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‘Better for Her Majesty not to know’: palace letters reveal Queen’s role in sacking of Australian PM Whitlam – The Guardian

Governor general John Kerr canvassed Queen and her personal secretary about his powers to dismiss Gough Whitlam but did not forewarn them



Secret correspondence between Buckingham Palace and the governor general of Australia reveal discussion of a last resort option to dismiss then prime minister Gough Whitlam, but the final decision on the sacking was kept from the Queen as it was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance.
The historic trove of letters between the Queen, her representatives, and then governor general John Kerr in the lead-up to Whitlams dismissal clearly shows the extent to which the palace was drawn into Kerrs 1975 plans to remove the Labor leader from office.
The 211 letters, dubbed the palace letters, were finally released on Tuesday, after a four-year court battle launched by historian Jenny Hocking to remove one of the final veils of secrecy still shrouding one of Australias greatest political crises.
The documents show Kerr clearly canvassed his powers to sack Whitlam with the palace, through the Queens private secretary, Martin Charteris.
On 4 November 1975, a week out from the dismissal, Charteris told Kerr that he was playing the vice-regal hand with skill and wisdom.
Your interest in the situation has been demonstrated and so has your impartiality, Charteris wrote.
He said the fact that Kerr had the powers to dissolve parliament is recognised but it is also clear that you will only use them in the last resort and then only for Constitutional and not for political reasons.
To use them is a heavy responsibility and it is only at the very end when there is demonstrably no other course that they should be used, he wrote.
Charteris also cautioned Kerr that Fraser wanted him to believe that the country was in a constitutional crisis, because he believed he would win the ensuing election.
On the day of Whitlams dismissal, 11 November 1975, Kerr wrote to the palace. He made it clear that he had not informed the palace directly of his decision.
He did so to protect the Queen.
I should say I decided to take the step I took without informing the palace in advance because, under the Constitution, the responsibility is mine, and I was of the opinion it was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance, though it is, of course, my duty to tell her immediately, Kerr wrote.
Charteris later responded:
If I may say so with the greatest respect, I believe in not informing the Queen of what you intended to do before doing it, you acted not only with Constitutional propriety, but also with admirable consideration for Her Majestys position.
The letters also further confirm that, in the lead-up to the dismissal, Kerr feared Whitlam may try to have him sacked as governor-general.
That may explain why Kerr did not give advance warning to Whitlam of his intentions.
Quick guide
In 1975 the Australian government led by Gough Whitlam was sensationally sacked by the governor general, Sir John Kerr, the Queens representative in Australia. The palace letters are hundreds of previously secret letters between Kerr and the Queen about the dismissal. Many believe they hold the key to understanding what role the Queen played in Whitlams downfall.
Many Australians think they alone have the ability to vote governments in and out but, under the countrys constitution and because Australia is not a republic, ultimate power rests with the governor general as a representative of the Queen. Kerrs move to force Whitlams reforming leftwing government from office, after the conservative opposition had blocked appropriation bills in the upper house of parliament, remains one of the most controversial moments in modern Australian politics.
Well may we say God save the Queen because nothing will save the governor general. Gough Whitlam, 11 November, 1975.
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Writing on 20 November 1975, Kerr explained to the palace that he had not wanted to put the Queen in a difficult position.
History will doubtless provide an answer to this question, but I was in a position where, in my opinion, I simply could not risk the outcome for the sake of the monarchy, he wrote.
If, in the period of say 24 hours, during which he

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