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…]

Letter From The Queen’s Private Secretary

Following the Dismissal, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gordon Scholes, wrote to the Queen, expressing concern about the Governor-General’s actions.

This letter is the response from the Queen’s Private Secretary.

I am commanded by The Queen to acknowledge your letter of 12th November about the recent political events in Australia. You ask that The Queen should act to restore Mr. Whitlam to office as Prime Minister.

As we understand the situation here, the Australian Constitution firmly places the prerogative powers of the Crown in the hands of the Governor-General as the representative of the Queen of Australia. The only person competent to commission an Australian Prime Minister is the Governor-General, and The Queen has no part in the decisions which the Governor-General must take in accordance with the Constitution. Her Majesty, as Queen of Australia, is watching events in Canberra with close interest and attention, but it would not be proper for her to intervene in person in matters which are so clearly placed within the jurisdiction of the Governor-General by the Constitution Act.

I understand that you have been good enough to send a copy of your letter to the Governor-General so I am writing to His Excellency to say that the text of your letter has been received her in London and has been laid before the The Queen.

I am sending a copy of this letter to the Governor-General.

17 November 1975

Vice-Regal Notice – November 11

In 1975, Government House prepared a Vice-Regal notice that major broadsheet newspapers would publish.

This is the notice that appeared on page 2 of the Canberra Times on November 12, 1975.

Vice-Regal

Text of the Vice-Regal notice published on November 12, 1975.

The Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, and Lady Kerr attended the Remembrance Day commemoration ceremony at the Australian War Memorial yesterday morning.

Later, Sir John received Mr Whitlam at Government House and determined his commission as Prime Minister.

Afterwards, he received Mr Fraser and administered the requisite oath of office as Prime Minister.

In the afternoon, Sir John received the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, and Mr C. W. Harders, Secretary, Attorney-General’s Department, at Government House.

Later, he received the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Scholes, at Government House.

Kerr’s Proclamation Dissolving Parliament

At 4.45pm on November 11, 1975, nearly four hours after Whitlam’s dismissal, the Governor-General’s Official Secretary, David Smith, read this proclamation on the steps of Parliament House.

This audio clip of Smith and Whitlam is the first ever broadcast by the ABC shortly after 5pm on November 11. It starts at the end of Smith’s reading of the proclamation and includes Whitlam’s famous words about Kerr and Fraser.

  • Listen to Smith and Whitlam

David Smith and Gough Whitlam

PROCLAMATION
By His Excellency, the
Governor-General of Australia [Read more…]

Fraser’s Acceptance Of A Caretaker Commission

Following Kerr’s dismissal of Whitlam, Fraser agreed to a number of conditions in return for being commissioned as prime minister.

The most important of these were his commitments to securing the passage of Supply and the recommendation of a double dissolution of the Parliament. He also agreed that his government would act as a caretaker government until elections were held.

Fraser was sworn in as prime minister at approximately 1.30pm.

Letter from Malcolm Fraser to Sir John Kerr on November 11, 1975.

Your Excellency,

You have intimated to me that it is Your Excellency’s pleasure that I should act as your Chief Adviser and Head of the Government.

In accepting your commission I confirm that I have given you an assurance that I shall immediately seek to secure the passage of the Appropriation Bills which are at present before the Senate, thus ensuring supply for the carrying on of the Public Service in all its branches. I further confirm that, upon the granting of supply, I shall immediately recommend to Your Excellency the dissolution of both Houses of the Parliament.

My government will act as a caretaker government and will make no appointments or dismissals or inititate new policies before a general election is held.

Yours sincerely,
(sgnd J. M. Fraser)

His Excellency the Honourable Sir John Kerr,
A.C., K.C.M.G., K.St.J., Q.C.

11 November 1975

Kerr’s Statement Of Reasons

Following his dismissal of Gough Whitlam on November 11, 1975, the Governor-General released this document outlining his reasons.

Full text of Sir John Kerr’s Statement of Reasons for the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, issued by Government House on November 11, 1975.

I have given careful consideration to the constitutional crisis and have made some decisions which I wish to explain. [Read more…]

Sir John Kerr’s Letter Of Dismissal

This is the official letter handed to Whitlam by Kerr in the Governor-General’s study at Yarralumla at approximately 1.00pm on Tuesday, November 11, 1975.

Kerr's Letter of Dismissal, 11-11-75

Text of Sir John Kerr’s letter of dismissal, handed to Gough Whitlam on November 11, 1975. [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…]

Sir Paul Hasluck’s 1974 Proclamation Dissolving Parliament

The Twenty-Eighth Parliament was dissolved after only 18 months as a result of the controversy over the appointment of the DLP Senator Vince Gair as Australian Ambassador to Ireland.

The subsequent announcement by the Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Snedden, that the coalition parties would block the goverment’s Supply Bills in the Senate caused Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to respond by calling a double dissolution election for May 18, 1974.

  • Listen to the Governor-General’s Official Secretary, David Smith, read the dissolution proclamation on the steps of Parliament House at noon on April 11, 1974:

Governor-General’s Proclamation dissolving both Houses of Parliament on April 11, 1974.

PROCLAMATION
By PAUL HASLUCK, the
Governor-General of Australia

WHEREAS by section 57 of the Constitution it is provided that if the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives, in the same or the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously: [Read more…]