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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