Howard Defends Kerr

On the 30th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, the Prime Minister, John Howard, has again defended the actions of the then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.

Speaking on ABC radio, Howard said: “It was a product of the clash of political wills between two sides of politics and they knew that at the time and this retrospective attempt to paint John Kerr as the dark evil doer of terrible deeds has just been so unfair and one of the great historical distortions of my life.”

  • Listen to Howard’s comments

This is the text of John Howard’s comments to Jon Faine on ABC Radio 774 Melbourne.

FAINE:

Finally Prime Minister and I’m aware that you have to head off to a Remembrance Day service and we will be of course bringing a service to air here at 11 o’clock on ABC radio right around the country as well. It’s the anniversary also of the dismissal, 30 years ago now of the Whitlam Government, could you imagine being dismissed from office by the current Governor General, Michael Jeffery, advised by the current Chief Justice, Murray Gleeson?

HOWARD:

No.

FAINE:

It would be completely ridiculous a proposition wouldn’t it?

HOWARD:

Well I don’t think I will as Prime Minister behave in the way the Whitlam Government behaved. I don’t think any government I lead would ever try to govern without supply. I don’t think any government I lead would every overturn a principle established in the time of King Charles.

FAINE:

But we still have the same constitution is the point I’m driving towards?

HOWARD:

Yes well I know that’s what you’re driving towards but in the end it is the people in high office who are responsible for events, not a constitution. It’s always been my view that about the dismissal that the Governor General was unfairly blamed. If people resented what happened in 1975 they should have vented their anger at Mr Whitlam and Mr Fraser and their followers in both of the parties – including myself, a relatively minor player but nonetheless a junior member of the shadow opposition, shadow ministry. We are the people who brought about the clash of political wills. We are the people who stretch the fabric of the constitution – we were rather. It was Fraser and Whitlam and I think it’s been one of the great injustices of Australian history that John Kerr – whose fate it was to resolve a deadlock he did not create, that he has been so savagely maligned by history. And I think the continued personal invective and spleen against a dead man, which is engaged in by people who should know better is quite depressing. It wasn’t the constitution that caused the crisis; it was the clash of political wills and the determination of a prime minister to stay in power without parliamentary authority to pay for the ordinary services of government, plus the determination of an opposition to bring about an election as soon as possible.

FAINE:

I’m just wondering if it could be the next great John Howard adventure if you haven’t tired of tax reform, workplace relations… constitutional reform?

HOWARD:

Well I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with our constitution – I don’t. I mean look I don’t want to get into a debate about whether we should be a republic or not, that’s beside the point. Except to make this observation that the worst possible republic and formula in Australia would be to have an elected President. Because you would pit against a properly Prime Minister an elected President who would get flights of fancy about his or her popular mandate. So if you want an observation of mine, you’ve got it.

FAINE:

If you were at some point being accused of exhausting your agenda Prime Minister, and I don’t think anyone is accusing you of that, but if they did you could always embark on constitutional reform next?

HOWARD:

Well I don’t see that major constitutional surgery is needed in this country – I really don’t. There are things you… all the things that need to be done can be done within the confines of the current constitution – and that’s not to say you shouldn’t have an argument about whether this or that provision ought to be altered, but I don’t think it’s something right at the top of the list. I think it is something that is used as an excuse for inaction or inability by people in politics. They blame the constitution, they blame the system, they blame the rules, they never accept that in the end political events are shaped by the actions of men and women in politics more than anything else. I mean 1975 was not a product of the constitution. It was not a product of the monarchy. It was a product of the clash of political wills between two sides of politics and they knew that at the time and this retrospective attempt to paint John Kerr as the dark evil doer of terrible deeds has just been so unfair and one of the great historical distortions of my life.

FAINE:

And that’s coming from someone who was there.

HOWARD:

I was there and I did observe it. I didn’t obviously have the influence in my party then that I have now but I having observed it, I think he’s been unjustly blackened by history and I think it’s very wrong what’s been said about him.

FAINE:

As always, thank you for your time.

HOWARD:

Thank you.

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