With the bitter memory of Whitlam's Dismissal still lingering, now, more than ever, is the time for Australia to become a republic, writes Bruce Keogh.
OUTRAGE WAS PALPABLE on the steps of Parliament House on 11 November 1975 as Gough Whitlam supporters flanked the media scrum to witness the sacked Prime Minister’s famous speech:
"Well may we say 'God save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor-General. The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned by Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's cur."
The man Whitlam appointed as the Queen’s representative in Australia, Governor-General Sir John Kerr, had axed his benefactor. The Dismissal of Whitlam and his Labor Government was always shrouded in mystery and intrigue. The real truth of the machinations leading up to this unprecented coup remain cloaked in secrecy and that is because Australia is not yet a republic.
42 years on, “God save the Queen” takes on a new dimension, as our sinful head of state – supposedly symbolic only – still holds sway. She maintains her embargo on the release of the “Palace letters”. Public access remains denied after a recent failed Federal Court action against the National Archives of Australia seeking release of letters between the Queen and Governor-General regarding the Dismissal.
The Federal Court action was instigated by Whitlam biographer Jenny Hocking who, writing in the Guardian (Australia) on 19 March 2018, states:
'I took this case in an effort to secure public access to the palace letters because of their undoubted significance to our history...'
The Court ruled that the letters were “personal” and therefore did not constitute legitimate Commonwealth records under the Archives Act. This was a devious whitewash and a blatant denial of Australia’s right to know the truth.
The Whitlam Dismissal was the most dramatic, controversial and divisive event in post federation political history.
The embargo will remain until 2027 at the earliest, maybe indefinitely unless Australia becomes a republic in the meantime. We have a right to know, but Elizabeth II thinks otherwise. Basic logic points to royal involvement to be ashamed of — there can be no other reason.
Gough Whitlam was an avowed republican. Soon after coming to office, he ended the British honours system and introduced Australian honours.
He also introduced an Australian national anthem to replace 'God Save the Queen', saying:
“These colonial relics are incompatible with the position of Australia as a separate, sovereign country. We are a separate country from Britain. We are an entirely independent country.”
Lost in the residual colonial heritage of unerring allegiance and subservience to the Crown, the conservative establishment was reeling from such blatant attacks on tradition. It was clinging to the past, unwilling to take heed of the seismic shift in public sentiment in the age of rebellion that characterised the 1960s and '70s globally.
Paul Keating is right. The time has come for an Australian Head of State.— Matt Thistlethwaite (@MThistlethwaite) April 2, 2018
Whitlam relished the changing social mood. He had successfully won over the hearts and minds of a nation hungry for change amid the groundswell of worldwide music, social, sexual and political revolution. His opposition to the divisive Vietnam War and conscription had been a significant vote winner. After 23 years in the political wilderness, Labor was swept to power on the back of the visionary 'It’s Time' campaign.
That the palace was complicit since 1975 is irrefutably evidenced by Jenny Hocking, who spent almost a decade delving through previously unexamined archival material on Kerr’s correspondence.
Again from her article in The Guardian, Hocking avers:
'Kerr had raised the prospect of dismissing Whitlam as early as September 1975, in a conversation with Prince Charles and subsequently with the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris…'
Making matters even more irrefutable – indeed, sinister – is this Sydney Morning Herald report (15 October 2017):
'Representatives of the British government flew to Australia in the lead-up to the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Government to meet with the then Governor-General, casting further doubt on the accepted narrative that London officials did not play an active role in Australia's most significant constitutional crisis.'
A republic is an opportunity to acknowledge that Australia has tens of thousands of years of history, not just 230. @AusRepublic #auspol https://t.co/93nV37JX6d— Angela Wilson (@ange_wilson) April 4, 2018
British collusion aside, at the heart of the conspiracy was Kerr, who had been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and two of his bigwig legal cronies, Mason and Barwick.
Jenny Hocking writes:
'The previously unknown role of Sir Anthony Mason, then a high court justice, was revealed. Mason had secretly met with Kerr over several months, acting as advisor and guide for the Governor-General, and even drafting a letter of dismissal for him. His involvement remained hidden from the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at the time, and from the Australian public and our history for a further 37 years.'
At the time of the Dismissal, Sir Garfield Barwick was the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. A Liberal, he had served as Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs. Barwick provided formal written advice to Sir John Kerr supporting his decision to dismiss Whitlam. Whilst clandestine at the time, Barwick’s involvement has been common knowledge. In his retirement, he wrote a book supporting the actions of Sir John Kerr. It was titled, Sir John Did His Duty.
In a democratic country, then of 14 million people, three – along with the Palace – decided they knew best for Australian governance. Purveyors of justice?
That Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser was complicit in secrecy and deception was obvious to Whitlam, hence dubbing him “Kerr’s cur”. Most telling are the events of that infamous Remembrance Day. Kerr’s secretary had requested Fraser arrive at Government House well before the planned arrival of Whitlam, who intended to call a half-Senate election to break the blocking of supply, which was crippling his government. Fraser was ushered to a back room and Whitlam was unaware of Fraser’s presence, or indeed his own looming Dismissal. It was an ambush as much as a termination. Subsequently, Fraser was sworn in as caretaker Prime Minister on the condition he promptly call a general election.
The problem for the inexperienced Labor Government was its growing unpopularity due to serious – indeed naïve – errors of judgement, leaving itself prone for plucking.
It had foolishly snubbed its nose at the establishment, by-passing traditional Treasury avenues of loan raising. This became known as the “Loans Affair” scandal. Rex Connor, Minister for Minerals and Energy had engaged the services of a dubious Pakistani broker, Tirath Khemlani, to source petrodollars for his grand infrastructure plans. In the end, no loan was ever obtained, no commissions were paid, but the Government was made to look reckless and foolish.
Treasurer Dr Jim Cairns had requested Melbourne businessman, George Harris, seek funds in Europe. Cairns had inadvertently signed a letter offering Harris a 2.5 per cent commission and, after denying the offer in Parliament, was sacked by Whitlam for misleading the House. The Harris arrangement was withdrawn.
Media fallout was catastrophic, made worse by Cairns’s relationship with Filipino secretary, Junie Morosi. The staunchly anti-Labor Murdoch press had a field day.
By 1975, dire world economic conditions were impacting at home as oil prices soared, inflation spiralled, interest rates hit unprecedented highs and unemployment rates were on the rise. To make matters worse, unions – always affiliated with the Labor brand – were striking en masse and creating havoc.
External and internal circumstances were spelling doom for Labor, which, after 23 years in the political wilderness, was facing a voter backlash after a mere three years in office. It had soundly lost a by-election in the Tasmanian seat of Bass — a seat it had held for 60 years.
Fraser and his Coalition won the agreed general election in a landslide. The conspirators and the Palace may have felt vindicated, but they have left a putrid stain on Australian political history.
Now, more than ever, it’s time for the Republic of Australia. It’s time to ditch the Queen. We deserve a Head of State who can be trusted. May our new sovereignty have more scruples!
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.