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What Happened?

The Dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor-General, on November 11, 1975, still stands as the most dramatic and controversial event in Australia’s political history.

The decision of the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, to dismiss the Labor Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, and install the Liberal Opposition Leader, Malcolm Fraser, as caretaker prime minister, on condition that he called an election, was a sensational development that ended a three-week parliamentary stand-off.

The crisis began on October 15, when the Opposition parties announced they would block the government’s Supply Bills in the Senate, as a means of forcing the government to an election. Whitlam refused to call an election and three weeks of parliamentary debate and public campaigning convulsed the political system.

On November 11, Whitlam sought a half-Senate election from the Governor-General. Kerr rejected the advice and dismissed Whitlam. He commissioned Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister. Fraser immediately secured the passage of Supply through the Senate and recommended a double dissolution of the parliament.

The election was held on December 13, 1975. The Fraser-led Coalition won the largest victory in Australia’s federal history.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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