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Cutting The Knot: Sydney Morning Herald Editorial

This is the the Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial on the morning after the dismissal of the Whitlam government.

Unlike The Age in Melbourne, the Herald supported Kerr’s decision.

The editorial appeared on page one of the newspaper. An image and the full text is shown below.

SMH Editorial

Text of editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald, November 12, 1975.

Cutting the knot

It is for the people now to decide the issue which the two leaders have failed to settle – The Governor-General.

SIR JOHN KERR has cut the knot. The first thing to insist upon in the argument which will rage from now to election day is that the propriety and wisdom of his action should not be in question. They should not be in question because, as he makes clear, the course he has taken was the only course open to him. “The only solution consistent with the Constitution and with my oath of office and my responsibilities, authority and duty as Governor-General is to terminate the commission as Prime Minister of Mr Whitlam and to arrange for a caretaker Government able to secure Supply and willing to let the issue go to the people.”

The italics are ours. Their subject matter – Supply and the judgment of the people – provides the twin themes of Sir John’s exposition of the compulsion upon him. “Both here and in the United Kingdom the duty of the Prime Minister is the same in an important respect – if he cannot get Supply he must resign or advise an election.” Mr Whitlam would do neither. Of his half-Senate election proposal Sir John says, “If such advice were given to me I should feel constrained to reject it because a half-Senate election held while Supply continues to be denied does not guarantee a prompt or sufficiently clear prospect of the deadlock being solved in accordance with proper principles.”

Nor, in his view, did the plans for interim Government finance “amount to a satisfactory alternative to Supply.” Why not? “The principle that a Government which has been denied Supply by the Parliament should resign or go to an election … is a necessary consequence of parliamentary control of appropriation and expenditure and of the expectation that the ordinary and necessary services of government will continue to be provided.”

It is to be hoped that, as an indispensable prelude to a sane election, Sir John’s statement will be read widely, carefully and dispassionately and that the great principles which have guided him – the supremacy of the Constitution and the supremacy of Parliament (“Parliamentary control of appropriation and expenditure”) – will be generally recognised for what they are, essential safeguards of our democracy. It is important, too, that the restrain, care and calm he has exervised in this unprecedented crisis be appreciated as they deserve. Until today, when the meeting between Mr Whitlam and Mr Fraser showed that only the people could resolve the deadlock, he has consistently sought to induce a compromise. It is not his fault that he failed.

Mr Fraser went some way to meet him with his promise of Supply if there was agreement on a full election in June. Mr Whitlam chose to put aside constitutional convention in an attempt to govern ad hoc without parliamentary approval. The Governor-General had no alternative but to intervene as he has: “No other decision open to me would enable the Australian people to decide for themselves what should be done.”

The hope that his probity will be appreciated can be expressed easily enough but not, unfortunately, with any great confidence that it will be realised. Mr Whitlam’s splenetic and grossly improper outburst after the proroguing of Parliament yesterday is an ugly omen of the demagoguery, the appear to mindless partisan passions, which may lie ahead.

Let this be said. This crisis from the beginning has derived from the deep division of opinion amony Australians about the larger crisis – our deteriorating economy, declining confidence in the Government’s managerial competence and its integrity, growing disillusion with its extravagant socialist aims and its honesty in promoting them. It was for these reasons that the Opposition resorted to the constitutional right of the Senate to block Supply, and for one purpose only – to obtain the judgment of the electors on a Government with rapidly waning support. Mr Whitlam’s justifications of his refusal to hold a general election have been disingenuous to the point of hypocrisy. He himself in 1970 sought to use the same device to force the Gorton Government to the polls. He himself in 1974 held that a refusal of Supply “would have made the Parliament unworkable” and, accordingly, advised a double dissolution. He himself has supplied the refutation of any argument that what is now to be voted on is the issue of blockage of Supply.

What this election is about is not the means used to procure it. It is about the Government’s record. Hard-headed judgment of its problems, aims, decisions and plans is needed from the people. It will be little short of tragic in the exceptionally difficult times ahead of the next Government if the rational, patriotic judgment those times require is confused or distracted by appeals to class and tribal emotionalism.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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