The Queen’s plausible denial is risible

The queen did not pull the trigger. But she, her family and her closest advisers were well and truly in the loop during the events of 1975. And since 1975 was all about politics, the neutrality of the crown is irrevocably compromised.

So now we know that the queen did not order the coup that dismissed the elected government of Gough Whitlam.

And as far as we know, nor did the CIA, the Illuminati, or the little green men from Mars. No conspiracy here. So that’s all right then, isn’t it?

Well no, it isn’t. The queen did not pull the trigger. But she, her family and her closest advisers were well and truly in the loop during the events of 1975. And since 1975 was all about politics, the neutrality of the crown is irrevocably compromised.

John Kerr’s regular bulletins of his deceptive conduct were, as the indefatigable truth-seeker Jenny Hocking has noted, outrageous, but given Kerr’s serial trashing of the conventions of his office, hardly surprising. But the manner of the replies from the palace was quite simply unconscionable.

Once Kerr has strayed into considering the dismissal of his prime minister, the only correct response was to remind Kerr that under the system of constitutional monarchy the queen, and her viceroy, were duty bound to take the advice of their ministers, and that therefore the correspondence was now closed.

Instead, Kerr was provided with constant reassurance, at times encouragement and even advice over the implementation of his highly contentious reserve powers. Kerr’s fellow grandee, the queen’s private secretary Martin Charteris in particular became a player in the great game.

The Australian’s Paul Kelly, who was first a reporter, then an interpreter and finally a re-inventor of the dismissal, still insists that the queen was completely innocent, and that she was manipulated by Kerr. But the now released letter reveal a rather different narrative.

And it is one which gels with the one other observers at the time (I was one) find far more convincing.

Malcolm Fraser, who knew better than anybody, called Kerr a weak man, and ruthlessly exploited and finessed that weakness to further his own ambition

Fraser discerned that Kerr craved approval and adulation from those with the authority he doubted in himself. He had already disobeyed the rules by seeking endorsement from two former Justices of the High Court, Garfield Barwick and Anthony Mason; his own progress to the top was stalled at the NSW Supreme Court. So invoking his queen was just another step in his endless quest for vindication.

And his claim that by not explicitly warning her that he was ready to act was in order to give her plausible denial is risible. She was, and is, an intelligent woman, and would have known perfectly well the direction in which Kerr was moving.

Whitlam was utterly deceived. And it is noteworthy that his private citizen’s letter to the queen makes the crucial point: before, during and after the dismissal, his government always had the confidence of the House of Representatives.

Fraser never did and never could pass that test. His appointment may have been legal, but was never legitimate. That only came with the subsequent election, which was demanded by Kerr as the price of the putsch. Once again, the prime ministerial advantage of choosing the timing of the poll had been subverted, to the advantage of the successor.

This was a time for the queen to intervene, to uphold the will of the elected parliament. But she did nothing. Perhaps she thought she had already done enough. And when the letters were released against her wishes, she made a rare appearance to deny any part in Kerr’s unforgivable treachery. Well, she would, wouldn’t she?

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.
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