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National Observer Home > No. 64 - Autumn 2005

The 1975 Dismissal: Setting the Record Straight

Sir David Smith

Probably no event in Australia’s political history has received as much coverage in the media and in the history books as has the dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor- General, Sir John Kerr, on 11 November 1975. And certainly no event in Australia’s political history has received
so much inaccurate and misleading coverage. As for Mr. Whitlam himself, there has grown up around
him almost an entire industry devoted to polishing his image and turning him into a legend in his own lifetime.

As we approach yet another anniversary of that day, it’s time we had a look at the basis of that legendary image. Whitlam and others have described the events of 11 November 1975 as a coup, but it was nothing of the kind. A coup is defined as a violent or illegal change of government, but the events
of that day were neither violent nor illegal.

The change of government was in accordance with the letter, the conventions and the spirit of the Australian Constitution, and no one knows that better than Whitlam himself. The Whitlam Government was removed from office as the Governor-General and the Prime Minister sat on opposite sides of the Governor-General’s desk in the study at Government House, Canberra, and by Sir John Kerr handing Whitlam a letter. The Governor- General then escorted Whitlam to the door of the room, told him that he could win the election that lay ahead, and wished him good luck. They shook hands. A few moments later, the Fraser Government came into office as the Governor-General and the Leader of the Opposition stood on opposite sides of the Governor-General’s desk, and by Fraser holding a bible in his hand and taking the oath of office as Prime Minister. No sign of illegality, and certainly no sign of violence, in any of that.

The Governor-General’s parting remark to Whitlam that he might win the election was no empty gesture. At that stage a Whitlam win was a real possibility, and the Governor-General wanted to ensure that, should that occur, Whitlam would have available to him the advantage of being able to hold a joint sitting of both Houses of the Parliament, just as he had done after the 1974 double dissolution. In
addition to the Appropriation Bills, the Senate had failed to pass twentyone other Bills of the Whitlam Government, and the Governor-General had insisted that Fraser should list them all in the dissolution Proclamation.

That was unprecedented, but it was done in fairness to Whitlam so that, should he win the election, he
would be able to use the provisions of section 57 of the Constitution to hold a joint sitting to pass all of his Government’s blocked legislation. Once again no evidence of a coup. With nothing more than some signatures on a few pieces of paper, a Prime Minister was removed, another was installed, and the issue was immediately referred to the Australian people in a national election for both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament.

One month later the people delivered their verdict, and it was a decisive verdict. The Fraser Caretaker
Government was returned in a landslide. The Governor-General’s actions were vindicated.
Some of the events of that November day also provided an interesting commentary on more recent events in Australian politics. In what passes these days for debate on the monarchy/ republic issue, it is often claimed that Australia must free itself from the monarchy. But it was Whitlam who telephoned Buckingham Palace on 11 November 1975 after his removal from office by the Australian Governor-

It was the Australian Labor Party that had the Speaker of the House of Representatives write to the
Queen to ask her to over-rule the Governor- General, to halt the democratic election process which had already been set in train under Australian law, and to restore Whitlam to office as Prime Minister.
Mr. Speaker was reminded by Buckingham Palace that the Australian Constitution placed all constitutional matters squarely in the hands of the Governor-General in Canberra, and that the Queen had no part in the decisions which the Governor-General must take in accordance with that
Constitution. That, surely, put an end to any claims that Australia’s sovereignty, independence and national identity were centred on London. It also tells us something about the intellectual dishonesty of those who profess to want Australia’s constitutional affairs to be entirely in Australian hands, which they clearly are under our present Constitution and system of government, yet immediately appeal
to the Monarch in Britain as soon as a decision taken in Australia by an Australian Governor-General goes against them.

The late Philip Graham, former publisher of Newsweek and The Washington Post, said that good journalism should aim to be “the first rough draft of history”. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson, a former United States President, once said that “A man who never looks into a newspaper
is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than
he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.” When one looks at much of the reporting of the dismissal and the events surrounding it, one would have to conclude that Jefferson was closer to the mark than Graham.

So let me now go back to 1975 and look at what falsehoods and errors the future historian, searching through that first rough draft of history, might find in the contemporary accounts of those days. I begin with Malcolm Fraser’s early arrival at Government House on that fateful day in November
1975, before, and not after, Gough Whitlam, as the Governor-General had instructed. That was due to a simple error by someone on Fraser’s staff, and had nothing to do with Government House, but it was presented as the beginning of a Vice-Regal conspiracy.

It was alleged that Fraser was closeted in a room at Government House with the blinds drawn. This clearly was the figment of a vivid journalistic imagination on the part of someone who was not there, for Fraser waited with me in a room next to the State Entrance, a room which at that time was used as a waiting room for visitors who had arrived early, and the blinds were certainly not drawn. Why would they be? And indeed, there was no one outside trying to look in.

It was alleged that Fraser’s car was hidden round the back, out of sight. It was not. His car dropped him off at the State Entrance, and then drove around to one of the three “front of house” parking areas used by visitors. The driver chose one which gave him a clear view of the State Entrance, so he could see when to drive forward to pick up his passenger. Unfortunately, that put the car on the inside curve of that part of the main drive which leads to the Private Entrance.

It is one of the traditional courtesies extended to a Prime Minister at Government House that he comes and goes via the Private Entrance, so called because it is used by the Governor- General and his family, rather than via the State Entrance, which is used by all other callers on the Governor-General.
The duty Aide-de-Camp had been told to expect the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and their estimated times of arrival, but nothing more. He knew from experience that the Prime Minister’s convoy, consisting of the Prime Minister’s car and the police security car which followed
it, always travelled very fast, even within the grounds of Government House. He could see that Fraser’s car, having arrived out of sequence, was now parked where it posed, at best, an inconvenience, and at worst, a serious hazard, to the Prime Minister’s car as it swept around the bend.

The Aide-de-Camp used his own judgment, made a decision in the interests of safety, and asked the driver to move his car to the parking area outside the Official Secretary’s office, and right next to the State Entrance. The car was not hidden around the back, but was in fact moved even closer to the front of the building, and was in full view. In deciding to move the car, Aide-de-Camp did not consult
either the Governor-General or the Official Secretary, nor did he need to: the three Aides-de-Camp were responsible for the smooth and efficient arrival and departure of all visitors to Government House, and frequently directed vehicles where to park in the interests of safety and convenience.

The first that the Governor-General and I knew of what had happened to Fraser’s car was when we read the press reports next day alleging some devious conspiracy to conceal it. It was a measure of the man that Sir John refused me permission at the time to correct that story. The Aidede- Camp had acted properly and in good faith, and Sir John would allow nothing to be done or said which suggested
otherwise, even by implication.

The next pair of myths grew out of my arrival to read the Governor-General’s proclamation from the steps of this Parliament House. I came, as always, to the front entrance. I drove up to the front steps in a big, black Government House car, clearly identified as such by the traditional Crowns
where number plates would normally be. I wore full morning dress, so I could hardly have been mistaken for one of the crowd that had gathered in front of the building. I was met by a Senate officer, escorted into Parliament House via Kings Hall, and taken to the office of the Clerk of the Senate,
where I was to wait until the top landing could be cleared and Whitlam had vacated the microphone which I was to use.

On being asked to leave the microphone, Whitlam, who apparently had not noticed my arrival, expressed surprise that I was already in the building, questioned the officer who had met me, and then he immediately returned to the microphone. He described me as an emissary from the Governor-General, and then, in what sounded very much like an incitement to riot, given the way he had already
stirred them up, told the mob that I would appear shortly, and asked them to give me the reception I deserved.

Then, having just been told that I had arrived at the front of the building, he announced that the Official Secretary normally arrived at the front of the building but (untruthfully) that on this occasion I had come through the kitchens and, as he so elegantly put it, up the back passage. Whitlam later claimed that my
reading of the proclamation was an unnecessary provocation on the part of the Governor-General. This allegation was also not true, and he knew it was not true. The practice of having the Governor-General’s proclamations dissolving Parliament read from the front steps was begun in 1963, on the advice of the then Attorney-General, and for good legal reasons. The 1963 public reading was followed by
similar public readings in 1966, 1969, 1972, and 1974, before we came to the 1975 reading, and there have been ten more since then. My first reading was in 1974, when Sir Paul Hasluck dissolved
both Houses of the Parliament on the advice of Prime Minister Whitlam. Whitlam had no complaints
about my reading of that proclamation, yet he denounced an identical reading the next year as unnecessary and provocative.

So far I have dealt only with minor events which preceded the main game: each was not greatly significant by itself, yet together they helped establish an atmosphere designed to taint the public’s perceptions of what was to follow. They suggested an aura of irregularity or impropriety emanating
from Government House, which Whitlam and his supporters then sought to transfer to the major events
of the day.

The original attack, of course, had been on the Senate’s refusal to pass the Labor Government’s budget. The Whitlam Government’s view was that the Constitution and its associated conventions vested control over the supply of money to the Government in the House of Representatives, and
that the actions of the Senate in threatening to block that supply of money were a gross violation of the roles of the respective Houses of the Parliament.

This view of the respective roles of the Houses of the Parliament had not always been the view of the Labor Party, nor had it been the view of Whitlam himself prior to 1975. On 12 May 1967, in this very Senate Chamber, Senator Lionel Murphy, then Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, had this to say about the upper house and money bills: “There is no tradition, as has been suggested, that the Senate will not use its constitutional powers, whenever it considers it necessary or desirable to do so, in
the public interest. There are no limitations on the Senate in the use of its constitutional powers except the limits self imposed by discretion and reason.

There is no tradition in the Australian Labor Party that we will not oppose in the Senate any tax or money Bill, or what might be described as a financial measure.” On 12 June 1970, the then Leader
of the Opposition, Gough Whitlam, had this to say in the House of Representatives: “The Prime Minister’s as sertion that the rejection of this measure does not affect the Commonwealth has no substance in logic or fact . . . The Labor Party believes that the crisis which would be caused by such a
rejection should lead to a long term solution. Any Government which is defeated by the Parliament on a major taxation Bill should resign. This Bill will be defeated in another place.

The Government should then resign.” Let me repeat that view of Whitlam’s, as he expressed it in Parliament in 1970: “Any Government which is defeated by the Parliament on a major taxation Bill should resign . . . This Bill will be defeated in another place. The Government should then resign.”
When that same Bill reached the Senate, this is what Senator Lionel Murphy, Leader of the Labor Opposition in the Senate, had to say on 18 June 1970: “For what we conceive to be simple but adequate reasons, the Opposition will oppose these measures.
In doing this the Opposition is

pursuing a tradition which is well established, but in view of some doubt recently cast on it in this chamber, perhaps I should restate the position. The Senate is entitled and expected to exercise
resolutely but with discretion its power to refuse its concurrence to any financial measure, including a tax Bill. There are no limitations on the Senate in the use of its constitutional powers, except the limitations imposed by discretion and reason. The Australian Labor Party has acted consistently in accordance with the tradition that we will oppose in the Senate any tax or money Bill or other financial measure
whenever necessary to carry out our principles and policies. The Opposition has done this over the years, and in order to illustrate the tradition which has been established, with the concurrence of honourable senators I shall incorporate in Hansard at the end of my speech a list of the measures
of an economic or financial nature, including taxation and appropriation Bills, which have been opposed
by this Opposition in whole or in part by a vote in the Senate since 1950.” At the end of his speech Senator Murphy tabled a list of 169 occasions when Labor Oppositions had attempted to oppose money Bills in the Senate for the sole purpose of forcing the Government of the day to face the
people at an early election.

On 25 August 1970, the Labor Opposition launched its 170th attempt since 1950. On that occasion, Whitlam had this to say in the House of Representatives: “Let me make it clear at the outset that our opposition to this Budget is no mere formality. We intend to press our opposition by all available means on all related measures in both Houses. If the motion is defeated, we will vote against the Bills
here and in the Senate. Our purpose is to destroy this Budget and to destroy the Government which has sponsored it.”

As Jack Kane, one-time Federal Secretary of the Australian Democratic Labor Party and former D.L.P. Senator for New South Wales, wrote in 1988: “There is no difference whatsoever between what Whitlam proposed in August 1970 and what Malcolm Fraser did in November 1975, except that Whitlam failed . . . Senator Murphy, for Whitlam, sought the votes of the D.L.P. senators, nsuccessfully.
That is the only reason why Whitlam did not defeat the 1970 Budget in the Senate and thus fulfil his
declared aim to destroy the Gorton Government.”

While all this was going on in the Parliament, the High Court of Australia was also given the opportunity
to express its view on whether the Senate had the power to block supply. On 30 September 1975 the High Court handed down its judgement in Victoria v. The Commonwealth. Four of the learned judges expressed opinions which supported the view that, except for the constitutional limitation on the
power of the Senate to initiate or amend a money Bill, the Senate was equal with the House of Representative as a part of the Parliament, and could reject any proposed law, even one which it could not amend.

The judges who expressed these opinions were Sir Garfield Barwick, the then Chief Justice; Sir Harry Gibbs and Sir Anthony Mason, who each, in turn, became Chief Justice; and Sir Ninian Stephen, who later became Governor- General. The relevant parts of these judgments were incorporated in Hansard
on 30 October 1975. Yet still the media, and particularly the Canberra Parliamentary Press Gallery, except for one journalist, kept silent on this issue, and Whitlam continued to rail against the Senate. As a result, many Australians still believe that the Senate has no right to block supply.

The next two myths which Whitlam sought to propound were part of a package and they related to the question of advice to the Governor-General. The first myth was that the Governor- General could act constitutionally only on the advice of his Ministers or, more particularly, only on the advice of his Prime Minister, and then only in accordance with that advice.

The second myth was that the reserve powers of the Crown, which allow a Governor-General to act contrary to, or even without, ministerial advice, had long since lapsed into desuetude, and the Governor-General no longer had any discretion to act other than in accordance with ministerial advice.
But Whitlam and his acolytes in the media had forgotten, if they ever knew, that Lord Casey, as Governor- General, as recently as 19 December 1967, had exercised the reserve powers following the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt. Without ministerial advice, for there was noone
who legally could give it, the Governor- General had revoked Holt’s appointment as Prime Minister, in accordance with s. 64 of the Constitution, exactly as Sir John Kerr did with Whitlam’s appointment, and had chosen Sir John McEwen to be the next Prime Minister, exactly as Sir John Kerr did with Fraser’s appointment.

Although Whitlam was constantly reminding the Governor-General, both privately and publicly, that he
could act constitutionally only on the advice of his Prime Minister, the existence of the reserve powers would have been, or should have been, well known in Labor circles. One of the most definitive and scholarly works on the subject, entitled The King and His Dominion Governors, had been written
in 1936 by H.V. Evatt, then a Justice of the High Court, later to become a member of the House of Representatives and Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party.

Then there is the more-recent double dissolution which Prime Minister Menzies had recommended to Governor- General Sir William McKell in 1951. On that occasion the Governor- General did in fact accept the advice of the Prime Minister, supported by the opinions of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, that the Senate’s failure to pass a Bill which had twice been passed by the House
of Representative satisfied the requirements of s. 57 of the Constitution and allowed the Prime Minister to recommend a double dissolution. Significantly, nowhere in the documents submitted to the Governor-General by Prime Minister Menzies was there any reference to any obligation on the Governor-
General’s part to accept the ministerial advice unquestioningly.

On the contrary, Prime Minister Menzies advised the Governor-General that he was entitled to satisfy himself and to make up his own mind on the matters submitted to him. Interestingly enough, and specially so in the light of the Labor’s contrary views in 1975, the Labor view in 1951 was that the Governor-General was not obliged to accept the Prime Minister’s advice and indeed should not
accept it unquestioningly; that he should not simply accept the advice of the first two Law Officers of the
Crown, and should instead seek independent legal advice; and that he should seek it from the then Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir John Latham.

Labor’s view in 1951, and particularly that the Governor-General should consult the Chief Justice, accords exactly with what happened in 1975. But with the boot on the other foot, Labor quickly changed its tune. Whitlam started claiming that Sir John Kerr, in consulting the Chief Justice, and Sir Garfield Barwick, in responding to that request, had acted improperly and unconstitutionally,
and almost without precedent. The attacks sought to discredit both the Governor-General and the Chief Justice.

As a result, as in the case of the blocking of supply by the Senate, many Australians believe, quite wrongly, that Sir John Kerr and Sir Garfield Barwick acted improperly, unconstitutionally and without precedent. In fact, at least two other Chief Justices, in addition to Sir Garfield Barwick, have given advice to Governors- General on the exercise of their Vice-Regal powers. They were Sir Samuel Griffith and Sir Owen Dixon. These three Chief Justices gave their advice, when it was asked for, to no
less than seven Governors-General. They were Lord Northcote, Lord Dudley, Lord Denman, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, Lord Casey, Sir Paul Hasluck and Sir John Kerr.

The research into these consultations was done by Dr. Don Markwell, formerly an Australian Rhodes
Scholar; Visiting Fellow in Politics at the University of Western Australia; Junior Dean at Trinity College, Oxford; Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Merton College, Oxford; and now the Warden at Trinity College, the University of Melbourne. Markwell also concluded that at least one other Chief Justice, Sir John Latham, and four Justices of the High Court, Sir Edmund Barton, Sir Keith Aickin, Richard
O’Connor and Dr H.V. Evatt, would have agreed with the proposition that such consultation was permissible.

There are also many examples of State Governors consulting a Chief Justice, but I need not go into
details here. The Whitlam falsehood that “Only one Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, had consulted with a Chief Justice” was finally laid to rest. As the supply of money started to
run out in October 1975, Whitlam sought to bypass the Constitution and the Parliament by trying to arrange with the banks for them to advance his Government the funds which it could not get from the Parliament. Such action by the banks would have been illegal, and they refused to participate, yet Whitlam has always claimed that his proposed arrangement with the banks would have solved the supply crisis, had the Governor-General given him more time. This is simply not true.

As the crisis continued, and as calls mounted in the Parliament and in the media for the Governor-General to do something, Sir John Kerr asked Whitlam for a joint legal opinion on certain matters from the first two Law Officers of the Crown — the Attorney- General, Kep Enderby, and the Solicitor-
General, Sir Maurice Byers. Whitlam claimed at the time, and continues to claim today, that these two
men gave the Governor-General their joint legal opinion on 6 November, and that he ignored their advice. The truth is somewhat different.

Attorney-General Enderby did call on the Governor-General on 6 November 1975 with a document that had been prepared by the Solicitor-General. At the top it was headed “Joint Opinion”, and at the bottom it had been signed by the Solicitor-General, National Observer No. 64 - Autumn 2005 and there was a place for the Attorney- General to add his signature. Enderby told the Governor-General that there were parts of the document with which he did not agree and that he could not add his signature to it. So he took out his pen, wrote the word “Draft” at the top of the document, and crossed out the signature of Sir Maurice Byers – an insult that caused Sir Maurice great offence. The Attorney-General went on to say that he proposed to prepare another joint opinion with which he could agree and which he could sign, and that he would send it to the Governor- General as soon as possible.

That joint legal opinion never came: the Attorney-General was perhaps busy with far more important matters. So what Whitlam has always described as a joint legal opinion from the first two Law Officers of the Crown was in fact presented as a draft signed by neither of them and disowned by the Attorney-General. Despite Whitlam’s claim to the contrary, the Governor-General did not receive a joint legal opinion from the first two Law Officers of the Crown.

The next myth which I want to dispel is the one which presented Sir John Kerr in retirement as an exile
and a recluse. He had asked the Queen that he might be allowed to retire early, and he stepped down in December 1977, after only three and a half years in office, in order that a successor might set about healing the national wounds. He had withstood the public protests and demonstrations of 1976, and had had a further year, 1977, virtually free of such annoyances. He had asserted his right, as was also his
duty, to go about his public engagements throughout Australia without let or hindrance, and the overwhelming majority of his fellow Australians continued to welcome him warmly.

Nevertheless, he felt that the fairest thing he could do for his successor would be to remove himself from the local scene for a few years. Living and travelling in the United Kingdom and Europe was no exile for Sir John, and those who attended his memorial service in Sydney heard one of his more recent friends, a young Australian scholar at Oxford, speak of his time in England. This was Don Markwell, to whom I have already referred. The friendship began in 1982 when Don Markwell was one of a group of Australian students who invited Sir John to speak at an Australian dinner in Oxford. Of their first meeting
Markwell said: “. . . we were pretty nervous about entertaining so great a figure. But all went well. There was immediate warmth between us, all reserve vanished, and an enduring friendship began.” Some nine years later, at Sir John’s memorial service, Markwell was able to say: “The man I knew was a man who enjoyed life — a serious-minded man, certainly, with a strong sense of duty, and a man of industry
and achievement; but one whose seriousness was balanced by a buoyant sense of humour and of fun;
a man who rejoiced in the joy of life.

He was no exile, no embittered recluse.” To be the personal representative of his Sovereign and to be the Head of State of his country was the high point in Sir John’s career, but, if history is to deal with him accurately and fairly, he deserves to be remembered for more than that. In the words of Sir Anthony Mason, then Chief Justice of the High Court, who also spoke at the memorial service: “John Kerr’s record of achievement speaks for itself. Behind the record was a distinguished lawyer with wide-ranging interests in law reform, politics, administration and public and international affairs.

His vision of the law extended well beyond the preoccupation of a technical, professional lawyer. He was conscious of the intricacy of the relationship between law, government and society. These are all values which modern legal education seeks to foster in future generations of Australian lawyers.”
Over the past twenty-nine years we have seen the creation of the Whitlam legend by those who still believe that his was a brilliant prime ministership that was cruelly cut short. And there is no more committed proponent of this legend than Whitlam himself. The facts, however, are somewhat different.
How many times have we read that Whitlam needed more time to prevail over Fraser; that Fraser won the 1975 election because Kerr intervened when he did; that Fraser persuaded Kerr to close off the issue on 11 November; and that Kerr chose the timing that Fraser wanted. The fact is that it was Whitlam, and no-one else, who chose the fatal day.

That was the day he called on the Governor-General to advise a half Senate election to be held on 13 December, for the election of Senators who would not take their seats in the Senate for another seven
months. Such a possibility had already been canvassed in the media. However, writs for Senate elections are issued by State Governors, following a request from the Governor-General, and there had been much speculation in the media that the Premiers of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria would be likely to advise their respective State Governors to ignore any request from the Governor-General, and to refuse to issue the necessary writs for the election of Senators for their States.

In the event, the Governor-General did not give Whitlam the opportunity to present his advice on 11 November, and for very good reason. Had the Governor-General refused to accept his Prime Minister’s advice, that would have precipitated another constitutional crisis, right in the middle of the one we already had. On the other hand, had the Governor-General accepted his Prime Minister’s advice
and gone on to ask all State Governors to issue writs for the election of Senators for their respective States, a refusal by even one State Governor to do so, let alone three, would have precipitated
yet another kind of constitutional crisis.

So the best advice that this so-called great Prime Minister could give to the Governor-General in the midst of the country’s greatest constitutional crisis ever – a crisis which, if allowed to continue,
could have led this country into economic ruin and could have resulted in the collapse of good government – was to present the Governor-General with the impossible task of choosing between two more unprecedented, and potentially equally disastrous, constitutional crises.

Had Whitlam not decided to go to Government House on that day to ask the Governor-General for a half-Senate election, the events of 11 November simply would not have occurred. If Whitlam had needed more time, he could have had it. Instead, he chose to present the wrong advice at the wrong
time. Whitlam was the architect of his own misfortune; he was hoist with his own petard.
Whitlam was certainly not the great leader that his adoring fans would have us believe. Look at his record as Prime Minister of this country and as leader of his Party. He served as Prime Minister for only one term of three years. Certainly he had to fight an election mid term, but that was an election of his own choosing.

In parliamentary terms, his prime-ministership was that of a “oncer”. Having himself tried to use the Senate to force a Government to an early election on two occasions, and with his Party having tried to do it 170 times over the previous twenty-five years, did it never occur to him that his opponents might one day try to use the same tactics against him? And once they did turn the tables on him, what did he do? On leaving Government House, with his commission as Prime Minister withdrawn, did he return to Parliament House to consult with colleagues on the strategy to be employed when the Parliament resumed after lunch? No! He went back to the Lodge and ordered a steak for lunch. And given that the cause of his downfall had been the Senate, whom did this great parliamentarian send for? He sent for Fred Daly, his Party’s Leader in the House of Representatives.

Did he send for his Party’s Leader in the Senate? No. Did he let his Senate colleagues know what had
happened – that they were no longer in government? No. As a result, when the Senate resumed after lunch, and the Coalition said that they were prepared to vote on the deferred supply Bills, Labor Senators still thought that they were in government and that they were voting supply to themselves,
when in fact they were voting it to the Coalition. The fact is that Whitlam was a failure as the leader of his Party and as Prime Minister, and he led the most incompetent Government this country has ever seen. He has never been prepared to let truth get in the way of the legend. As a further example, he
still claims, and often is given, the credit for giving the Queen the title of Queen of Australia in 1973, when in fact this was done twenty years earlier by Prime Minister Menzies, when he asked Parliament to pass the Royal Style and Titles Act 1953.

In a press statement he issued on 19 October 1975 Whitlam referred to the Opposition’s actions in the Senate as an abuse of power, and as a violation of every constitutional and democratic principle. Yet the very same actions were legitimate and principled when he was doing them to his opponents in 1967 and 1970 when he was in Opposition. On 28 October 1975 he told the House of Representatives that the
Senate was in breach of constitutional conventions relating to the passage of Appropriation Bills, Supply Bills and money Bills. Apparently these must have been new constitutional conventions, because we saw no sign of them in 1970 or 1967, nor as far back as 1950. Or maybe they were very specialised
constitutional conventions that applied only to Coalition Oppositions and not to Labor Oppositions.
When Whitlam opened his December 1975 election campaign in the Festival Hall, Melbourne, on 24 November 1975, his theme was that his removal from office was the end of Parliamentary democracy as we knew it, because an elected Government in full command of a majority in the House of Representatives had been brought down by the Senate’s attack on its Budget. And this was the same Leader of the Opposition who had attempted to do the very same thing to the Holt Government in 1967 and to the Gorton Government in 1970, and whose Party had tried to employ the same tactic against incumbent Governments 170 times.

As I have already said, the Whitlam Opposition gloried in that record — its = Senate Leader, Lionel Murphy, had proudly tabled it in the Senate in 1970. That which had been a legitimate parliamentary
tactic for twenty-five years while it was used by Whitlam and his Party against their political opponents,
suddenly became the end of democracy as we know it as soon as his political opponents used it on him.
And today he still likes to falsify the record when it suits him. In 2002, when he recorded a television interview for the A.B.C. with Senator John Faulkner, he totally misrepresented the circumstances surrounding my knighthood, simply in order to have yet another cheap shot at me, and at Bill Hayden and Bob Hawke as well, both of whom were in office as Governor- General and Prime Minister respectively at the time of my retirement in 1990. Whitlam’s version was so outrageous that Senator Faulkner sought confirmation – not from me – and although the Senator was given the facts in writing, Whitlam’s false accusations were allowed to stand in the final version of the television interview.

And a very short time ago his rewriting of history was repeated when the 2002 interview was telecast by S.B.S. As Whitlam knows full well, my knighthood is in the Royal Victorian Order. It was a personal gift from the Queen, and therefore required no ministerial advice, yet Whitlam had no hesitation in inventing a scenario that suited his purposes, for it enabled him to hit not only at me but also at two
former colleagues — Hayden, who would have been a much better Prime Minister than Whitlam ever was, and Hawke, who was a much more successful Prime Minister than Whitlam.

During the recent federal election campaign, the media developed a great interest in truth in politics. The
words “lies” and “liar” were used extensively in their zeal to expose alleged misrepresentation and dishonesty. My challenge to the media is that they should make this new-found interest in truth in politics retrospective, at least to 1975. This year will be the thirtieth anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam Government, and no doubt many journalists will go to their files and regurgitate what they find there. I suggest that, instead of doing that, they should invite Whitlam down from the pedestal on which they have placed him, and call on him to explain the litany of lies which he and his acolytes have spun about the dismissal.

They might begin by asking him a few simple questions, such as:

• Why did he claim that the Governor-
General acted too soon on 11 November 1975, when it was Whitlam himself who chose that date to force the Governor-General’s hand, by giving faulty and defective advice?

• Why did he tell the crowd in front of Parliament House on 11 November 1975 that I had arrived at the back of the building, when he had just been told that I had arrived at the front?

• Why did he incite the mob against me, when he knew that I was a public servant simply doing my job?

• Why did he claim that Fraser’s car had been hidden at the back of Government House, when it had been moved closer to the front and was in full view?

• Why did he ignore the Senate in planning his Party’s parliamentary tactics following the withdrawal of his commission as Prime Minister?

• Why did he describe my reading of the proclamation from the steps of Old Parliament House as a needless provocation when he knew full well that it was a long-established practice, and that the previous year I had carried out the same duty for him and his Government?

• Why did he describe the Senate’s actions in 1975 as unprecedented, when his Party had created 170 precedents and he himself had created two of them?

• Why did he describe the consultation between the Governor-General and the Chief Justice as almost unprecedented, himself acknowledging only one precedent, when in fact there were many precedents?

• Why did he claim that his scheme to get money from the banks was lawful, and would have solved the supply crisis, when the banks had legal opinions that it was not lawful, and had decided not to participate?

• Why did he say that the Governor- General had received a joint legal opinion from the first two Law Officers of the Crown, when he knew full well that there was no such legal opinion?

As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of Whitlam’s dismissal as Prime Minister, I suggest that, instead of continuing to strut the national stage as the wronged legendary hero of Australian politics, it’s time he said sorry to his Party for being such a failure as leader, it’s time he said sorry to the Australian people for being such a failure as Prime Minister and for giving us the most incompetent Government
we have ever had, and it’s time that he told the truth about the events of 1975.


National Observer No. 64 - Autumn 2005