It has taken more than 40 years, but Australian social democracy has prevailed over British hereditary privilege.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Gough Whitlam’s biographer, Jenny Hocking, we are finally permitted to see the exchanges between Buckingham Palace and Yarralumla in those fraught weeks before the dismissal of our government in 1975.
The letters between the Queen and her courtiers and her viceroy, the man handpicked by the Prime Minister he disobeyed, deceived and betrayed, have been declared by the High Court to be public documents, not private personal letters as they have been absurdly portrayed to hide the truth from the mob.
The concealment has always been unconscionable. Elizabeth II is our queen, our head of state. She cannot take time off whenever it suits her to chat with pen friends, however eminent they may be. Tough at times., but it goes with the job, and the job is 24/7.
If the idea of a constitutional monarchy means anything, it entails a certain transparency. Ideally the ruler must accept advice from his or her ministers, in this case Whitlam. And that stricture applies even more unarguably to the representatives the ruler appoints to oversee the affairs of government.
These conventions are considered unbreakable, and if they are broken – as they were so spectacularly on the lead up to John Kerr’s cowardly coup – we, the people, are entitled to an explanation of all the circumstances surrounding them, If there has been a justification, let’s hear it. Without one, conspiracy theories will flourish, as they have for well over a generation.
This is not a matter of prurient curiosity or of public interest, although there is a lot of interest, even from those who were not born during the political crisis. It goes to the heart of our system of government, to the links between the various areas of power on which we rely to preserve us from autocracy and dictatorship. The refusals from both the Queen and Kerr to disclose their discussions that led up to the crisis were not and are not theirs to make.
The doctrine of divine right was, we thought, abrogated in 1649 with the removal of Charles I. The mere concept that it could be resurrected in Australia three and a half centuries later is inherently ridiculous. And to imagine that it could be sustained by a cabal of bureaucrats, lackeys and lawyers well into the 21st century simply beggars belief.
This was a matter of national sovereignty. As Jenny Hocking said, it was demeaning for Australia to be subject to the veto of the Queen over how and whether our documents can be released. Now, thanks to her indefatigable efforts, pride has been salvaged.
We will decide who controls our records, and the circumstances in which they will be controlled.