JENNY HOCKING. “A Royal Green Light”: The Palace, the Governor-General and the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government

Contrary to the accepted story that the Queen was not involved in the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975, it is now clear that the Palace had a significant role in the process. Those involved, in Australia and in Britain, kept this involvement hidden from the Australian people in a process of collusion, deception and artifice.

The recent revelation of British involvement in the dismissal of the Whitlam government demolishes some long-standing historical ‘truths’, notably that the Queen was not involved. Despite repeated public and parliamentary denials, it is now clear that British authorities pressed Kerr in person and through intermediaries on his ‘duty’ to protect the Queen, in a staggering breach of Australian sovereignty.

The dismissal of the Whitlam government by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, on 11 November 1975 was the culmination of months of political subterfuge, planned in secrecy and executed in deception. It created a deeply polarised history, marked as much by myth as fact, and rent by the same divisions as the dismissal itself. In the 42 years since, even its most basic facts that were once considered settled, have proved to be false.

Kerr always claimed that he acted alone, that the Palace did not know, that the Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser did not know, that this was a solo act taken in solitude. As he wrote in his memoirs: ‘I made up my mind on my own part’.

Kerr’s own archival papers have shown that this was simply untrue. In the months before the dismissal, Kerr confided in members of the High Court, legal academics, the Opposition and Prince Charles, drawing them into his thinking and planning, and creating a web of support for his action at the most senior levels.

In the decades since, the central pillars of the accepted history of the dismissal have crumbled and a different story, of collusion, deception and artifice, has emerged. It is now known that Kerr and Fraser were in secret communication in the weeks before the dismissal; that Kerr conferred for several months with the then High Court justice, Sir Anthony Mason, about his powers and that Mason drafted a letter of dismissal for Kerr; and we know that Kerr attended secret ‘tutorials’ with senior legal academics at the ANU months before the dismissal, at which the theme for discussion was the Governor-General’s discretionary powers, in particular the power to dismiss a government.

Kerr’s 1980 Journal in his archives revealed that he told both Prince Charles and the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris, in September 1975 that he was considering dismissing Whitlam. Charteris then wrote to Kerr about this prospect and Kerr noted in his papers, ‘Charteris’ advice to me on dismissal’. This communication between Charles, the Queen’s private secretary and the Governor-General, is politically and constitutionally shocking. It reveals the Palace to be in deep intrigue with Kerr in the weeks before the dismissal – unknown of course to the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. It was to Kerr a royal green light for continued deception of the Prime Minister – after all, the Palace was doing just that – and for the dismissal of the government.

With these documents from Kerr’s archives, first revealed in Gough Whitlam: His Time and on the record now for five years, speculation that the Palace was involved in the dismissal could no longer be rejected. Nevertheless, an ever-diminishing coterie – a mix of NewsCorp recidivists, Kerr protectors and monarchists, continues to deny as mere ‘conspiracy’ what is now undeniable – that the Queen and the Palace were involved in the dismissal.

The files of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), detailed in the latest edition of The Dismissal Dossier: The Palace Connection – Everything You Were Never Meant to Know About November 1975, contain extraordinary evidence of further British involvement, in the name of the Queen, in the Australian electoral process itself. The FCO and the British High Commission in Canberra discussed their intervention in Australian politics in the weeks before the dismissal. That they can intervene is never doubted in these discussions, the only question raised was one of timing:

Any intervention by us (in effect in Australian domestic politics) could have serious implications and both the nature and the timing thereof would need very careful consideration. Mr Whitlam, if he heard of it, would inevitably suspect the U.K.’s involvement. We should do nothing for the time being, except to continue to watch developments carefully.

By late October 1975, as Whitlam moved to end the crisis over Supply in the Senate by calling the half-Senate election which was due at that time, the FCO discussed a more specific intervention – ‘the question of our possible involvement in the half-Senate election’. It is impossible to overstate the significance of these words, as with them the FCO had entered into the manifestly improper domain of British intervention in Australian politics, specifically in the half-Senate election

Let us just consider the enormity of what is being proposed here. This is not mere contemplation of British involvement in an Australian political matter of mutual national interest, this is the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office discussing British intervention in the Australian electoral process, specifically in the half-Senate election, which they knew that Whitlam was intending to call if supply was not passed since it had been unanimously approved as the government’s end-point to the crisis from the outset.

On the day that Supply was blocked in the Senate, the most senior bureaucrat in the FCO, the Permanent Under-Secretary (designate), Sir Michael Palliser, visited Kerr and confirmed that ‘the Governor-General could be relied upon’ to protect the Queen in any action he might take in relation to the Supply crisis. Palliser sought and received, from Kerr and Sir Roden Cutler, ‘comforting confirmation’ that, ‘Sir John Kerr could be relied upon’ to protect the Queen.

This interest in protecting the Queen, whether from receiving conflicting advice or from becoming involved, is entirely and essentially a British interest. It has no place in, and should have played no role in, any decision by the Governor-General of Australia. Yet there is no doubt that it did. Kerr later wrote that in dismissing Whitlam he had met ‘his duty to the Monarch’ by ensuring that she had ‘not become involved in our crisis’. Kerr also told the British High Commissioner, just weeks after the dismissal, that, ‘a factor which weighed very heavily on his mind had been the need to protect the Queen’ –  what ‘need to protect the Queen’?

The Governor-General of Australia has no duty ‘to protect the Queen’. The Governor-General’s Oath of Office states that they will ‘do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the Commonwealth of Australia’ – in which a ‘duty to the Queen’ does not feature. The essence of a constitutional monarchy is that the Governor-General acts on the advice of the Prime Minister, not on the advice of or to protect the interests of the former colonial power. It is an unforgiveable breach of our independence and our national sovereignty that British authorities approached the Governor-General at this critical time in our history – in pursuit of their duty, not ours, ‘to protect the Queen’.

What this remnant expression of colonial power reflects is the fundamental incompatibility at the heart of Australia as a Constitutional monarchy – between independent democratic government and an unarticulated residual power of the Crown. The disjuncture this intervention reveals, between protecting British self-interest and upholding Australian constitutional government, can never be resolved until Australia becomes a fully independent Republic — with an Australian head of state.

It’s Time.

Professor Jenny Hocking is Gough Whitlam’s biographer. The Dismissal Dossier: Everything You Were Never Meant to Know About November 1975 – The Palace Connection, has just been published by Melbourne University Press.

 

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11 Responses to JENNY HOCKING. “A Royal Green Light”: The Palace, the Governor-General and the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government

  1. Marilyn says:

    Thank you Jenny, I read the last two books about this and as someone who was outraged at the time I say thank you for your persistence.

  2. Andrew Farran says:

    To James O’Neill: The line about Whitlam , the CIA and Pine Gap, and the significance of Nov11th in that regard, combined with Kerr’s previous connections with offshoots of the Associations of Cultural Freedom, The Ford Foundation, The Asia Foundation, etc. which were funded in part for a time by the CIA without the knowledge of those organisations; which organisations in turn partly funded regional law associations, etc., again without their knowledge of any back ended CIA funding; which Kerr and other leading Australian lawyers had instigated and supported, is very tenuous when it comes to his position as Governor-General. Indeed when he became aware of this funding he moved immediately for its discontinuation, even risking the collapse of these projects. There is no credible evidence for this explanation of the Dismissal though it serves some elements in intelligence communities to give credence to these links as being an overriding justification for the Dismissal. For the CIA these funding exercises on its part in the 1960s proved an own goal as, for a time, they damaged the very groups and publications that supported Western cultural values and the rule of law. We need more of that today!

    Whether you believe it or not, Kerr explains these earlier involvements – which were open and well known – in Chapter 12 of his book “Matters for Judgment”.

    My view of the Dismissal was posted earlier.

  3. Andrew Farran says:

    The Constitutional crisis of 1975 had many dimensions,- what was going on inside the Parliament, what was going on outside the Parliament, and the effect of this on Kerr’s mind – who had allowed the situation to become over complicated.

    The Senate’s composition at that time had become corrupted by the manner in which dead Senators had been replaced – in defiance of convention. This of course was exploited to the hilt by people who thought only of their self-interest and not their duty to act for the public good. Outside the Parliament were other kinds of self-interest many and varied.

    None of these believed that they would be responsible for their actions as somewhere else there would be action that would remove them from responsibility. The legal issues were largely contrived and overblown, and were essentially pretext, when one considers how the Constitution was constructed: to create a Federal system in the context of the Westminster system, with language that would not upset the sensibilities of Queen Victoria’s already dated notions of the Royal Prerogative.

    While there may have been personality deficiencies on the part of the three principal parties, Kerr had the opportunity of a lifetime (he had a tendency to look for that) to act in the manner of a true statesman. He had the legal authority for this and, had it been in his personal character, to call in Whitlam and Fraser and instruct them to resolve the impasse, that he would be addressing the nation to explain what he was doing, and should the parties fail to sort it he would order a Double Dissolution with Whitlam remaining as Prime Minister.

    While it might be thought unfair that Whitlam should be put upon to win three elections within three years he would at least have had the chance to defend his record in office. As for Fraser, if he believed that his time had come he would have to do more in Opposition to demonstrate that to be fact.

    In the result, the violence done to the Constitution, and the acute public divisions and angst Kerr’s actions created, would have been avoided. And Kerr would have been honored, not derided.

    The tone of Australian politics changed for the worse in 1975 irrevocably.

    Becoming a Republic would not be the end of these problems but it would at least remove the possibility of further exogenous interference.

  4. Philip Bond says:

    End the farce, a Republic now… “it is now clear that British authorities pressed Kerr in person and through intermediaries on his ‘duty’ to protect the Queen”

  5. Chris Sanderson says:

    The fact that we currently have an ultra right wing govt, which continues to protect the coal industry and their investors from market decline, rather than it’s people from the effects of climate change, could be considered by many as a greater crime than Whitlam’s. Yet I see no move from Australia’s Governor General to dismiss the govt. Why not?

  6. Jaquix says:

    Mmmm. Fascinating read and good for Professor Hocking for doggedly pursuing this. Its information we should have. Its grist to the mill of the Replican movement too I would have thought, but not a peep out of them so far (that I have seen anyway). Still, it can wait. The Labor Party have a policy of having a plebiscite for all to vote as to whether they want a referendum on becoming a Republic, which if it was supported by a majority would be followed by debate on the model etc. Then the final referendum. Personally I was sitting on the fence on this, but reading about the duplicity and deception that went on behind the scenes for such a long time, has changed my mind and think the time has come to start looking at this again.

  7. Jenny, as important and revelatory as this research is, it is only a part of the picture. There was not only a constitutional crisis in the actions of Kerr, there was also a security dimension that in the view of many was even more important than then inappropriate involvement of the Queen and Prince Charles.
    Kerr was a foundation member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, a CIA front organisation.
    There is evidence that MI6 and the CiA discussed “the Whitlam problem” on more than one occasion. There is also evidence that the Deputy Director of the CIA is on record as saying “Kerr did what he was told to do.”
    In 1974 Marshall Green was sent to Canberra as the US Ambassador. Green was known as “the coup-master”. He had been in Korea for regime change there; in Indonesia for the same purpose, and in Chile for the Allende coup. He being sent to Canberra was not a coincidence.
    On 10 November 1975 Whitlam was shown a telex written by Ted Shackley, the CI man who organised the Allende coup. The telex said that “Whitlam was a security risk to Australia.”
    The CIA lease on Pine Gap was due for renewal on 10 December 1975. The CIA’s role in Pine Gap was not widely known in Australia at the time. Whitlam intended to tell Parliament about that role on 12 November 1975. Many think that he intended to either close Pine Gap or more likely, exercise Australian control over its activities.
    The day before Whitlam was to address Parliament he was summonsed by Kerr, and the rest, as they say, is history.
    On the basis of these facts (and this is only a bare summary) there is a strong argument to be made that the real reason for the dismissal was related to those security issues than it was to Palace interference.
    We are of course living with the consequences of that intervention, and not only the role that Pine Gap plays in committing war crimes, but the stranglehold that the US exercises over modern day politicians.

    • Professor Jenny Hocking says:

      James, thanks for your comments. These security connections and related concerns are covered in chapter 9 of my biography Gough Whitlam: His Time, and while fascinating and to some extent troubling they do not constitute the direct connections that can be seen in the British archival material through the FCO, and the Palace through Charteris. I think all these aspects are relevant and they are by no means mutually exclusive, however these archives identify British interference, which is openly discussed, through their argued concern over the half-Senate election. Kerr’s reported ‘reliability’ in terms of these records was solely in terms of that Australian electoral process. And that is the most disturbing element in all of this.

  8. Terry Burns says:

    As I have always understood to be true : The fix was in. Even in the worst days of Tony Abbott this would not have been considered. Republic now!

  9. Keith Joiner says:

    Examining this history is important to understand where our system of government is and therefore where it might go. But I find the treatment slightly sensational in its language. There should be no surprise that the Queen consults with her G-G, that this should not be made public, and that the G-G should protect the Queen from politicisation. There are many reasons why the PM lost the confidence of the G-G and thus the Queen and was therefore dismissed – these are where to focus really – unless the treatment is to convince Australians to change their system of government. If its the latter, then good luck trying, given the current low regard for politicians. If the G-G and Queen got it wrong in 1975, I think most Australians would say it was a borderline call and over 60 years, a good record. Today PMs get sacked frequently by their own party. We need to remember that Government, Judiciary and Military serve at ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ and that will remain until we develop an alternative that Australian’s can trust. She and her representatives do not have to explain themselves – royal prerogative.

  10. Bruce Wearne says:

    These matters are of great moment and we are indebted to Jenny Hocking for her careful research. The problem now, however, is that the call for Australia to become a “fully independent republic” needs “the truth of the matter” of the illicit orchestration of the Parliamentary crisis of 1975 to be understood in all of its dimensions for our system of public governance and parliamentary representation. As Don Chipp and John Gorton insisted loud and clear by their resignation of Liberal Party membership, Fraser’s political party had thoroughly compromised itself by this corruption. Winning a subsequent election does not make corruption any less corrupt. We still have the Liberal Party with us. And the Labor Party too has nothing to gloat over for its persistent avoidance of the legal and political principles (hah!) that make Jenny Hocking’s archival research so important. The corruption is a yeast that has worked its way into the entirety of the way we now form public governance, and compromises public trust in the judiciary as well as the failed regime of our system of parliamentary representation. A careful examination of Fraser’s own appeals to the constitutional basis for his own Government may well bring further clarity to our understanding of these matters. I recall in those months (late 1975- early 1976) a published comment, an aside, made by Malcolm Fraser – it would probably have been in the early days of his administration (and possibly to be repeated later). It was when the public heat was on John Kerr. Sadly I do not have the reference. It may be Hansard. But it was an appeal justifying “what had happened” by reference to his own concession, that I found remarkable at the time, and this was that the Australian Constitution was historically biased toward his side, the “liberal side”. I cannot say I understood then what he intended by saying that at that time in that context, but Jenny’s further work now leads me to an hypothesis that that comment statement may frame an “arrière-pensée”, a mental reservation, that might even add just a little to our understanding of the ‘protect the Queen’ motif of those seeking to justify Kerr’s action. In other words by that rhetoric the Australian Constitution becomes part of the justification and thus provides an Australian shield for the Monarch.

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