO’s prime security concerns.

This was a necessary change. Many acts of terrorism (both attempted and successful) were carried out in Australia over the following decades, by supporters of many causes: Ustasha, Ananda Marga, Armenian nationalism, Palestinian nationalism, far-right Australian nationalism, far-left extremism, opposition to the Family Court, anti-abortion zeolotry, and jihadism.

Fortunately, no single one of these post-Second World War acts of terrorism ever killed more than three people. Yet political violence is a serious, if intermittent, threat in Australia and several groups have plotted mass casualty attacks but been foiled by security agencies. Globally, terrorism remains a major transnational security concern, and will likely continue to.

Terrorism is a key theme of this blog, probably its most prominent theme. It’s represented by the second photo, which shows the aftermath of the bombing of the Sydney Hilton Hotel in 1978. The attack occurred during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and killed three people. The perpetrators were never found. Instead, three people were wrongly imprisoned for the crime, having their convictions overturned seven years later.


Human rights

Less directly, The Murphy raid also relates to the final theme of this blog, human rights.

A month after the Murphy raid, Yugoslavia announced that it had executed three of the Croatian-Australians accused of carrying out an incursion into the Communist state. The Australian government rightly objected, highlighting a dilemma that recurs today.

Australia has an international obligation to prevent its citizens or residents from posing security threats to other countries (more so now with passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373). However, Australia also has an international obligation to promote human rights and a duty to protect its citizens from mistreatment.

Australian citizens are often arrested overseas on suspicion of terrorist activities (Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks are merely the most well known examples). Sometimes they are tortured or face less-than-transparent judicial proceedings, creating both moral and practical problems for counter-terrorism cooperation.

Moreover, Australia itself has not been innocent of human rights abuses, sometimes carried out in the name of counter-terrorism and security. This was also seen in the aftermath of the Murphy raid.

The Whitlam and then Fraser governments rightly cracked down on Ustasha terrorism, but the entire Croatian-Australian community became stigmatised even though only a very small number of people were involved in the violence. This has obvious parallels to the situation faced by Australian Muslims more recently.

Also, Tito’s Yugoslavia was a brutally repressive regime and assassinated its opponents abroad, including in Australia, and certainly didn’t distinguish between peaceful and violent opponents. Some of the incidents attributed to the Ustasha were actually set-ups by Yugoslavia’s State Security Administration (UDBA) and led to dodgy prosecutions. UDBA’s willingness to manipulate Australia’s legal system to take down enemies is in some ways similar to certain Mossad activities, and to the suspicions that Sri Lanka might be feeding false information to ASIO about Tamil refugees.

Human rights have rarely been an explicit theme in my writing, with the exception of articles on refugees who are detained indefinitely after receiving adverse ASIO assessments. More often human rights are an implicit theme of this blog, particularly in posts concerning the role of security agencies in a democracy. As discussed above, without democratic oversight and accountability mechanisms, security services can pose a threat to their own citizens and to democracy.

Human rights are represented by the third photo, which is an ASIO surveillance photograph of citizens peacefully protesting against the Vietnam War. At the time such surveillance was routine. This was chosen to contrast with the first photo, which represented an example of legitimate ASIO activity.


What’s it all for?

So that’s how the new title and pictures encompass the key themes I’ve been blogging about for nearly a year. This blog will continue to address these themes, and continue focusing largely but not exclusively on Australia.

Thanks to all of you who’ve been reading this blog, if I didn’t have readers I probably wouldn’t continue doing it.

I had a few key goals when I started blogging: to get feedback on ideas while they were still in the formative stage, to make myself write more, and discuss issues of interest online in greater depth than I was able to on Twitter.

It’s been a success in those ways; my only disappointment is that I’ve posted far less frequently than I had planned. Otherwise I’ve greatly enjoyed it and hope you have enjoyed reading it and that you continue to.

Finally, the 40th anniversary of the Murphy Raid passed last Saturday without any mention in the media. This is a shame. Discussion of current security controversies should be informed by past experiences, and hopefully this blog can help that to happen.

17 thoughts on “The Murphy raid

  1. A great post Andrew. I’m very interested in how the Australian government reacted to the prospect of political violence in Australia in the 1970s. It seems that under the Gorton-McMahon governments, the primary concern was potential violence stemming from the left, such as the anti-Vietnam War and anti-Apartheid movements. Only under Whitlam is there any real assessment of the threat posed by Croatian nationalists and other anti-Communists in Australia.

    When the Public Order Bill 1971 was introduced into Parliament (which included a Part dedicated to the protection of foreign embassies, consulates and representatives in Australia), Whitlam asked for the details of attacks upon foreign embassies and consulates over the last decade. The reply from the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Hansard, House of Representatives Parliamentary Debates (written answers), 7 April, 1971, 1651-1652) showed that 22 attacks had occurred since 1966. Of the serious attacks (such as arson or bombings) the embassies of Yugoslavia and the USSR experienced more (5 each) than those of the USA, South Africa and South Vietnam (4, 1 and 2 respectively).

    Labour MP Horace Garrick complained that despite the emphasis by the Liberal Government on the issue of ‘law and order’ and the protection of foreign representatives, it ‘was not interested in law and order… when bombs were thrown by Fascist terrorists into the Yugoslav Embassy in Hawthorn’, adding ‘it appears that the Government condones this type of violence, as the only reaction to date has been to declare the Embassy a public nuisance and to ask the occupants to vacate the premises.’ (Hansard, House of Representatives Parliamentary Debates, 20 April, 1971, 1711)

    Shortly after the POA came into effect, an internal report by the Commonwealth Police showed that during 1971 there was an increase on attacks on the South African embassy, coinciding with the demonstrations against the Springboks rugby tour, but these were mainly limited to anti-apartheid slogans being painted on the embassy walls, compared with the bomb attacks directed against the Yugoslavia and USSR embassies (Commonwealth Police Force Central Crime Intelligence Bureau, ‘Politically Motivated Violence and Vandalism in Australia 1971’, January 1972, pp. 7-13, A432 1985/6648, NAA).

    Despite Labor’s suspicion that the Liberal Party and the security forces were in close contact with Croatian terror groups, a secret Cabinet document on political violence and terrorism in Australia prepared by the Attorney-General, Ivor Greenwood, for the McMahon government shows that the A-G believed that the ‘Yugoslav problem’ was ‘the greatest single problem’ for Australia’s national security. However Greenwood did advise against a Royal Commission into terrorism and violence (into the Yugoslav migrant community and/or wider political/terror organisations). (Ivor J. Greenwood, ‘Terrorism and Violence in Australia’, 28 September, 1972, pp. 8-9, A432 1972/5776, NAA)

    However the issue was taken more seriously by the Whitlam and Fraser governments, who were concerned with the rise in international terrorism during the 1970s and were particularly warned by ASIO about anti-Communist emigres and the Ananda Marga. Disturbances outside Old Parliament House in the late 1970s by both groups encouraged the government to believe that these groups both posed a significant security risk. Also, with the number of sieges occurring at embassies in Europe increasing during the 1970s, as well as the kidnapping of foreign representatives, the Fraser government introduced the Crimes (Internationally Protected Persons) Act 1976 to give greater powers to police to stop potential acts of terrorism against foreign representatives and far greater penalties for those found guilty of offences against the Act. Andrew Hiller observed, the maximum penalties for offences under the 1976 Act, such as assaulting an internationally protected person, were ‘considerably in excess’ of those offered under the Public Order Act. (Andrew Hiller, Public Order and the Law, Law Book Company, Sydney, 1983, p. 195) The Fraser government drafted a report to examine whether further powers were required to stop AM and the Ustashe from conducting attacks inside Parliament House, but National Archive records seem to show that the report was not followed up.

    I think further research should be conducted into this topic (I have a paper currently under review relating to these issues, btw) and you are correct that the ‘Murphy raid’ should resonate more in the recent political history of Australia. It’s great to see someone drawing on the history of counter-terrorism in Australia to illuminate contemporary practices and concerns.

    (I might do a post on my blog too using this material if you don’t mind)

      • Dear Sir

        I would like to draw your attention to a couple of inaccuracies in your article.

        The first one is here: ”The Ustasha was a Croatian fascist movement that had been allied with Germany in World War Two and had active networks in Australia.”
        Wrong. Ustaše were not fascist nor nazi as such but an independence movement, a bit like fretilin or IRA. Croatia was at the time occupied by the Germans and the Italians and this independence movement didn’t have any choice but to align with these powers in order to set up a croatian state, or more precisely, to take over the running of that state in the given circumstances. Their networks DID NOT operate in Australia. I know, that’s what being said but it is wrong.

        The second inaccuracy is your categorisation of croatian underground independence groups in Australia – there were several such groups under various names – as croatian ustashe fascist extremists. Again, the ”ustashe” attribut is not correct nor is the attribute ”fascist” or ”nazi”. They were not fighting either for fascism or nazism nor under the ustashe banner or with links to the ustashe movement from another era. They were croatian independence fighter without these attributes – neither fascist, nor Nazi, nor Ustashe.

        Croatian independence movement was quite strong in Australia in the 70’s and 80’s. It took form of extensive political activity of the non violent form, including anti-yougoslav demonstration. As well as that there were these underground groups who advocated an independent croatian state, such as exists now. Some we prepared to fight if necessary in the same way Fretilin fought for an independent East Timor. Just as Fretilin did not pose any threat to Australia, only to Indonesia as far as that goes, in the same way the croatian independence groups in Australia didn’t pose any threat to Australia, nor did they carry out bombings or other terrorist acts here in Australia, nor did they ever, repeat ever, make any threats to Australia or anybody in Australia. Thats why there isn’t any confirmed case. Repeat: confirmed. The same goes for Fretilin and for IRA, even though one might reasonably suspect that there were their followers here who were involved with helping them financially, logistically and in other ways, some legal and some not so.
        All the accusations against the Croats here for bombings and terrorism over the last fifty years or so are false, repeat, false, notwithstanding the ”public record”. No bombings or terrorism here that can be attributed to Croats that can be confirmed. For evidence one should search the police records and the records of convictions in australian courts. What happened with the so called ‘croatian six’ case can be found on the internet.
        People of croatian descent here love this country.
        – Croatian independence fighters? – YES ( even if some of their activities can be seen as extreme and as terrorist – in another land that is).
        – Fascists? Nazis? Ustashes? – NO. … it’s a big difference.

        Not like ISIS and the like, whose target IS Australia – if they can reach it. A few killed so far, if we don’t count Bali massacres to be our backyard.

        Dear Sir, if you’d like to learn of an Al-qaeda or ISIS style bombing that happened in Australia go to Boulder Kalgoorlie Bombings link. Fourteen killed and fifteen injured. At least eight out of ten, if not more, of Croat descent. The suicide bomber a Serb from Montenegro. Why do you think you didn’t know about it before?

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  3. Why do you list the Ananda Marga group as being responsible for the Hilton bombing if Anderson, Paederic(?) and the other man were innocent (or framed a the socialist anthem by Allaister Hewlett went)?

    As an historian, I love blocks of texts, but have been told to avoid them. Since you were referencing your three photos, why not actually insert them in the post?

    I’ve been blogging on and off for the years now, it’s only recently that it’s taken off as a regular pursuit. Out takes time to develop the habit.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      However, I didn’t list Ananda Marga as responsible for the Hilton bombing. The only mention of the bombing was here:

      “Terrorism is a key theme of this blog, probably its most prominent theme. It’s represented by the second photo, which shows the aftermath of the bombing of the Sydney Hilton Hotel in 1978. The attack occurred during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and killed three people. The perpetrators were never found. Instead, three people were wrongly imprisoned for the crime, having their convictions overturned seven years later.”

      That doesn’t say or imply that AM were responsible.

      Were you referring to the mention of AM here? “Many acts of terrorism (both attempted and successful) were carried out in Australia over the following decades, by supporters of many causes: Ustasha, Ananda Marga, Armenian nationalism, Palestinian nationalism, far-right Australian nationalism, far-left extremism, opposition to the Family Court, anti-abortion zeolotry, and jihadism.”

      That doesn’t suggest AM were behind the Hilton bombing. AM were included in that para because of various acts of political violence by some of their members, such as the 1977 stabbing of the Indian defence attaché in Canberra.

  4. Not mentioned in this post is the fact that the Ustasha in Australia had a paramilitary arm during the 1960s and early 1970s.

    I ran across them two or three times in the bush behind Anglesea and Airey’s Inlet. They had at least six Land Rovers emblazoned with the Ustasha emblem and the men bore arms. Once I was a passenger in a car that followed a similar convoy up the Prince’s Highway from Geelong to Melbourne.

    In other words, at this time this outfit was well equipped, conducted exercises and even travelled in military order on the public highways.

    On the face of it is therefore somewhat mystifying that the ASIO files do not betray some interest in the activities of the Ustasha. However, given the priorities of the Cold War, perhaps the Coalition governments of Australia were inclined to be indulgent of the likes of the Ustasha.

    I do recall stories in the press of holders of Australian passports being captured in Yugoslavia allegedly engaged in insurgency. Perhaps these chaps trained behind Anglesea.

    Given that the Ustasha may have been more committed to activities in Yugoslavia than in Australia, perhaps ASIS was more interested than ASIO in the Ustasha.

    • Thanks for the comment. Ustasha groups did indeed carry out paramilitary training in Australia, but I never knew about any in Anglesea. That’s very interesting.

      The Croatian Liberation Movement (HOP) ran much of the training, and was quite open about it in their magazine Spremnost. Their more famous training occurred in Wodonga. One one occasion, the Australian Citizen Military Forces (now the Reserves) were training in the same area and stumbled across them. The Aus CMF unit then thought it would be a good idea to get a bunch of photos taken with the HOP trainees.

      The HOP ran photos of the training with the CMF soldiers in its magazine, to try and boost morale by giving the impression that the Australian military was backing their cause, running the caption “Today on the River Murray, Tomorrow on the River Drina!”

      Regarding this “I do recall stories in the press of holders of Australian passports being captured in Yugoslavia allegedly engaged in insurgency. Perhaps these chaps trained behind Anglesea.”

      Nine Australian residents of Croatian background made an incursion into Yugoslavia in 1963 (they called it “Operation Kangaroo”), and two of them had trained in Wodonga, but I don’t know of any Anglesea connection.

      Re ASIO, it’s not that they had no interest in the Ustasha groups, they did look into them. But they simply didn’t consider them a significant threat compared to perceived threats from the left, which proved very wrong.

      There’s some more about the Ustasha in Australia in this PhD thesis: See pages 53-57 and 170-195.

  5. This is so interesting!! The whole Murphy Raid blog actually helped a lot with my assessment task. Keep it up!

  6. Thanks for this bit of history Andrew. I have a question for you…Are there are laws proscribing Australian citizens fighting for terrorist organisations such as ISIS ? (I thought there were) Is there any law against Australian citizens fighting *against* terrorist organisations (eg. ISIS with our Kurdish allies) ?

  7. Australia from Sir Robert Menzies to John Howard was involved in dismembering Yugoslavia .Mr Whitlam he stoped ustashi terrorist being trained in packpanyal Victoria .Unfortunately there was concpiracy against labour government and PRIME minister Whitlam lost election ,

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  12. I know this is an ‘old post’ – but ABC journlaist Tony Jones ha just written a political thriller that directly addresses the moment of the Murphy raids. The Twentieth Man, published by Allen and Unwin (2017). You might find it interesting in its ix of fact and fiction, and your informed correspondents will no doubt have much with which to argue!

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