For most Australians the release of the Palace Letters had about as much relevance to their daily lives as would a day’s polo at Werribee Park on a sweaty Sunday afternoon.
For those of us who have a sense of history, are republicans, or just happened to live through this most telling time in our history, it encompasses, now that the Palace Letters have been released, but smidgen of closure.
Before I say anymore I should disclose that firstly I am a republican and secondly I am likely to say to you that despite whatever argument you put to me on this matter, a fact that you can never escape is this: It is that an unelected Governor General who on 11 November 1975 dismissed a Prime Minister elected by the people.
This act by an inept, often inebriated Governor General rendered their vote useless.
This being said, let’s examine the Palace Letters and see if they add anything to what became known as The Dismissal.
Additional to the history of what transpired at the time we now have the gripping trove of correspondence between the Queen’s private secretary Sir Martin Charteris and Sir John Kerr.
We learn that The Queen wasn’t forewarned of the dismissal. Sir Martin, using the very best of upper crust British grammar said:
“If I may say so with the greatest respect, I believe that in not informing the Queen what you intended to do before doing it, you acted not only with perfect constitutional propriety but also with admirable consideration for Her Majesty’s position.”
Like fair dinkum, mate.
“Better for Her Majesty not to know.”
Strewth, your not trying to tell me she knew nothing. That’s just highly implausible. I would imagine that she had a daily briefing from her secretary.
But things will never change until we have an Australian as our head of state.
With no good reason the media has been rather dismissive of the release of the Letters suggesting they disclose nothing new or nothing of importance. But to the contrary.
They disclose that in an era long gone the British still had a lot of power, or at least influence over us. They still do because the same thing could happen again unless the good citizens of our nation insist on one of our own as our head of state rather than the monarch of another country who resides in another hemisphere.
Now that 40 or so years have slowly meandered their way through history and my anger of the time has dissipated to a shiver of resentment, I find it truly bizarre that with Australia having matured to that of a world middle power, that the egos of two politicians, Whitlam and Fraser, could have fought over the spoils of Australian politics without there being a constitutional means of resolution.
The Letters do show that Kerr went over and above duty to inform the palace of his every move. (Anything that would cover his arse because he wanted to keep his job.) He was extremely transparent. So friendly was he with the Queen’s secretary that the letters often digress into things like making unofficial trips to Paris and Norfolk.
They had formed an extremely matey relationship.
“If you do, as you will, what the constitution dictates, you cannot possible [sic] do the monarchy any avoidable harm. The chances are you will do it good.”
Charteris – in my view – played Kerr on a string, or maybe Kerr wanted to be. The aforementioned quote, to me, proves, in a modern context, inference. Charteris even comforts Kerr from time to time.
These revelations, I must say, made my blood boil. That the secretary of the Monarch of another country in 1975 is chit-chatting with her representative in Australia while she has little concern about what is happening … seems extraordinary.
The Letters do make it clear that Kerr on a day-to-day basis made his intentions clear to Her Majesty’s private secretary and that she wasn’t told of the intended betrayal of a democratically elected Prime Minister seems astonishing.
The Secretary did confide to Kerr that the Governor General was playing his vice regal hand with “skill and wisdom.” He also expressed the view that the Queen had no wish to intervene. Does that mean that she did know what was going on?
He also counselled:
A that the crisis had to be “worked out in Australia.”
B that Fraser had a vested interest in bringing on an election he would probably win.
C that he advocated caution.
D that he believed the reserve powers – did exist.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dismissed from office on the 11th day of November 1975.
For me all the Palace Letters do is to fill in a missing part of Australian history but perhaps more importantly they reinforce what to me is an overwhelming case for why we should become a republic.
As for Gough Whitlam, well I will leave you with these words:
The Whitlam Government”s achievements
In his book “Crash through or Crash”, Laurie Oakes said that:
“In his brief three years the Prime Minister produced profound and lasting changes – reforms which could not have been so broadly conceived and so firmly implemented by a lesser man. The Whitlam Government without doubt was the most creative and innovatory in the nations history. Under Whitlam, Australia’s foreign policy came of age. His Government made education its top priority and poured money into schools and colleges throughout the country. It created Medibank, set up community health centres, gave a new deal to pensioners, took an active role in urban improvement and development, provided funds directly to local government, and gave a healthy boost to sexual equality and aboriginal advancement. It promoted greater Australian ownership and control of resources, legislated against restrictive trade practices, introduced the most civilised and sensible divorce laws in the world, gave encouragement to the arts, and in its final budget implemented some fundamental reforms, which made the income tax system considerably more equitable. Whitlam himself dominated both his party and the Parliament, and he commanded respect when he traveled overseas in a way no previous Australian Prime Minister had done.”
- ended Conscription,
- withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam,
- implemented Equal Pay for Women,
- launched an Inquiry into Education and the Funding of Government and Non-government Schools on a Needs Basis,
- established a separate ministry responsible for Aboriginal Affairs,
- established the single Department of Defence,
- withdrew support for apartheid–South Africa,
- granted independence to Papua New Guinea,
- abolished Tertiary Education Fees,
- established the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme (TEAS),
- increased pensions,
- established Medibank,
- established controls on Foreign Ownership of Australian resources,
- passed the Family Law Act establishing No-Fault Divorce,
- passed a series of laws banning Racial and Sexual Discrimination,
- extended Maternity Leave and Benefits for Single Mothers,
- introduced One-Vote-One-Value to democratize the electoral system,
- implemented wide-ranging reforms of the ALP’s organization,
- initiated Australia’s first Federal Legislation on Human Rights, the Environment and Heritage,
- established the Legal Aid Office,
- established the National Film and Television School,
- launched construction of National Gallery of Australia,
- established the Australian Development Assistance Agency,
- reopened the Australian Embassy in Peking after 24 years,
- established the Prices Justification Tribunal,
- revalued the Australian Dollar,
- cut tariffs across the board,
- established the Trade Practices Commission,
- established the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service,
- established the Law Reform Commission,
- established the Australian Film Commission,
- established the Australia Council,
- established the Australian Heritage Commission,
- established the Consumer Affairs Commission,
- established the Technical and Further Education Commission,
- implemented a national employment and training program,
- created Telecom and Australia Post to replace the Postmaster-General’s Department,
- devised the Order of Australia Honors System to replace the British Honors system,
- abolished appeals to the Privy Council,
- changed the National Anthem to ‘Advance Australia Fair’,
- instituted Aboriginal Land Rights, and
- sewered most of Sydney.
My thought for the day
A commitment to social justice demands the transformation of social structures as well as our hearts and minds.
(For my view on Australia becoming a republic, read this.)
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