Mason Disputes Details But Largely Confirms Kerr’s Account Of Their Discussions

Former High Court Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason has written an account of his discussions with Sir John Kerr. The account appears in Fairfax newspapers today.

It offers an extraordinary insight into a series of discussions between then Justice Mason and Kerr. Whilst Mason disputes some dates and certain elements of Kerr’s account as presented in Hocking’s book, he largely confirms an ongoing and sustained series of discussions about the mechanics of dismissing Whitlam.

The key difference between Mason’s account and Kerr’s is that Mason says he advised Kerr to warn Whitlam that he would terminate his commission if Whitlam did not agree to a general election. Mason denies that he encouraged Kerr to dismiss Whitlam.

Mason says he played no part in preparing Kerr’s statement of reasons but that he did draft a letter terminating Whitlam’s commission, although it was not used by Kerr.

Mason says that Kerr rang him on the afternoon of November 11 and they discussed what to do about the Speaker’s desire to inform Kerr of the House of Representatives motion of no-confidence in Fraser.

Thirty-seven years on from The Dismissal, the revelations in Hocking’s book and Mason’s statement make significant amendments to the standard chronology of events before and during the Supply crisis.

Text of statement by Sir Anthony Mason, as published in Fairfax newspapers on August 27, 2012.

Introduction

1. This statement records my recollection of my conversations with Sir John leading up to the termination of the Prime Minister’s commission on November 11, 1975 and conversations thereafter relating to that event.

I make the statement in response to documents placed by Sir John Kerr in the National Archives which were recently released and have been discussed by Professor Hocking in volume two of her biography of Mr Whitlam.

The documents relate to conversations with me in October – November 1975 preceding the dismissal of the Whitlam government. They incorporate a shorter version prepared on October 21, 1975. The documents are neither a complete nor an accurate record of our conversations, particularly of our conversations on November 9. [Read more…]

Mason: The Third Man In Whitlam’s Downfall

Gough Whitlam’s biographer, Jenny Hocking, has revealed hitherto unknown details of the role played by High Court Justice Sir Anthony Mason in the Whitlam dismissal.

The second volume of Jenny Hocking’s biography of Gough Whitlam is due out next week.

In a video published on Fairfax websites, Hocking reveals a series of discussions between Sir John Kerr and High Court Justice Sir Anthony Mason in the leadup to the Dismissal. Whilst Kerr’s contact with Mason has been known for some time, the extent of it has not.

Hocking suggests there is something profoundly disturbing in the behind-the-scenes activity prior to November 11.

Whitlam Comments On Barwick’s Letter To Kerr

Gough Whitlam commented in detail on Sir Garfield Barwick’s letter to Sir John Kerr in a speech to The Sydney Institute in 1997.

On November 10, 1975, Barwick tendered legal advice to Sir John Kerr that approved of Kerr’s intention to dismiss Whitlam.

Text of Gough Whitlam’s speech to The Sydney Institute.

I am doubly indebted to Gerard Henderson; first, for inviting me to address the Sydney Institute; and secondly, for providing me, albeit unwittingly, with the text for these introductory remarks.

More than that, Gerard has set down one of the main reasons why I chose to spend a considerable part of the past couple of years writing a book. [Read more…]

20 Years On: Four Corners Remembers The Dismissal

Four Corners broadcast a 20-year anniversary program on The Dismissal in November 1995. [Read more…]

Twentieth Anniversary: Maintain Your Rage And Enthusiasm

On the 20th anniversary of the Dismissal, Whitlam spoke at a commemorative dinner at the now Old Parliament House in Canberra.

The speech deals with many of the constitutional and political issues raised by the Dismissal, including the role played by the High Court Chief Justice Sir Garfield Barwick.

“Maintain your rage and your enthusiasm through the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

I refer emphatically to the next Federal election.

The ultimate answer to those who sought to deny the legitimacy of a Labor Government, not just in November 1975, but from the beginning, after December 1972, will be a Labor victory in 1996.

In quoting myself from my impromptu remarks out there on the steps, I want to be understood in a thoroughly contemporary sense. [Read more…]

Sir Garfield Barwick’s Advice To Sir John Kerr

On Sunday, November 9, 1975, two days before he dismissed Gough Whitlam, the Governor-General met with the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick.

On November 10, Barwick, a former Liberal Party minister under Menzies, tendered this advice to Kerr about his constitutional powers.

Text of High Court Chief Justice Sir Garfield Barwick’s advice to the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.

Dear Sir John,

In response to Your Excellency’s invitation I attended this day at Admiralty House. In our conversations I indicated that I considered myself, as Chief Justice of Australia, free, on Your Excellency’s request, to offer you legal advice as to Your Excellency’s constitutional rights and duties in relation to an existing situation which, of its nature, was unlikely to come before the Court. We both clearly understood that I was not in any way concerned with matters of a purely political kind, or with any political consequences of the advice I might give.

In response to Your Excellency’s request for my legal advice as to whether a course on which you had determined was consistent with your constitutional authority on duty, I respectfully offer the following. [Read more…]

Ellicott Says The Governor-General Will Have To Dismiss Whitlam If Supply Is Blocked

On the day before Malcolm Fraser’s momentous decision, the Liberal MP for Wentworth, and former Commonwealth Solicitor-General, Robert Ellicott, argued that the Governor-General would have to dismiss Whitlam if the Senate voted to block Supply.

It was October 14 and Rex Connor’s fate as Minister for Minerals and Energy hung in the balance. By the end of the day, Connor had resigned and it was expected that Fraser would use these reprehensible circumstances to block the government’s Supply bills in the Senate. [Read more…]