Arthur Gietzelt, an ALP senator and minister in the Hawke government, has died. The former longtime leader of the NSW ALP Left faction was 93.
Gietzelt was elected to the Senate from New South Wales in 1970, at the last stand-alone half-Senate election. Upon the election of the Hawke government, he became the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, an outer ministry position he held for two terms until the 1987 election.
Gietzelt resigned from the Senate in February 1989. At the time of his retirement, he was joint Father of the Senate, the longest-serving member of that chamber, a position he shared with Liberal Senator Peter Durack. In 1992, he was awarded an Order of Australia in the Officer category.
Prior to entering parliament, Gietzelt served for 15 years on the Sutherland Shire Council. He was Shire President or mayor for 9 years.
Gietzelt was a prominent and influential leader of the NSW ALP’s Left faction, from the 1960s until the 1980s. He was a member of the faction’s Steering Committee and was regarded on all sides as a fierce factional warrior.
In 2010, The Australian’s Troy Bramston reported that Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) files showed that Gietzelt was regarded as “an active communist” from the 1940s until “at least the 70s”. Bramston said ASIO monitored Gietzelt’s “double life” for several decades and believed he worked as a communist organiser in the Federated Clerks Union at the same time he was in the ALP.
At the time of this report, Gietzelt denied that he had been a member of the Communist Party of Australia. Following a further report by Bramston in 2013, Gietzelt’s daughter, Dale, denied the allegations.
Bramston wrote: “Gietzelt used an alias for his CPA activities and was known as R. James, Arthur James or Ken Stewart. He sought to destroy right-wing elements in the ALP and also tried to infiltrate the peace movement, in the 40s and 50s. He infiltrated the Cronulla branch of the ALP, with fellow CPA members, with the aim of securing nomination to council.”
According to Bramston, the ASIO files “also suggest that his family, including his brother, union leader Ray Gietzelt, were also communists”. Ray Gietzelt was General Secretary of the Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (now known as United Voice) between 1955 and 1984. He was Arthur Gietzelt’s younger brother and died in 2012 at age 90.
Bramston pointed out in his 2010 article: “Perhaps most significantly, this story would have had important ramifications if it had been made public as Whitlam secured victory in 1972, or when Bob Hawke led the Labor government in 1983… The very idea that a CPA agent was a minister in a national government would have likely erupted into a national and international scandal. It would perhaps have spelt the end of the Hawke government, especially in the wake of the Valeri Ivanov spy scandal of 1983.”