Archives for November 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…]