Brian Burston

With all the nostalgic media hoopla surrounding the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Di, you could be forgiven for assuming that the “Palace letters” had something do with her or Chuck or Camilla.

Maybe an acerbic exchange between Prince Philip and the Princess of Wales, telling her to pull her pretty head in.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The mysterious contents of the Palace letters featured in an Australian courtroom last week, but the momentous occasion was almost media-free because of the focus on the High Court and the unsuccessful attempts to block the Turnbull government’s same-sex marriage postal survey.

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“Morse the pity” (as Jacki Weaver would say) because these letters could be the missing piece to the jigsaw that was the biggest political event in Australian history — the dismissal of the Whitlam government by the tippler in the top hat, Sir John Kerr.

The letters are the personal exchanges between the governor-general and the Queen in the weeks (maybe months) leading up to the Dismissal. They reportedly air Sir Jonkers’ understandable fears that, if Gough got wind of what his turncoat was plotting, it would be Kerr being shown the door, not Whitlam.

The correspondence was being fought over in Federal Court because university professor and Whitlam biographer Jenny Hocking has been fighting for their public release for years.

Commonwealth records are open after 30 years — which would have made them public in 2005 — but the Palace letters have been designated “personal” records and, on the instructions of the Queen, they are embargoed until at least 2027 with the sovereign’s private secretary retaining a veto after that.

The letters were between the governor-general and the Queen, her private secretary Sir Michael Charteris, and Prince Charles, in the weeks before the dismissal.

Ironically, they are held by the National Archives in Canberra — not for access by us, but, it seems, for protection from us.

According to Hocking, Kerr’s own records show that he confided in Prince Charles in September 1975 (a month before supply was blocked in the Senate) that he was considering dismissing Whitlam and was worried about his own position. Charles passed that on to Charteris and told Kerr: “But surely Sir John, the Queen should not have to accept advice that you should be recalled … should this happen when you were considering having to dismiss the government.”

[Will Turnbull ever urge the Queen to release Whitlam Dismissal letters?]

According to Kerr’s records, Charteris then wrote to Kerr in early October, reassuring him that if “the contingency to which you refer” should arise and if Whitlam moved to recall him as governor-general, then the palace would “delay things”.

All this shows why these so-called “personal letters”, involving the most tumultuous time in Australian government, should be released.

Fittingly, the QC arguing the case for their publication was Antony Whitlam QC — son of Gough.

***

While we’re on flashbacks, more than 30 years ago, in September 1985, the Hawke cabinet decided, and treasurer Paul Keating announced, we would have the Australia Card.

Having long held an American Social Security card (the one that caused me so much dual citizenship strife last week) I wasn’t spooked and told then-health minister Neal Blewett, on 3AW, he could sign me up as 000 000 000 1.

It didn’t happen. Civil libertarians went ape shit and it was abandoned in 1986, although some aspects of it survived in 1988 in the Tax File Number legislation.

***

I called a fellow senator a “boofhead” on Twitter the other day. Some might call that unparliamentary language, but I would argue that truth is a defence in some states.

The tweet said: “Senator ‘Boofhead’ Burston now claims I’m a UK dual citizen. As I told the Oz: ‘Christ, I was an American last week, now I’m a Pom.’ Not true.”

In a rambling, disjointed, adjournment speech that Burston said “might be a bit cryptic for some to understand”, he obliquely urged me to resign.

“The honourable thing to do would be to jump before being pushed. The noose will be tightening around this person’s neck soon, and perhaps their head will be small enough to put on a slouch hat. Perhaps their next job will be selling chocolates for charity on The Footy Show.”

Even though I used to have a business connection with Slouch Hat chocolates and the RSL, I didn’t think this rancid rant was aimed at me because I’ve never claimed to hold UK citizenship and Boofhead had said earlier:

“… there’s been one person at least who has attempted to manipulate the situation to be more about putting the spotlight on themselves than on resolving this debacle. In the public domain, they have claimed to be a UK citizen by descent, but they were born elsewhere — not Australia nor the UK. Have they renounced their UK citizenship or was their original claim just a lie? If we were to take their statements prior to them entering parliament at face value, they wouldn’t have a passport and wouldn’t be here — or were those statements lies too?”

[Hinch’s Senate Diary: questions over my citizenship laid to rest]

A Burston staffer confirmed to media that “Hinch was the target … we’re gunning for him.”

It seems the senator had read in one of my books (apparently, he does read) that my grandparents were English.

I just hope he bought it and didn’t get it out of the library.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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