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Archives for 2001

Out Of Empire: Monash University Course Notes

These notes are taken from the online study notes for Monash University’s Out of Empire course.

Out of Empire, Episode 12.

One of the most controversial events in Australian political history was the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor Government by Australia’s Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, in November 1975. The subject of episode 12, this incident relates very directly to the guiding theme of this series, and readers will react very differently to it, partly according to their varying notions of where Australia stands in its relationship with Britain. [Read more…]

Key Questions Arising from the Whitlam Dismissal

The Whitlam Dismissal raises a number of important questions about the operation of the Australian political system.

The questions concern the Constitution, the role of the Governor-General, and the actions of the Parliament. [Read more…]

Choosing Governments in the Westminster System

The question of how governments are chosen is a crucial issue arising from the Dismissal of the Whitlam government.

The Australian Constitution sets out the way in which our political system operates. It consists of 128 sections.

Australia is a Federal system: we have a National Government (can also be called Federal, Commonwealth or Australian) and six state Governments, plus two territory governments. [Read more…]

Casual Senate Vacancies And The Whitlam Government

The filling of casual Senate vacancies was crucial to the constitutional crisis of 1975.

Without the breaking of the convention surrounding casual vacancies, the blocking of Supply by the Senate would not have been possible.

The convention was straight-forward: In the event of a senator’s death or resignation, the Constitution requires that a replacement be appointed by the Parliament of the State represented by the senator. In practice, the convention was to appoint a replacement from the same party, so as to maintain the balance of numbers in the Senate.

Following the elections of 1974, the composition of the Senate was:

  • Liberal/Country Party: 30
  • Australian Labor Party: 29
  • Independent:1 (usually voted with the ALP)

On these figures, the Senate could not block the Budget, or other money bills, because the vote would be tied, and therefore defeated. [Read more…]

Constitutional Conventions in Australia

The Australian Constitution makes no mention of political parties, the Cabinet or of the position of Prime Minister.

All these are conventions by which our system operates in practice.

A convention is not a law, merely an accepted way of doing something. [Read more…]

Centenary Of ALP Caucus 1901-2001: Whitlam Speech

This is the text of a speech given by Whitlam to a Federation Anniversary Dinner in Melbourne celebrating the centenary of the Federal ALP Caucus.

The event was part of the centenary celebrations of Federation. The first Commonwealth Parliament met in Melbourne on May 9, 1901.

Whitlam was 84 years old at the time he made this speech.

Text of Gough Whitlam’s speech to the ALP’s Federation Anniversary Dinner, May 8, 2001.

For once, Shakespeare got it wrong. His Henry V said: “Old men forget.” My problem is the multitude of vivid memories brought about by the grandeur of the occasion, the association with my birthplace, the presence of so many colleagues and your warm and enthusiastic welcome. Maintain your zeal and your enthusiasm through the coming campaign and until polling day.

The Caucus I joined in 1953 had as many Boer War veterans as men who had seen active service in World War 11, three from each. The Ministry appointed on 5 December 1972 was composed entirely of ex-servicemen: Lance Barnard and me. [Read more…]

Buckingham Palace Regrets

In an article published in The Age, Tony Stephens reports that Buckingham Palace was unhappy over Sir John Kerr’s sacking of the Whitlam government.

Buckingham Palace has finally admitted on the record, after 25 years, to unhappiness over Sir John Kerr’s sacking of the elected Whitlam government in 1975.

Sir William Heseltine, assistant private secretary to the Queen during the constitutional crisis, has made it clear that the royal household was disappointed that the Governor-General did not consult the Queen.

Sir William believes that the Queen would have advised her vice-regal representative not to act when he did.

“I would hesitate to say that she, the Queen, was shocked,” Sir William says. “Shocked is a very strong word and the Queen was always very good at containing her emotions in the circumstances which might well have shocked, amazed, surprised or enraged other people.” [Read more…]