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Bill Hartley

In finding a way to encapsulate the career trajectory of Bill Hartley the saying ?If you can?t beat ?em, join ?em? is not exactly apposite but it comes close. A member of the Media Alliance and its forerunner, the AJA, since 1958, Hartley has for the bulk of his adult life blended a devotion to militant and radical causes with a passion for writing and broadcasting.

Hartley, 76, is probably best known for his various travails with the Labor Party, which culminated in his expulsion in 1986. Along the way, his name became a byword for a form of hardline left-wing Labor politics. Between 1963, when he was brought over to Melbourne by Jim Cairns to run the ALP's Victorian branch, and 1970, when at Gough Whitlam's urging Labor's national executive intervened to take over the party's affairs in Victoria, Hartley exercised a powerful influence over Labor affairs in partnership with the plumbers? union official George Crawford. Newspaper libraries are full to the brim with editorials and political columns from the 1960s and 1970s denunciating and excoriating Hartley and his politics.

But when he first felt the attraction of journalism, Hartley's political activities were a long way from the militant left. At the University of Western Australia he helped edit the student newspaper, while also holding down executive positions with the Perth branch of the Young Liberals. A stint in the RAAF in the early 1950s, combined with the Suez crisis and the Split in the Labor movement, radicalised Hartley; he joined the ALP in 1956. Here he combined his journalism with his new politics, becoming co-editor of the ALP's WA newspaper, the Western Sun. After he was ousted as Victorian ALP secretary in 1970, Hartley became a political activist cum broadcaster and pamphleteer.
He completed his arts degree at La Trobe University and a long fascination with the Arab world led him to make regular trips to the Middle East for speaking engagements. His political contacts with the Iraqi Ba?ath Party and his role in the Iraqi loans affair caused him to be given the sobriquet Baghdad Bill. For many years, he was the Australian representative of the Iraqi News Agency and secretary of the Arab-Libyan Australian Friendship Association.

In the 1980s, through his friendship with Food Preservers? Union secretary Tom Ryan, Hartley set up a sort of alternative media operation of his own. Ryan, in the mid-1980s the Victorian ALP president, gave Hartley office space in the union's North Melbourne headquarters. From there, Hartley became a major presence on Melbourne's main community radio station 3CR, producing eight hours of radio programs a week, including his own Saturday morning current affairs show ?Par Avion?. By the end of the decade, the loquacious Hartley had even managed to briefly wangle a regular guest spot on the leading commercial talkback station, 3AW.
By Sean Carney, The Age