Letters From The Palace

Letters From The Palace

LETTERS FROM SIR MARTIN CHARTERIS DATED 4 & 5 NOVEMBER 1975

In the letter of 4 November, Sir Martin comments on the Reserve Powers of the Crown and cautions that they should only be used as a last resort. “The fact that you have powers is recognized, but it is also clear that you will only use them in the last resort and then only for constitutional and not for political reasons.”

In his letter of 5 November, Sir Martin comments on the media report that the Queen is being kept informed but emphasises that the crisis has to be worked out in Australia. “I think it is good that people should know that The Queen is being informed but, of course, this does not mean that she has any wish to intervene, even if she had the constitutional power to do so. The crisis, as you say, has to be worked out in Australia.”

He ends with a quote from Arthur Meighen, a former Prime Minister of Canada, about the duty of a Governor-General “It is his duty to make sure that parliament is not stifled by government, but that every government is held responsible to parliament, and every parliament held responsible to the people."

 

PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL

4th November, 1975.

My Dear Governor-General

This is to thank you warmly for your letter which began on 22nd October and was completed the next day. The Queen has read it with much interest and also with much concern for the pressures to which you are being subjected by the crisis. I will make this a brief reply as your letter of 27th October, which arrived this morning demands a more detailed answer. I shall hope to send this off within a day or two. I hope you will forgive me, therefore, if in this letter I restrict myself to one or two comments which may sound very ingenuous to you who are in the thick of the conflict.

When the reserve powers, or the prerogative, of the Crown, to dissolve Parliament (or to refuse to give a dissolution) have not been used for many years, it is often argued that such powers no longer exist.

I do not believe this to be true. I think those powers do exist, and the fact that they do, even if they are not used, affects the situation and the way people think and act. This is the value of them. But to use them is a heavy responsibility and it is only at the very end when there is demonstrably no other course that they should be used.

With the greatest respect, I am sure you are right in taking the line that your crisis has not yet crossed the threshold from the political into the constitutional arena. Mr. Fraser wants to believe it is already a "constitutional" crisis because he wants you to bring about an election which he thinks he can win. If the tide of public opinion continues to flood against him he may well modify his view, and look for a way of retreat.

Again, with great respect, I think you are playing the "Vice-Regal" hand with skill and wisdom. Your interest in the situation has been demonstrated, and so has your impartiality. The fact that you have powers is recognized, but it is also clear that you will only use them in the last resort and then only for constitutional and not for political reasons.

Yours sincerely

SIGNED: Martin Charteris


PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL

5th November, 1975.

My Dear Governor-General

This letter may reach you in the same bag as my last letter dated 4th November. It is principally in answer to yours of 27th October.
I gave this to The Queen this morning and I know she will read and absorb it during the next day or two. In the meanwhile, however, I particularly drew Her Majesty’s attention to the passage on page 3 in which you gave some forecast of your personal plans and your hope that you will be able to take some leave in January and make an unofficial trip to Paris. If this plan comes off, as I hope it will, you will be in extremely bad odour if you do not also come to England.

The Queen will be in Norfolk during January but she has told me to say that she will be delighted to receive you and Lady Kerr there more or less at any time that suits your convenience. I am not quite sure how we would organise this at the moment as Sandringham House is in the hands of the builders and The Queen herself will be living at Wood Farm where there is no accommodation for guests. I expect, however, that there will be a "guest house" nearby where the guests will stay. May we leave it therefore for the moment that you and Lady Kerr will be most welcome in January and we will fix the details when you can let me know something definite? You will enjoy Norfolk!

Your letter raises another specific point on page 4. You say that there has been the odd reference in the Press to "The Queen having been kept informed and this having been confirmed by the Palace. This, I believe, springs from a call I received on the telephone from the A.B.C. some time ago asking if The Queen knew what was going on in the Australian political crisis. The query was made with particular reference to Sir Colin Hannah's indiscretion.

I replied that The Queen was regularly kept informed of what was going on in Australia by her personal representative, the Governor-General, and that he had not failed to keep her in touch with the latest developments.

I think it is good that people should know that The Queen is being informed but, of course, this does not mean that she has any wish to intervene, even if she had the constitutional power to do so. The crisis, as you say, has to be worked out in Australia.

It is, of course, true that anything you may do could indirectly affect the Monarchy in Australia.

This places you in what is, perhaps, an unenviable, but is certainly a very honourable position. If you do, as you will, what the constitution dictates, you cannot possible do the Monarchy any avoidable harm.

The chances are you will do it good.

Just in case you do not know it I should like to quote to you Arthur Meighen’s splendid phrase about the role of the Crown/Governor-General in the Canadian Constitution. I hope you will forgive me for quoting a Canadian to an Australian but I think it is good stuff.

"The sphere of discretion left to a Governor- General under our constitution and under our practice is a limited sphere indeed, but it is a sphere of dignity and great responsibility.

Within the ambit of discretion residing still in the Crown in England, and residing in the Governor-General in the Dominions, there is a responsibility as great as falls to any estate of the realm or to any House of Parliament...

Within the sphere of that discretion the plain duty of the Governor-General is not to weaken responsible government, not to undermine the rights of parliament... it is to make sure that responsible government is maintained, that the rights of parliament are respected, that the still higher rights of the people are held sacred. It is his duty to make sure that parliament is not stifled by government, but that every government is held responsible to parliament, and every parliament held responsible to the people."

Yours sincerely

SIGNED: Martin Charteris


His Excellency the Governor-General of Australia.

 

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