JOHN MENADUE. John Kerr talked to John Guise

We know that John Kerr spoke in advance to many people, in secret ,about the dismissal of the Whitlam Government . He spoke to Garfield Barwick, Anthony Mason, Prince Charles and Lord Mountbatten. But he did not speak to his own Prime Minister

We are now told that he also spoke to  Sir John Guise, the Governor General  of New Guinea about the dismissal. The following is a letter printed in the Canberra Times on 18 October 2017 from Mark Lynch who was Secretary of the National Executive Council of New Guinea


 In Port Moresby on the afternoon of September 15, 1975, the eve of Papua New Guinea Independence, the Australian flag was lowered for the last time as the flag of the Territories of Papua and New Guinea (“British officials flew in to meet Kerr”, October 16). Thousands of residents and many visiting dignitaries witnessed the ceremony at the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium, including Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, Prince Charles and Lord Mountbatten.

It was an emotionally charged moment. There were many tears of sadness for the past and of joy for the future amongst the huge crowd of Papua New Guineans attending.

That evening Sir John Kerr was the guest of Sir John Guise, at Government House. At midnight, PNG became Independent. Eight weeks later, Sir John Kerr dismissed Prime Minister Whitlam.

At Independence, I was appointed Secretary of the National Executive Council (NEC). After each NEC meeting, I delivered to Sir John Guise, recommendations on statutory regulations and appointments that would be brought into effect by the Governor-Generals’ signature. In practice, I briefed Sir John on the background to these matters. After the first such session following the Whitlam dismissal, Sir John Guise informed me on a personal basis that he thought Sir John Kerr had made the wrong decision. He went on to tell me that, on the night of Independence Sir John Kerr discussed with him at great length the powers of the Governor-General to dismiss a Prime Minister. Was Sir John Kerr simply briefing his PNG counterpart on his powers under the new constitution? Or did this discussion indicate that Sir John Kerr, two months prior to taking action, was already intensely interested in his own powers of dismissal? While we may never know for sure, the recent disclosure (SMH, October 16) that senior UK officials met with Sir John Kerr a month before the dismissal, could be seen to reinforce the latter view.

Mark Lynch Merewether

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max bourke AM

He spoke to many people including lowly ones like me, and more senior ones like Peter Wilenski in the days leading up to the Coup! I got the feeling he asked everyone he spoke to what they thought he should do!

Andrew Farran

From what I know and suspect, Kerr probably spoke in general terms to a gentleman who was to be the G-G in a newly independent, formerly colonial country which could well be politically unstable until all and sundry had settled down. Kerr in several conversations I was familiar with had speculated on the difference between the roles of a Vice-Roy in a colonial country and a Gov-Gen in Australia (with the background of having been a Dominion). Why he thought it appropriate or relevant to speculate about that, who knows – but I would speculate that being familiar with the… Read more »

Bruce Wearne

A contextual question: would not John Kerr have been aware of the internal machinations of the political parties and the consequences thereof for our system of public governance? Would he not have been aware of the way the wind was blowing in the Opposition, given the precedent set the previous year when the Liberals threatened to block supply, bringing on the May 1974 election? Labor, as I recall it, after it scraped back into power, was too bent on declaring the end of third parties rather than bringing the Liberal Party’s internal coup upon its own membership to account, and… Read more »