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.”

Sir William’s words make it clear that Sir John’s action broke the nexus between Buckingham Palace and Yarralumla. The constitution says the governor-general “shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth” but Sir William’s view adds weight to the argument that Australia has been more of a crowned republic than a constitutional monarchy.

Sir William says: “I think one of the, if you like, unfortunate results, of which there were obviously many in 1975, was that it, for a time, put the Queen outside the Australian political process.”

Sir William’s first interview on the crisis is screened on ABC-TV next Wednesday as part of 100 Years – the Australian Story. Journalist Paul Kelly hosts the series. The Queen’s man told Mr Kelly: “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.”

Although Malcolm Fraser, then opposition leader, has always maintained that Coalition senators would continue to block supply, leaving the crisis unresolved, senior members of the royal household believed that a political solution would have been reached within a few days.

The interview with Sir William supports a report of a conversation with Sir Martin Charteris, then personal secretary and political adviser to the Queen published in 1999 in John Menadue’s autobiography Things You Learn Along the Way.

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