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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4 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. John Kerr talked to John Guise

  1. max bourke AM says:

    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!

  2. Andrew Farran says:

    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 experiences of then recently independent African countries he might have thought he was anticipating an issue that could arise for Sir John Guise and subsequently.
    Kerr was very knowledgeably about Papua New Guinea and its politics going back to his various intelligence roles in the Pacific War.

  3. Bruce Wearne says:

    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 therefore open up public discussion about the structure and philosophy of political parties themselves. Even since, it has seemed to me (as a first time voter in 1972) that the public arena for public debate has been closed to such discussion. Labor avoided drawing public attention to the change in orientation of the Parliamentary Liberal Party and hence of the modus operandi of Labor Party’s primary political opponent. Should not discussion of any party’s policy with respect to the place of parties in our parliamentary democracy be an upfront and persistent feature of our political debate and election platforms? But since that time discussion of the place of parties in public governance is blurred from “both sides” with the boring mantra “but that’s politics!” I would like to hear from those who were “close to the action” whether John Kerr could have acted in ways that challenged that drift to parliamentary party dominance over political party. Would he not have sensed the implicit change to our polity’s ground rules as the Liberal Party careered through its own “constitutional crisis”?

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