Secret letters revealed: Queen was not warned of Australian prime minister’s historic sacking.
Admittedly, according to documents, a court representative and the Australian governor-general had discussed the possibility of overthrowing the government.
In Australia, secret correspondence from the 1970s between Queen Elizabeth’s personal secretary and the Australian governor-general was published on Tuesday.
The announcement sheds light on the extent to which the British Court was involved in the controversial ousting of Australia’s center-left government in 1975.
Documents reveal that the Queen’s staff assured its Australian representative to Governor-General John Kerr that he had the power to overthrow the country’s government.
The staff announced this in a letter a week before Kerr carried out an exceptional maneuver in November 1975 that caused a political crisis in Australia.
Kerr disbanded Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s Australian Labor-led government on 11 November 1975.
The Queen remains the Head of State of Australia, although the country became independent in 1901.
The Governor-General’s game move was intended to trigger a deadlocked political situation in which the opposition-majority Senate refused to approve the government’s budget proposal.
The letters also say that Governor-General John Kerr did not tell Queen Elizabeth in advance of the prime minister’s dismissal.
Kerr is the only governor-general to have dismissed the Australian prime minister. The act is considered one of the most polarizing political events in Australian history.
Palace letters shed light on behind-the-scenes events.
The National Archives of Australia on Tuesday published more than 1,200 pages of documents and newspaper clippings known as Palace Letters. The documents date from August 1974 to December 1977. Many of the letters dealt with the controversial case of Whitlam.
A four-year lawsuit preceded the publication. In May, the court ruled that the letters could not be kept secret indefinitely.
The documents show that Kerr and Buckingham Palace discussed the Australian political crisis and Kerr’s role in it for two months before Whitlam was removed as prime minister.
On 12 September 1975, Kerr wrote to Martin Charteris, the Queen’s personal secretary, that he would keep his mind open on constitutional issues.
– If the prime minister and the leader of the opposition get into a fight where the Senate has rejected the budget, and the prime minister refuses to recommend the government’s dissolution, then my role requires careful consideration, Kerr wrote according to the news agency AFP.
Charteris later praised Kerri for this approach.
– The fact that you have authority is acknowledged. But it’s also clear that you’re only using them as the last straw, and even then only for constitutional and not political reasons, Charteris wrote, according to AFP.
The Queen’s Secretary was pleased with Kerr’s work.
According to one document, Governor-General John Kerr informed the Queen of the ousting of Prime Minister Whitlam later that he had issued an order to dissolve the government on 11 November 1975.
– I decided to take action without notifying the palace in advance because, according to the Constitution, the responsibility lies with me. I think it was better that His Majesty does not know in advance, Kerr wrote, according to the news agency AFP.
The day after Whitlam’s kicks, Charteris congratulated Kerry on his judgment and consideration for the Queen’s status.
Kerr appointed opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as interim prime minister to replace Whitlam. The decision caused chaos and protests in Canberra. The Australian Liberal Party, led by Fraser, later won the election with an avalanche.
The historian finds the politics of the letters surprising.
The publication of the palace letters is a victory for historian Jenny Hocking, who wrote the biography of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. He fought for years in court to gain access to those documents.
The National Archives refused to publish the documents because the correspondence had been private. Federal law supported the interpretation of the National Archives, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of publishing the documents.
Hocking said, according to the news agency AFP, the political nature of the correspondence was surprising given the requirement that the leader of the constitutional monarchy must remain impartial.
The historian estimates that the discussion of the powers of the Governor-General was outrageous in the documents, as their existence in Australia is a highly controversial issue among legal scholars and political scientists.
Australian opponents of the royal house have long suspected that Hovi was involved in the ousting of Whitlam. They demand that Australia should secede from the monarchy.
Historians are now going through the documents to determine if the British government was trying to influence the events in its former colony.
Scholars also want to find out if the Queen, Prince Charles, or royal advisers may have played a role in overthrowing Whitlam’s government.
The leader of the Labor Party wants a domestic head of state.
Anthony Albanese, the current leader of the Australian Labor Party, believes the crisis of 1975 reinforced the need to replace the British monarch as head of state.
– I think it is a scourge for our character as a nation that a democratically elected government was ousted, Albanese said according to the news agency AP.
According to Albanese, the governor-general’s way of putting himself above the Australian people reinforced the need for an Australian head of state.
In 1999, Australians opposed the transition to the republic in a referendum.
Sources: AFP, AP, REUTERS