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Key Issues In The Whitlam Dismissal

The Whitlam Dismissal gives rise to a number of issues, even decades later.

The issues are constitutional, parliamentary, electoral and political.

    The breaking of long-established conventions was at the heart of the Dismissal. State Premiers broke the convention regarding the filling of casual Senate vacancies, the Senate broke the convention about not blocking Supply, and the Governor-General broke the convention of acting only on the advice of the Prime Minister.

    When Senator Lionel Murphy resigned his NSW Senate seat in January 1975 to take up his appointment as a judge of the High Court of Australia, the Liberal State government of Premier Tom Lewis refused to replace him with a Labor nominee. Instead, Lewis chose Cleaver Bunton, the Mayor of Albury to fill the vacancy.When Queensland Labor Senator Bert Milliner died in June 1975, the National Party government led by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen refused to appoint a Labor replacement, instead nominating Albert Patrick Field.These two appointments changed the balance of power in the Senate and allowed the coalition parties to block the budget in October 1975.

    At the heart of the Dismissal is a dispute about how and where governments are chosen in the Australian Westminster-based federal parliamentary system. The central question revolved around whether governments require the support of the lower house, the House of Representatives, alone, or whether the government requires the continuing support of the Senate as well.This problem led to an intriguing set of interpretations of particular sections of the Australian Constitution relating to the powers of the two houses of parliament.

    In the aftermath of the Dismissal, a number of questions are now apparent.

    Notes from the Monash University Open Learning course.

Issues Arising the Whitlam Dismissal

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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