Letter from Sir John Kerr
LETTER FROM SIR JOHN KERR DATED 17 NOVEMBER 1975
In this letter Sir John contemplates his future as Governor-General in light of his actions and the manner in which it has Polarised the community. As far as the Dismissal is concerned he says “The historians and academics can argue about it for years.” This is, of course, very true, but I doubt that anyone at the time would have realized that it was a catalyst for moves towards a republic and was probably the main reason why the Labor Party adopted a republic as a policy. Of course, the letters clearly show that they were misguided and that Australia’s system of constitutional monarchy truly represents democracy in action.
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL
17 November 1975.
My Dear Private Secretary
You will, I am sure, be up to date, both through your own papers and from the clippings which have been sent to you by David Smith, with the developments in the crisis in Australia. My decision was by far the most difficult I have ever made or expect to have to make.
November 11 was the last day for action if an election of any kind was to be held before Christmas. This was due to practical matters connected with the Electoral office. December 13 was the last practical date for actually holding an election. A half Senate election without supply (with or without all the States participating) would have meant a very black Christmas.
The Senate might I suppose have given in, but after three refusals of Supply and with the then Leader of the Opposition asserting that it definitely would not be granted for a half Senate election I felt I had to act. There is a grey area or twilight zone for personal discretion about the seriousness of the situation warranting a forced dissolution. Many people whose judgment I trust, including Sir Robert Menzies, agree that I really had no choice and that it was right to act. I am sure I had to get the matter to the people.
The historians and academics can argue about it for years.
My mail is now running quite well. The opinion polls for the time being are still "pre-decision" and will probably indicate further loss of support for the new Government. I understand that private polls since the decision show a reverse in this but we must wait and see.
I probably will not attempt to stay on here as Governor-General if Mr Whitlam wins the election, as he may well do. He has been seeking to keep the issue firmly on the constitutional crisis and made a foolish unrestrained attack on me on 11 November which did him much harm. There has been, as I expected, a continuing attack on me both in militant circles and elsewhere within the Labor Party for doing what I did. This may well abate during the next week or so and the leaders of the Labor Party appear to want to cool things.
I think I told you in my last letter that when I dismissed Mr Whitlam I said to him, "The polls are going well in your favour. I have held up my decision till the last possible moment. You have campaigned well in the meantime. I think you could well win the election. Good luck." I proffered him my hand and he took it. Nevertheless it would be impossible for me to work with him or for him to work with me if he wins the election. My probable best course of action would be to stay to commission him and to hand him, at the same time, a letter of resignation which I would already have dispatched to the Palace. The other school of thought is that I should make him dismiss me. As things stand I do not favour this.
He has said publicly that he would expect me to resign and that he will not have to dismiss me.
I therefore conclude that, if he remains consistent on this point, he would not seek to reach the Palace first with dismissal advice if he already knew that I had myself sent a resignation to Her Majesty.
On the other hand, if Mr Fraser wins the election there will still be some difficulties. Australia has been, to use the fashionable word, "polarised" for some time now and the process has been accentuated by recent events. A section of the people will probably retain an animus against me at least for some time after the election. How big that group of people will turn out to be is a matter for conjecture.
I have accordingly given some consideration to whether or not I should, here and now, announce that come what may in the election I shall commission the new Prime Minister and then resign.
I have discussed this with the present Prime Minister, Mr Fraser who is emphatically and unreservedly against me taking any such course (a) on the ground that it would in all probability be misunderstood by the electorate despite all attempts or my part to clarify my motives (very many people he says would believe that I had either changed my mind or felt that I should not have done what I did) and (b) that if he wins he would wish to urge me to remain on as Governor-General and would, if it became relevant, so advise Her Majesty.
I have decided to let things rest for the time being. This will enable me to see how the opposition to my action develops and how big an issue it becomes in the campaign, but I should like to assure Her Majesty that I shall put the Monarchy and the Governor-Generalship first and I should not wish to stay on here, even if pressed to do so by Mr Fraser if he wins, if I judge that tensions might adversely affect the basic institution of the Monarchy and the Governor-Generalship.
Mr Fraser has urged me once the election is over, if he wins it, to pay an early visit to London to report personally to Her Majesty. I would, I think, accept this advice in the event of his victory and leave ultimate decisions till after I have had an audience with The Queen if she is minded to grant one. If however it is thought over there that I should not do this I shall probably make a visit, by way of leave to France for a month or so, for reflection about my future.
Throughout all of this troubled time I have thought constantly of the seriousness of the burden upon me supported by continued feelings of loyalty and humble duty to The Queen.
SIGNED: John R Kerr
Lieutenant Colonel the Right Honourable Sir Martin Charteris, K.C.3., K.C.V.O., O.B.E.,
Private Secretary to The Queen,
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