At 11am today, the Australian public will finally be privy to a long-delayed footnote to the 1975 constitutional crisis when a reluctant National Archives releases material that will include correspondence between Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace from immediately before the dismissal of the Whitlam government on November 11. This follows a long campaign by Monash University historian Professor Jenny Hocking, whose efforts established the existence of the material and a stipulation by the Palace after Kerr’s death in 1991 that it should not be unveiled until 2027, and perhaps not even then. It had hitherto been the position of the National Archives that the material constituted personal communication, which Hocking succeeded in having the High Court overturn in a 6-1 ruling in May.
A thread for discussion of today’s release of correspondence between Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace before the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.
191 comments on “Palace intrigue”
[‘There is no evidence of any political interference from the Palace in any form.’]
In the real world, a mere wink from HM to Charteris was sufficient for him to support the action of Kerr. She even has a code for where she places her handbag. Sometimes – only sometimes(?) – I do find your analyses wanting. Whitlam saw the writing on the wall, and being a man of substance, with an appreciation of how the system works, acquiesced. I doubt Keating would’ve been so obliging – not that he would have done any better than Whitlam.
[‘Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 8:05 pm’]
The Establishment thought that Whitlam was a class traitor
Your garbled post has nothing to do with the thread. It concerns the Dismissal, not an appraisal of the Whitlam government. Take your post to a place it fits, and I mean that in the scatalogical sense.
Lars Von Trier @ #99 Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 – 7:49 pm
While today shone a light on vice-regal behaviour during a constitutional crisis, most public commentary is focused on advocacy for a republic.
However this does not fix the problems of 1975, namely Senate blocking supply. A situation which could still happen today.
In this aspect “moving on” merely buries the problem, it does not solve it.
Given the nature of current Senate elections, it is still quite possible that a multi-party Senate blocking majority could frustrate supply of an incumbent government unwilling to face an early Reps election.
This could happen for either a Labor or Liberal government.
All it needs is a more polarised Australia.
It has happened in the US with the culture wars
It has happened in the UK with Brexit
It can happen here.
If it does and we are confronted with Dismissal 2.0, we should not take the cohesion of the Australian community for granted.
So I gather from reading this blog and the ABC, the letters were indeed a fizzer, at least in terms of the Buckingham Palace connection. The quotes in the ABC report from Martin Charteris seem pretty innocuous to me.
No conspiracies, just Kerr being a weakling.
As to the Whitlam Government, even my pre pubescent brain noted it was a shambles and on the way out (despite the Bill Hayden Treasurer, putting it back together, argument). Surely, they would have lost in 1977. But it was magnificent. Just one example, it’s support for single parents (the NEAT program) put my mother through university. In that respect, the Whitlam Government can never be seen as a failure.
The only reason that there has been no repeat of 1975 is that the Opposition has never held a Senate majority since then. Malcolm Fraser said that his Senators would block supply in ”extraordinary and reprehensible circumstances”. Translation: Coalition leads in the polls and can muster a Senate majority. You can bet that Andrew Peacock, John Howard, John Hewson, Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull and especially Tony Abbott would have given the option of blocking supply close and detailed consideration for 3 nanoseconds before doing it if they could have mustered a Senate majority.
The Dismissal solved nothing. The Coalition’s appointments of GG are no doubt as bipartisan and none-partisan as Republican appointments to the US Supreme Court. No doubt candidates are vetted for right wing credentials. That’s why they keep appointing military officers. If a future Labor Government has any sense they’ll be just as careful in their appointments – until we can ditch the Monarchy.
Might have been 2014 when i saw Chris Bowen be asked if the ALP were willing to join with the Greens to block supply and he said no then went on to explain that the ALP has had a policy since 1975 of not blocking supply.
Not so sure about that steve777 – you can’t appoint a senator from a another party anymore.
Basically if a Labor Senator dies or resigns its a Labor senator appointed to the balance of the term by the State Parliament.
Fair to say Whitlam misjudged Kerr too! If you appoint a lawyer you can’t be surprised they would have a view on the reserve powers.
A non lawyer probably would have been much more pliable!
Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 9:00 pm
[‘So I gather from reading this blog and the ABC, the letters were indeed a fizzer, at least in terms of the Buckingham Palace connection.’]
Not at all, chum – the Palace deeply connected. I’m not sure you do nuance that well. Back to the drawing board for you.
Lars @9:14: you are correct of course. A referendum was passed (during Fraser’s Premiership) to ensure that replacements were from the same party, not that I trust the Coalition not to try to find a way to subvert the requirement – insist on appointing a Tony Mundine or Mark Latham before they leave the ALP, for example – probably resulting in the seat remaining vacant.
Be that as it may, the Coalition could join with One Nation, the LDP and other right wing minor parties / independents to block supply and would not hesitate to do so if they were leading in the polls.
Historyintime @ #105 Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 – 7:00 pm
So I think i can disagree with every single assertion here.
Kerr wasn’t a weakling, he did a lot of work with the palace in the UK (and pulled Lizzy into his crime) he pulled the Chief Justice of the High Court into betraying his country, then he, with the support he’d built betrayed his country and subverted democracy.
A weakling doesn’t drag in the Queen and the CJ of the High Court into a successful coup to subvert democracy, a traitor and a scum does that.
There was almost no bad behaviour on the part of Whitlam, Sir Joh was a corrupt influence and the LNP were entirely disreputable.
If these traitors hadn’t had a criminal conspiracy to subvert democracy maybe Whitlam wouldn’t have had four terms, but that is the thing with being traitors and subverting democracy, it is just a possible he would.
What is beyond debate is that Australia would have been a much much much better place if this coup had failed and all the conspirators had been hung like they deserved.
”Sir Joh was a corrupt influence…” as was Robert Askin, then Liberal Premier of NSW.
”… and the LNP were entirely disreputable.” and after 45 years still are.
In 1987 the Tasmanian Parliament voted down the election of the ALPs chosen candidate for the casual vacancy and it was still vacant when the Senate was dissolved later that year (and had it not been for the dissolution of the Senate, the vacancy could still have been there when that Senate term expired at the end of June 1988). Since Joh`s appointee`s vote was not needed for votes to pass, he was absent to to a section 44 legal challenge, The Coalition had 30 Senators and there were 29 pro-supply Senators.
Albert Field was a member of the ALP when Joh had the Queensland Parliament choose him. Had the current Casual Vacancy party membership rule been in place, Joh could just have prorogued the Queensland Parliament and used the out of session provision for appointing Field before the ALP had the chance to expel him.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 9:14 pm
Might have been 2014 when i saw Chris Bowen be asked if the ALP were willing to join with the Greens to block supply and he said no then went on to explain that the ALP has had a policy since 1975 of not blocking supply.”
The ALP used to have a White Australia Policy and a GST Rollback policy.
“ The Establishment thought that Whitlam was a class traitor”
Rejoice. Until lunchtime on 11 November 1975, so did “the left”
“Kerr wasn’t a weakling, he did a lot of work with the palace in the UK (and pulled Lizzy into his crime) he pulled the Chief Justice of the High Court into betraying his country, then he, with the support he’d built betrayed his country and subverted democracy.”
There is no evidence the Queen was involved and the letters thank Kerr for not telling her in advance.
What the private secretary did is provide official advice to Kerr, including the remonstration that dismissal should only be a last resort.
More generally, what possible motive would the Queen or the Palace have to be partisan (in 1975 not 1920) or do something that would be hugely controversial. And remember there was a Labour Government in the UK.
Kerr was a weakling in that he lost control of his thinking and emotions.
Barwick of course behaved inappropriately.
All Chief Justices of the High Court of Australia, appointed prior to The Australia Acts in 1986, were appointed to the Privy Council and were thus officially advisors to the Queen. The Governor-General (who were also all appointed Privy Councillors until the Australia Acts) seeking advice from official advisors to the Queen is hardly a massive stretch.
Victoria had Supreme Court Justices attending some cabinet meetings, to advise on commutation of death sentences, until the death penalty was abolished in 1975.
Barwick was also a former minister in the Menzies Government*. While I’m sure all judges are able to hold themselves above party allegiance**, there remains the possibility that some might have thought his advice coloured by political bias. I, of course, would never think such a thing of a Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.
* His appointment to the High Court having nothing to do with his performance as a politician**
** Imagine I used a sarcasm font?
I should add this bit on Barwick from this Wikipedia page:
While researching Barwick’s appointment to the High Court I came across The High Court, the Constitution and Australian Politics by Rosalind Dixon and George Williams:
Alas, it sells on Amazon for $96.30 – $124.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 1:01 am
Betty Battenberg was up to her neck in Whitlam’s sacking. The sooner we are rid of the Royal Parasitic Family the better.
Anyone who doesn’t realise that the Queen knew everything that her Private Secretary was up to would have to be a prime target for a bridge salesperson.
ajm @ #124 Wednesday, July 15th, 2020 – 6:19 am
Yeah it is a lie even fox news propagandists wouldn’t try and sell.
“Anyone who doesn’t realise that the Queen knew everything that her Private Secretary was up to would have to be a prime target for a bridge salesperson.”
It is certainly possible that Charteris kept the Queen informed about Kerr’s correspondence. Along the lines of ‘look there is a big problem in Australia, and this is what I am advising – i.e. you have the power but only use it as a last resort.
But what does that prove? The allegations that have been made are that somehow the Crown intervened in events, or knew in advance of the Dismissal. Neither of which are supported by the correspondence.
And again what exactly is the motive here? She has been Queen for 70 years and has always played it very neutrally. Nothing else has ever suggested partisan conduct in 70 years, but she changed her approach for one Government in 1975?
Now maybe Charteris could have written back in different terms, saying it was really only a technical power and you should be very, very cautious about using it – but he seemed to be sort of saying that anyway.
In the fallout period after the Dismissal, this doozy..
The long and the short of the dismissal is that the Senate has the power to withhold Supply. This was not thought to be tenable prior to 1975. Clearly, it is tenable. The Senate – a reactionary chamber most of the time – has more power than the House if push comes to shove. We have a limited democracy rather than a popular, representative democracy.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 8:19 am
[‘Anyone who doesn’t realise that the Queen knew everything that her Private Secretary was up to would have to be a prime target for a bridge salesperson.’]
Precisely. Queen says to Charteris: “Is there anything I should be aware of in the colonies?”
Charteris: “No ma’am.” Oh, on second thought, there is a minor political drama playing out Down Under, but I’ll look after that.” Queen: “I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’ll be elevated you to the peerage if you can extricate me from any allegations that I directed you to say that dear Sir John is doing a jolly fine job of handling the situation. And you do know that there’s precedent: my grandfather’s representative in NSW sacked the then-premier in 1932. I don’t want to be remembered as the monarch who lost Australia; I’m sure Whitlam’s at least a closet republican. You know what has to be done.” Charteris: consider it done, ma’am!”
AND WHY didn’t the Palace inform Prime Minister Whitlam what GG Kerr was up to?
So, so fexting angry.
Armed with at least the implicit imprimatur of the Palace, Kerr felt emboldened. But he thought that in order to cover all bases, confirmation that he was on strong legal ground was required; thus he sought the advice of the highest legal authority in the land. That was received on the 10th of November 1975. The rest is history.
Yep. Really, either one of two things should happen:
1) The Senate should not have the ability to block supply
2) The Senate should have the ability to force the dissolution of the House of Representatives (ideally, through a super-majority, and with similar triggers to the Prime Minister calling a double dissolution.)
The current situation means that the mechanism for the Senate to force an election is a protracted, messy game of chicken between the government and opposition with no clear solutions to the deadlock. The only reason it hasn’t happened again is simply because every opposition party since 1975 has either been unable or unwilling to do so. Had, say, Abbott had a senate majority (or a blocking majority with sympathetic crossbenchers) in the 2010-2013 parliament, he absolutely would have blocked supply.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 10:05 am
[‘AND WHY didn’t the Palace inform Prime Minister Whitlam what GG Kerr was up to?
So, so fexting angry.’]
That would’ve resulted in Whitlam sacking Kerr, the Queen being obliged to accept the advice of her colonial ministers.
Well it seems Elizabeth was smart enough to practice plausible deniability way back in 1975, but her reputation is surely in tatters after this.
Of course, so is Malcolm Fraser’s reputation. He overturned convention after convention in a mad, Abbottesque grab for power. And what did he do when he got it? Nothing. Didn’t even change Whitlam’s last budget. Unemployment actually got worse under Fraser over three terms.
As always, official secrets laws and rules on document release are used only by the guilty to avoid punishment for their crimes. They don’t help defend the country from anything except democracy.
The delusion continues despite the evidence.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 10:24 am
[‘The delusion continues despite the evidence.’]
When critiquing history it’s helpful to join the dots. Things are said at the highest levels that aren’t reduced to writing or any other form of communication that would constitute evidence.
I think the Palace had an obligation to inform the PM what the GG was considering doing to the government , even if it meant the PM sacking the GG. After all, the PM was her Colonial Minister. Any advice on the matter should have been sent to both the PM and GG.
On yesterday’s revelations, they reinforce what has been my opinion on the matter for a while. There was no conspiracy to bring down Whitlam (I mean, apart from within the Coalition), no secret palace coup, no CIA involvement or anything else. It was simply Kerr trying to keep his cushy position as Governer General, and sacking Whitlam before Whitlam could sack him.
Obviously, Kerr was going to have to act eventually, but it wasn’t a matter of such urgency that it had to be done right there and then. Why couldn’t he have just given Whitlam an ultimatum? “Call an election with X days, or I’ll have to dismiss you and appoint Fraser.” If Whitlam then had the Queen revoke Kerr’s commission, so be it. It wouldn’t be his problem anymore, and his successor would have been entitled to take no chances and do whatever needed to be done to end the deadlock.
Your parents cheered when Whitlam was sacked.
This tells me you have never had an original political thought in your life.
Or maybe any.
Reserve powers exist…… but it was a convention they not be used. The gg…..has up till then 11/11/75 only acted on the advise of the elected government which did not lose their lower house majority. The senate was deferring supply…. not blocking…… Kerr could have requested a formal vote for or against the budget by all senators. He had an obligation to keep the pm informed which he did not……. remember the liberal/np only had a majority because Askin and Bjelke Peterson filled casual vacancies for Alp senators with non laBor senators breaking another convention. the constitution was changed subsequently to ensure vacancies were filled by the same party as the senators who caused that vacancies.
Kerr chose what side he was on and that was not labor…………….. part 1
the role Fraser took was one he regretted even if he would not admit that. the Palace even if the did not advise Kerr to sack the Whitlam government…. committed sins of omission they did not advise Kerr to act in accordance with the directions of the elected government and did not advise the Australian government of Kerr’s thinking. This is a clear example of lust for power by the anti labor forces which was a perversion of democracy. I would like to have been a fly on the wall for the conversations especially with the us government/ the uk government and the various inteligence agencies kgb, cia, asio, mi5 etc
Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 10:49 am
I agree but if you think like I do that Gough’s sacking was an establishment plot, forewarning him would have ruined it.
I think another factor behind this whole mess was how anachronistic and poorly defined the position and powers of Governer General are. On one hand, he (or she) is the nation’s head of state, Britain’s representative in Australia, the highest authority in our military, almost pseudo-royalty (particularly in the early days of Federation), with various formidable reserve powers, yet their powers are mostly defined by convention rather than strict law, and in practice they receive an obscene salary and slew of perks to spend the entirety of their time cutting ribbons, giving speeches, signing legislation, faithfully taking whatever actions either the Prime Minister or the Queen (or King) tell them to do, and having basically no power or autonomy. Pretty much the only time a Governer General has done anything of their own accord, it made them a pariah and resulted in the very controversy we are still talking about right now.
This all probably made a lot more sense around the turn of the 19th century, when the colonies and Commonwealth nations had less respect and British crown more power and influence, but not in the modern day.
There’s basically nothing the Governor General does that couldn’t be handled by others. If we ever become a republic, I’ve long been an advocate of not replacing the Governer General with a President or similar head of state, but rather dividing their powers among the high court, the AEC, parliament, and the speaker of the house.
I am watching a replay of Drumpfs presser. His hair is no longer orange he has gone for grey/silver; he probably thinks it is blonde.
Trump is more rambling than a blind rabbit in a paddock of wheat.
Oops, wrong thread
The role of the high court is NOT to advise on political choices of the gg
I am with you. In an era of removing left wing govt’s all around the world, the Australian ALP gov’t was just another one. No guns were used, but rather a Right Wing Opposition with friends.
Dobbin just does not get nuance. Is this the consequence of a simple mind or a mind made simple by the knock-you-down, build-you-up mentality of the “training” that applies in the military? You be the judge.
If one reads both the lines and between the lines it is inescapable that the office of the Queen was in this up to their necks.
That they joined in with the obsessively self-interested representative in the colony is frankly disgusting. To borrow a phrase from our indigenous brothers and sisters- always was always will be.
“The delusion continues despite the evidence.”
Ditto. At odds with all the revealed evidence and with and everything we know about the Queen’s approach over 70 years.
Time for Incitatus and Historyintime #infowars to propose the loyal toast:
To Betty Battenberg, and all who sail in her!