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Letters from the Queen’s secretary on a touchy subject

To people of my vintage it seems like yesterday that these events in the history of Australia’s democracy took place.

Those of us who lived through it see it through reflective battle-weary feelings.

An unelected representative of the Queen, the Governor General John Kerr, had dismissed a democratically elected government.

How was he able to do such a thing? Why did Prime Minister Whitlam accept his dismissal with such feebleness of spirit? Why wasn’t he on the phone to the Queen straight away?

Kerr was considered a Labor man. Was his betrayal longer in the making that everyone thought? There are many questions that have never been answered.

Fraser and Whitlam later became good friends. Did the Palace want Whitlam gone?

1975 is but a thought away but it lays heavy on the hearts of those on the left who believe that some sort of palace conspiracy took place.

Well, we won’t have to wait much longer now that the High Court has ruled in favor of historian Jenny Hocking in her bid to secure correspondence between the Queen and former Australian Governor General Sir John Kerr regarding the dismissal of Gough Whitlam:

“The high court on Friday ruled that the commonwealth was wrong to withhold the so-called “palace letters”, a series of more than 200 exchanges between the Queen, her private secretary and Kerr, the then-governor general, in the lead-up to the 1975 dismissal of Whitlam, the then-Australian prime minister.”

It is believed that the exchange consists of some 211 letters Jenny Hocking is calling on the National Archives of Australia to immediately release them.

I expect there might be some last minute quibbles about procedure but the public interest demands little delay.

After all the full history of the greatest political and constitutional crisis in Australia’s history demands the truth; a truth that has never been told.

For me personally it will bring to an end many years of frustrated suspicion that there was more to it that meets the eye. Even a total 211 letters suggests a certain depth of plotting never explained.

Our nation should be forever grateful to Jenny Hocking for the four years of persistence she has shown in obtaining what are critical documents in our history. She writes that:

“To have them closed to us, not even through our own laws or regulations, but because of an embargo by the Queen, that has just been a really terrible situation.”

Hocking in her research had previously found evidence that the Queen was indeed aware of Kerr’s intention to sack Whitlam.

The Queen was in fact fully briefed and involved in the deliberations. She believes the palace letters could reveal what the Queen said and the extent to which she influenced Kerr’s actions.

I still recall the state of shock the nation was in at the time. There existed a state of disbelief that a pompous twit and piss-pot like Kerr could dismiss a man of Whitlam’s stature.

All of it was of course was shrouded in the political machinations of the time. The blocking of supply by Fraser and Whitlam’s mishandling of the economy, which by today’s standards would suggest that the past four Prime Ministers should have been sacked.

For those who had come of age in the 1960s and 70s, Whitlam’s dismissal generated an intense personal anger and became the genesis for the lack of trust now shown for politicians. For those more directly involved it became a life and death confrontation with the principles of what constitutes a democracy and an ambiguous constitution.

As grotesquely as these events came upon us so did they disappear leaving a gaping unsatisfactory hole in the rights or wrongs of the dismissal. I expect the contents of the letters will not be revealed for a couple of weeks but I’m excited by the prospect of some holes being filled. In the meantime, The Conversation’s Anne Twomey gives us a couple of points to ponder:

“[Firstly], the queen never personally engages in correspondence with her governors-general. All correspondence goes through her private secretary, and it is he (as they have always been male) who responds to the governor-general.

[Secondly], in times past, when the governor-general was a member of the British aristocracy or upper classes, there was a “personal” element to this correspondence.”

This changed when Governor Generals were appointed from Australian citizenry.

My thought for the day

Substantial and worthwhile truth often comes with short-term controversy but the pain is worth it for the long-term prosperity of a progressive democracy.

PS: Essential reading – Dr George Venturini’s epic series, Beyond the Palace Letters.

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  1. Arthur Tarry

    Yes, Prof. Hocking is to be congratulated, admired and thanked for her efforts to reveal the truth and shining the light again on a despicable time in our history. However, I suspect the real rats in this saga are conservative ‘aristocratic’ Australians perhaps with urging so from the USA but not from insignificant sources in the UK, except, of course, in Kerr’s deluded mind. Well described as curr’s Kerr.

  2. Terence Mills

    Do you remember how there was a casual Senate vacancy after Queensland ALP Senator Bert Milliner died and Joe Bjelke-Petersen abandoned convention and nominated Albert Field who, whilst nominally ALP had vowed never to vote with Whitlam. So the seed had been sown for the Senate to be able to deny the Whitlam government supply.

    We know that Whitlam was going to propose a half-senate election to the GG to overcome the supply blockage in the Senate but Kerr was too quick for him and dissolved his government.

    What will be interesting from this correspondence will be to see if the parties (the Crown and the GG) actually considered the half senate election or other alternatives as a remedy to the Senate’s intransigence.

    We shall see !

  3. New Ebngland Cocky

    This story has been much confused by the MSM and many primary sources “overlooked” because they were not considered “nice”. Even Canberra Press Gallery stalwarts, like Alan Read, did not know about the interference and anti-socialist campaign being run against Whitlam by the CIA on the direction of the White House. The USA (United States of Apartheid) could not forgive Australia pulling out of the Vietnam imperialist War leaving the US to kill so many of their military for no commercial advantage.

    There have been several credible books on this matter, including “The Falcon and the Snowman” showing US involvement which the author acknowledges is a sanitised version of events about how a senior CIA General (Green or Black?) set uptown judges, Garfield Barwick and Anthony Mason (sadly the fourth man), Malcolm Fraser and John Curr assisted enthusiastically by Rupert Murdoch personally, with the then developing News Ltd media power stirring public angst.

    The Whitlam ALP government had to go because it represented the best interests of Australin working class voters rather than the vested commercial interests of the conservative commercial establishment that then was dominated by the Macarthur family minions.

    The Sydney University student paper “Honi Suit” published the details of US involvement in about 1978 but was disregarded by “professional historians”as lacking credibility. Funny that, it was HS who exposed Menzies avoiding WWI by resigning his commission on the first day of that war.

  4. Mark

    What did you intend with “we wont have”? Are you aware that “wont” means “one’s customary behaviour” when used as a noun as in – “Constance, as was her wont, had paid her little attention” . Or “in the habit of doing something” when used as an adjective?
    Perhaps you are attempting to communicate “will not”? In that case you should have used an apostrophe because it’s a contraction as then expressed by “won’t”? Pretty basic stuff!

  5. Jack Cade

    The worst, the very worst thing about the dismissal was the endorsement of it by the Australian people. It was absolute proof of the nations lickspittle character. A nation second only to the US of A in it’s self-adulation.
    The incoming Fraser government made full
    use of the ALP programmes for its own ends. Free education, plundered by the likes of Abbott’s mincing poodle, before they ate away at it. The job finished for them by the ‘Labor hero’ Hawke.
    Whatever Hocking uncovers – detects might be a better word – will just bring the rage back.
    I have often said that old age has not brought me the wisdom or serenity that is usually associated with the winter of our years. The brilliant ‘Its Time’ tone that brought an end to the Liberal-Country Party rule faded away. The National Party tired of the jibe ‘I’m just a country member’ being met with ‘we remember’. But it didn’t change the party character. It is still chock full of people who deserve the ‘Oh, yes, we remember.’
    I remember, too well, the snivelling Howard, the likes of Senator Reg Withers, the likes of the Country member who allegedly forged his own father’s will, the aristocratic Fraser who appeared to be one almost ‘decent’ in his later years only to he exposed after his death as just another lying scrote. Caught with his pants down. I don’t know why Gough reconciled with him.
    The Dismissal just sealed my nascent cynicism; as I say when people accuse me of being too cynical or over-sceptical – ‘I never get unpleasant surprises.’
    Was John Kerr buried? His corpse would be pickled. A drunken sot. Hawke called him The Liberace of the Law, but Liberace did no harm…

  6. Arthur Tarry

    Yes, congratulations to Prof.Hocking for diligently tracking the truth and shining the light again on a despicable period in Australia’s political history. The truth is an ideological and very determined cabal of ‘ the ends justifies the means’ types from the ‘aristocracy’ of the blinkered, urged no doubt by elements in the USA who despised Whitlam, and aided and abetted by a delusional upstart, committed a heinous offence against democratic government in Australia. It had little to do, in my opinion, with quislings in the UK, they are after all just celebs, a mere side play in the affairs of State. I was there at the time and the outrage still burns, very vigorously – we should never forget.

  7. Stephengb

    I was not even slightly interested in the affairs of Australia, at the time I was struggling to put food on the table, working for peanuts.

    However I came here in 1978 just 3 years after the dismissal, I can understand the angst toward English, when I spoke I would have sounded like a person born with a silver spoon.

    Even now after 41 years, I still have no discernable accent.

    These days I am politically motivated, I do understand that an absolute Monarch, is in truth just a dictator.
    Whilst Australia is not governed by an absolute Monarch, the Whitlam dismissal, was a stark reminder of the power that an unelected Monarch or their vassal can weild

  8. John Boyd

    Stephengb: An irony in this issue is that the Australian constitution gives the GG powers over the elected government which the queen does not have over hers. At least in public, Whitlam accepted that Fraser was not involved in a conspiracy with Kerr. We now know that he was; a fact that Whitlam learned just before he died. The stand off over supply was just part of the plot, not the basic cause, as most people believe.

  9. Paul Davis

    AIMN, wish you had a ‘like’ button on reader comments ….

    Jack Cade, giving you a big thumbs up for your thoughts. Agree about the “lickspittle”, the gormless unthinking royalty blinded electorate who ate up the lying media’s scare tactics about every nation building progressive thing that Whitlam did. Imagine what Straya would be now without those three years of decency and fairness in government.

    Will be interesting to see what comes out of this but i suspect nothing much, like a Scooter grubment FOI request, heavily redacted….

  10. Phil Pryor

    I met my distant cousin G Barwick a few times socially, and only discussed some family tree matters. I never raised the question of his part in the dismissal as it was not known fully, not publicised, and possibly not polite to raise. However, as years have passed, it would be relieving to learn all that now might be revealed, as something occurred which might have seen George the Third and his ministers and advisers slaughtered, as traitors to the people and nation, by a popular uprising, Whitlam had the numbers still and a motion of no confidence in Fraser was immediately passed. A Peron or Mussolini type would have had Kerr (cur?) arrested among others, and shot, on the quiet, by alerted and loyal police types. A half senate election was proper. Involvements by CIA and other agencies, the intrusive target pox of PINE GAP still exists, the Palace is there in a role to be revealed, Murdoch the Great Media Maggot is there behind things, organised business were scared shitless of the chance of the Kemlani type loan allowing Australians to buy back the nation from the parasites of foreign corporate pillaging, etc. Let us await with interest more revelations, but.., we had a chance to make Australia a great, people’s, prosperous, independent nation, just that once. Our best ever hope in history…

  11. wam

    Memories, the elation of 1972 was effing euphoric I was vice-president of the secondary union SA just, unilaterally, pulled out of the supplying of teachers to the NT and the 3 unions(SA Primary and secondary and the Aboriginal welfare system) were discussing amalgamation and dreaming of the new education for the territory when the conservative teachers left back to SA,
    By 74 Whitlam had given us our first general election and a legislative assembly. the result was 90% clp and 10% independents and labor none with only 30% of the vote. The clp lasted longer than pig-iron bob and it was a shock in 2001 when they were defeated and we got a break from the ‘look after the boys’ regime. Thanks, claire.
    Loved your thought it is a step to realising that truth is what individuals believe and minor factual inaccuracies are accepted.

    Waltz of the cuckoo, Oh I hope I will see how to highlight that memory of the top hatted prick pissed out of his mind and elevate the queen and the crooks like lionel. into the prominence they deserve. If only there was a way to keep politicians out of the process I would be supporting
    Albert was shocked by labor calling joh a bible bashing bastard. we can add a corrupt BBB.

  12. Jack Cade

    Phil Pryor

    Yes, our last best hope. It will never come again, because the particular type of politician it took to grasp the opportunity no longer gets into power.
    Gough called your distant cousin ‘the truculent runt.’
    I love the English language and the way some people use it. Churchill, after being trounced in the post-war election, said ‘His majesty the king awarded me The Order of the Garter, and his subjects awarded me The Order of the Boot.
    Attlee – great leader of yet another defunct great party, because Labour no longer exists in the UK.
    What ‘true believers’ have never been able to grasp is that when you enable the ‘lumpen proletariat’ to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, they come to think they ARE the Jonesés.
    John Howard grasped that, with his persuasion of working class people to become middle class by becoming self-employed tradesmen. A brilliant confidence trick, that was. Howard, as was said of Thatcher, had his finger on the clitoris of the country.
    And look what it got us.
    Employment equals one hour a week.

    Ah, I’ll stop it. Its too depressing.
    John Howard, for all his numerous faults, was succeeded as the Neocon prime minister by a graceless, ignorant lout in Abbott. Between them they define their party and possibly the nation.

  13. John lord

    Mark. I never had a formal education of any worth so l appreciate your superior knowledge. However I would say this. “Good grammar is vitality important but is secondary to the expression of a valid well-constructed point of view”.

  14. Phil Pryor

    Ah Jack, sadness and fun, warmed leftovers.., I shared some classes with Jack (hah) Howard, a self centred, egofixated, suppressed fanatical cold innards dickhead, the school stirrer, friendless but with a few audience types, and, a deficient soon to become a nobody solicitor. He crawled and smoodged to get listened to, acted slightly keen and honest (badly) got promoted by one of my wife’s acting god fathers, Carrick, into a safe seat, all by the organised cheating of a rails run for loyal and safe conservative dickheads (like O’Farrell, Morrison, Baird) and so, we suffer from the limitations, greed, lack of vision and selfish stupidity of mental midgets. The only acceptable Australian political conservative was undoubtedly Deakin, a fairly honest liberal in Gladstonian and Mill terms. The rest have delivered us to the worst strategies and delusions of British and USA imperialist supremacist iniquity. Murder and theft for policy, so uncivilised. As for Abbott, a deluded self romancer and seducer, superstition has drenched any education or culture. His old dad used to listen to our and my U 3 A talks, appearing not to know or understand his son. After the current Piltdown Man, or Poxed Misfit, who knows?

  15. Jack Cade

    John Lord

    You will be well aware of the campaign to eliminate punctuation marks – particularly apostrophes. The oft-quoted example of the power of the apostrophe is shown in the (probably fake) message from an antarctic explorer -‘We are running out of food and may soon have to eat the dogs.’
    so …
    -eat the dog’s food; or
    -eat the dogs’ food; or
    – eat the dogs.
    Which did he mean?

    And back to my earlier posts – my feeling after the 1975 election was one of betrayal by my fellow citizens. A few years after, in numerous work and dinner conversations, nobody admitted to having voted for Fraser, even people that I knew had done so. And it was not because they were afraid of what I and others would have said or done – they were just ashamed. It was like the current catch phrase – they knew they’d shot Bambi.

  16. RomeoCharlie29

    Jack Cade, I agree that the result of the post-dismissal election was a shock, apparently endorsing that act of treachery by Kerr ( and it was Malcolm who Whitlam described as Kerr’s cur, not the other way round) but given the way the Murdoch Media had flogged Labor’s apparent economic failures, that result chould not have been so surprising. The injustice was obvious to most of those who had an interest in politics but, as we knew, and still know, there is a vast number of voters who take little interest in the process ( indeed often resent its impositions) and are blissful in their ignorance. Take into account the NeoLiberal attacks on our educational institutions affecting their ability to instruct the citizenry in the electoral processes, add in the mind-numbing offerings on commercial and pay TV and the dross that dominates the internet and a politically disconnected populace is inevitable. One hesitates to suggest it but a period under a dictator ( getting there with a Scummo and Spud) might lift the scales from the eyes. One only has to observe the enthusiasm former subjects of dictatorships show for the vote when it is offered to them to draw the conclusion a revolution here might help/ is needed.

  17. John Olsen

    How do we notify the public generally of the commentariat on your publication. The wisest and most enthralling writers, comparing very favourably with the author of the article. If only we had those glaring globulous icons of social media to indicate our fondness, or to verify the veracity of the statements so wondrously written. I’m definitely bookmarking your site to make many happy returns to.

  18. Michael Taylor

    Mark, as I’m the one who edited this post I take full responsibility for that error. I didn’t even pick it up.

    I’m the one who looks bad, and in turn so does The AIMN.

  19. Michael Taylor

    Paul, we used to have “Like” buttons for comments but it didn’t last too long as people said it reminded them of Facebook.

  20. Jack Cade

    Michael Taylor

    there is no way that the context for the errant ‘wont’ could be misinterpreted.

  21. Michael Taylor

    Jack, you’re too kind to me. 😀

  22. Andreas

    Mark “The Spark”,
    you wouldn’t be sniveling John Howard’s whining cousin?

  23. Heather Cam

    When you look back Whitlam and Rudd gave us the most. It was Margaret who had the regret she was not by his side to tell him to chuck the order into the nearest bin. Men in Australia need to value and respect women more when they are decent women; as Margaret was. Having said this, we may find that Queen Lizzie does not deserve such respect. Agree Whitlam did look feeble. Ruthless Hawke was a rat to Whitlam, so this may have been quite dispiriting.

  24. Terence Mills

    The post dismissal election as I recall prevailing sentiment, there was a feeling in the community that Labor must have done something wrong for the Queen’s man to dismiss the Whitlam government.

    The most prominent scandal was the Khemlani affair, where the Whitlam Government in 1975, was accused of attempting to unconstitutionally borrow money from Middle Eastern countries through the agency of Pakistani banker Tirath Khemlani. Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor, along with Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister Dr Jim Cairns misled Parliament and were forced from the Whitlam Cabinet over the Affair.

  25. Jack Cade

    Terence Mills

    Fancy getting sacked for misleading parliament. How absurdly moral! How SO un-21st Australian!

  26. king1394

    I was listening to Parliament that day and I heard the message that Fraser had finally passed supply, and had been appointed by Kerr as his Prime Minister. The ALP immediately moved a vote of no confidence, but Parliament had already been prorogued. It was a fully planned coup

  27. Jack Cade

    I was working for an Australian insurance company that had strong ties with a US company called Continental. When the words Pine Gap became everyday speech, we started to get US people coming in to overlook Continental’s interests. I met one of the men several times. He claimed to be a personal acquaintance of LBJ.
    I went with him to the premises of Texas Instruments in Elizabeth, to discuss their insurance requirements. It became evident immediately that he hadn’t a clue about insurance. Whenever the manager asked him
    a question about their insurance programme- bearing in mind he was in Australia as the rep of a US underwriter – he kept pulling a folder out of his bag, waving it around and saying ‘It’s all in here, buddy, it’s all in here.’ When asked if they could see it, he said it was ‘privileged information’.
    He was very personable, but a dead set CIA man. He was the first of 3, and the visits stopped when the Dismissal was completed.

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