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…]

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…]

25th Anniversary Of The Dismissal

The dismissal of the Whitlam Government 25 years ago remains a defining event in Australian political history.

It's TimeIt is being remembered this weekend in Canberra with the opening of an exhibition in the Old Parliament House.

Gough Whitlam’s Labor government came to office on December 2, 1972 following 23 years of Liberal-Country Party coalition rule, 16 years of that with Robert Menzies as Prime Minister.

Elected with the famous slogan “It’s Time”, Whitlam led an activist, reforming government so eager to start implementing its policies that Whitlam and his deputy, Lance Barnard, ruled as a two-man government for two weeks.

A whirlwind of change followed: conscription was ended, troops withdrawn from Vietnam, China was recognised, the voting age lowered to 18, universal health insurance initiated, funding for education increased, university fees abolished, support for South Africa ended, no-fault divorce introduced, tariffs reduced, and much more.

A series of political crises known as the Loans Affair led to the decision of the opposition parties led by Liberal leader, Malcolm Fraser, to block passage of the government’s supply bills in the Senate on October 15, 1975.

The blocking of supply occurred following the actions of two State governments in filling vacancies in the Senate with non-Labor appointees, contrary to 75 years of political convention.

After a three week constitutional crisis, the Governor-General, acting without warning to his prime minister and chief adviser, dismissed Whitlam and appointed Fraser as “caretaker” prime minister. At the ensuing election, the ALP was decisively defeated. Fraser governed for 7 years, winning elections in 1977 and 1980, before losing to Labor’s Bob Hawke in 1983.

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…]

Whitlam: The Coup Twenty Years After

This is the text of Gough Whitlam’s Address to the National Press Club on the 20th anniversary of The Dismissal.

Mr President, Citizens

It’s always a great pleasure for me to return to the National Press Club, not only because of our long association but because of its importance as a forum. In my time, the party leaders wound up their campaigns here. Now, Labor Prime Ministers use the lunch to launch policies and Liberal leaders to launch themselves.

There must have been a certain inevitability in my being invited back around the time of the 20th anniversary of 11 November 1975. Media interest has been intense and I have had to limit my acceptance of requests for interviews and articles. One of the reasons, frankly, is that I am not preoccupied with the Dismissal. My chief interest in the events of October/November 1975, dramatic as they were, now lies in their relevance to the development of Australia as a Republic. That makes it doubly important that the Australian public should have an accurate understanding of those events and the motives of those who took part in them. [Read more…]

Whitlam’s Account Of November 11

In a letter to The Bulletin magazine in May 1993, Whitlam gave this account of the events of November 11:

Laurie Oakes (Bulletin, 11 May) challenges my memory and account of the events of 11 November 1975. The events took less than four hours. Your readers can readily check the sequence and times from the Hansard of that day and the official House of Representatives Practice (October 1981 and September 1989).

About 10 a.m. I ‘phoned Sir John Kerr for an appointment to advise him to call a half-Senate election. We agreed to meet when the House of Representatives rose at 1 p.m. At Government House at 1.01 p.m. Kerr, without discussion, handed me the letter of dismissal from which Oakes quotes. At 1.30 p.m. Kerr swore in Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister. [Read more…]

Margaret Whitlam: The CIA Might Have Been Involved

In 1991, a month after Sir John Kerr’s death, Margaret Whitlam said she was “prepared to believe” that the CIA was involved in her husband’s downfall.

Mrs. Whitlam was asked by a reporter whether she thought the US Central Intelligence Agency was involved: “I do. He [Gough] doesn’t. As an old thriller reader I’m prepared to believe it.”

On whether they had broken out the champagne when Kerr died, Mrs. Whitlam said: “No. I didn’t bother. I regretted his descent into his miserable life because I’d known his first wife very well. Peg was the sort of woman who would have been fabulous for anybody. He shouldn’t have taken that job in the first place. He knew she was dying.” [Read more…]

Four Corners: 10th Anniversary Of The Dismissal

This is the complete video of the ABC’s Four Corners program broadcast on November 11, 1985.

The Australian media gave extensive coverage to the anniversary. Gough Whitlam returned from his Paris post as Ambassador to UNESCO to launch his new book, The Whitlam Government 1972-1975.

Hosted by the late Andrew Olle and reported by Kerry O’Brien, the 90-minute program looks at the Whitlam government’s history as well as the constitutional crisis of October-November 1975.

It includes interviews with Liberal senators Alan Missen and Don Jessop on their qualms about blocking Supply. The program also interviews Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam, as well as the Liberal Senate leader, Reg Withers, amongst others.

  • Watch Four Corners (92m)