The Queen’s implausible denial

It beggars belief that the Queen did not know that John Kerr was planning to sack Gough Whitlam. She may not have known the detail of the coup in progress, but she knew the substance. But like Lord Nelson she pretends she did not see anything. Nonsense.

There are many reasons to reject the Queen’s cover-up and the cover-up done on her behalf. Importantly the Queen is formally responsible for what her staff do in her name. Martin Charteris was her alter ego. We also know that the Queen was extraordinarily close to Charteris.

  • If the Queen had nothing to hide, why were she and her courtiers so determined that we should not read the Palace Papers?
  • She cannot imply that Martin Charteris was running a rogue operation in the Palace. He was not an independent agent. He was employed by the Queen.
  • The Queen and Martin Charteris had a very close relationship. They trusted each other. The Martin Charteris obituary in The Independent newspaper of 27 December 1999  told us that Martin Charteris ‘was by some distance, the Queen’s favourite private secretary’. They had a long and close relationship. Charteris was private secretary to Princess Elizabeth 1950-52, assistant private secretary to Queen Elizabeth 1952-72 and private secretary and Keeper of Her Majesty’s Archives 1972-77, and Lord in Waiting to the Queen 1978-99. As a loyal member of the British upper class, he went on to become Provost of Eton 1978-91. That was an appointment made exclusively by the Queen.
  • For his service and loyalty to the Queen, he became Sir Martin Charteris and later Lord Charteris of Amisfield. That was, in turn, topped when he became Baron Charteris of Amisfield. There is nothing here to suggest anything but a very close relationship between the Queen and Charteris. He was rewarded every step of the way for his loyal service.
  • Charteris shared an upper-class background with the Queen. He was educated at Eton, went on to Sandhurst and then to Army Intelligence before joining the Palace. With that sort of background, it is not surprising that in the Palace Letters he refers to the Australian Labor Party as the ‘Radical Party’. Clearly a lot of undesirable people!
  • Jenny Hocking has informed us of the numerous ways in which the Palace was informed and involved in John Kerr’s thinking and plans. These discussions commenced in a heart-to-heart discussion between Prince Charles and John Kerr in New Guinea at the end of 1974. John Kerr went out of his way in quite an extraordinary manner to keep all the royal apparatchiks informed of his thinking including even Lord Mountbatten.
  • As Tim McDonald, the senior DFAT official in London at the time of the Dismissal pointed out in Pearls & Irritations ‘It is clear, however, that Charteris, an experienced, wily and polished public servant, who exuded the air of effortless superiority, which is the hallmark of the British aristocracy, knew immediately that he was dealing with a naïve, vain and insecure personality who could be manipulated to British advantage.’   And that is what Charteris did for the Queen, assert British superiority over dependant Australians.
  • But Charteris was not just keeping up with the avalanche of correspondence from John Kerr, he went out of his way to give him some clear advice and direction. On 24 September 1975, as set out in the Palace Papers, Charteris pointed Kerr to the work of Canadian Senator Eugene Forsey on the Reserve Powers. Charteris quoted Forsey ‘If supply is refused, that always makes it constitutionally proper to grant a dissolution’. On 4 November 1975, Charteris told Kerr very clearly that that power to dismiss a government did exist. Charteris was not just listening to Kerr, he was giving the obsequious Kerr clear counselling on what he could do.
  • The Queen may not have known the hour or the time when John Kerr would strike, but she knew what was happening. If she didn’t know, she was not doing her duty. No-one could seriously accuse her of that.
  • After the Dismissal, the Queen gave Kerr a right royal welcome and reception in London. She then bestowed on him the honour of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) – ‘kindly call me god’. A strange way for the Queen to show her displeasure at an act done in her name.

It is nonsense to say the Queen was not involved. Her favourite courtier and she carry joint responsibility for the sacking of a government that had a clear majority in the Australian House of Representatives. A foreign power intervened in our political processes.

Postscript.

The National Archives of Australia doggedly refused to cooperate in the release of the Palace Papers. Jenny Hocking and supporters had to go as far as the High Court to force the hand of the NAA.

Even on the day of the release of the Palace Papers, the NAA continued to obstruct and mislead. It tried to spin the contents of the letters to a  tame and favoured media group,  the Murdoch Media. As The Monthly last Sunday put it “The NAA put its own interpretation of the documents to selected journalists before Hocking was able to see even one of them. As a result, the first headlines obediently relayed the Archives message; the Queen ‘had no role’ in sacking Whitlam, and ‘was not told in advance’”.

Jenny Hocking had to wait even though she was the only applicant subject to the High Court Order.

David Fricker, the Director-General of NAA was Deputy Director-General of ASIO from 2007 to 2012 when he joined NAA.

I was brought up to believe that my ‘betters’, Churchmen, Monarchs, Governor’s General and High court Judges could be trusted. I don’t believe that any more.

But at least I thought I could believe that institutions like the NAA could be trusted. But even the NAA now plays a political game on behalf of powerful interests.

When will we face head-on this corruption of our public institutions?

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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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