John Menadue. The Dismissal – Forty years on. A smoking gun

Repost from 27/10/2015

The evidence continues to mount against those who collaborated in the dismissal of the Whitlam government. To obfuscate and cover their tracks, those who collaborated in the dismissal and their establishment friends spare no effort to criticize the performance of the Whitlam government. Those attacks are becoming quite threadbare. It is amazing what people with guilty consciences do to try and justify outrageous behavior or avoid responsibility or change the subject!

The fact is that they collaborated in the dismissal of a democratically elected government.

In contrast Gough Whitlam, after forty years, is more and more vindicated.

Those who collaborated in the dismissal of the Whitlam government were our ‘betters’ – a governor-general, two high court judges, parliamentary leaders, a media magnate and the business elite.

I have written in my book ‘Things you learn along the way’ (pages 148-167) about the deceit of many of the collaborators. In a post in this blog on 21 October last year ‘Farewell to Gough Whitlam’, I drew attention to the words of the late Senator Reg Withers, the leader of the coalition in the senate, that he could not have held the numbers much longer in the senate. My strong view is that John Kerr’s premature intervention saved Malcolm Fraser.

Now Professor Jenny Hocking, in her new book ‘The Dismissal Dossier: Everything You Were Never Meant to Know about November 1975’ adds to the revelations of not only Sir Garfield Barwick and Sir Anthony Mason. She tells us that John Kerr was in direct and secret telephone contact with Malcolm Fraser in the critical period before the dismissal. In her research Jenny Hocking has found a posthumous record of the late Senator Reg. Withers. This record, quoted below highlights conversations between John Kerr and Malcolm Fraser.

“Withers reveals that not only had Kerr decided to act against Whitlam in the week before 11 November 1975, but that both he and Fraser knew this. Withers confirms that the Governor-General and the Leader of the Opposition were in secret telephone contact, using their secure private numbers. Withers recounts that he was in Fraser’s office in early November when Kerr contacted Fraser using the private number for the Leader of the Opposition’s parliamentary office. Nobody knew what his private number was except Tamie, Withers said. Fraser told the caller that he could be contacted on that number at any time … Fraser then asked the called for their number, repeating as he wrote it down, ‘I can also ring you on this number?’ … As Fraser hung up he said to Withers ‘You never heard this conversation’. “

This really is a smoking gun.

It confirms what I said in 1999 in my book.

“ … Fraser believed that Kerr was in fear of dismissal. Further confirmation that Kerr had revealed to Fraser his insecurity was given to me by Fraser in a discussion on 28 January 1976. My file note reads ‘Governor-General encouragement to the Opposition. On 28 January this year – 1976 – Mr Fraser said – on the street outside West Block that on his first meeting with the Governor General during the supply crisis -21 October – the Governor-General had said that he could not give Whitlam any inkling of what he had in mind or Whitlam would be immediately on the telephone to London seeking the Governor-General’s dismissal.’

“Malcolm Fraser has denied saying this to me as reported by Paul Kelly in November 1975. Kelly reported ‘When I asked Fraser about Menadue’s account of his note, he insisted that he (Menadue) was wrong. Fraser said that during the crisis he was aware that Kerr felt his position was at risk from Whitlam but Fraser is adamant that Kerr did not act improperly by saying this to him during their talks’. I stand by my account.” End of quote from book.

In light of Jenny Hocking’s revelations, I stand even more in support of my account that John Kerr conveyed to Malcolm Fraser that he had in mind to dismiss the Whitlam Government.

That is an outrageous thing for a Governor-General to do. It was quite contrary to convention developed over centuries that the Head of State acts on the advice of his or her Prime Minister. It also highlights personal deceit by the Governor- General.

I am also certain that Rupert Murdoch knew that a dismissal was in prospect. In my book in 1999, I recorded a discussion with Rupert Murdoch.

“I did have lunch with (Rupert Murdoch) and Ken Cowley on 7 November 1975, in Canberra at a Kingston restaurant. … In my record of 11 December about that lunch with Murdoch five weeks earlier I wrote

‘Rupert Murdoch told many of his friends that Mr Fraser had informed him that the Governor-General had given him (Fraser) an assurance that if he held on long enough there would be a general election before Christmas … although I have no direct information. He did tell me however on 7 November that he was quite certain that there would be an election before Christmas and an election specifically for the House of Representatives. I suggested to him that a half-Senate election was the only possibility. He rejected this view and said that he believed that there would certainly be a House of Representatives election before Christmas and that he would be staying in Australia until this occurred. He was very confident of the outcome of any election and even mentioned to me the position to which I might be appointed in the event of the Liberal victory – Ambassador to Japan. ‘

“Murdoch denies my account of our lunch. I stand by it. Murdoch was intimately involved with Fraser in the dismissal.” End of quote from book.

Eighteen months later I was on my way to Japan.

I have found on other occasions that Rupert Murdoch has very convenient memory lapses, like his request to become the Australian High Commissioner to London.

Once again, the Jenny Hocking revelations add strong support to the view that Malcolm Fraser knew what John Kerr was going to do. It also explains why Rupert Murdoch threw his newspapers into a frontal attack on the Whitlam Government in October and November 1975. He also applied direct public pressure on John Kerr to ‘do his duty’ and dismiss Gough Whitlam.

What do the collaborators now say in light of these new revelations about the propriety of a Governor-General dismissing an elected government that had a majority in the House of Representatives? In that process he collaborated with judges, senior members of parliament and the media.

We used to think that our ‘betters’ believed in tradition, conventions, parliament and the independence of the judiciary. People of power and privilege find it hard to keep their head and accept that they must play by the rules that they expect others to observe.

How naïve we were to trust them then and even now!

Yet our society depends on trusting other people. So for me that betrayal of trust is the most wounding of all.

Many of these collaborators have left or been purged from public life. Rupert Murdoch  seems to spend much of his time twittering. He now has to be content with the head of a National Rugby League chief.

I will be writing separately about Jenny Hocking’s revelations on the role of the Queen and Buckingham Palace in the dismissal.


John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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9 Responses to John Menadue. The Dismissal – Forty years on. A smoking gun

  1. Avatar Helen Dent says:

    Just discovered your blog while reading the Crikey reprint of your article on the dismissal. I was one among many who flocked to the steps of old parliament house that horrendous day, along with many of my colleagues from the Coombs Royal commission into the Australian Government Administration, which of course was hastily dismembered by Fraser. Somewhere in my personal archives I have a copy of at least one of the reports on that day written by officers in PM&C (where I worked for most of Fraser’s period) and the PMO too I think. Might be worthwhile resurrecting them.

  2. Keep fighting John. We need people of your stature to keep arguing.

    On the point about ‘What do the collaborators now say …’. Most of the collaborators are now dead, but they would say what their supporters continue to say. They justify themselves by ignoring the issues, such as honesty, focussing instead on a couple of distractions.

    The first is the usual propaganda about how bad the Whitlam Government was. Remember the 2010 election? Abbott ran around for weeks afterwards as if he’d been robbed of victory, when the people who supported him in the House had drawn only 44.6% of the first preference. When Whitlam lost in 1975, Labor won 42.8% of the vote; only 1.8% less. With all the disadvantages and lies which Whitlam faced, we should point out that more than 2 in 5 still supported him, precisely because he had delivered to so many people; via Medibank etc.

    The second distraction is to assert that holding a new election somehow cures all ills which lead up to it. In my experience, the good guys have not rebutted this point as well as we should have done. To the charge of ‘What’s undemocratic about an election?’ we should point out that an election is undemocratic when it is held for the purpose of robbing the previous election of its significance. The voters of 1974 were entitled to be represented for 3 years by the members they chose, and those members were entitled to serve for 3 years.

    Lastly, we should be using every discussion of 1975 to build the case for a better democracy. Crown powers must be removed when we remove the monarchy, otherwise we’ll have a president doing the same as Kerr at some point in the future. The real republican issue is what to do with Crown powers, and the ARM continues to ignore it.

    My own Advancing Democracy model tackles this point head-on. Even if you don’t agree with it, please ask republicans to say how governments should be formed, elections called and laws passed if we abolish the Crown. Without precise answers on these points, the movement will remain intellectually light-weight. It needs intellectual depth to succeed.

  3. When the Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka visited Canberra in October/November 1974, I was invited to Government House to attend a reception in his honour. This was either on 31 October or 1 November 1974. At one point I found myself in conversation with the Governor-General and one or two others (including, I think, the then Secretary of the Treasury, whose name escapes me). At one point in the conversation Sir John Kerr said: “I am just the court jester, you know”. I leave it to your judgement how far this remark might conceivably be significant in relation to events a year later.

  4. Good work John. This is indeed an important contribution about our understanding of ourselves as citizens of this polity and of the 1975 constitutional crisis. Such discussion now needs to become “front and centre”, and stay “front and centre”, if we are to ever redevelop genuine political discussion in this polity. There is another side to the ongoing consequences of the Whitlam sacking and Malcolm Fraser’s actions in aiding and abetting that – it is very important for our national political life. There was the other “constitutional crisis” taking place and that had begun to come to expression with the inability of the Parliamentary Liberal Party to honour its own political viewpoint and allow the Government that commanded the majority in the lower house to rule without threat to supply. And so 1975’s constitutional crisis also told us what we know now as a taken-for-granted axiom of Australian – the Liberal Party lags behind in developing a genuine oppositional ethos for parliamentary democracy to the detriment of us all. They simply have no idea about the importance of Opposition. And slowly, slowly the political party that was the Liberal Party defeated at the polls of 1972 was on a path to becoming the party machine we now know only too well. And so it is driven by its parliamentary wing and the fabricated “unity of purpose” that a “leader” can bring to its theatrical contribution to politics. And so staying as the occupants of or regaining the treasury benches has become the Liberal Party’s raison d’etre, when in fact its constitution as originally formed was the constitution of a political party. These actions were the decisive turning point which have meant that since its national contribution has reduced politics to the machinations of its own undisciplined political machine and the public relations stunts it can manufacture on the way to enhanced opinion poll numbers. We can see the parlous state in which we now function by looking at the garbage that comes into our letter boxes at election time. And we electors pay for it! It’s outrageous. I guess we could say that November 1975 was icing on the cake to the earlier efforts of Snedden et al to bring on the 1974 double dissolution. They lost but they bitterly resented the responsibility that fell to them to be an Opposition and to develop a Liberal Party tradition of being in Opposition. And John Gorton and Don Chipp and my father (secretary at one time of the Blackburn Liberal Party in the time of John Jess) also knew it. The parliamentary Liberal Party has ever since ruled the party as if from the top, as if it is a quasi corporation in the . business of producing a “coiffured product” which electors can “buy”. Is there any remnant of genuine accountability to party rank-and-file as in former days? It doesn’t look like it. And so the accountability of elected members to electors has also lost one of its necessary if indirect supports. It is good that we are being encouraged to reconsider our “politically correct” dogmas about 1974-1975 because they help us understand where we now are – not just with the hopeless and dishevelled Labor Party but more particularly with the Whelan the Wrecker type of politics advocated by the Liberal Party run by its parliamentary wing. “Keeping us in government” (Turnbull) presupposes its twin-born aim of “getting us back into government” (Abbott). Rather than allow the PARTY to develop as a genuine political party, with a genuine contribution to forming the character of Parliamentary Opposition for all in the country, the Liberal Party is now little more than an electoral machine in which artificial parliamentary unity prevails against promoting genuine political debate – within its own ranks and wider in the community.

  5. Avatar DT says:

    Thanks John. Murdoch’s behaviour (it seems to me) was fairly predictable, although I wasn’t around at the time. Despite the new information in Prof. Hocking’s book, still the worst aspect of this was the GG blatantly ignoring the Parliamentary motion to reinstate Whitlam. In effect, a coup d’état.

  6. Avatar Michael D. Breen says:

    The more facts the better in this matter, John so thanks. Each side seems so highly charged with emotion that the facts remain as vital as they are obfuscated. One thing which has always puzzled me is why the Australian people did not return Whitlam with a resounding majority after being pushed out be an overreaching and Tory kind of GG. And Aussies are supposed to stick up for an underdog. Maybe your article provides some answer in the reference to Murdock and his press.

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