Members of Sydney's Chilean community and supporters protested outside New South Wales Parliament on September 16 to demand Premier Barry O'Farrel sack Liberal MP Peter Phelps.
The Liberal whip in the NSW Legislative Council caused outrage by praising former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on the 40th anniversary of the military coup that installed the mass murderer. In a speech on September 11, Phelps said: "Tonight I make the case for Augusto Pinochet. There are many who believe that General Pinochet was a reluctant hero, a morally courageous man.”
Pinochet led a US-backed military coup against the elected left-wing government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. Thousands of people were killed and many thousands more jailed and tortured during the dictator's 17-year reign of terror. Many Chileans fled to Australia, including some who joined the protest against Phelps.
The day after the protest, an SBS podcast reported on Australia's role in bringing down the Allende government, which had upset powerful corporate interests by nationalising key industries and raising workers' wages. Posted at SBS.com.au on September 17, it said refugees from Pinochet's rule were demanding Australia apologise for helping to undermine Allende's constitutional government.
The CIA's role in orchestrating Pinochet's coup has long been known, but SBS.com.au said “it's only now ... that refugees from his regime have become fully aware of Australia's involvement in Chile during that time”.
It said: “Following a formal request from the United States, two officers from the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, or ASIS, were stationed in Santiago. Chilean refugee and author Gustavo Martin Montenegro says by 1972, the Australian officers had agreed to manage three agents on the CIA's behalf and to relay information to Washington.”
Former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam said in his memoirs that, when he was elected in 1972, he ended Australia's role in the US campaign to undermine Allende. However, SBS.com.au said a memo published by then-ASIS head Bill Robertson, “in a bid to clear his name after Mr Whitlam sacked him in 1975”, may be telling a different story.
Robertson says Whitlam declined to sign a submission to close the ASIS office in Santiago, “expressing a concern that our intelligence allies might react adversely”.