The Kerr Letters

  • Letter From Sir John Kerr

    29 August 1975 · 1 reaction

    This letter covers commentary following the Budget including the statement by the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser MP that “no election will be precipitated this year unless some unexpected and serious change occurs.” It should be noted that the Opposition, comprising the Liberal and Country Parties, had the support of two independent senators, this giving them a majority in the Senate. (see the paper ‘Reminiscences – 1975’ extracted from the book by P Benwell ‘In Defence of Australia’s Constitutional Monarchy.’

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    12 September 1975

    This is a letter from the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, to Sir Martin Charteris, Private Secretary to the Queen speaking mainly about his (Sir John’s) upcoming visit to Papua New Guinea. However, in talking about the political situation, Sir John does say “There are very strong indications of a near unanimity of opinion amongst the Opposition Coalition Members and their important supporters that the Government should be brought down.”

     He also writes "If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition get into a battle in which the Senate has defeated the Budget, and the Prime Minister refuses to recommend a dissolution, my role will need some careful thought though, of course, the classic constitutional convention will presumably govern the matter."

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  • Letter by Sir John Kerr

    20 September 1975

    Letter from Sir John Kerr to Sir Martin Charteris dated 20 September 1975.

    In this letter, Sir John mentions talks he has had with the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam MP during a visit to Port Moresby to celebrate the independence of Papua New Guinea.

    The question of whether the Senate has the constitutional power to deny supply and whether Sir John should give or refuse Assent to money bills denied by the Senate was raised in these talks with the Prime Minister. Sir John confesses in this letter to Sir Martin “You will note that in what I have written I have expressed no view about what I may do in various contingencies. I think it better to keep my mind and my options open so that if the worst happens I can decide at the last moment what to do. I am however thinking hard.”

    Very relevant to false claims that the Prime Minister was taken unawares by the eventual decision of Sir John to dismiss him is “Another point of importance put to me by the Prime Minister in Port Moresby was that if I were, at the height of the crisis, contrary to his advice to decide to terminate his commission … We were of course, talking on quite friendly terms in all of this.” And “One point is that if neither can get supply and public servants etc. are not being paid it is said that only an election can resolve the point and if Mr Whitlam will not advise one I may have to find someone who will.”

     

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    30 September 1975 · 1 reaction

    Letter dated 30 September, 1975

    In this letter, Sir John advises that the Attorney-General has said privately that he was of the clear view that the Senate had the legal power to reject the Appropriation Bills. He also raises the fact that the Prime Minister had spoken to him about an early half-Senate election.

     

     

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  • Letter from the Palace

    02 October 1975 · 1 reaction

    Letter from Sir Martin Charteris dated 2 October 1975

    In this reply, Sir Martin mentions a conversation Sir John Kerr had with Prince Charles in Papua New Guinea and that Sir John had spoken of the possibility of the Prime Minister advising The Queen to terminate his commission. Sir Martin says that “If such an approach was made you may be sure that The Queen would take most unkindly to it… but I think it is right that I should make the point that at the end of the road The Queen, as a Constitutional Sovereign, would have no option but to follow the advice of her Prime Minister."

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    22 October 1975 · 1 reaction

    Letter from Sir John Kerr dated 22 October 1975
    (including additions dated 23 October & 24 October.)

    In this letter, Sir John advises that there are increasing calls in the media for him to take action to resolve the impending crisis. He mentions his discussion with the Prime Minister raising concerns that the “very serious political crisis” may become “a true constitutional crisis”, if the Senate rejects the Budget and money runs out.

    With the permission of the Prime Minister he met with the Leader of the Opposition and came to the conclusion that “there is really nothing that I can do to bring the two main contenders to some point of compromise.”

     

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  • Letters From The Palace

    04 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    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."

     

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    06 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR JOHN KERR DATED 6 NOVEMBER 1975

    In this letter, Sir John rushes off a letter to advise on the latest developments. He has been having meetings with a number of people, including the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Very telling is this sentence “He [Mr Whitlam] said that he would never recommend an election for the House of Representatives until he himself was ready to do so and certainly would not do it at the behest of Mr Fraser or the Senate. He later said that the only way in which an election for the House could occur would be if I dismissed him.

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  • Letter from the Chief Justice

    10 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM THE CHIEF JUSTICE TO THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL DATED 10 NOVEMBER 1975

    In this letter the Chief Justice confirms that “a Prime Minister who cannot ensure supply to the Crown, including funds for carrying on the ordinary services of Government, must either advise a general election or resign. If, being unable to secure supply, he refuses to take either course, the Governor-General has constitutional authority to withdraw his Commission as Prime Minister.”

     

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  • Statement from the Governor-General

    11 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    STATEMENT BY SIR JOHN KERR DATED 11 NOVEMBER 1975

    In this Statement, released to the Nation, Sir John explains his action in terminating the commission of Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister. “It has been necessary for me to find a democratic and constitutional solution to the current crisis which will permit the people of Australia to decide as soon as possible what should be the outcome of the deadlock which developed over supply between the two Houses of Parliament and between the Government and the Opposition parties.”

     

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  • The Letter of Dismissal

    11 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL TO THE PRIME MINISTER DATED 11 NOVEMBER 1975

    In this letter, Sir John Kerr presents Gough Whitlam with a letter terminating his commission and that of the entire ministry.

     

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  • Letter from Malcolm Fraser

    11 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER DATED 11 NOVEMBER 1975 FROM MALCOLM FRASER TO THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL

    In this letter Mr Fraser commits to passing the Appropriation Bills, thus guaranteeing supply.

     

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    11 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR JOHN KERR DATED 11 NOVEMBER 1975

    This is the letter informing the Palace that Sir John had terminated the commission of Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister. In his words “I should say that I decided to take the step I took without informing the Palace in advance because under the Constitution the responsibility is mine and I was of the opinion that it was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance, though it is, of course, my duty to tell her immediately.”

     

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    17 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    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.

     

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  • Letter From The Palace to Gordon Scholes

    17 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR MARTIN CHARTERIS TO MR GORDON SCHOLES, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES DATED 17 NOVEMBER 1975

    In this letter Sir Martin confirmed that the action taken lay within the powers solely of the Governor-General of Australia. “Her Majesty, as Queen of Australia, is watching events in Canberra with close interest and attention, but it would not be proper for her to intervene in person in matters which are so clearly placed within the jurisdiction of the Governor-General by the Constitution Act.”

     

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  • Letter From The Palace

    17 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR MARTIN CHARTERIS TO SIR JOHN KERR DATED 17 NOVEMBER 1975

    This is the reply to Sir John’s letter informing the Queen via Sir Martin of the Dismissal of Gough Whitlam and his government. Sir Martin commends Sir John on not letting the Queen know prior to his action. “If I may say so with the greatest respect, I believe that in NOT informing The Queen what you intended to do before doing it, you acted not only with perfect constitutional propriety but also with admirable consideration for Her Majesty’s position.”

     

     

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr dated 20th November 1975

    20 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR JOHN KERR DATED 20 NOVEMBER 1975

    In this letter Sir John seeks to further explain his actions and those of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. He says “As you know, when the Senate launched upon its tactic of deferring supply I became concerned that the two parties were on a collision course which, if maintained could cause enormous chaos and even political disaster. The two leaders were both stubborn and proud men. This feeling of mine became accentuated day by day especially as Mr Whitlam, in effect, challenged Mr Fraser's manhood and said something along the lines that he would in the end not have "the guts" to deny supply in fact. As you know, and I will not go into the details again, I did my best to try to arrange some kind of compromise.”

    Sir John mentions that “At all times during the crisis he [Mr Whitlam] stated in the clearest terms that he intended to govern without supply and would never recommend a dissolution of the House or a double dissolution whilst supply was denied. He said both publicly and privately that it was his intention to break the power of the Senate over money bills forever.

    “There could be no doubt, and I had no doubt, of the absolute irreversibility of this decision. Mr Whitlam was engaged in a crusade based upon a single minded determination to destroy the power of the Senate on money bills. No one talking to him privately at that time could come to any other conclusion. The matter was not discussable. He was prepared and said he was prepared to take the country through makeshift banking arrangements, if he could achieve this, over Christmas and on into the new year - governing without supply.”

    It was therefore clear that the Governor-General had no option but to force an election so that the issue could be put to the people.

     

     

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    24 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR JOHN KERR DATED 24 NOVEMBER 1975

    In this letter, Sir John mentions both the personal attacks on him but also the letters and indications of support. He mentions the ‘rage’ of Whitlam supporters over his termination and how he feels it is counterproductive.

    It was possibly the way in which Labor contested the 1975 election campaign, fully expressing its rage, that led to the people turning against Gough Whitlam and leading to its massive defeat.

     

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  • Letter From The Palace

    25 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR MARTIN CHARTERIS DATED 25 NOVEMBER 1975

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    27 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR JOHN KERR DATED 27 OCTOBER 1975
    (Including additions dated 29 October 1975 and 30 October 1975)

    In this letter Sir John ponders on the political crisis and his position. He also mentions “There has been the odd reference in the press to The Queen having been kept informed and this has been confirmed from the Palace.” Towards the end of the letter he emphasizes that “In mentioning this I have no desire to escape from any responsibility which the Constitution places on my shoulders or to lessen it or have some excuse for any particular course I may take, but I feel that I should consider, in deciding what I ought to do, anything which may directly or indirectly affect The Queen.”

     

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  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    28 November 1975 · 1 reaction

  • Letter from Sir John Kerr

    28 November 1975 · 1 reaction

    LETTER FROM SIR JOHN KERR DATED 28 NOVEMBER 1975

    In this letter, Sir John makes reference to his “somewhat verbose correspondence”. He mentions that “Mr Whitlam is, so far, making his major thrust in the area of the constitutional crisis with allegations of coup d' état putsches etc. Mr Fraser however is concentrating heavily on economic issues and the state of the nation.”

     

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  • Statement by Mr R. J. Ellicott QC

    10 August 2020 · 1 reaction

    Statement by Mr R. J. Ellicott, Q.C

    In this statement, Mr Bob Ellicott, a leading Queen’s Counsel at the time and an Opposition front-bencher has said that the Governor-General is “entitled to and should ask the Prime Minister if the government is prepared to advise him to dissolve the House of Representatives and the Senate or the House of Representatives alone as a means of ensuring that the disagreement between the two Houses is resolved. If the Prime Minister refuses to do either it is then open to the Governor General to dismiss his present Ministers and seek others who are prepared to give him the only proper advice open. This he should proceed to do.”

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