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John Kerr complained to Buckingham Palace of Gough Whitlam’s ‘malice’ after dismissal – The Guardian

Palace letters shed new light on the build up to the Labor PM’s controversial removal and the bitterly contested aftermath



The governor general John Kerr complained to Buckingham Palace that Gough Whitlam was obsessively dominated by his dismissal and by malice towards me and speculated the Labor leader might use an audience with the Queen to argue Kerr had damaged the monarchy.
The private complaint in May 1976, months after the dismissal, is contained in a trove of letters between the Queen, her representatives and Kerr during his period at Yarralumla, which confirms the extent to which the palace was drawn into Kerrs plans in 1975 to remove the Labor leader from office.
The letters shed new light on the build up to Whitlams controversial removal as prime minister, and the bitterly contested aftermath. In his regular updates to the palace, Kerr expresses deep unhappiness with protests and local criticism of his actions, including in books by pro-Labor journalists chronicling the events.
Kerr told the palace in May 1976 Whitlam was seeking an audience with the Queen. He told the Queens private secretary, Martin Charteris, that Whitlam was conducting a campaign against him, including serious smearing by gossip and innuendo. He warns Charteris that Whitlam is unlikely to venture upon such matters with the Queen, but he may with you.
Kerr also chronicles protests that followed Whitlams removal. The correspondence shows Malcolm Fraser, the Liberal prime minister who replaced Whitlam, used intelligence agencies to help counter the protests against Kerr. The governor generals security was enhanced after the dismissal.
Kerr also references a meeting he had with the attorney general in May 1976 after sending for him. He tells Charteris he told the attorney general it was his duty and responsibility to think about how the system of government should be defended, protected and explained because little is being done in a positive way to explain the position of the governor general within the monarchical system or support the present incumbent.
According to Kerr, the attorney general responded by saying there needed to be a positive counter-attack and there ought to be a small, unofficial sub-committee of cabinet to plan a response. Charteris tells Kerr on 17 May he looks forward to hearing more about the counter strategy.
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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On 10 June 1975, Kerr also wrote to the palace reporting about a protest that had turned ugly in Melbourne. There were about 400 demonstrators and the scene was pretty nasty … The front side of the Rolls was broken with a brick and the flying glass cut the face of my Aide, Flight Lieutenant Fox, who had to have medical attention.
Kerr said the the prime minister called him when he was back at the hotel to express his concern. He has called for an urgent detailed report on the campaign from Asio. I am to see him tonight at 6.00pm after the despatch bag goes, so further comments on his attitude must await a later letter.
The governor general also spoke of support he had received from a very rightwing organisation which has taken up my cause the League of Rights. He attached an Asio report finding the organisation had antisemitic leanings. Kerr said the organisation was distributing pamphlets in support of him and saying things that were true enough.
But Kerr also noted: Someone in the press, coining a phrase, has said, with friends like these who needs enemies. Eric Butler who is leader of the organisation is said to be racist and antisemitic but these things are not stressed in his organisation. I enclose an Asio report on his organisation. It is very pro-monarchy.
The letters, released by the National Archive of Australia after a four-year court battle launched by the historian Jenny Hocking to gain access to primary source material about the events of 1975, confirm there was discussion of a last resort option to dismiss 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 former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who led the republican movement to the unsuccessful 1999 referendum, told the ABC after the release of the correspondence that he was not shocked but was surprised by the extent of communication between Kerr and the palace.
Kerr reported to the Queen like a local manager reporting to head office and Charteris replied with fairly suggestive comments and suggestions, Turnbull said.
It just underlines the point that our head of state is the monarch of another country. Until our head of state is an Australian citizen with a loyalty only to this country, then our constitution will not be fully achieved in terms of giving Australia the independence and the dignity that our great nation deserves.
Buckingham Palace issued a statement after the letters became public saying they showed the household had no part in the dismissal of the Whitlam government.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said the revelations underscored the case for Australia to stand on our own two feet. He said it was a blight on our character as a nation that a democratically-elected government was dismissed.
Now, we will go through the many letters that have been released today and that will occur with historians over a period of time, but I want to say this, that the actions of the governor general on the 11th of November to dismiss a government, to put himself above the Australian people, is one that reinforces the need for us to have an Australian head of state, one that reinforces the need for us to stand on our own two feet.

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