Burton, Pamela: John Burton, undermined by dishonest history

Burton, Pamela

‘John Burton: undermined by dishonest history’, Honest History, 1 September 2014

The illustrated text of an Honest History lecture at Manning Clark House, Canberra, 18 August 2014. The author is a Canberra lawyer and writer and the daughter of Dr John Burton (1915-2010), head of the Department of External Affairs, 1947-50.

John Burton and his minister, HV Evatt, [the author says] shared a joint vision for an Australian foreign policy independent of Britain and the United States. In his short public service career Burton had significant influence over Australia’s foreign policy. Ahead of his times, he held the view that Australia’s security in the Asia-Pacific region depended upon better understanding of and engagement with its neighbours. To achieve this, he advocated ‘open diplomacy’.

Burton’s work and influence has been the subject of numerous scholarly works. Curiously, alongside the honest historians, there has been a concerted effort by some dishonest ideologues writing to discredit Burton and what he stood for. Sixty years on, malicious writers continue to skew the historic record by asserting that Burton betrayed his country. Why? And how can the record be corrected?

The article is critical of the work of ANU academic Professor Desmond Ball and other writers, particularly Rob Foot, on alleged espionage by Burton and Evatt. The author examines evidence that Burton was a spy for the Soviet Union and adduces the opinions of a number of writers who have seen no evidence to support suspicions about Burton and Evatt. Clive Edwards also writes as does Ernst Willheim, who points out that the author of the official history of ASIO found no evidence that Burton was a spy.

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