governor general john kerr the dismissal
John Kerr (Image: National Archives of Australia)

While John Kerr was insinuating himself with the palace, Gough Whitlam was making it clear to me and others that he would not be involving the palace.

In my book Things You Learn Along the Way, published in 1999, I mentioned how we had canvassed with Whitlam the possibility of the Australian government making contact with the palace in view of the possible political difficulties that might lie ahead. I was secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet at the time.

I said in the book:

I suggested early, after the opposition had moved to refuse supply, that perhaps Sir John Bunting (the Australian high commissioner in London) should be briefed on the subject and if necessary I could go to London for this purpose. He [Whitlam] thought that this would be quite unnecessary. His view was that it was inappropriate to involve the palace in an Australian dispute. ‘It will be resolved politically in Australia,’ he said. 

Gough Whitlam was very proper about not involving the palace in Australian affairs. Given what we know now about the palace and Kerr, he was far too proper.

Whitlam was an Australian democrat. He passionately believed in our institutions: the supremacy of parliament, the independence and integrity of the judiciary and the separation of powers to curb possible abuses by the executive government.

In the dismissal these institutions failed us. Those with responsibility deceived us. Tradition and conventions built over centuries were trashed. The damage to our public life goes far beyond the injustice done to Whitlam. How naïve we were in our trust! That is the most wounding thing of all.

Out trust was betrayed and abused.

I usually avoid using language about social and economic class. But this was a disgraceful example of a ruling class — the Queen, Charles, Mountbatten and Charteris — abusing their power to protect privilege. They deliberately deceived an elected prime minister.

This article was first published in John Menadue’s blog, Pearls and Irritations.

Peter Fray

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