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Jenny Hocking's heroic palace coup is a victory for truth

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Professor Jenny Hocking has won a victory against Buckingham Palace in having the High Court release the correspondence between John Kerr and the Queen (Image by Dan Jensen)

Professor Jenny Hocking's victory in the release of the Palace letters is a significant one for truth and history, writes contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence.

IF ROYAL TITLES were still in political play in Oz, freedom fighter Jenny Hocking would surely be up for a gong by the “fountain of honour”, the Queen. As if.

She would be invested with the Order of St Michael and St George for service to the Commonwealth, Australia in particular, truth and history.

She has personally executed and driven a remarkable and bloodless palace coup.

HOCKING HAS WON A FORMIDABLE BATTLE

She’s given Boadicea a run for our money and self-respect. You go, girl!

For years, this tenacious Monash University Professor Hocking has been fighting the formidable clout of Buckingham Palace and the establishment for access to the correspondence between Queen Elizabeth and the then governor-general Sir John Kerr, leading up to and including the notorious 1975 bloodless putsch of Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government, now seared into the Australian psyche and simply known as The Dismissal.

Sir John immediately commissioned Opposition Liberal Party leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker prime minister on 11 November, a date of political infamy that marks Australia’s biggest constitutional crisis.

Here’s Sir John’s explanation of events for your consideration. Let’s be fair.

THE NAA'S FACILE ARGUMENT

In a shameful collaboration with the Palace, Government House and the Government, our Canberra-based National Archives of Australia refused Hocking and the nation access to these critical historical papers using the facile argument that they were private documents. Pathetic.

Such an obvious falsehood undermines our sovereignty and leads us to rightly question the integrity and independence of our National Archives. What else is being hidden from us? Well might you ask.

Here, in Professor Hocking’s own words in The Conversation, is a precis of her inspirational endeavour.

The correspondence between the Queen and her representative, Sir John, should have been released to us in 2005, 30 years after their “creation” in accordance with the Archives Act. It is an affront and gross insult that they were not. Hocking, subsequently, was having none of it.

The plucky academic took on not only the Palace but also Whitehall and thus the British Government. She was to win the seemingly unwinnable.

On 29 May, the High Court ruled in favour of the people and Professor Hocking in her valiant case versus DG National Archives of Australia. The documents would, at last, be released.

HIGH COURT ENFORCED ACCOUNTABILITY OVER UNTOUCHABLE MONARCHY

Hocking wrote:

‘In rejecting this presumption of royal secrecy, the High Court has enforced a measure of transparency and accountability over a monarch and a monarchy once seen as untouchable. The significance of the decision and its ramifications is tremendous, beginning with the release of the letters themselves.’

Indeed it is.

Director-General David Fricker undertook to start the process and in direct contradiction to the NAA’s previous and steadfast legal stance in this matter, noisily proclaimed:

‘The National Archives is a pro-disclosure organisation. We operate on the basis that a Commonwealth record should be made publicly available, unless there is a specific and compelling need to withhold it. We work extremely hard to do this for the Australian people.’

Er...only if the High Court orders you to do so, sir.

KERR WAS JEALOUS OF GOUGH

Last week, Fricker issued another statement further detailing the tranche of correspondence and confirming Tuesday’s release date.

Again, given the NAA was legally compelled to produce the documents and indecently fought against their release, there was a hollow boast in his claim that:

‘The National Archives is proud to function as the memory and evidence of the nation, to preserve and provide historical Commonwealth records to the public.’

At the risk of repeating myself...

However, in that statement, Fricker left us a clue giving us some hope, describing the documents as the ‘Kerr Palace Letters’, perhaps hinting that it was Kerr rather than the Queen who contrived to oust Whitlam.

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SIR JOHN COULD NEVER MATCH WHITLAM'S GRANDEUR

We have known for some time, that Kerr’s bloated and alcohol-fuelled ego and his proactive, obsessive determination to get rid of Gough Whitlam was quite politically spooky and displayed great animus towards his nemesis. He always struck me as being jealous of Whitlam.

Despite his top hat, his knighthood, his distinguished mop of grey hair, the 18th governor-general could never emulate or match the grandeur and gravitas of the erudite Whitlam.

Who was taller? Gough Whitlam or Sir John Kerr? Probably Margaret Whitlam.

In fairness, it must be stated that successive governments maintained the “suppression order” on the letters and the mistress/slave obeisance to Australia’s offshore Queen, as indeed have all eight or so directors-general of the NAA since the still contentious Dismissal. Embarrassing and sad. Lackeys one and all.

So why did the Palace fight so hard to keep this secret from us?  Especially since it was really the enemy within and under the top hat that brought down our own government — not our monarch.

HERE ARE THE PALACE LETTERS, PLEASE MONITOR YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE

Here for your own perusal are all the Kerr Palace Letters. Please monitor your blood pressure while you read.

Already there are premature and perhaps naive assessments about the contents of the letters from Kerr — and the Queen’s knowledge of them.

The letters must be read in context and with an understanding of Palace intrigue, powerplay, subterfuge and diplomatic doublespeak.

For example, when it is cited that the Queen was not told of this or that by a particular person, who is prepared to go on the diplomatic record for posterity (embargoes notwithstanding), it is possible that she was told by someone else — or shown documents, or documents left on her desk for her to casually rather than officially peruse.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT

It is utterly ridiculous to countenance that the Queen would be unaware of the imminent dismissal of one of her Commonwealth properties. It is premature and naive of commentators to read such documents on face value. They should be read in context with other correspondence, reports and analyses at the time, including from both the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

Now is the time to put in Freedom of Information requests to these agencies.

It needs to be remembered that the governor-general represents the Queen in Australia. The governor-general does not represent Australia, therefore his/her allegiance is first to the Crown, not Australia. Yes? No?

Should Britain ever compromise Australia’s security, perhaps even in alliance with a third country or corporation – say perhaps the United States and China and the governor-general of the day was made aware of possible conflicts of interest – what obligation and allegiance, if any, does the governor-general owe Australia? Should he/she inform Australia?

These are not only questions for a grown-up coming-of-age Australia or for the republic that will emerge after a Treaty with our First Nations. These are questions for now. For today.

Our National Archives hold a great many secrets. What the courageous Professor Hocking and her supporters have done is to turn that mighty key to the vaults that house and secrete so much of our past, including our shameful treatment of our Indigenous brothers and sisters, just for starters.

Her win in the High Court stands other seekers of truth, justice and history in good stead. Since her brave intervention, we all have a better chance of accessing these archives.

These archives belong to we people. They are ours. For better and worse. They do not belong to the Palace. They do not belong to the government of the day. They do not even belong to the National Archives and they most certainly do not belong to any governor-general who resides in the Queen’s house on Australian soil.

We can no longer continue to outsource our sovereignty to Mummy England. It is time we were weaned off Boadicea’s breast.

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