Reminiscences of the 1975 Dismissal
REMINISCENCES - 1975
By Philip Benwell MBE
Philip Benwell has met most of the participants named in this paper and has been able to add to it from his personal recollections. He has always supported the position that Sir John Kerr took and cannot understand why or how senior monarchists could ever have supported a person like Gough Whitlam who, it can be said, started the trend towards a republic. One present-day monarchist even went so far as to join the Labor Party because of the dismissal. Likewise, Benwell has come across a number of long-term members of the Liberal Party who are Republicans because of the dismissal. It is to be hoped that the release of these letters will show them that Australia’s system of constitutional monarchy worked, because, in the end, the whole matter was put to the people for them to decide. That is how our democracy under the Crown works. We now know that Sir John expected the people to return Whitlam to power and he was fully prepared to resign as Governor-General. As it is, the pressures on him became so much that he took to drink and died a broken man, forsaken by most, including the man he appointed caretaker prime minister, Malcolm Fraser. Let us hope that history records that Sir John Kerr was an Australian patriot.
Nineteen Seventy-Five was a momentous year in many ways. It was a good year for port wine and some brandies but a bad year for the then still embryonic global economy. The world lost the famous authors P G Wodehouse and Georgette Heyer as well as the international political figures Chiang Kai-shek and Eamon De Valera.
It was also the year in which the Australian Labor Government and the maverick Prime Minister Gough Whitlam brought discredit to the fiscal reputation of Australia through official dealings with financial brokers of dubious repute. The Fraser-led Opposition through its possibly illicit control of the Senate, rather irresponsibly created political crisis after crisis by blocking 21 bills and then the greatest crisis in Australia’s political history by deferring supply.
The whole political scenario following the March 1974 Federal election itself a double dissolution brought upon the nation by the - perhaps - injudicious use of control of the Senate by the Coalition, could be likened to the closing days of a fragile republic.
The only saving grace that protected the people of Australia from total political collapse were the checks and balances that are an inherent part of our Constitutional Monarchy and I think it totally irresponsible and indeed disgraceful that not only Labor but also now Liberal politicians continue to denigrate Sir John Kerr for his act in declaring an immediate election thus ensuring that the issue was taken out of the hands of the warring protagonists who created the crisis in the beginning and for the matter to be decided ultimately by the people.
It was a stalemate situation with the Labor Government offering only an election of the Senate but obdurately opposed to a full election of both Houses and the Coalition implacably opposed to anything but a re-election of the Lower House. It created intolerable circumstances for the Governor-General who did everything he could to resolve the situation, meeting with both the party leaders as well as Ministers and legal officers of the Government.
Had the loans affairs, with which I will deal later, not occurred it is possible that the Dismissal may never have happened and some other resolution might have been found. Whatever the case and whatever the faults that some may attribute to Sir John Kerr, it is not easy to judge with hindsight particularly when taking into account the stubbornness of the two main characters, Whitlam and Fraser.
Doubtless I will be criticised when I say this - but I believe that the principal characters were all venal men. The Liberal Party, believing themselves to be the inheritors of Menzies and born to government, could not believe that they had been defeated in 1972 and in this belief they risked the stability of the nation by injudiciously blocking major bills of the Whitlam Government.
The Labor Party, introducing for the first time their Fabian inspired doctrines, governed from the inception in an irresponsible and amateurish manner. Both Whitlam and Fraser were intent on power at whatever the cost and Kerr, by his own admission, seems to have been unduly influenced by concerns over his financial situation as he had given up a potentially sizeable pension as Chief Justice of NSW to take on the more shorter-term role as Governor-General.
Having said this I cannot but admit that in the end the Governor-General took a very brave decision and should always be remembered for his courageous patriotism.
It is very unfortunate indeed that this decision led Labor, in their grief at losing power, to cause blame to be cast on the Crown. Even more unfortunate were the reprehensible actions of Fraser, Anthony and Sinclair when they betrayed all those who supported them in 1975 by irresponsibly and irrationally aligning themselves with Whitlam and other socialists at the time of the 1999 referendum by condemning the Constitution that protected the people throughout the crisis they caused.
Current ‘politically correct’ historians point to the Dismissal as a constitutional calamity. However, it was anything but. Indeed, there was no crisis of the Constitution and it, combined with the Reserve Powers, worked superbly well throughout the process of the political crisis, the Dismissal and the ensuing double dissolution.
As with the Kennedy Assassination, 1975 will be theorised about for many a year to come and the travesty of the loans scandal continues to provide a smorgasbord for conspiracy theorists. This is particularly the case on the internet where a brief purview of which throws up a multitude of irrational explanations from being a payback for the Government raid on the ASIO headquarters in 1973 to a conspiracy of the banks, the oil companies, the CIA and even of an alien alternative Government operating from Roswell!
Many years later Clyde Cameron, Minister for Labor in the Whitlam Government, publicly cast blame on what he called ‘a well-organized plot which included ASIO, the CIA, the US Embassy, a couple of high ranking public servants and politicians and the Clerk of the Senate’. Whilst the intelligence agencies of several countries, including those of Britain and the United States, would have undoubtedly been keeping a close watch on the situation and were reporting to their masters accordingly, there is no proof of any sort of conspiracy whatsoever. The total scenario was dependent on which course of action the increasingly erratic Whitlam would take thus making it impossible for there to be a ‘master plan’.
Whilst the Westminster system provides for an alternative government in the form of the Opposition, which is always formed by the Party securing the second most number of Lower House seats, there is a major problem when an Opposition is voted into power after a large number of years as the Government which is formed comprises few persons of ministerial experience. This was the case in 1972 when a Labor Ministry was sworn in on the 5th December after a period of 23 years of unbroken Liberal and Country Party Government with not one of the new Cabinet having ever served in any prior Administration.
The first Whitlam Ministry which lasted for three weeks was comprised of only two ministers, Whitlam himself and his Deputy Lance Barnard who shared between them 27 ministries. The reason for this was that the results in some electorates were still to be determined and a full Cabinet could not be formed until Caucus - that is all Labor Members of the Parliament - met to elect them.
Lack of experience and lack of a proper Cabinet, however, did not deter the Whitlam ‘duumvirate’ Government from taking 40 important administrative decisions, including the abolition of National Service Training and troops withdrawn from Vietnam. Draft resisters were freed from gaol, sporting teams from South Africa were banned and Australia’s voting on Southern African questions in the UN were modified and negotiations were set in train to open diplomatic relations with the people’s Republic of China. Imperial Honours were abolished thus setting in train a series of moves away from the Constitutional Monarchy.
Over the ensuing months legislation was drafted giving equal pay to women, a national health service free to all, the reform of divorce laws and the establishment of the Family Law Courts system. The Federal Government also accepted responsibility for Aboriginal affairs including their health, education, welfare and land rights,
The 12 months from December 1972 was therefore a period of violent and radical change with untold effects on the national economy and it was not long before the Coalition majority in the Senate was used to reject legislation which culminated in Whitlam requesting the then Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck, to grant a Double Dissolution on April 9th 1974.
The 1974 Double Dissolution was caused by the rejection of six Government bills by the Senate and eventually by threatening to block supply. Supply refers to any legislation introduced into the Parliament to provide funds necessary for the business of government. Section 57 of the Constitution relates to the resolution of deadlocks between the House of Representatives and the Senate. If a Double Dissolution, that is an election of both the Representatives and the full Senate, does not resolve the impasse, then a joint sitting of both houses is permitted under Section 57 to pass the deadlocked legislation.
To the chagrin of the Coalition, Labor was returned with a majority of 15 seats and all Democratic Labor Party Senate candidates, who normally voted with the Coalition, were defeated. The main parties were deadlocked in the Upper House each with 29 Senators. Two Independents, Steele Hall and Michael Townley, therefore formed the balance of power.
Steele Hall was a former Liberal Premier of South Australia who later formed the Liberal Movement on which ticket he was elected to the Senate in this Double Dissolution.
He merged the Movement with the Liberal Party in 1976 and was later given Liberal endorsement for the Lower House Seat of Boothby which he represented until 1996. Despite this background, Hall often voted with Labor whilst in the Senate.
Michael Townley came from a Liberal political family. His father had been Liberal Leader in the Tasmanian Parliament and his uncle, Athol, a high-ranking Minister in the Menzies Government. Townley had successfully stood as an independent in the 1970 Election having failed to get Liberal preselection. However, he normally voted with the Coalition.
The ensuing 20 months could well have featured as a work of fiction, so many were the incredible and often irrational activities of the increasingly autocratic Whitlam Government. When the Opposition blocked supply in the Senate and the Governor-General was forced to determine (or bring to an end) the Prime Minister’s Commission it was not simply a dispute between political parties that was resolved, but more importantly his action forced a Government which was out of control and in breach of the Constitution to face the people at an election.
However the Dismissal would probably never have occurred if Sir John Kerr himself had refused to sign the Executive Council Minute which was the product of the illegal Executive Council Meeting held on the 13th December 1974 in the absence of both the Governor-General and the Vice President of the Council and held without the knowledge of the Governor-General.
Under the Australian Constitution an Executive Council meeting can only be called by the Governor-General or by the Council’s Vice-President.
Normally, such a meeting would be attended by the Governor-General or if he be overseas or otherwise unavailable, by the Vice President of the Council, and two or three ministers. Gough Whitlam together with three of his Ministers, Cairns, Murphy and Connor, declared themselves to be an Executive Council and resolved to: “borrow a sum not exceeding four thousand million dollars in the currency of the United States of America for temporary purposes”. The temporary purposes being: “to deal with exigencies arising out of the current world situation and the international energy crisis...”
Since these purposes could in no way be considered to be outside the guidelines of the Loan Council, they were in clear breach of the Financial Agreement. Kerr was faced with a dilemma. As Governor-General he had to be advised by his Ministers. In his 1936 book, The King and His Dominion Governors constitutional expert Herbert Vere Evatt, a former High Court Judge and then Labor Minister and eventually Parliamentary Leader from 1951 to 1960, had written: “the principle that constitutional practice excludes from the consideration of the Governor in any Dominion the determination of all legal questions because direct responsibility for the action of the Governor in assenting to bills or any proposed administrative act rests upon the Ministers holding office”. Kerr therefore thought that the matter was justiciable and open to be corrected in the Courts.
From a judge’s point of view, this may be and probably is legally correct, but Sir John Kerr was not in the position of a judge but that of Governor-General. He was there to represent the interests of the Crown and through the Crown, the people. The Crown is not an inert entity confined to turgid laws and dusty textbooks, for not only does it encompass the historical precedents of the British Monarchy and English Common Law, it is rather an organic being comprising living history, tradition, conventions and above all the sufferings of a nation which broke forever the autocratic rule of Kingship and instead replaced it with a Parliament still under the Crown but now answerable to the people.
This is why loyal military men generally make better Governors, for from the time they take their Oath of Allegiance or even before, their very being is dedicated to service and duty to the Crown. Their Oath does not just include the Crown as a book of laws but embraces the moral being of our civilization; indeed it can be likened to a life-force based on the very Oath and Dedication that Her Majesty took at Her Coronation.
Under no circumstances should it be morally right to give credence to an illegal proposal emanating from an illegal meeting. Admittedly the Governor-General should be advised by his Prime Minister, but this does not mean that he should be the simple rubber stamp of the Government regardless of the rights of the people.
Kerr was obviously concerned that if he opposed Whitlam, he might be sacked. Whilst I doubt that Whitlam would have replaced Kerr, had he refused to sign the Minute, Kerr was obviously afraid for his future and doubtless this played a large part in his early reasoning.
A Governor-General must put aside any personal concern, however difficult that might be, and look only to the national interest. This was why Menzies reverted to the practice of recommending the appointment of senior military personnel from Britain with the appointments of Field Marshall Sir William Slim (created a Viscount in 1960) and Viscount De L’Isle VC.
The recommendation by Menzies of the Australian politician Lord Casey in 1965, just prior to his retirement in 1966, broke forever the tradition of British appointees.
Labor has always looked upon the Dismissal with a jaundiced view and many of those who were not born or who were too young to understand the implications that led to the Double Dissolution have been influenced by the misinformation still broadcast by the media and even by politicians of both sides. Few, however, have ever bothered to study the events with impartiality.
The situation is not helped by recent comments by Malcolm Fraser, one of the main protagonists, who said that he would have done things differently but declined to explain what he would have done, possibly because in the light of Whitlam’s intransigence, there was no solution other than for Fraser to have stood down and passed Supply.
The fact is that the Coalition did block Supply thus creating an impasse between Fraser and the Liberal/Country Parties and Whitlam and the Labor Party.
By the 10th November 1975, an incredible total of 21 bills had been twice presented to, but not passed by, the Senate thus more than meeting the requirement for a Double Dissolution under Section 57 of the Constitution.
However Whitlam was not prepared to go to the Country with another Double Dissolution and instead wanted to bring forward a half Senate Election hoping that in so doing the Coalition would lose control of the Upper House with new Senators being elected for the first time from the ACT and Northern Territory and with their loss of the two spurious Senators appointed by the New South Wales and Queensland Governments who would be replaced by true Labor candidates.
The controversial appointment by Whitlam of Lionel Murphy to the High Court, caused a Senate vacancy from the State of New South Wales. Normal convention was to appoint the person recommended by the party of the retiring or deceased Senator.
However, NSW Premier Tom Lewis broke with convention and instead appointed the long-term Mayor of Albury, Cleaver Bunton, who had always declared himself to be a political ‘neuter’.
Possibly in a sense of moral vicissitude, Bunton, however, tended to vote with Labor. However, the death of ALP Senator Bert Milliner created another vacancy, this time from Queensland but this time its Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was not the sort of person to be crossed. Bjelke-Petersen rejected all recommendations and appointed Albert Field who, although a member of the ALP, had declared that he would do anything to bring the Whitlam Government down.
As it was the ALP expelled Field and challenged his appointment and he was barred from voting whilst the challenge was being heard, but this gave the Coalition the tactical advantage of one vote over Labor.
The 1974 Double Dissolution had given 29 seats each to Labor and the Coalition. Hall (the former – and future Liberal) and Bunton normally voted with Labor and Townley with the Coalition therefore ensuring a deadlock. However, with the sidelining of Field through the ALP challenge, this gave the Coalition 29 votes over Labor’s remaining 28.
A half election of the Senate was therefore not in the best interests of the Opposition and on the 16th October 1975 they tried to force a Double Dissolution by using their extra vote in the Senate to defer the passage of the money bills which meant that by the 27th of November the Government would not have sufficient moneys to pay wages and other expenses.
A situation had therefore been created which had to be resolved and resolved without delay.
The Governor-General met with all parties involved in the impasse. Fraser would not budge from his position and insisted that supply would continue to be blocked unless there was an election of the Representatives along with the half Senate, but Whitlam had no intention of allowing this. He was prepared to bargain on the date of the half Senate election to allay Coalition fears but that was as far as he was prepared to go.
Despite the maverick nature of Whitlam’s governance, he would possibly have been able to maintain public sympathy had it not been for the attempts by his Government to raise funds illegally. Whitlam was above all a Nationalist and he greatly resented the foreign involvement in, and ownership of, many of Australia’s natural resources. By the time his Government had come to power in 1972 60 percent of the mining industry was under foreign control. His Minister for Minerals and Energy, Rex Connor, was so imbued with a hatred of multi-national corporations, that he would be dammed if they got their hands on Australia’s mineral and energy reserves which he estimated were worth $5.7 trillion dollars. Therefore, together with Whitlam and others, he embarked upon a policy of ‘buying back the farm’.
There were grand proposals for a petroleum pipeline across Australia with updated port facilities. Above all was to be the establishment of an Authority to oversee development and investment in key areas, including solar energy development and uranium enrichment plants. (There were no ‘Greens’ Senators who needed to be placated at the time). All this was expected to cost around four billion dollars, double that of official borrowings for the entire National Programme through the Loans Council.
Possibly these attempts to raise funding would probably have been accepted by the electorate had the Government followed proper protocols and not sought to circumvent procedures and mislead the Treasury and even Parliament itself, particularly in view of the beneficial reasons put forward for the funding. However central to the loans issue was the Government’s dealings with bogus agents.
The Treasury was known to be guarded in its dealings with the Whitlam Government which was why Whitlam sought to circumvent procedures and bypass the necessity of submitting his proposal through the Loans Council.
Whitlam would also have known that had Sir John Kerr been present he would have baulked at agreeing to the Executive Council authorizing a loan for such an amount particularly since it was clearly not as stated a ‘temporary’ loan and this was undoubtedly why the Executive Council meeting of the 13th December 1974 was held without the knowledge of the Governor-General who was presented with a fait accompli. With obvious reservations Kerr eventually signed the Minute of the Council Meeting and it was then ‘all gloves off’ to commit to loan funds before the Treasury found out and raised a fuss.
It was soon clear that no self-respecting bank would touch the loan. Not because Australia had a bad credit rating, but because repayments on a loan of this size could not be substantiated. Furthermore, any offers would be at current interest rates which were too high.
The Loans affair took a very dangerous turn following a meeting between Gerry Karidis and the Minister for Labor Clyde Cameron, at a party in Cameron’s South Australian electorate. Karidis told Cameron that he could provide contacts with Middle Eastern sources. Connor later met with Karidis who introduced him to a Pakistani broker operating from London called Tirath Khemlani, at that time manager of a London-based commodities firm called Dalamal and Sons, which was involved in all sorts of dealings, including armaments.
Empowered by the Executive Council Minute, Connor quickly authorized Khemlani to canvass the OPEC countries to seek out Arab funds. An increasingly alarmed Federal Treasury applied strong pressure on the Government, resulting in Connor’s Authority to obtain loan funds being revoked by Whitlam on 20 May, 1975, but Connor later continued to seek funds without Government Authorization, and was forced to resign when exposed in the media.
Dr Jim Cairns, at that time Federal Treasurer, was contacted by George Harris, a Melbourne businessman, with an offer of overseas loan money ‘with a once-only brokerage fee of 2.5 percent’. It later appeared that Harris and Khemlani were apparently connected with the same sources. Cairns gave Harris two letters saying that the Australian Government was interested in raising a loan. When, some two months later, Cairns was asked in Parliament whether he had signed a letter committing the Government to a 2.5 percent brokerage fee he denied he had signed any such agreement. However, several days later, an incriminating letter with Cairn’s signature was reproduced in major newspapers around Australia and he was forced to resign his position for misleading Parliament.
There was also much speculation at the time on the close friendship Cairns had with his assistant Junie Morosi and later on her competence when, in parliamentary debate Cairns was attacked on his attachment to the policies of John Maynard Keynes and Morosi called the Ministry staff together to go through the files to: “see if we’ve got anything on this guy Keynes who’s causing so much trouble for Jim”.
Whole books have been written on this incredible period, and I will not go into any more detail other than to say that when they were exposed for this incredible piece of stupidity, the main players actually continued to deal with these and other brokers and lies were told in the Parliament to cover their irresponsible activities.
It was rumoured that Whitlam endorsed, or at knew of, the continuation of the search for funds but it was the Ministers, principally Cairns and Connor, who were sent to the backbenches and their dream, the only worthwhile thing of the entire exercise, became a nightmare.
Australia’s reputation was in tatters and the Opposition’s unceasing attack on the Government became justified and their intent on blocking supply legitimised.
Throughout this period, Sir John Kerr had been expressing concern, particularly over the possibility of Supply being blocked by the Coalition in the Senate. He conferred often with Whitlam and his Ministers and, with Whitlam’s permission, with Fraser.
With supply about to run out, Whitlam then sought to obtain bridging loans from the banks who listened seriously but to protect their interests sought legal opinions. Bob Ellicott QC, former Solicitor General and at that time Shadow Attorney General, published his Opinion on the 16th October 1975, which of course Kerr read, and he asked Whitlam for his permission to seek advice from the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick. Whitlam refused on the basis that if the Chief Justice gave advice on a matter - any matter - and that matter subsequently came before the High Court then it would create a perhaps insurmountable conflict of interest. He indicated that the Governor-General had no alternative but to accept the advice of the Government Law Officers’ and offered to have the Attorney General provide him with advice.
However, in his book Matters for Judgment Sir John Kerr wrote: “Mr Enderby (the Attorney) handed me a document signed neither by him nor by Mr Byers (the Solicitor General) ... So there was the Government, already embarked upon the arrangements to get money from the banks in order to bypass the processes of Parliament, and no signed Opinion of whether if the Law Officers Opinion was being offered to me in support of the legality of what was being done, but merely this unsigned draft”.
As it turned out the banks rejected Whitlam’s request. Not only were they concerned about the legality of the scheme, but they also had grave doubts about the security and the complexity of administering the loans.
As Governor-General, Kerr could not sit idly by whilst the Government brought on economic crisis after crisis and dissatisfied with the ‘draft’ advice received from the Attorney General he decided that he would approach the Chief Justice despite Whitlam’s earlier refusal of permission for him to do so. Therefore, on the evening of the 9th November, when in Sydney, Kerr telephoned Sir Garfield Barwick who agreed to call at Admiralty House the following morning on his way to the Court. At the meeting Kerr asked the Chief Justice whether he could give advice and if so whether it was within his (Kerr’s) constitutional authority to dismiss the Government.
Barwick intimated that he could not advise on a matter which could come before the High Court but undertook to give it thought and to report later that day and proceeded on to the Court.
Obviously of the mind that the action the Governor-General was to take was not justiciable the Chief Justice provided his Opinion in writing at lunch and shortly thereafter the Governor-General proceeded to Canberra and the next day determined Whitlam’s Commission.
At Barwick’s request both visits to Admiralty House were recorded in the Vice Regal notices.
Sir Garfield Barwick was roundly criticised by all sides for formally advising the Governor-General, and Kerr himself was likewise criticised for requesting such advice. However, in all fairness what else could he do in the absence of proper advice from the Government Law Officers? The advice Kerr sought was not primary but rather in confirmation of the decision he was proposing to make.
It is interesting to note that it was not until many years later that Whitlam realized that Barwick’s letter of Opinion to Kerr included the words: “the course Your Excellency has already resolved to take”
Sir William Heseltine who was Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen at the time recently gave an interview in which he made it clear that the Governor-General did not consult the Queen and said that he believed that the Queen would have advised her Vice-Regal representative not to act when he did.
He added: “I’m very surprised myself that he, Kerr, didn’t take the advantage of the Queen’s long experience and consult her about what he intended to do. ... my own feeling is that she would have advised him to play out the situation a little longer.”
Of course, one must realize that no British Monarch has dismissed a Government in Britain since 1783 when George III sacked the Government of Lord North.
It is therefore clear, as responsible people have always believed, that the action taken by the Governor-General to resolve the issues of 1975 against all sorts of obstacles which were put in his way was indisputably his own and without consultation with the Queen, It was an action which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the electorate but despite this, Sir John Kerr was vengefully vilified by Labor into his grave.
Both Labor and Liberal parties benefited from the checks and balances brought into play by our Constitutional Monarchy. The outcome of the Dismissal was the election which followed and it is pertinent to question: ‘what other deposed leader in most of the republics Whitlam seems now to love so much would have been given the opportunity of putting his case to the people at an election?’
It is therefore reprehensible that the Dismissal, instead of being commented upon to justify the integrity and value of our Constitution and proof that our system of Constitutional Monarchy does indeed protect the democracy of the people, is instead used to justify a republic and to vilify the Queen, who clearly played no part in Sir John Kerr’s decision, Most of the principal Coalition players have all since repudiated the Monarchy and their Oaths of Allegiance. Fraser, Anthony and Sinclair continue to be Privy Counsellors and in conflict with the solemn undertaking sworn or affirmed by them: “to bear faith and allegiance to the Crown and to defend its jurisdiction and powers against all foreign.....persons.....or states”, are all now prominent supporters of the Republican movement.
Fraser put at risk the Crown he served by his actions in forcing the dismissal of the Whitlam Government and set in train the downward path which has led to the denigration of our political system and the spectre-like threat of a republic.
When Prime Minister, Fraser had upheld the Crown and had made these supportive comments during his time in parliament: “The monarchy with the Queen at its head, is an intrinsic part of our constitutional process. It is the last safeguard to make sure that all the processes are carried out”. “In this way the monarchy is the ultimate protector of the people”. “I see no cause to move Australia along a republican path. I do not agree with those who say it (a republic) is inevitable. It would be a tragedy for Australia for I believe we would be less well governed”.
In a schizophrenic-like conversion not only is he now a staunch supporter of a republic, but he has also turned on his own Party!
It is also pertinent to note that Labor did not seek to go to the High Court to challenge the Dismissal nor when it was in office from 1983 until 1996 did it ever seek to introduce constitutional amendments to curtail the power of the Senate. It, however continued to denigrate our Monarchy and to vilify the Queen.
Despite all the angst portrayed by Labor over 1975, the republican proposal they endorsed at the 1999 Referendum sought merely to remove the Crown and dealt in no way with the power of the Senate to block supply under a Republican government, thus making a mockery of their attack on Sir John Kerr.
In spite of whatever reckless decisions were made, the system worked. It worked because under our Constitutional Monarchy, power resides in the hands of the people and not in those of the politicians. This is why the condition of handing government to Malcolm Fraser was on the strict understanding that a General Election would be held of both the House of Representatives and the full Senate so that the people - and not the politicians - could resolve the issue.
However the main outcome of 1975 and the Dismissal is that all these points have been conveniently forgotten and it is today looked upon as a defining moment for the Monarchy, for rightly or wrongly the Dismissal brought the Crown into a politically controversial situation which gave impetus to the republican cause.
In 2001, twenty-six years after the event, Whitlam, the impetuous Prime Minister who without delay pulled Australian troops out of Vietnam and the visionary leader responsible for so many innovative social welfare policies such as Medicare, literally dragged Australia into the 1970s, but he did it too drastically and in doing so divided public opinion as never before. Today he is mooted always by the media as some sort of elder statesman!
The Liberal Party looked on 1975 as a sort of returning of the anointed, but what they actually got was a Prime Minister who seemed to have lost confidence in himself and eventually turned on his own party.
Sir John Kerr is perhaps the one who came off worst. He did the only thing he felt he could resolve the conflict. He naively requested Fraser to take responsibility for the Dismissal, which Fraser agreed to do, but it was Kerr who was maligned and under attack and it was Kerr who was finally sacrificed and put out on the scrap heap whilst Fraser and Whitlam became ‘buddies’ joining together in a despicable advertisement in support of a republic. Sir John died a broken man, resentful not of what he had done, but indignant at the manner in which the truth had been twisted by Labor and the media and even later by the Liberals themselves!
We can only hope that time will perhaps see Sir John vindicated, although history seems only to record one side.
Today it is not only Labor which resents the checks and balances inherent in the Senate and the Crown but also many amongst the Coalition. If the republican politicians ever succeed in removing the Crown, there is no doubt that the next target will be the emasculation of the Senate and in the States the Upper Houses, so that our politicians, who become our friends only for a few weeks at election time, will be able to forever closet themselves in their ivory towers and rule without restraint.
Sydney, November 2001
Do you like this page?