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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.

  1. Should the Senate have the power to block Supply? – Whilst the Senate does not have the power to initiate a money bill, the Constitution does not prevent it from blocking one.

  2. Is the Government responsible to the House of Representatives alone, or to both Houses of Parliament?

  3. Should the Governor-General have intervened in the crisis?

  4. Even if accepting that the Governor-General had the right to intervene, should he have intervened when he did? – On a “4 Corners” program in 1975, two Liberal Senators (Jessop and Missen) said that they would have crossed the floor to vote with the Government if the crisis had dragged on any further. This would have meant that there would have been a political resolution of the crisis inside Parliament.

  5. Should the Governor-General have warned Mr Whitlam of what he would do if the Budget was not passed? – It has been suggested that had Kerr done so, Whitlam would have had Kerr sacked. Whitlam says he would not have done this because it would only have reflected badly on himself.

  6. Should the Governor-General have told Mr Whitlam that he was going to sack him, but that he could remain Prime Minister provided he recommended an election? – In this way, Mr Whitlam would have been able to remain Prime Minister during the election campaign without the stigma of having been sacked.

  7. What would have happened if Mr Fraser had not been able to secure the passage of the Supply bills through the Senate following his appointment as caretaker PM? – There was a possibility that the Senate could have been adjourned by the ALP President of the Senate. Fraser would then have been Prime Minister without supply and without a majority in the Lower House.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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