John Menadue. The Palace knew that John Kerr was considering dismissing Gough Whitlam

Based on an examination of John Kerr’s ‘treasure trove of previously unpublished papers’, Professor Jenny Hocking has provided overwhelming evidence that before the dismissal John Kerr had extensive conversations and correspondence with the Queen, Prince Charles and Sir Martin Charteris, the Queen’s private secretary. To support his actions John Kerr clearly wanted these papers released.

This information is provided in Jenny Hocking’s new book ‘The Dismissal Dossier. Everything you were never meant to know about November 1975, published by Melbourne University Press”.

The collaboration of John Kerr with Malcolm Fraser, Sir Garfield Barwick and Sir Anthony Mason in the dismissal is now beyond dispute.

What Jenny Hocking now reveals is the role of the Queen and the Palace.

Unbeknown to his own Prime Minister, John Kerr was assiduously cultivating the Palace as well. Jenny Hocking describes John Kerr’s contacts with the Palace as follows:

‘From that time [Prince Charles’ visit to Australia in 1974] Kerr was in constant and regular contact with the Palace, first through his discussions with Prince Charles and subsequently through his “regular and thorough reporting to the Queen” from September 1975 and throughout the crisis. Through his “conversations with the Queen and with Sir Martin Charteris”, his letters to the Queen, to Charles, and more frequently to Charteris, Kerr maintained a steady recitation on the vicissitudes of the Whitlam Government, in a Vice Regal subverting of his Prime Minister and his Government. Kerr’s journal, and his direct quotations in it from his correspondence with the Queen and with Charteris, show that the Palace was kept informed of his consideration of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government months before there was even any “political crisis” to report. Kerr had conveyed his thoughts about dismissing Whitlam and his resulting fears about his own job security to Charteris and even earlier to Prince Charles in New Guinea, as well as to the Queen. 

There can be no doubt that, contrary to Kerr’s claim and the popular view, Prince Charles, Sir Martin Charteris and the Queen were aware that the Governor General was considering dismissing Gough Whitlam and that none of them had raised any concern – either about such a move or that Kerr was communicating directly with them on this. Most significantly, at no stage did the Palace inform the Prime Minister that the Governor General was communicating with them in this way without Whitlam’s knowledge or approval, and that he was considering such extreme unilateral action against him. Their failure to inform Whitlam, as Kerr himself should have done, could only have given Kerr tacit comfort and confidence that the dismissal of the Prime Minister would not meet any royal resistance.’ (Pp.21-23)

In my blog of 5 November 2015 The Dismissal. How John Kerr saved Malcolm Fraser forty years ago, I mentioned that Martin Charteris told Tim McDonald, the Senior Australian Foreign Affairs official in London in 1975 that the Palace believed that John Kerr had ‘acted prematurely’ in dismissing the Whitlam government. That comment by Charteris however is not in any way inconsistent with what Jenny Hocking has now revealed, that the Palace was aware of John Kerr’s consideration to dismiss the Whitlam Government.

In the papers that Jenny Hocking has now unearthed there is also no suggestion that the Palace resisted John Kerr’s approaches. It clearly knew of his thinking, but never once did the Palace tell Kerr to desist or at least tell him that he should speak to his principal adviser, the Australian Prime Minister.

Surely it is time we kept these London meddlers out of Australian affairs.

To assist in this, the recent request by Malcolm Turnbull that all the Palace letters now be released will help ensure that the full story of The Palace’s involvement becomes fully known. So far what is public knowledge are John Kerr’s papers. See Jenny Hockings recent blog on this issue.

 

Postscript        Whilst John Kerr was insinuating himself with the Palace, Gough Whitlam was making it clear to me and others that he would not be involving the Palace. In my book ‘Things you learn along the way’, published in 1999, I mentioned how we had canvassed with Gough Whitlam the possibility of the Australian Government making contact with the Palace in view of the possible political difficulties that might lie ahead. I was Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet at the time. I said in the book

I suggested early, after the opposition had moved to refuse supply, that perhaps Sir John Bunting (the Australian High Commissioner in London) should be briefed on the subject and if necessary, I could go to London for this purpose. He [Gough Whitlam] thought that this would be quite unnecessary. His view was that it was inappropriate to involve the Palace in an Australian dispute. “It will be resolved politically in Australia” he said.’ 

Gough Whitlam was very proper about not involving the Palace in Australian affairs. Given what we know now about the Palace and John Kerr, he was far too proper.

Gough Whitlam was an Australian democrat. He passionately believed in our institutions; the supremacy of parliament, the independence and integrity of the judiciary and the separation of powers to curb possible abuses by the executive government.

In the dismissal these institutions failed us. Those with responsibility deceived us.

Tradition and conventions built over centuries were trashed.

The damage to our public life goes far beyond the injustice done to Gough Whitlam.

How naïve we were in our trust! That is the most wounding thing of all.

Out trust was betrayed and abused.

 

 

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