Queen Elizabeth II was not informed about Australian PM Whitlam's historic sacking

WION Web Team
London, England Published: Jul 14, 2020, 12:01 PM(IST)

Queen Elizabeth II and Gough Whitlam Photograph:( Reuters )

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Whitlam’s firing remains one of the country’s most polarising political events because it represented an unprecedented level of intervention by the Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II was not informed in advance about the 1975 dismissal of Australia's prime minister by her representative in country, letters kept secret for decades and released Tuesday revealed.

The British monarch's representative in Australia, governor-general John Kerr, sparked a constitutional crisis when he abruptly fired Gough Whitlam, the democratically elected leader of the centre-left Labor party.

Also read: Queen's letters on Australian PM's sacking to be released in full

In May the High Court ruled more than 200 letters between the queen's private secretary and Kerr, including many addressing the controversial affair, should be made public.

On a November 11, 1975 dispatch, Governor-General John Kerr told the Queen’s private secretary he took the unprecedented step to sack Prime Minister Gough Whitlam as Whitlam prepared to end a months-long budget standoff by calling a partial Senate election.

Also read: Australian court orders release of Queen's letters over former PM Whitlam's sacking

''I decided to take this step ... without informing the Palace in advance,'' Kerr wrote to former private secretary Martin Charteris on the day of Whitlam’s dismissal.

''It was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance, though it is ... my duty to tell her immediately,'' Kerr added, according to the documents.

Suspicion the palace played a direct role in Whitlam's ouster has long been cited by Australian Republicans arguing the country should break with the monarchy.

The decision capped a protracted political stalemate after the opposition-controlled Senate refused to pass the government's budget, severely weakening Whitlam's position.

The release of 211 so-called ''palace letters'' pulls the veil from one of the great mysteries of Australian politics, and may reignite a conversation about whether the country should cut ties with Britain and become a republic.

The letters confirm the palace knew Kerr had been considering the options available to him under his Constitutional "reserve powers", which included dismissing Australia's leader, an action no other governor-general has taken before or since.

Whitlam’s firing remains one of the country’s most polarising political events because it represented an unprecedented level of intervention by the Commonwealth.

Historians say the country was never told the full story, and in 2016 a historian sued the National Archives of Australia for access to letters between Kerr and the queen. The lawsuit failed on grounds that the letters were private, but the High Court overturned the ruling in May.

The letters show Kerr and Buckingham Palace discussed the political crisis gripping the country, and Kerr’s role in it, for two months before Whitlam’s sacking as the prime minister tried to get parliament to approve his Budget.

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