According to Robert Manne in yesterday’s Crikey, I am a liar in a category of my own. This is a serious, professionally damaging allegation – but Professor Manne has not supported it with any evidence.

In my letter in The Australian on 30 October, I queried Manne’s claim that he “was an anti-communist at a time when, among the intelligentsia, there was a social cost to pay”. I made three claims.

First, that Manne joined with the fashionable left in marching in the May 1970 Vietnam Moratorium. He does not dispute this claim – indeed he has written about this previously.

Second, that around 1968 Manne became convinced about the evils of communist totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe. He does not dispute this – indeed he has written about this previously.

Third, that I first met Manne at Melbourne University in the mid 1960s and that he joined the far-left Labor Club. Manne’s response was to claim that we did not meet in 1965 (which I had never claimed). He acknowledged that he did join the Labor Club but maintained that he “left the Club after a few weeks” (but provided no evidence in support).

I understand that Manne commenced at Melbourne University in 1966 (sounds like the mid 1960s to me) and completed his BA(Hons) course in 1969. I remember meeting Manne in the mid 1960s; he remembers meeting me in “about 1968”. This is pretty thin ground on which to call someone a liar.

I also wrote that in 1967 the Labor Club attempted to send aid to the communist National Liberation Front in South Vietnam. This is also true. Here the recollections of one-time Labor Club member Henry Rosenbloom are helpful. Writing in The Age on 12 September 1994, Mr Rosenbloom made the following comment:

Manne is biting about Frank Hardy’s passing infatuation with Stalin. As it happens, Hardy later recanted this position with care and thoughtfulness. Lots of people have at some time said silly things and adopted positions they would rather forget. What if Robert Manne himself, as an undergraduate, once supported sending aid to the NLF? Would we be right to remind him of this in public every time he referred to Vietnam?

Good question. Robert Manne can resolve the matter by producing evidence as to when he joined the Labor Club and when he resigned from the Labor Club.

I have always acknowledged Robert Manne’s important research on the Petrov Affair and Wilfred Burchett along with his valuable support for Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees. But all this occurred after 1974 when Manne obtained a tenured academic position.

Peter Fray

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