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.

How The Queen Heard About Whitlam’s Dismissal

The Queen was told about Gough Whitlam’s dismissal when she woke at 8am on the morning of November 11 in Buckingham Palace.

At this stage it was 7pm in Australia, the Parliament had been dissolved and an election set in train.

The Queen’s assistant private secretary at the time, William Heseltine, heard the news in a telephone call from the Governor-General’s Official Secretary, David Smith, at about 2am London time. This suggests Smith rang the palace almost immediately after Kerr dismissed Whitlam.

Details of these events have been published in an article about now Sir William Heseltine in The West Australian.

Text of article that first appeared in The West Australian.

No wake-up call for Queen over dismissal

by MALCOLM QUEKETT

A former senior member of the Queen’s staff has provided a rare insight into how Buckingham Palace reacted when governor-general Sir John Kerr sacked prime minister Gough Whitlam.

WA-born Sir William Heseltine, who was a member of the Queen’s staff for 27 years, said the Queen had closely followed events during the constitutional crisis of November 1975 but Sir John had not told her of his intentions and had not sought her advice. [Read more…]

Alexandra Hasluck: How One Strong Woman Changed The Course Of Australian History

This article from The Age reports that Alexandra Hasluck, the wife of Sir Paul Hasluck, insisted her husband not stay on as Govenor-General in 1974.

Hasluck’s departure led to the appointment of Sir John Kerr as Governor-General.

The article refers to an interview Hasluck gave to former Whitlam minister Clyde Cameron in 1985. Hasluck is quoted as saying he believed Kerr erred in consulting with Fraser during the constitutional crisis.

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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…]

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.” [Read more…]

Whitlam Says Kerr Needed Frequent Drying Out

On the verge of celebrating the 30th anniversary of his election as Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam has given an interview to the ALP Senate leader, John Faulkner, in which he says that he would never have appointed Sir John Kerr as Governor-General had he known of Kerr’s drinking problem.

Whitlam also defended his government’s economic record, pointing out that unemployment and interest rates were lower under his government than under Hawke’s or Keating’s.

The interview will be shown on SBS television.

This is the text of the article in The Australian newspaper:

Gough’s genius was economic, too

By Mike Steketee, National affairs editor

Never one to be modest about his achievements, Gough Whitlam’s latest boast is that he was a better economic manager than Labor successors Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

That will come as a surprise to many who remember economic policy was a disaster under the government Mr Whitlam led between 1972 and 1975.

But, says the 86-year-old – despite the readiness of Mr Hawke and Mr Keating to criticise him – unemployment, interest rates and the budget deficit were all lower in his time. [Read more…]

Whitlam On His Appointment Of Kerr

As controversy swirled around the Governor-General, Archbishop Peter Hollingworth, in March 2002, Gough Whitlam commented on his choice for the Vice-Regal job in 1974.

Extracts from a report in The Age, March 11, 2002:

Former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam today said he felt sad about the vice-regal office controversy given that he had appointed a dud with a drinking problem in Sir John Kerr.

“Mr Whitlam said he believed Governor-General Peter Hollingworth should resign.

“I feel sad about this and I feel a bit sensitive because I appointed a dud, too, but it was universally applauded when I made him,” Mr Whitlam told the John Laws radio program.

He said he should have made inquiries in the legal fraternity about Sir John before he was appointed.

“I should have asked … other Supreme Court judges or senior counsel what he was like and they would have told me that Kerr had a drink problem,” Mr Whitlam said.

“And then later on his wife died, and I don’t want to go into that detail, but clearly I should have known his weaknesses.”

Mr Whitlam admitted he made a mistake in appointing Sir John and he apologised to the Queen.

“And I reassured her, I said there’ll be nothing, no demonstrations against you when you come in `77, which we’d arranged for her to do,” he said.

“I said you’ll be very respectfully and warmly received and the fault was mine, not yours.”

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…]

Brandis: Kerr “A Good And Decent Man Demonised”

On the 25th anniversary of The Dismissal, this is the text of a speech delivered by Queensland Liberal Party Senator George Brandis, as recorded by Hansard.

Senator George BrandisTomorrow we mark the 25th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam government on 11 November 1975. No political event in our history, I dare say, created more controversy at the time. None was so dramatic. For some Australians, none caused more lasting bitterness. Certainly none gave rise to more myth making.

With the perspective of history, we can—and, in fairness to the protagonists, we should—judge those events dispassionately. We should sort the essential from the superficial; the facts from the myths; the law from the politics. When we do so, the events of 1975 amount to this: a historically important constitutional crisis created by a deadlock between the executive and the parliament was resolved by the popular will at a general election. That general election—the democratic resolution of the crisis—was forced by the then Governor-General after it had been refused by the Prime Minister. [Read more…]