|TODAY, Friday 16 March 2018, Justice Griffiths handed down his decision in the Federal Court action
|‘Jennifer Hocking v Director-General, National Archives of Australia’, in favour of the National Archives. Justice Griffiths has ruled that the ‘Palace letters’ between the Queen and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, at the time of the Whitlam dismissal are ‘personal’ not Commonwealth records and do not come under the Archives Act. The Queen’s embargo will continue and the Palace letters will not be released.
The decision has maintained the long-standing practice of designating the Monarch’s letters as ‘personal’ rather than official ‘Commonwealth records’, ensuring the continued Royal secrecy over her correspondence, including with the Governor-General, regardless of its content or historic importance. With this decision, the Federal Court has continued the Queen’s embargo on their release, potentially indefinitely. The hidden history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government will remain hidden. Professor Jenny Hocking says:‘We are obviously extremely disappointed with the outcome of this important case. The decision by Justice Griffiths continues the Queen’s indefinite embargo over her correspondence with Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, denying Australian’s access to key documents about an important part of our history. It is a disappointing decision for our history, specifically for the history of the dismissal which has long been cast in secrecy. Unfortunately, that secrecy will now continue.’
‘Our legal team is currently examining the decision in greater detail and we will have more to say on this and any possible future developments shortly.’
In our view, as argued by our legal team as led by Antony Whitlam QC, the Palace letters are official Commonwealth records relating to a critical time in our history, and not ‘personal’ records. They form part of our national historical estate which Australians should share. With this decision, rejecting calls for the release of the Palace letters, one of the last remaining pieces in the secret history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government, will remain secret, and the full story of the dismissal cannot yet be told.
‘It is astonishing and demeaning to Australia as an independent nation that access to the Queen’s communications with Governors-General continues to be at the whim of the Queen. Today’s decision has maintained this residual British control over Australian archival material, kept from us in the name of the Queen through the exercise of a Royal veto’.
‘I call on the prime minister, a committed republican, to make good his stated support for the release of these letters and advise the Queen to lift her embargo’.
‘I wish to thank the legal team all of whom worked on a pro bono basis, Antony Whitlam QC and Tom Brennan, instructed by Corrs, Chambers, Westgarth, for their tireless work and commitment. ‘Without them this case could never have proceeded, and could never even have been imagined. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their public-spirited pursuit of accountability and transparency at the very highest levels. I also thank and acknowledge the hundreds of supporters of the crowd-funding campaign release the Palace letters and who have followed its way through the Court with such enthusiasm.’
For more background details on the case, read here.