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.

Santamaria’s Role In The Dismissal

Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria wrote a speech justifying the blocking of Supply for then Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser in September 1975, according to The Australian newspaper.

B.A. SantamariaThe paper’s political editor, Dennis Shanahan, writes that the speech “is styled as if it were written by Mr. Fraser and says the Opposition should breach the conventions of the Constitution if not doing so “endangers the future of Australia”.

The speech, entitled “Govern or Get Out”, is contained in Santamaria’s papers, now held by the State Library of Victoria. The speech was sent to Fraser on September 18, 1975. [Read more…]

Cutler Advised Kerr To Warn Whitlam

A new allegation has surfaced that the then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, discussed his intention to dismiss the Whitlam Government with the then Governor of New South Wales, Sir Roden Cutler.

Sir Roden CutlerSir Roden’s nephew, David Tyrer, in a letter to Whitlam last November, claims that Kerr discussed his intentions with Cutler. Tyrer asserts that Cutler cautioned Kerr to advise Whitlam of his intentions.

The allegation is contained in an article by Alan Ramsey in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. Headed “Why that old Whitlam fire just won’t die”, Ramsey discusses the forthcoming release of the 1975 Cabinet Papers. A briefing for journalists was held by the National Archives last week but under the 30-year rule the cabinet papers are embargoed until midnight on January 1, 2006. [Read more…]

The Dismissal – 30th Anniversary

Thirty years after The Dismissal, it remained a subject of intense media scrutiny.

In the weeks leading up to November 11, 2005, the Australian media devoted considerable space to reminiscences and analyses. [Read more…]

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…]